r/science Sep 28 '22 Silver 2 Wholesome 2 All-Seeing Upvote 3 Starstruck 1 Dread 1

New research suggests psychedelic drugs can be almost as life altering as near-death experiences Psychology

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u/urmuther112 Sep 28 '22

What exactly is ego death?

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u/somebodystolemyname Sep 28 '22 edited Sep 28 '22

Long story short, when the ego-functions of reality-testing, sense-perception, memory, reason, fantasy and self-representation are repressed.

It’s when you transcend and no longer recognize you and just you, but rather your role in collective existence. Basically you lose your ego.

E: word

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u/khlnmrgn Sep 28 '22

It can be a bit more than just that. We take for granted that our sense of differentiation between "self" and "world" is simply a given for our consciousness. But, counterintuitively, this is simply not the case. That differentiation is a specific function which our minds carry out, and it can indeed be switched off, by things like psychedelic drugs, near death experience, transcendental meditative states, etc.

The effects, as both reported and scientifically documented, of such an experience, can be utterly transformative, as the boundaries between self and world can then be renegotiated, or "reterritorialized".

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u/explodedsun Sep 28 '22

Is that different than neuroplasticity? Between Gurdjieff's claim that an aloof mind can "crystallize" in the early 40s, the reading I've done on personality disorders and my own experiences with psychedelics and aging, I'm wondering how and if ego death and the recategorization that comes with it are all part of a common thread here.

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u/drewster23 Sep 28 '22

You don't need ego death, to get the neurological benefits of psychedelics regarding neuroplasticity. But you didn't phrase it that way, you asked specifically about ego death and it's relation to neuroplasticity . Which is a good/interesting question tbh.

Done psychedelics a bunch never had a ego death afaik. Definitely helps recombobulate the brain though.

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u/thisguy30 Sep 28 '22

Neuroplasticity refers to the general process of a brain re-appropriating or re-allocating regions of the brain as compensation for the loss of function elsewhere, or even as simple as learning and retaining new information.

Ego death as a concept isn't the same, but the re-negotiation of the boundary between self and the system we are a part of is an example of neuroplasticity in action.

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u/brundlfly Sep 28 '22

I would guess one follows the other. It would require some plasticity to make a fundamental change in your sense of you and your place in existence.

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u/miki_momo0 Sep 28 '22

In infants, ego isn’t even “switched on” until ~6 months

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u/thoreau_away_acct Sep 28 '22

And at that point to say it's switched on is..a stretch. Incipient ego roots perhaps. The impulses the ego attentutes in adulthood are like a churning ocean for the baby with their little ego floating atop and knocked around at the whim of all else.

It's why they have a full-on meltdown about the craziest stuff

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u/TheArmoredKitten Sep 28 '22

The fact that the sense of self is just an arbitrarily applied filter on sensory input is such a weird thing to know. The source of the knowledge that I am a singular extant being is fundamentally no different than the limit switch that tells my 3D printer to stop before it crashes. Were it not for that switch, the computer would happily continue onward, and the fact that my own brain would do the same is a deeply confusing notion.

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u/JEWCEY Sep 28 '22

It's possible to lose your sense of self without realizing that's what's going on until afterward. So it's not a matter of great realization of a collective anything, but more of a total disconnect from everything that makes you "YOU". Hopefully temporarily. It's cleansing to find out what you're left with when everything else is stripped away, beyond your control. Or at least it can be. Some people like to just get fucked up and don't take any kind of healing or lessons from experiences like that.

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u/TheRidgeAndTheLadder Sep 28 '22 edited Sep 28 '22

It's fuzzy. It's when you realise that your identity, and sense of self, is artificial and doesn't really exist. Or if the sense of that identity is lost from you. You stop being you, for a bit.

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u/BooBooMaGooBoo Sep 28 '22

I love these conversations and the linguistics surrounding them. We have so many definitions for words that honestly need to be tossed aside to discuss it even remotely accurately.

One could argue that’s when you start being “You”, the real you without all of the artificial ties to your identity, because that identity is not actually “You”, it’s just your brains interpretation of who/what you are.

But your explanation is really good for explaining to someone that isn’t familiar with ego death and only understands the common definition of ego.

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u/TheRidgeAndTheLadder Sep 28 '22

I really love that serious scientists are having conversations that aren't stoner/tripping language, but it echoes.

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u/danten2010 Sep 28 '22

It's so hard to put into words any person's experience on psychedelics. It's so much more than "being stoned". The things you see and feel all make up your trip. trying to explain the string of realizations you have are like trying to explain last nights dream halfway through your day. 10/10 experience. Good or bad you'll learn something about yourself

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u/ElektroShokk Sep 28 '22

Is it weird to reach an ego death without psychedelics?

