Friday, May 13, 2011

Trip Report #2: Psilocybin + EEG Biofeedback

This time I used 3.5 grams dried psilocybe cubensis, the highest dose I've taken thus far, about 50% more than last time.  EEG biofeedback same as before - primarily alpha feedback at C3 & C4.  This time around I did add discrete feedback for hitting an all time alpha high for the session, in addition to what the design already contained, i.e. the relative (detrended) "local" highs, the continuous alpha tone, and the surf background that is based on a ratio of alpha to beta.  Hitting the all time high for the session is an infrequent event, but an important piece of information nonetheless.

This time I hauled a mattress into the room, overall a good call, very comfortable, and easier to deal with given the circumstances than the zero gravity chair I used before.  Based on my highly successful prior experience I wanted to emphasize lying down with eyes closed during the intense portions of the trip.  Made preparations, wrote down a few intentions for the trip, turned phones off, etc.  I've even considered shutting off power to the doorbell, but as that would also kill power to the kitchen, I leave it.  Listened to a guided Metta (loving kindness) meditation as the trip was coming on.

In retrospect, I may have erred in my "preloading" in that in the hours prior to the trip I killed some time watching a movie with some significant dramatic content (The Kids are All Right, with Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo).  Excellent movie, though.

For whatever reason, effects came on more rapidly this time, and the journey up was not quite as smooth and uplifting as in the past.  The peak seemed short, and again, not quite the bliss-fest I had expected based on the last time around, mildly challenging, and with some interesting face-melting moments.  Last time I commented that it was like making love to God, this time it was more like going down on God, kind of a bit more work.  I experienced mild but noticeable audio distortion, as well as echoing/repeating of certain discrete sounds.  Although less joyful, this session was marked by an absence of any real fear or paranoia.  The previous trip had some legitimate paranoia at one point, this one did not.  In some ways, there was a sense of actual fearlessness as a result.

Probably the most important feature was that I seemed to spend most of the time in what meditative circles refer to as the "witness," and would rarely get embedded in any trains of thought.  The nearly constant internal dialogue I experienced last time was largely silent.  When I did get embedded, it was obvious, and easy to dis-embed back to the witness.  I could sense in a very real way the desires to leave the witness and go into thought and imagination, and I felt like I had a real choice as to whether I wanted to "play with fire" and let myself go off on a thought journey, or to simply "stand aside" and just be.  So this sense of the witness was very real and palpable in a way that was new to me, and I believe I learned something.  I literally played with it, going in and out of "experience" again and again, back and forth, i.e. "okay, this is embedded, now I'll step aside, okay, now this is the witness, I am free."

I'd like to think that all the vipassana I've been doing (about 40-80 minutes a day for the past several months) may have helped me .  The language I am using (i.e. "dis-embedding") comes from Kenneth Folk's version of Mahasi Sayadaw's vipassana instructions.  In addition to playing with the witness, I practiced some vipassana at several points during the trip itself.  I could also possibly relate some of the face-melting type stuff to similar things I've experienced in vipassana, i.e. the often experienced tension around the brow and eyes (so-called third eye area).  The previous trip, the blissfest, I would relate to the 4th nana, the Arising and Passing, while this trip seemed to have aspects of the 10th and 11th nanas, Re-Observation and Equanimity.  And that pretty much corresponds to where I am on the path as viewed by the Theravadans (the Progress of Insight).

The Vipassana Nanas (It's just a cool graph.  I'm spinning my wheels at 11, just like with the yellow arrows.  Endpoint for those on the first time around is 1st Path, or stream entry).

Again, the peak seemed a bit on the short side, and afterwards I seemed to have too much energy to keep lying still listening to feedback.  After a couple of hours I took a bathroom break where I experienced a bit of visual confusion - at that point it was controllable and I knew where I was, but I found I could also relax my hold on reality and let the distortion play and turn the view into something relatively unrecognizable (this was in a bathroom lit only by a candle, I doubt that would have happened in a well lit room).

I ended up going downstairs for a while and watched some TV, among other things.  Here I noticed some visual distortions I had not experienced before, images morphing along the line of my own internal biases.  One concrete example was that upon seeing a woman with large breasts on the TV, her breasts grew to absolutely insane, comical  proportions. It was fascinating because I was relatively aware that the distortion was occurring, and why.  Also a speeding up of certain visual images, seeing things move faster than normal, sometimes with a jerky, intermittent quality.  Kind of like when the vampires have sex in True Blood.  Also continued audio distortion, and I believe that I may have been hearing things wrong (hearing a different phrase than what was spoken) in a similar way to the visual distortion.

I noticed that even while downstairs, if I was in the right position, I could still hear the feedback from upstairs, at least the highlights, which was kind of nice.  Wireless EEG is good.

I found this session difficult in the sense that I came out of the peak quickly, and then had a bit of a problem in finding something to do.  On the one hand it was as if nothing really satisfied, and yet I was always okay.  I just had to ride it out at that point.

Watching the EEG playback, lots of fairly normal looking EEG for quite a while, occasionally interrupted by bursts of high frequency activity.  Difficult to glean anything from the overall EEG because there is so much artifact from movement.  Somewhere around 1.5 hours after dosing the EEG has a substantial high frequency component, and this now becomes predominate at times, but still a surprising amount of more normal alpha dominant EEG.

Relatively normal EEG, alpha dominant (bars are 0.5 seconds, so 4-6 cycles per bar is alpha, this is from a 2-40 Hz filter), the first bar is pretty much pure alpha:

High frequency dominant EEG, around 20 Hz:

Went to bed 12 hours after dosing, thought I was going to be able to sleep but still ended up having to take some ambien.

For next time, looks like I may as well look towards 5 grams, the "heroic" dose referred to by Terence McKenna, which is comparable with the dose used in the famous psilocybin study at Johns Hopkins.

I'd like to experience the complete ego-loss kind of thing, but frankly, given my inclination towards groundedness, I kind of wonder if even that dose will be enough.  Probably takes a certain amount of grace to hit that as well.  One step at a time.

I also have to question some of my assumptions.  I had originally thought that capsules took a long time to hit, but this time around throws that partially into question.  Possibly the fact that I had just eaten a banana and maybe my digestion was in gear.  And the notion of the EEG biofeedback itself, I just didn't seem quite as in tune with it as last time, although it still marks some of the territory quite well.  Perhaps the higher dose overwhelms the effects from biofeedback, or maybe the Progress of Insight explains some of it.