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Do Psychedelic Drugs Mimic Awakened Kundalini?

       Do Psychedelic Drugs Mimic Awakened Kundalini?
            Internet Hallucinogen Survey Results
     
     
                     Donald J. DeGracia
              
                        January 1995
     
     
     
     Introduction
     
     During September and October of 1994, I posted a survey
to various newsgroups on the Usenet (alt.drugs, alt.rave,
alt.psychoactive and alt.drugs.psychedelic) asking people
about their experiences with hallucinogenic drugs.  Here I
would like to share, as was promised,  the results of this
survey.  At the time of posting the survey I stated that my
intention was to show that there is more to the effects of
psychedelics than merely inducing hallucinations and
delusions, as is currently believed in the medical and
psychiatric community (many notable exceptions
notwithstanding!).  Thus, I will now state that the purpose
of this survey was to test the hypothesis that the effects
of psychedelic drugs (e.g. LSD, mescaline, peyote, etc.) are
similar to the effects of a phenomena known in esoteric
literature as the awakening of the kundalini.
     The idea of kundalini derives from Tantric yoga and
refers to a supposed "energy" that lies latent in average
people at the base of the spine.  By practicing specific
yogic exercises, one supposedly can "awaken" this kundalini,
which in turn leads to severe alterations in consciousness
including the onset of psychic abilities and possibly
conferring enlightenment (see Table 1 below).  These Tantric
ideas have also been adopted by certain Western occult
traditions throughout this century.
     However, what strikes me is the overwhelming similarity
between reports by people who have undergone kundalini
awakening and what occurs to people who have taken
psychedelic drugs.  According to Tart and others, both of
these states can be considered altered states of
consciousness (ACS) [1].  However, accounts of the
subjective nature of  both these ACS show that the
phenomenology of both states overlap to a considerable
degree.  Table 1 summarizes the effects of kundalini
awakening at physiological, sensory, emotional, cognitive
and spiritual levels.  These effects come about through the
specific exercises of kundalini yoga, which are often
breathe control exercises, though there are anecdotal
accounts of the spontaneous occurrence of these symptoms in
people, usually induced by accidents such as falling or
recieving a blow to the head.
     The logic of the survey design was to recruit
respondents experienced in psychedelic drug usage and
determine if they have experienced some of the effects,
listed in Table 1, associated with kundalini awakening when
under the influence of psychedelic drugs.  Therefore, all
survey respondents were psychedelic drug users.  No attempt
was made to recruit people who may have experienced bona
fide kundalini awakening because of the relative rarity of
this occurrence here in the West.
     
     
(Table 1):
EFFECTS OF AWAKENED KUNDALINI

I.Physiological level:
  A. Motor
 1. Spontaneous performance of asanas (postures) even if
     the aspirant knows no Hatha yoga. (@,#)
 2. Spontaneous twisting and/or revolving of the body and
     limbs, dance-like gestures. (#)
 3. Spontaneous movement of hands in formal Indian dance
     patterns. (#)
*4. Trembling of the body (#)

  B. Non-Motor
*1. Sensations of heat or cold. (@),(#)
 2. Constriction of breathing. (#)
 3. Automatic breathing of various kinds. Temporary stoppage
     of breath. (@)
*4. Spontaneous laughter, tears of joy (@);
     automatic/involuntary laughing or crying. (#)
*5. Creeping sensations in the spine (#)
*6. Tingling sensations through the body. (#)  Itching or
     crawling sensations under the skin. (@)
*7. Alterations in sexual desire (usually decreased)

II. Sensory (Special Senses)
*1. Sensory hallucinations: audio, visual, taste and smell.(@)
*2. Audio hallucinations: humming, rushing water, tinkling,
     bell sounds, etc. (#)
*3. Closed-eye perceptions: dots, lights, flames,
     geometrical shapes, pure white light. These may be perceived
     as visions of saints or deities. (#)
 4. Utterances of deformed sounds. (@) Spontaneous chanting,
     singing or vocal noises. (#)
 5. Feelings that the body has become extremely huge or small
     (anima) (#)

