Leary, Timothy - DMT hell trips
Type of Spiritual Experience
Leary is describing the experiences of a number of people here as such the sources section could contain a number of sources from William Burroughs to Alan Watts and Dick Alpert; for convenience however, I have cited Leary as the source
A description of the experience
William Burroughs had tried it in London and radioed back an urgent warning. Burroughs was working at that time on a theory of neurological geography - certain cortical areas being heavenly, other areas being diabolical. Like an explorer moving into a new continent, he believed it important to map out the friendly areas of the brain and the hostile. In Burroughs' pharmacological cartography, DMT propelled the voyager into strange and decidedly unfriendly territory.
Burroughs told a gripping tale about a psychiatrist in London who had taken DMT with a friend. After a few minutes the frightened friend began requesting help. The psychiatrist, himself being spun through a universe of shuttling, vibratory pigments, reached for his hypodermic needle, which had been fragmented into a shimmering assemblage of wave mosaics, and bent over to administer an antidote. Much to his dismay, his friend, twisting in panic, was suddenly transformed into a writhing, wriggling reptile, jewel-encrusted and sparkling. The doctor's dilemma: where to make an intravenous injection in a squirming oriental-martian snake?
Alan Watts had a DMT story to tell: he took the drug as part of a California research project and had planned to demonstrate that he could maintain rational control and verbal fluency during the experience. The closest equivalent might be to attempt a moment-to-moment description of one's reactions while being fired out the muzzle of an atomic cannon with neo-byzantine barrelling. Dr. Watts gave an awe-full description of perceptual fusion.
In the fall of 1962, while giving a three day series of lectures to the Southern Caiifornian society of Clinical Psychologists, Dick Alpert and I fell into discussion with a psychiatrist who was collecting data on DMT. He had given the drug to over a hundred subjects and only 4 had reported pleasant experiences. This was a challenge to the set-setting hypothesis.
Can chemicals produce specific changes in consciousness? Was the molecular structure of DMT such that it automatically produced hell trips? Is there really a hell area of the nervous system? Or is it not the expectation and surroundings which make the experience hellish or heavenly?