Doing research for a novel, I read up recently on salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant that is usually smoked or chewed. Known more commonly as salvia or just Sally, the plant is legal in some jurisdictions and has a long history of use in traditional societies. It can be quite dangerous, though. While I don't think it's been directly linked to any deaths, it can bring on terrifying hallucinations with lasting psychological consequences.
Salvia operates on different neural pathways than other hallucinogens and tends to produce chaotic thoughts, visual and tactile synesthesia (you "see" things with your skin), and a profoundly depressing or deeply frightening sense of dissociation.
The nature of these hallucinatory experiences is interesting. What follows are quotes from some people who had bad trips on salvia (as well as a few who found the experience more enlightening than scary).
Many users report out-of-body experiences, often combined with the sense of the body flattening out into a two-dimensional geometrical shape like a plank of wood or a Lego block. (I realize Legos and planks are not really two-dimensional objects, but this is how people describe it.) The sense of ego-identity, of personal existence, can be profoundly undermined.
My buddy did 40x and said he floated in his chair out of an apartment building, looked back and was floating 20 stories up watching everyone in the building through the walls.
The tv began to flash solid colours and I could feel the sound waves hitting me and bouncing around the room. My head and arms stretched about 7 feet underneath my coffee table and then slowly slid back onto my head. At this point my standing fan and heater were talking to me in a really high pitched voice saying "You're so fucked up" over and over. I started to lift of the couch and fly out the window ... I saw planets and colours I've never seen before. As I came down from it, the feeling was like when you retract a cord back into an appliance it just kinda flys back into its place. Well that was me but to my body. Colours returned back to normal and my body returned. My friend said I sat on that couch for 40 mins not moving an inch besides my jaw and eyes being wide open.
Your soul gets vacuumed out of your body and you find yourself turning into a 2D object that's infinitely huge and twisting into itself and you will feel stuck here for eternity and will leave you doubting your existence for years afterwards. I'm still getting over it 6 years later.
I took a big hit of Salvia and exhaled and instantly went into a "Gold Hue Flipbook". It was basically my life being flipped through rapidly and when my conscious became normal, I slipped out of the 2d plane and was hovering over my body for a brief moment.
I even got to meet Lady Salvia herself, not before I was torn into a million pieces and all that remained was a ball of light.
External reality can flatten out, twist in on itself, or become cartoonish and unstable. Comparisons are often made to computer programs - glitches, video lags and loops, graphical effects, and pixels.
My friend's experience with it was his world was "peeling" away ...
Next thing I know my vision is getting saturated, literally like Photoshop effects, and then when I move my head even slightly it's like everything is warping and stretching, like a graphical bug, with pixels not loading, stuff like that. My field of view becomes increasingly chaotic until the vibrating turns into something more like spiraling and then it kind of whirlpools into a point and shatters.
Everything gets depth and becomes pixels, the ground gets depth and becomes pixels and starts moving and carrying [me] around on the pixels, while moving [I try] to look inbetween the pixels into nothing, and [try] to feel in between them ...
I couldn't see anything at all. It was a kaleidoscope so intricate that the pieces were not visible to the naked eye. It was as if a computer took all of its pixels and scrambled them into some random configuration.
My vision seemed to be consistent of pixels like a computer, and all I had to do was turn away ... Turn away and look at the real reality, but I just couldn't.
From the bottom right corner of my vision an invisible hand grabbed this "layer" of reality and ripped it away. It was as if I had no chance to say goodbye, I disappeared into some sort of machine that is responsible for perception. I was part of a segment of reality and it felt as if my life had literally "come to the end of the roll" and I did not exist anymore. It was quite harrowing, yet it retained a very childlike quality.
The last friend I smoked it with had no idea what he was in for, as I don't think I'd informed him enough ... Straight away he seemed distressed and started saying "Whaaat... okay... take it off now dude. I've seen enough. What is this?" Apparently he thought himself an icon in a video game, and he was trapped between planes of reality. He had to make a jump between a clockwork mechanism at the right moment or something 'bad' would happen, and everything seemed fake (classic salvia). He wasn't quite right for about 30 minutes after that.
The takeaway from the experience is often in line with Roger Ebert's words on the day of his death, "This is all an elaborate hoax."
It's like nothing exists and all is just ... like fake or something.
This is when I realize that all of reality and everything that I knew to be true was false. I realized that there was someone or something out there that can fuck with everything however they wanted ... I mean that there was something out there that can do anything it wanted to and it was basically god ... Humans are basically nothing and it can totally fuck with our lives however the hell it wanted to. The "god" can make shit repeat over and over again or maybe put a black hole in the middle of America, etc.
Salvia unzipped myself in half and everyone around me morphed into laughing jokers, causing me to believe that the world had played a giant trick on me and that everything I knew was totally fake. Helpless and terrified.