III. Emotional
*1. Extreme feelings of ecstasy and divine bliss. (@)
*2. Extreme feelings of fear. (@)
*3. Enhanced sense of empathy
*4. Loss or dissociation of emotions

IV. Cognitive/Spiritual:
*1. Recall past lives. (@)
*2. Enhanced intuition and psychic powers (siddhis). (@)
*3. Feelings of unseen guidance and protection. (@)
*4. Emptying of the mind. (#)
*5. There is an experience of being a witness in the body.(#)
*6. Questions may arise in the mind and be spontaneously
     answered (revelation or enhanced insight). (#)
*7. The hidden meaning behind the (Indian) scriptures are
     revealed. (@)
*8. Mystical experience

Table 1: List of Effects of Awakened Kundalini.  Note; (*)
  lines of the list are attributes identified in the
  psychedelic drug survey. Lines marked (@) are from [2] and
  lines marked (#) are from [3].
     
     
     Methods
     
     A survey consisting of 38 questions related to the
psychedelic drug experience was posted to the Usenet
newsgroups listed above.  The survey was designed as
follows: demographic data was asked to obtain a respondent
profile.  Drug usage questions were asked to gauge the
experience of the respondent with using psychedelic drugs.
The remaining questions focused on the phenomenology of
psychedelic drugs.  Drug effects fell into five categories:
physiological, sensory, emotional, cognitive and spiritual.
Nineteen questions referred specifically to effects of
awakened kundalini.  The remaining questions regarded
established facets of the psychedelic experience.
     There was no mention in the survey at all about
kundalini.  As far as respondents were concerned, they were
solely reporting on their psychedelic experiences, so in
this sense, the survey was blinded and respondents did not
know they were being asked if they had ever experienced
effects of awakened kundalini.
     Completed surveys were received through the authors e-
mail address and the data entered into a database
(MicrosoftAccess, ver 1.1) where results were tabulated.
For statistical analysis, yes/no questions were treated as a
poll and the 95% confidence interval associated with
percentiles calculated based on the final number of
respondents.
     
     Results
     
     A. Demographics.
     
     Sixty one people responded to the survey (n = 61); 15%
were female, 85% were male. Similar male/female ratios were
seen in an OBE study previously conducted via
telecommunication links, suggesting that current Internet
use is roughly 75-85% male.  The age distribution was:
     
     14-18 years (6.6%),
     19-25 years (62 %),
     26-30 years (20 %),
     31-40 years (9.8%),
     41-50 years (1.6%) .
     
     The distribution by country was:
     
     Australia (8.2%),
     Canada (13.1%),
     Finland  (3.3%),
     Ireland  (1.6%),
     Netherlands (3.3%),
     Sweden  (1.6%),
     Thailand (1.6%),
     UK  (8.2%),
     USA (59%).
     
     Clearly, this demographic data shows that roughly 60%
of respondents were male, college-age students from the USA.
The other 40% of respondents represent the countries of
Northern Europe, Australia and Canada.  Such demographic
data is indicative primarily of who is using the Internet
where.
     
     Usage
     
     Polydrug (i.e. used more than just psychedelic drugs)
users constituted 95% of the sample.  58% of respondents
used psychedelic drugs more than 20 times.  The length of
time using psychedelics was:  less than 1 year (29%), 1 to 5
years (33%),  greater than 5 years (37%).  Respondents seem
roughly equally distributed regarding length of time using
psychedelics based on a 1 and 5 year distinction.  Half of
the users take psychedelics a few times a year, the other
half take them a few times a month.  The most prominent
psychedelic used was LSD  (95%), followed by psylocybin-
containing mushrooms (82%), with smaller use of mescaline
(18%) and peyote (13%).  45% reported using other
psychedelics including morning glory seeds, MDMA (3,4-
methylenedioxymethamphetamine - "ecstasy") or DMT (N-N-
dimethyltryptamine).
     Overall, the respondent sample was relatively
experienced in psychedelic drug use.
     