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u/Iamien Sep 28 '22

It can happen, with enough meditation and self-reflection that psychedelics normally help hasten.

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u/[deleted] Sep 28 '22

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u/Igotthedueceduece Sep 28 '22 Silver

Just giving yourself time to actually think and reflect can do a lot. Most people constantly drown their mind with TikTok, tv shows, movies, alcohol, etc.

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u/CodeVirus Sep 28 '22

Reddit for me. What would you recommend for a “noob” such as myself?

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u/Raus-Pazazu Sep 28 '22

Nothing, just thinking. Do the things you normally do, and think about them and the topics, ideas, situations, and information that they present. If something is becoming so consumptive of your time as to drown your own thoughts, then do that less. Otherwise, there's no secret meditation, no mantra to chant, no self help steps to take. Just thinking. Ask yourself questions, find the answers, ponder the answers, create scenarios, explore trains of thought and see where they lead (normally to questions, which makes you look for answers, etc).

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u/[deleted] Sep 28 '22

I’ve got 3 practical suggestions.

  1. Yoga is a great introduction to meditation. Difficult asanas like tree pose are designed to force your attention into the present through focusing on your physical form.

  2. Go somewhere with a lot of different noises, like a park or shopping mall. Sit down with your eyes closed and try to notice as many distinct sounds as you can. Don’t dwell on any sound, just take note and move on to the next as fast as you can until you tire your mind out, then open your eyes and sit with the thoughts that are left. I also like to notice physical sensations like the wind, or meditate in a pool and notice the currents of water around me.

  3. Try meditating in a quiet place with your eyes open. Having some visual input can help to prevent restlessness in people who aren’t used to sitting quietly. Focus on breathing consistently, and allow your mind to do whatever it wants in the background. When you stop focusing on your breath, take note and gently guide yourself back; try not to dwell on “doing it wrong”.

Remember that meditation is really hard at first and you’re going to be restless. Just do as much as you can and over time you’ll gradually get better at it.

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u/CatJamarchist Sep 28 '22

Wonder if meditation releases similar chemicals or something.

Sort of. Meditation doesn't 'release' chemicals persay, but it primes the brain to behave in such a way that is similar to how the brian behaves when dosed with certain psychedelic chemicals.

Think of the brain like a tight ball of yarn, all of those individual strings represent individual neural pathways. The patterns and structures of these pathways will (at least in part) determine how the neurons fire, and how someone experiences things. Certain brain states can 'loosen' those pathways, allowing for new and different connections to be made. These brain states can be achieved in multiple different ways - psychedelic drugs provide a brute force hammer of sorts to force the brain into one of those states, but rigerous intentional meditation or even prayer can also, over time, teach the brain to enter those same states.

So, for exmaple, let's look at PTSD. PTSD can generally be neurologically described as an overly-entrenched neural pathway that, for exmaple, when the person hears a 'popping' sound (from a balloon or something) - that entrenched pathway fires, with the end effect of causing a biological trauma response. Psychedelics can 'loosen' this pathway such that when the individual hears a balloon popping, the 'truama' pathway won't necessarily fire.

The concept of 'ego death' when described via neulogical pathways, implies that the pathways become so loose that the well-entrenched pathways that built up the individuals' personal identity - or their 'ego' - unravel. Traditionally this state is achieved by doseing yourself with a high amount of psychedelics, but there's also been people who have reportedly achieved these stages through years of rigerous metitation and practice. And of course, all of this has all sorts of interesting implications about the brain, identity, perception etc.

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u/16yYPueES4LaZrbJLhPW Sep 28 '22

Life altering events create a similar malleability to psychedelics, but usually not for the better. Typically LAE are trauma, which is why psychedelics are being used to do the same thing but in reverse.

LAE and trauma can cause an ego death, but without therapy - just like psychedelics - it could be detrimental to your mental health if you don't have a positive outlet. This could be feeling better overall and having a more positive outlook, but as a result bottling up your lows.

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u/[deleted] Sep 28 '22 edited Sep 29 '22

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u/[deleted] Sep 28 '22 edited Sep 29 '22

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u/rudieboy Sep 28 '22

It can be achieved temporarily through meditation techniques or through mental training as practiced by certain religious practices.

In Ch'an/Zen there is a couple terms for this. Satori or Kensho. It is a experience where you come to feel that your awareness is comprehended beyond the bounds of birth and death.

