The human brain is a magical machine, and naturally when we see a machine we want to break it. As a civilization we’ve been using psychoactive drugs for centuries with a variety of effects, from the stimulant found in South American coca leaves to the soothing smoke of hemp. But those things can get you arrested or worse, so people have long looked for ways to simulate their effects without forbidden substances. In this feature, we’ll run down a laundry list of ways to make your brain trip out without drugs.
The human mind is wired to constantly take in information from the outside world. But what happens when you turn that flow of information off? Intense hallucinations, for one. People have been using sensory deprivation tanks, where you float in a bed of water in complete dark silence, to bring on altered mental states for decades. A recent experiment at the University of Cambridge locked 19 volunteers in a sensory deprivation room and found that many started hallucinating in just 15 minutes. Sure, they also experienced paranoia and depression, but you can’t have everything.
I’m going to warn you that we’ll dive into some pretty deep hippie stuff in this feature. Case in point: holotropic breathwork, which started to gain momentum in the 1970s. Devised by Dr. Stanislav Grof (who had previously experimented with LSD as a therapy aid), it works by getting you to accelerate your breathing, typically in time with intense music, to hyper-oxygenate your blood over the course of several hours. People who have tried it claim that it gives them increased consciousness of their body, vivid hallucinations and other effects.
One of the most common ways that people try to get high without drugs is by overloading the senses, usually sight and hearing. The Lucia No. 3 system, developed by Dr Dirk Proeckl and Dr Engelbert Winkler, combines a unique array of lights that pulse and move in synch with audio, all controlled by a computer program. The lights stimulate the pineal gland, which controls several other areas of the brain, and in just minutes induces a variety of visual hallucinations. It’s not recommended for people with epilepsy, as it can induce seizures, and if you want to take one home it’ll run you $25,000.
We can’t vouch for how well the Mood sunglasses created by designer Bruce Agoston replicate the visual hallucinations induced by LSD, as we haven’t tried them and our acid experiences were a few decades ago. The 3D-printed shades are made with six interchangeable lenses that can be layered over each other. Every lens has a different moire pattern of distortion, and when rotated they create a variety of trippy visual effects. Sure, they look pretty damn corny, but nobody ever said tripping balls was cool.
The brain is a fascinating organ capable of processing a tremendous amount of sensory data into a coherent picture of the world. But what happens when you feed it information that it can’t process correctly? That’s the principle behind binaural audio, which devotees claim can induce incredible hallucinations. Using a pair of headphones, you pump a pair of slightly different subsonic frequencies into your ears. The subtle phase differential allegedly can cause mood changes and phantom sounds, among other effects.
Some big-time users of psychotropic drugs claim that they give them something akin to a religious experience, and Michael Persinger’s God Helmet is designed to stimulate exactly that. Using an array of magnets to stimulate the temporal lobes, the device (which is housed in a snowmobile helmet) has remarkably consistent results. You need to be sealed in a soundproof Faraday cage to eliminate any interference, though, so that takes a little setup. Users report sensing mysterious invisible presences, along with a range of inexplicable physical sensations.
One classic way to mess with your brain is depriving it of the sleep it needs to stay sane. People have been experimenting with sleep deprivation for recreational purposes for generations, and scientists are just now learning how it works. As we go through our day, our body produces waste chemicals including one called adenosine that builds up in the brain. Sleeping allows us to purge those toxins, but when you skip it they start to deform your perceptions. Experimenters have reported incredibly vivid hallucinations starting after just 24 hours without sleep.
In the absence of psychedelic drugs, explorers of the mind have developed a number of oddball techniques to send their brains into meltdown state. One of the easiest to put together on your own is the “perception scope,” which works by removing visual context from objects. The brain is a powerful organ, but it needs a lot of stimulus to operate correctly. By looking through a tubular object at a surface that contains a lot of visual detail, it’s possible to make the mind see movement and transformation where none exists.
You’re going to need some help with this one, but if it works it’s pretty amazing. The actual effectiveness ofhypnosis has been hotly debated for the past few decades, and there’s still no scientific consensus as to whether it really changes the brain or if people are just gullible. However, a recent experiment by hypnotist Hank Stone where he put 22 people into a trance and commanded them to “feel high” indicates that it’s possible to experience all of the fun of drugs without any of the negatives.
There are actually companies that make their bones tripping people out. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, introduced a device called Mindstorm to simulate hallucinations. It’s not for recreational use, though. Instead, it’s designed as a training tool for police officers, health care workers and other people who may have to deal with mentally impaired individuals. Over the course of a six minute “trip,” your sensory input is gradually altered to destabilize your psyche. The experience isn’t pleasurable, but those who have used it testify that it definitely brought them to an altered state of mind.
10 WAYS TO GET HIGH WITHOUT DRUGS