     
     B. Psychedelic Effects: Poll Questions.
     
     For some of the questions pertaining to psychedelic
effects, respondents were asked simple yes/no or more/less
questions which could be easily tabulated.  Respondents were
also allowed to give a textual elaboration not amenable to
simple statistical analysis (text data not discussed here).
Table 2 shows the results of the polling questions, broken
down by category.  For binary polling questions (i.e. yes/no
or more/less; questions with only two responses), a 95%
confidence interval could be calculated assuming a Gausian
distribution.
     Statistical tests of independence were performed on 2x2
combinations of demographic data with psychedelic effects.
All variables tested showed statistical independence.  That
is to say, there was no statistical evidence that any
reported psychedelic effects were dependent upon such
demographic factors as age, sex, or length of time using
psychedelic drugs (not shown).  However, such tests of
independence were only marginally valid because of the
relatively small sample size.


     
(Table 2):
Category    Psychedelic Effect     Yes      No     95% C.I.

I. Physiological
*     1. Chills/Vibrations         75%      25%       +/-11%

         A. Location of Chills/vibrations (n = 46):
           a. Chest         1.8%
           b. Limbs         1.8%
*          c. Spine/back    49.2%
*          d. Whole body    19.3%
           e. Not specified 24.6%

*    2. Spontaneous laughter      70.9%     29.1%     +/-11%
     3. Fidgety                   70.9%     29.1%     +/-11%
     4. Difficulty falling asleep 92.7%     7.3%      +/- 7%
*    5. Cold and clammy           40.0%     60.0%     +/-12%
*    6. Sexual desire during course 
        of drug experience
        (more/less/other)         34% MORE  43% LESS  23% OTHER
*    7. Sexual desire immediately 
        after the drug experience
        (more/less/other)         23% MORE  59% LESS  13% OTHER

II. Sensory
*    1. Visual hallucinations     96.7%     3.3%      +/-4%

        A. Nature of visual hallucinations (n = 59):
           a. "Trails"                        91.8%
           b. Seeing objects breath           78.7%
*          c. Closed eyed imagery             93.4%
*          d. Seeing of faces and landscapes 
              in objects such as paneling 
              or carpet                       60.7%
           e. Things take on a chalky texture 34.4%
           f. Seeing of paisley shapes        52.4%

*    2. Audio hallucinations       54.1%     45.9%     +/-13%
*    3. Mixing of sense modalities 54.1%     45.9%     +/-13%

III. Emotional
*    1. Alterations in emotions    80.3%     19.7%     +/-10%
*    2. Increase in empathy        75.4%     24.6%     +/-11%

IV.  Cognitive
*    1. Alterations in thought     93.4%     6.6%      +/-6%
*    2. Alterations in personal 
        identity                   60.6%     39.4%     +/-12%
     3. Can you concentrate when 
        on hallucinogens?          80.3%     19.7%     +/-10%

V.  Spiritual
*    1. Has taking hallucinogens 
        created long term changes
        in your personality?       80.3%     19.7%     +/-10%
     2. Out-of-body experience 
        induced by hallucinogens   39.3%     60.7%     +/-12%
*    3. Have you ever had a spiritual 
        or religious experience on 
        hallucinogens?             86.9%     13.1%     +/-8%
*    4. Has use of hallucinogens 
        made you more or less spiritual 
        or not affected (N/A) your 
        spirituality?              71% MORE  3% LESS   26% N/A

Table 2:  Results of polling questions from psychedelic drug
  survey. Note that * categories correspond to kundalini
  effects.