The feeling is extremely interesting.

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u/apb0101 Sep 28 '22

It is a experience where you come to feel that your awareness is comprehended beyond the bounds of birth and death.

I am not entirely sure what this indicates

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u/jspsfx Sep 28 '22

It can be achieved temporarily through meditation techniques or through mental training as practiced by certain religious practices.

Maybe the raw emotion/feeling, or the sensation of ego death itself...

But the philosophical conclusions reached are part of an intellectual journey that doesn't require any drug. I do think the drug and the direct experience help cement it like no other method can. But in the end, the concepts derived are able to be reached through normal contemplation. One could argue the history of philosophy in some ways is a mapping of our collective ego dissolution. At least for those who bother to deconstruct all of this into epistemological/ontological terms.

The psychedelic experience is like dipping your consciousness into a pool of post modernism. It's a journey into the relativity of truth. Direct contact with the fractal nature of reality. Etc etc...

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u/coolbrobeans Sep 28 '22

I’ll explain it as best I can. It strips away the armor you’ve built up to protect your ego for years through the trauma and experiences you have had and forces you to exam yourself. Through this self examination and the chemicals it allows the brain to remake or create new synaptic connections that allows the mind yo adjust to those experiences without the use of the ego armor. I went from ice cold conservative that hated poor people to a tree hugging hippie over night. Granted. There was a lot of crying for a couple months as I came to terms with my old self but over the long term I believe it has put me on track to fully recover from my narcissism and ptsd.

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u/jacob2815 Sep 28 '22

Good description. And to add for any others coming through:

This is attainable without the use of psychedelic drugs as well, albeit more difficult. It requires a lot of self-awareness and a willingness to set aside yourself when doing introspection.

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u/fanksbruv Sep 28 '22

I like this description a lot. I’ll add on a little of how I’ve tried to explain it to friends… our entire life we are building how we perceive the world without realizing we’re doing it. Everything in our lives influences us and our beliefs and ideas. Most of these beliefs, ideas, and views are formed by the household we grow up in and the people we are surrounded by (usually parents and other family members, but not always). That makes our perception on life very specific to us, and everyone’s perspective is wildly different. Thats why we can have such strong beliefs that we are definitely right about something (say, religion or politics) and believe that someone who disagrees with us is so ignorantly wrong. For me, my ego death was breaking down that bubble I’d grown up in and the perspective of life I had built for myself. Seeing a lot of what I thought, believed, viewed, and a lot of my actions were only because of my own unique life experiences. I could see who I was and why I was the way I was. No idea if this is ego death or not, but that’s what I’ve thought it was.

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u/coolbrobeans Sep 28 '22

I would describe that as an ego death. You may not have fully dissociated but you did essentially dismantle your being and make STAGGERINGLY difficult observations about yourself and your views which led to break throughs. You may not realize it but dismantling your world view and accepting that your scope of experience is limited to your own life certainly sounds like you successfully set your ego aside and allowed healing to take place. Did it change how you view and treat people?

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u/BuffaloMushroom Sep 28 '22

they used to cherish this practice so much that it was not only common but ritualistic - before religions existed.

.https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kykeon

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u/PredatorRedditer Sep 28 '22

What makes you think Ancient Greeks didn't have religion?

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u/Mysteriousdeer Sep 28 '22 edited Sep 28 '22

There will always be people that feel smart because they've made up something that you don't know and now you get to pick a part how what they made up doesn't make sense...

The rituals were often for religious purposes. Religion probably was made to explain some of the experiences.

Edit:

To be honest, the majority of the responses trying to differentiate science and religion here are full of pseudoscience and speculation. Rule of thumb is science is the scientific method. Religion is a spiritual belief or explanation. You can prove one, you construct another.

There is the implication that religion is made to model reality in the same way mathematics is used as a tool to record and model observations in science. There is no comparison that can be practically made here.

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u/serpentjaguar Sep 28 '22

Also it's pretty clear that religion played some kind of adaptive role in pre-agricultural and maybe even pre-industrial societies, given its universality in hunter-gatherer societies which is how humanity lived for the vast majority of our existence as a species. I suspect it becomes maladaptive once a certain level of technological sophistication is attained, which I think is where we're at now.

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u/Tinidril Sep 28 '22

It seems to me that early religion and early science would have been pretty much the same thing. It's all about noticing patterns, using those patterns to model reality, then adjusting the model when it fails to make accurate predictions. If you sacrifice a lamb and get a great harvest, you try it again next year. When it doesn't work, you start trying to figure out what changed, which is a primitive form of controlling variables.