Breathed out and suddenly, it was as if God pressed stop on my reality. This cruel, heartless, all surrounding, unimaginably powerful God just stopped everything. Suddenly everyone I'd ever known, all the places I'd been, my whole life, had been a lie. It had been just a game, a silly puppet show, and it meant nothing in comparison to the depths of existence beyond my life, way into the infinity of the universe ... I realised I wasn't tripping, this was real. All along my life has been this insane charade which God has now chosen to break down. As I am engulfed in terror at this new reality, the deeper, endless layers of the true reality began folding into my view like the bag of an accordion. A dark, powerful stream of places and perceptions I can't begin to describe, and didn't understand at the time. I shouted out for my partner, who I realised must be part of this fake reality too. My sitter pulled me out of it, and I was back here. Everything seemed fake for a long time after that. The scariest part of this experience was that the Salvia made me believe 100% that I was experiencing the destruction of everything I had ever known.
I was nothing. I was just part of whatever it is that makes up the universe, looking at all the rest of it. I squinted and inspected what I was seeing. Distance didn't matter, everything was too close for it too. I came to the conclusion that all of what I was seeing was a thin layer on my eyeballs, like a TV screen painted onto them ... Everything I was seeing was made of individual, single color pixels, like a TV screen, but the colors weren't limited at all! And they didn't have a definite shape, either. They were all roughly oval. Sort of pill-shaped, but i got more of the impression that they were like plant cells , with thin layers of membrane around each one that kept it binded to the others on the proper sequence. That fascinated me, so I looked harder at it, unable to discern if my eyes were open or closed now, it was as if I was looking at everything on a microscopic level and it was all very alive. When I began trying to concentrate on the cell membranes, the cells would always come unglued, and fall to pieces from each other. All of the cells that had formed together to make something just fell apart like a lot of sand falling to the floor. I didn't know what I was doing to the things that I disintegrated, so I tried to stop, but by then everything was corrupted by my stare, and it started to break apart on a cellular level. Everything was just coming unglued. I recall then that I heard a voice, I suppose it was female, but it really transcended language. it was just really really soothing. She told me in words that aren't words that what I was seeing was the way of things, how the past left to make way for the present.
And what seems like multiple other people's experiences, the only way I can explain it is that it's almost like there are entities that are part of our subconcious mind and the collective unconscious. They are "behind the scenes" in making our objective reality. They are always shifting things to make them seem real and authentic, almost like this reality is just a sinister joke, or some sort of game we all play.
When the illusory layers of reality are peeled away like pixels dropping off a screen, what remains is the reality "behind the curtain." This can be perceived as a sudden access of universal knowledge, a "cosmic consciousness" experience.
I closed my eyes that last time I was transported into another dimension where I FINALLY understood life and all of its concepts and a multicolored being came to me and presented himself and explained to me that all we are as humans are tiny pixels working our hardest to play out life for beings above us. He explained to me that his people all understood through psychedelic drugs that they need to work together as pixels to play out our lives and that we needed to do the same for the beings above us. We are all tiny pieces to an indescribably large puzzle, his whole society was a peaceful and enlightened culture and we need to be the same way here in our lives working together to play out peaceful life.
The whole universe made sense to me at the time then I looked around and I realized I was on top of a pyramid like structure and I looked at my body to see I was made out of a red windowpane LSD type structure, I then spiraled around for a while then I opened my eyes to see my room I felt that I understood every meaning and aspect of life and I sat there for a long time just thinking to myself and trying to remember all of my experiences into salvia land and I was surprised how easily I let go to the experience and didn’t try to hold on to what I thought reality was.
There can be lasting effects, both negative and positive.
Salvia is the only thing I've done that has so completely shattered my reality and forced me to reassess my entire life and the way I live it.
My old vision of death as simple oblivion has been wiped away, and it's very difficult for me to imagine death as anything other than a new transformation into the conscious energy we were before birth and will return to again. There is a new fear in my mind because of this - fear that there's no way out, fear that I will have to endure all the cosmos ever has in it. Sometimes we crave oblivion, we want rest, we want peace, we want off this spinning sphere for a while. And in those moments of fear I remember the void, the pregnant peace, the infinite expanse of nothing, the utter lack of anything and somehow the foundation of everything. If we can know the void, then we can know peace.
These stories are consistent with the hypothesis that the brain is a filter and transceiver that narrows down and reconstructs a vastly larger reality within manageable, familiar constraints, and that when this function is compromised, our perception of reality will radically (and perhaps disorientingly and terrifyingly) expand, with familiar objects dropping away or being peeled off in layers. The stories are also broadly consistent with the idea that physical reality is analogous to a virtual-reality simulation generated by an information-processing program, and that the subjective experience of each of us is akin to the rendered imagery on the screen of our own personal computer terminal - imagery that can glitch up, get caught in an endless loop, or disappear altogether if the render engine fails.
Finally, it suggests that there is an overall plan behind the scenes, carried out by higher-level entities who apparently have a certain compassion for us, even though they seem bewilderingly remote.
None of which proves anything, but it does provide more grist for the speculation mill.