     
     The data in Table 2 essentially replicates aspects of
previous work on the effects of psychedelic drugs [4].  This
data, when compared to Table 1, shows definite overlap in
the phenomenology of hallucinogen effects and kundalini
awakening.  Some of these effects occur with high frequency.
For example, 75% +/-11% of respondents reported feelings of
chills and vibrations.  Within this subset, 49% directly
reported that these chills or vibrations occurred on the
back or along the spine, thus describing a prominent feature
of the kundalini experience; chills and vibrations along the
spine.  In the theory of kundalini yoga such sensations are
associated with the ascent of the kundalini through the
chakra system (see reference 3 for further details of
kundalini yoga theory).
     Other psychedelic drug effects corresponding to
kundalini awakening reported with high frequency are the
following: spontaneous laughter (70.9% +/-11%), visual
hallucinations (96.7% +/-4%), alterations in emotions (80.3%
+/-10%), increased empathy (75.4% +/-11%), alterations in
thought processes (93.4% +/-6%), changes in personal
identity (60.6%+/-12%), long term changes in personality
(80.3% +/-10%),  and explicit spiritual experience (86.9% +/-
8%).  Unfortunately, space limitations prevent elaboration
on each of these categories, each of which was assesed with
textual answers.  The textual question responses revealed
that changes in these categories closely resembled kundalini
based experiences.   In particular, it was observed that a
picture emerged from the textual data that is very similar
to Eastern mystical teachings and thus reinforces the
association of hallucinogenic effects with awakened
kundalini.  Such connections between Eastern mysticism and
psychedelic experiences have been recognized in some
quarters
     When asked if the use of hallucinogens has made the
person more or less spiritual or if the drug has not
affected their spirituality, 71% of the people said 'more',
with 26% saying the drug has not affected their
spirituality.  This question of course also relates the
mystical aspects of psychedelic and kundalini experiences.
     A number of other kundalini associated phenomena were
reported by respondents with less frequency including:
alterations in perception of body temperature, alterations
in sexual desire, audio hallucinations, and synesthesia
(mixing of senses).  These factors were at or below the 50%
frequency.  Regarding synesthesia, what was reported most
was that visual hallucinations seemed to follow or be
induced by music to which the respondent was listening.
     It is interesting to note that roughly 40% +/-12% of
respondents reported having an out-of-body experience (OBE)
while on psychedelic drugs.  This frequency suprised even
the author, for OBEs are not usually associated with
psychedelic drugs.  Based on conversations with one
respondent reporting psychedelic induced OBEs (p-OBEs), it
is clear that these have a different nature from "regular”
OBEs, the latter being associated with dreams and sleep [5].
The p-OBE appears to involve the complete absorption of the
subject in the content of the visual imagery and is
characterized by a relatively formless and ineffable set of
experiences.  This is in contrast to "regular" OBEs which
are essentially lucid dreams and contain well defined
content and environments and can usually be expressed in
words effectively [6].  Thus, this author suggests that OBEs
induced under psychedelic drug inebriation are different in
nature from “regular” OBEs.
     Taken as a whole, this polling data strongly suggests
that the effects of psychedelic drugs are very similar to
those of awakened kundalini and that it is reasonable to
compare these two ASC.  An important implication of the idea
that psychedelic drugs create a state very similar to
awakened kundalini is that, by furthering our understanding
of the physiochemical action of psychedelic drugs on the
body and brain, we may also discover the physiochemical
changes associated with awakening of the kundalini.
     
     Common Mechanisms?
     