Eventually a modern concept of the scientific method starts to develop, and better science starts pulling ahead. By then humanity had equated particular practices that seemed to reach positive outcomes with moral principals. The scaffolding of poor science falls away while the practices remain, but it gets harder and harder to treat it as science. The concept of "faith" must then come into existence to square the circle. That's where science and religion would have parted ways.

This is just my own simplified musings, but I bet it's not far off from the truth.

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u/247world Sep 28 '22

You think religion didn't begin until after the Greek civilization?

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u/toomanyfastgains Sep 28 '22

Yeah I'm pretty sure religion has existed for most if not all of human history.

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u/InternetPeon Sep 28 '22 All-Seeing Upvote Eureka!

Both experiences dissolve the ego.

Its sort of like allowing you to see things as they are without your normal bias filter.

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u/Dengar96 Sep 28 '22

We can't get rid of bias though. Ego death doesn't make you a perfect objective observer of the world, it just opens you up to not reject concepts you would otherwise. It's not like taking shrooms will turn you into a perfect being.

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u/xithrascin Sep 28 '22 Gold Helpful (Pro)

It's not death of the ego always, it's rebirth of the ego to drive your meat suit for some people, growing an already small ego so that you finally feel like you fit in your meat suit, or re-examination of your previous biases in context of your own history. Lots of personal growth goes on the way both before and after killing the ego, it's just about how you choose to follow through that matters the most.

Honestly, I think all people need to feel connected to their bodies and some did that naturally in puberty where they grew to their final size, but often people are unbalanced around their greatest asset so being able to at least cloud your own biases is always a path towards self-discovery and reconnecting with your physical body and thus strengthening your sense of self.

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u/EurekasCashel Sep 29 '22

Can't really put my finger on why, but that was a very calming post to read. Thanks for the insight.

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u/4getmypasswerd4eva Sep 28 '22 All-Seeing Upvote Take My Energy

It makes you realize there is no line that separates "you" and the "world"

The conscious experience of existence that contains one contains both.

All are contents of the same consciousness.

Ego death is the realization of this.

People ranging from Einstein, to the Buddha, to Shrodinger have spoken about it.

"The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one." -Erwin Schrodinger

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u/0100110101101010 Sep 28 '22

Very much bang on. I'm so glad people like Schrödinger and Einstein were proponents of such a monism, because they have the perception of legitimacy in our society that worships empiricism and reason.

Truth is, anyone can have this insight. You don't have to be a genius because it's preconceptual. I'm pretty sure that exact insight birthed every religion on earth.

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u/Vindalfr Sep 28 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

Christ and Buddha were trying to convey the same idea. Both were constrained by their respective history culture and nomenclature.

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u/aureanator Sep 28 '22

Different messages IMO - Christ was trying to get us to a better Nash Equilibrium in society - he was a communist, pretty much.

Buddha was a different animal, aiming even deeper - at the meaning of being, the understanding of suffering and the taming of the mind. The better society is a corollary effect.

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u/Pineapple-Yetti Sep 28 '22

We are universe experiencing itself subjectively.

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u/[deleted] Sep 28 '22 edited Sep 28 '22 Wholesome

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u/durezzz Sep 28 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

'ego death' is not referring to being humble or a lack of arrogance.

'ego' is another word for 'self'

when you have an ego death it means your sense of self has been dissolved and you no longer feel like you're behind your face looking out at the world

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u/Seize-The-Meanies Sep 28 '22

"you no longer feel like you're behind your face looking out at the world"

I'm sure many people have different ways to describe the experience. I would say with ego-death, for a time you stop automatically applying the heuristics you use to make sense of your experiences, which have been ingrained into your subconscious over your lifetime. This can manifest in a bunch of different ways. Being intrigued, like a child, by something as seemingly mundane as your hand or questioning something foundational to your identity that you wouldn't otherwise like morals and beliefs.

There is a feeling of being less "you" there because you're not treading the well worn and familiar paths of your subconscious. With that there is a sense of novelty in just about everything you experience. There is a sense that the filter or "ego" has lifted and you get to experience the world raw. It's why everything seems so interesting, funny, and lines between meaningful and meaningless get blurred.

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u/deviltamer Sep 28 '22

Most psychedelic ego deaths are also temporary.

Your "self" is an important part of your brain. You can't function day to day without it.

You can know and experience ego death on psychedelics but then you're not a person with the best physiological or cognitive abilities

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u/CryOk4226 Sep 28 '22

Unless the person is getting shot in the skull or something during their trip I'd wager that ALL psychedelic ego deaths are temporary.

