LSD Experience

By Charles Savage, James Fadiman, Robert Mogar, Mary Hughes Allen

Excerpted from:


The following case history is included because it highlights many of the points considered above...

This patient was a forty-year old married physics professor with no practicing religion. Though he had been brought up as a reformed Jew, he had estranged his parents by marrying a gentile. He complained of uncontrollable hostility over minor infringements of his rights, inability to relate to his wife and children, and job dissatisfaction. He was fearful of killing people. He had scant sense of personal worth. His hostility was usually triggered by driving on the highway and was often directed at the highway police. This was only part of his repressed resentment against all authority. He also complained of a thought disorder. "My mind always seems to be going a mile a minute in every direction except the one I command." On psychiatric examination he seemed quite narcissistic and infantile. He was so oblivious of the needs and feelings of other people as to appear almost solipsistic. Symptoms included mild anxiety, moderate emotional withdrawal, moderate guilt feelings, and oderate tension. His diagnosis was compulsive personality. He interpreted his LSD experience as follows:

" I interpret the dream as enlightenment to me of God and all creation, and of my place within the Universe. I see the cosmic countdown being presented as a time sequence only so I could comprehend the "All in One" aspect of the Universe. (Here he refers to Gamow's theory of creation known as "the big bang.") One could stop the dream sequence at any point and still call it a presentation of all Creation. When I see myself on the surface of the bubble, along with all the others like me, this tells me that all that is made up of elements like me. In the final scene when I see God, I interpret this to mean that I am an integral, although infinitesimal part of God. "

The day after this session, it was noted, "He is staggered by the quality of his 'universal encounter.' States that so much was revealed! He went back to the 'big bang' (beginning of creation). Found its explanation and meaning all around in shapes and music. Appeared relaxed and freer. Seems to have by-passed the personal, yet shows signs of latent integration on that level."

Two months later he requested a second LSD session. ...

Two years after his first session he felt he had no serious personal problems left, although he still expressed some concern about the meaning of life and his personal worth. ...

The psychiatrist's final judgment was best stated non-psychiatrically. "This man has come alive. He is fun to be with." This judgment still seems valid two years and six months after his first LSD session.

This patient was a model of someone who does well with LSD. The change seems directly related to the transcendental experience. Chandler and Hartman have suggested that the transcendental experience is a defense against the person's hostility. The available data neither support nor deny this view. But if true, it was a good defense and more ego-syntonic than his previous defense structure.

The transcendental experience, so common in psychedelic therapy, while most easily described in religious metaphors, has not in our sample occasioned any substantial change in religious practices. In the case above the subject did not look upon his experience as a conversion and he is no more religious than before. Often, however, the transcendental experience is viewed by the subject and the therapist as pivotal to his subsequent behavior and attitude changes. The experience seems to give subjects a different view of themselves rather than a different view of their religious system. (Pages 523-524)

In the present study, differences in thematic content of the experience were found among subjects with diverse cultural backgrounds. As a case in point, wide individual differences were demonstrated with respect to content in the frequent experience of unity. However, the fact that the majority of subjects experienced a sense of unity, or oneness, seems far more significant than whether the unity was felt with self, nature, the universe, God, or some combination of these. With regard to variations in content, it must be added that content was inferred primarily from observation and the verbal report of the subject. Needless to say, to the degree that he can verbalize the experience, the subject drew on his own particular semantic framework and belief system. One can only speculate on the discrepancy between this communicated account of the experience and the experience itself. (Page 526)