     The similarity of the psychedelic and kundalini
experiences suggests  common, or at least overlapping
mechanisms of action in both these ACS.  Aside from the
phenomenological evidence that these two states are
qualitatively similar, is there any other evidence in
support of the similarity of these two states?  Consider the
following evidence:
     1.  LSD binds to serotonergic neurons in the raphe
nuclei of the brain stem.
     Evidence suggests that psychedelics mimic the action of
a neurotransmitter called serotonin [7] (although dopamine
and adrenergic systems may be involled too). Serotonin is an
important neurotransmitter in various brain regions, but
psychedelics seem to exert their greatest effect at
serotonergic neurons located in the brain stem, in clusters
of neurons called the raphe nuclei [8].  The raphe nuclei
are known to play an important role in regulating autonomic
nervous system activity, regulating sleep-wake cycles, and
states of arousal [9].
     2.  It is also known that kundalini yoga is based
primarily on breathing exercises. The centers that regulate
breathing (pneumotaxic and apneustic centers) are also
located in the brain stem in areas close to the raphe
nucleus, and in areas that have neural connections to the
raphe nucleus [10] and the nucleus of the solitary tract.
     3. It is a relatively common experience amongst
psychedelic users to feel sensations of pressure at the back
of the neck during the drug experience.
     4.  From the survey, 92.7% +/-7% of respondents
reported the inability to fall asleep when on psychedelics,
as well as other unusual autonomic nervous system activity,
thus further implicating brain stem functional alterations.
     All of this points to something of great relevance
going on in the brain stem.  The "trigger" region in the
nervous system for both the exercises of kundalini yoga and
hallucinogens appears to be clusters of nuclei closely
linked in circuits in the brain stem.  Something occurs in
the brain stem that has tremendous consequences both
throughout the body and within the higher regions of the
brain, leading to the drastic alterations in consciousness
characterized by these two similar ACS.
     It is known that brain stem arousal pathways form
diffuse connections to the higher brain centers, and the
activity of these pathways is widely believed to be
responsible for the sleep/wake cycle.  It may be that both
psychedelics and kundalini refer to a state of
hyperactivation of these brain stem pathways leading to a
hyperactivation of higher brain centers.  In other words,
the psychedelic state and the state of awakened kundalini
may refer to a state of hyper-awakeness as determined by
increased brain stem activation of higher brain centers.
Such a state may actually trigger off the same mechanisms
that lead to dream formation yet under conditions where the
rest of the brain is fully awake and active.  This suggests
we may be dealing with a third major state of consciousness
distinct both from normal sleep and normal waking
consciousnesses.
     Another neurological facet of the data collected in this
survey involves cerebral hemispheric specialization.  Though
this is not evident in the numerical data presented above,
the textual data collected leads to the idea that psychedelic 
drugs enhance gestalt and holistic cognitive function and may decrease 
language based cognitive functions. [The textual data is presented
in full in the file LSDSUV.ZIP which contains the file PSYCSURV.HLP.
The ZIP file is being widely distributed in cyberspace and is at the FTP
site minpro.mng.psu.edu in the directory /pub/OBE/misc].  These 
functions correspond to the known functions of the right and left cerebral 
hemispheres of right handed people, respectively.  Thus, psychedelic drugs
appear to enhance right hemispheric function and may or may
not affect left hemispheric function.  This strongly suggests
that the ascending brain stem pathways that mediate psychedelic
effects have asymmetrical connections to the cerbral cortical 
hemispheres.  
     Such ideas leads to the following testable prediction:
noninvasive brain scans (such as MRI, PET scans, or EEGs)
performed on individuals undergoing bona fide kundalini
awakening should be similar to such scans of individuals
under the influence of psychedelic drugs, and both groups
will be different from controls.   
     In particular, it is predicted that right cerebral hemisphere
activity will be increased in both psychedelic drug users and 
those experiencing kundalini awakening over controls.
     To this author's knowledge, such observations have not 
been made yet.
     
