Psychedelic Induced Transpersonal Experiences, Therapies, and Their Implications for Transpersonal Psychology
Thomas B. Roberts and Michael J. Winkelman
Chapter 25 – The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology, First Edition.
Edited by Harris L. Friedman and Glenn Hartelius.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Psychedelics and other natural and synthetic substances have an ability to induce a range of transpersonal experiences. The predominance of spiritually-related experiences from these substances has led to the development of the concept of entheogen— reflecting their potential to produce an internal experience of communing with god. The similarity of the drug-induced transpersonal experiences and those induced spontaneously or through behavioral and mental practices attests to their common biological bases in human nature. These biological bases involve the similarity of these exogenous substances to neurotransmitters, particularly the neuromodulator serotonin, and therefore their ability to serve as neurotransmitters. These neurocognitive effects of psychedelics demand a neuro-phenomenological model that addresses the relationship of both endogenous and exogenous neuro-transmitter substances to the nature of perceived reality. These biological foundations also make them important tools for understanding the nature of brain functions, their relationships to mental processes, and the consequential relationship of brain and mind to personal experience, particularly the emotions, health, and spirituality. This chapter presents a neurophenomenological model of psychedelic-induced transpersonal experiences, therapeutic processes that they induce, and their implications for transpersonal theory. The pharmacological effects of psychedelics also enables them to address a range of psychological and emotional maladies. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of the multidisciplinary implications of psychedelics for the sciences and society.
Transpersonal pioneer and renowned investigator of LSD Stan Grof (2009) characterized transpersonal experiences as “the feeling of the individual that his consciousness expanded beyond the usual ego boundaries and the limitations of time and space” (p. 157). Friedman (1983) elaborated on this characterization of transpersonal experiences by reference to the degree or level of self-expansiveness, “which is defined as the amount of the self which is contained within the boundary demarcating self from non-self through the process of self-conception” (p. 38). For Friedman, the transpersonal dimension is reflected in “the degree to which individuals manifest expanded self-concepts [that] reflects the extent to which they accept or deny their unity with their true unbounded selves” (p. 39), and “the degree of identification with aspects of reality beyond that which is ordinarily conceived as being an aspect of the individual” (p. 41). These psychedelic-induced transpersonal experiences are eminently of a spiritual nature, although the political reactions they engendered have often dominated the public view of the substances that induce them.