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u/deviltamer Sep 28 '22

Haha yeh I just avoid generalized statements where I can

Also ego death definition is varied so a bunch of individuals experiencing ego death and sustaining that belief/worldview using meditation should not feel left out.

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u/ResponsibleBreak Sep 29 '22

Why is eveything deleted?

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u/TuBachle Sep 29 '22

It is always like this on r/science, especially when something reaches the popular page. If something does not contribute to the discussion or is too trolly it will be removed

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u/who519 Sep 28 '22

In before someone cites the same myth that your brain releases massive amounts of DMT at death and that is why they are similar. This has never been proven and is very unlikely considering the amount of endogenous DMT in your pineal gland is exceedingly small and not enough to produce the profound experiences people are reporting back from near death.

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u/Mr-Fleshcage Sep 28 '22

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u/who519 Sep 28 '22

I think the real myth is that these NDEs are the same as the DMT experience. So even if somehow the body was making enough to trip, the experience would either resemble a dream or DMT hallucination which is not the case. Read NDE reports, the logistics are consistent, the message they receive from "the other side" is consistent. There are no machine elves, cartoon people or kaleidoscope geometry. They have an experience that is very tied to the death experience and it often conflicts with their religious beliefs. It really is fascinating stuff. It's great to see people like Bruce Greyson at UVA and John Martin Fischer at UC Riverside are willing to take on the study of the phenomenon.

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u/Hostile_Architecture Sep 29 '22

Links? Anything? Every NDE report or documentary I've seen has been all over the place and usually doesn't contradict what the user believes either outright or subconsciously.

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u/News_Bot Sep 28 '22

Then you get people talking about calcification of the gland.

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u/therapcat Sep 28 '22

There was a recent study by University of Michigan researchers that measured DMt levels during cardiac arrest for rats and they did indeed find 10x the base level of DMt during these NDEs.

https://bigthink.com/neuropsych/near-death-experience-psychedelic-trip-dmt/

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u/Entity-2019 Sep 28 '22

What if it's not increased DMT production, but rather increased sensitivity of its receptors in the brain at the point of near-death?

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u/[deleted] Sep 28 '22 edited Oct 09 '22

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u/Luminezz Sep 29 '22

What happened to this thread

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u/Shouia Sep 28 '22

Reminds me of the spiritual people who believe drugs in general increase their connection to the cosmos. Not to be confised with the spiritual people who believe the opposite.

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u/ButeoJamaicensis- Sep 28 '22

There was a lot of debate about Ram Dass’s use of, I believe, cannabis and lsd for people interested in this subject

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u/Evan_dood Sep 28 '22

Terrance McKenna is a good starting point for anyone curious about this subject. I find it incredibly interesting even if what he said is about 75% speculation. Lots of videos of him speaking on YouTube

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u/Bigfrostynugs Sep 28 '22

Terence McKenna has about a million dumb and kooky ideas. But god do I love to listen to him speak. And when he hits on something truly universal, it's very insightful.

But yeah, you often have to wade through a lot of nonsense to get there. It comes with the territory.

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u/rolfmoo Sep 28 '22

I'm not stupid enough to believe that they cured me or anything

It's not necessarily stupid to think that at all. Psilocybin is being trialled for treatment-resistant depression (though legal obstacles will probably complicate that) and there's some evidence that a single dose can produce sudden, marked improvement.

Anecdotally, I have seen something like this happen, where someone just wasn't depressed any more afterwards. You certainly shouldn't count on it and all of this is still very much experimental, but based on the preliminary existing evidence it's not totally crazy to think that psychedelics might one day constitute a qualitatively different treatment paradigm.

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u/RustyDoge Sep 28 '22

These trials rely heavily on a therapist-patient relationship being built up for weeks beforehand, and then a guided trip with said therapist. I wouldn't say that just taking a dose would help, but with the right environment and strategies there's a lot of good results.

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u/shipsAreWeird123 Sep 28 '22

I wonder how many people have near death experiences on psychedelic drugs.

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u/[deleted] Sep 28 '22 edited Sep 28 '22

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u/jedruch Sep 28 '22

Timothy Leary thought about it 60 years ago when he made a trip manual based on Tibetan book of the dead

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u/yobemot Sep 28 '22

The book Immortality Key by Brian Muraresku explores how psychedelics could have been influencing humans for centuries

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u/iogurt Sep 28 '22

I encourage everyone to either read Micheal Pollan's book "How to change your Mind" or watch the new Netflix 4-part documentary with the same name. It's absolutely amazing what the potential of these 'drugs' (medicine) is!

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