     Conclusion
     
     If indeed the contention  is true that the psychedelic
drug induced state is similar to the state of aroused
kundalini, this has many implications.  The most important
implication in this author's opinion is that if psychedelic
drugs can cause symptoms of kundalini awakening, then there
must be a definite biological basis for the kundalini
phenomena.  Physical models of kundalini have been suggested
such as Itzhak Bentov's model of the micromotion of the
body. This model postulates that various body structures can
potentially form resonant oscillators with each other
leading to the production of  increased magnetic currents in
the cerebral cortex [3; pp. 316-340].  Bentov correlates
this enhanced electromagnetic action in the cortex with
kundalini release.  To this author’s knowledge this model is
only speculation and also suffers the weakness that it
ignores standard neurophysiological observations of brain
function.  Other authors have suggested a number of
neurologic and physiologic correlates with the state of
awakened kundalini, including models based on the limbic
system, the sensory cortex, and even the phenomena of
kindling [3; pp. 298-310].  However, none of these
alternative models match the phenomenology of kundalini
awakening as much as the psychedelic experience does.  Thus,
the basis of the mode of action of psychedelics may overlap
considerably with the causative mechanisms behind the
awakening of kundalini.
     Clearly, psychedelic drugs can serve as a reasonably
reproducible tool for the study of altered states, though
the action of these compounds in the nervous system is only
incompletely understood at present [11] and consensus as to
the nature of psychedelic effects is lacking.  Comparing
kundalini awakening with psychedelic effects is a step
towards alleviating this lack of consensus about the nature
of psychedelic effects - or at least helps expand the game
field of ideas that we can use to conceptualize the
psychedelic experience.
     If the connection between psychedelics and kundalini is
valid, then it is expected that the physiological changes
associated with both states will be similar.  Thus, by using
psychedelic drugs as a "model system" of kundalini
awakening, and determining the mode of action of
psychedelics, we may come to understand, at least in part,
the physiological changes associated with awakened
kundalini.  Such work promises to unravel the biological
correlates of the siddhis (or psychic powers) and the
process of enlightenment associated with kundalini awakening
(and the psychedelic experience).  What this means is the
possibility of joining parapsychology and the study of
paranormal and esoteric states of consciousness to the rest
of the world of accepted science, in particular
neurobiology.   To bring the study of the so-called
paranormal into the fold of the accepted scientific
disciplines is no trivial feat; psychedelics offer such a
tool if used reasonably.  Furthermore, the introduction of
Eastern concepts related to kundalini yoga into a
neurobiological framework could serve to enlarge the Western
view of the potentials of the human brain and mind.
     

References:

[1]  Tart C, (1990) Altered States of Consciousness, 3rd
     edition, Harper San Francisco.

[2]  Ajit Mookerjee. (1986)  Kundalini The Arousal of the
     Inner Energy, 3rd ed.. Destiny Books, Rochester Vermont.

[3]  John White (Ed). (1990)  Kundalini Evolution and
     Enlightenment (revised ed.).  Paragon House. New York.

[4]  Harman W, Fadiman J. (1970).  Selective Enhancement of
     specific Capacities  Through Psychedelic Training.  In
     Psychedelics. Eds Aaronson B, and Osmond H.  Anchor Books,
     New York.

[5]  Rogo, D.S.  Leaving The Body.  New York: Prentice Hall,
     1986.

[6]  LaBerge, S (1985).  Lucid Dreaming. Tarcher, Los
     Angeles.

[7]  Pierce PA.  Peroutka SJ.  Antagonist properties of d-LSD
     at 5-hydroxytryptamine2 receptors. [Review]
     Neuropsychopharmacology.  3(5-6):503-8, 1990 Oct-Dec.

[8]  McCall RB. Neurophysiological effects of hallucinogens
     on serotonergic neuronal systems. In:. Neuroscience &
     Biobehavioral Reviews :, 1982:

[9]  Morgane PJ.  Stern WC.  (1975) The role of serotonin and
     norepinephrine in sleep-waking activity.
     National Institute on Drug Abuse: Research Monograph Series.
     (3):37-61, Nov.

[10] Loewy A. (1990) Central autonomic pathways.  In:
     Central regulation of Autonomic Functions. Eds. Lowey A,
     Spyer K. Oxford Univ. Press.

[11] Van Woerkom, A.E.  "The Major Hallucinogens And The 
     Central Cytoskeleton: An Association Beyond Coincidence? 
     Towards Subcellular Mechanisms In Schizophrenia".  Medical 
     Hypothesis.  31, 1990, 7-15..