Psychoactive Drugs or Yoga

Psychoactive Drugs or Yoga

Ramifications of the use of Psychoactive substances
For the alteration of personal consciousness and the Yogic alternative


The dilemma of whether advocating for or against the use of psychoactive substances as a means of altering personal consciousness strikes a deep chord in our societies. Ultimately the choice is personal and with many conflicting views makes the decision to use or not to use them difficult for many. The body of knowledge available on this subject is enormous and exhaustive and a definitive hypothesis on this question is as illusive as trying to fathom the deepest mysteries known to mankind. However, there lies within everyone an altered state of consciousness and a range of experiences relating to the unconscious mind of humanity that unconsciously wishes to express itself on the plane of conscious awareness. It manifests as a desire for ultimate fulfilment and wholeness, and amazingly some areas of scientific research into drugs is uncovering data that correlates with some ancient religious and spiritual traditions and is shedding light on the hitherto mysticism of these traditions.

Where lies the experience of continual happiness, contentment and meaning? This question and this homogenous experience could be one of the basic unconscious drives that underlie the disharmony found in our societies today, particularly in the devastating field of drug abuse. Globally, hundreds of Billions of dollars are spent trying to curb the spiralling drug abuse problem. Even the powers to be have conflicting interests (Jason, L. et al., 2001) and make half-hearted attempts, which slow down the process of dissemination of drug education, information and drug rehabilitation programmes and research.

The maxim of, supply equals demand, will always survive and as long as there exists a demand there will always be interested parties ready to profit from this demand. Whether the said parties operate within the constraints of our society’s norms and laws supplying legal drugs (e.g. cigarettes and alcohol etc.) or they operate supplying illicit drugs, the huge profits and cash flows generated by this industrious global exploitation could feed the starving people and educate all of the illiterate people in the world today.

There must be a basic instinctual drive or motivating force and desire that is hard wired into the human organism that requires one to seek out and experience pleasure and meaning. Neurophysiologists would explain this drive with a neurochemical orientation and all the different fields of science would have a view biased towards their specific field of specialisation, which is valid. If you combined all of the resources from the contemporary sciences and also included Philosophies, Religions and research into consciousness (Psychedelic Science, 1998) you would be looking at this desire for drugs through a much wider lens.

Because of the complexity and enormity of the vision that is needed to confront this issue and for the need to simplify it, I believe that the availability of drugs and the desire to have them will persist. The very nature of our society’s push for materialism is not in harmony with the deepest unconscious desire which is spiritual (Grof, S, 1976, 202-205) and (Saraswati, S, 1984,14). There needs to be a shift in paradigms that recognises our innermost essential needs as well as our outer sensory needs.
Call it a Cosmic Homeostasis.

One way in which science has successfully probed into the desire for drugs has been by looking deep into the psyche of drug addicts, and into successful therapeutic and rehabilitation programs. Firstly, by assuming the hierarchy and complexity of the known components of the human organism and acknowledging that the seed of desire must rest somewhere in the deepest recesses of the mind, it quickly becomes apparent, that to elucidate this problem an open-minded view is necessary.

Following are some arguments for and against the use of three commonly abused
Categories of Psychoactive Drugs
Hallucinogens, Stimulants and Depressants.


Hallucinogen – loosely a definition for a large group of psychoactive chemical compounds which can produce hallucinations (visual, auditory, tactile, etc) which are perceptions, subjective and or objective which may arise without the absence of normal physical stimulus (Reber, A.S 1995, 328).
Psychedelic - Greek word meaning “mind manifesting”

Archaeological Evidence: According to First,(First, P.T. 1998) the earliest hallucinogen was found at various sites in Texas and northern Mexico.Sophora seeds are known hallucinogens used by American Indians to this day. The earliest find of these seeds has been dated back to 7265 BC (only 85 years + or – error correction). This means that the Shaman Mystics of this region have been using this substance for nearly 9,500 years. LSD and psilocybin are the most powerful hallucinogens known to man but some other hallucinogens besides sophora (Furst, P.T. 1988, 7) seeds from Central America are Cannabis, Nutmeg derivatives, Tobacco, Ibogaine from tropical Africa, Datura, Yaje etc from Amazonian Tribes, Fly- Agaric Mushroom from Scandinavia and Siberia. Soma is a powerful hallucinogen written about in the ancient Indian text the Rig Veda, which is known to be the oldest known literature recorded by mankind. The ancient Chinese knew Soma as a Psychedelic mushroom.

History of LSD (acid)
Dr. Albert Hoffman and Dr. W. A Kroll discovered d-lysergic acid diethylamide 25 in 1938 (Grof, S, M.D.1976). Whilst they were scientifically examining the derivatives of Ergot, which is a fungus that grows on Rye grass. Hoffman and Kroll’s employer Sandoz laboratories had found a number of medicinal uses over the past 20years from ergot and its derivatives for Obstetrics, Internal medicine, Neurology and Psychiatry. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) is one of the chemical substances derived from lysergic acid. It is an extremely powerful drug that is capable of producing radical alterations in consciousness, hallucinations, dramatic distortions in perceptions and unpredictable mood swings (Furst, P.T. 1998). LSD’s effects on humans weren’t discovered for another five years when Hoffman accidentally intoxicated himself with the substance and went on his first unexpected trip into the mind-altering dimension of the inner space of the unconscious mind.

Psilocybine (magic mushrooms)
One of the major chemical substances, along with psilocine, which were isolated as the major chemical ingredient in the Mexican magic mushroom, botanic name (Psilocybe Mexicana) by R.G. Wasson and Dr Albert Hoffman a Swiss chemist at the end of the 1950s (Psychedelic Science 1998).

Why do LSD and Psilocybin so radically alter consciousness?

Following is a direct quote by Dr. Albert Hoffman in 1996 when he was a guest speaker at the “Conference for the study of Consciousness” held in Heidelberg, Switzerland.

LSD and Psilocybin are closely related in their chemical structure, and they differ very little from the neurotransmitter Seratonin, which controls thoughts and emotions and other roles in our body/mind. Psilocybin’s structure only differs with the position of one Oxygen molecule. It is because of their likeness to neurotransmitters that they have the ability to alter consciousness.
(Psychedelic Science, 1998) & (The Brain our Universe Within 1996).

Arguments for the use of LSD and Psilocybin

Cross Cultural use of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens have for millennia been used by different cultures around the globe and have been associated with ancient tribal customs, initiations, religions, rituals, and healings and as a means to go beyond the known boundaries of the conscious mind (Efron, D.H. 1979). LSD has a long history of scientific research from its discovery in 1938 until its total ban by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration, USA) in 1966. Dr Grof states, prior to this time extensive empirical scientific research was carried out on LSD. Scientific research into the unconscious mind of drug addicts has been facilitated by professional Psychotherapists specifically trained in the use of LSD as the medium for the therapy.

One researcher of note is Dr Stanislav Grof, MD from Prague, Czechoslovakia. He systematically explored the unconscious mind of his clients, getting to the fundamental seed of many problems. Dr Grof reports that in Czechoslovakia when LSD was legal, as well as using it for psychotherapy, people wishing to explore deeper aspects of their unconscious minds (made famous to the west by Freud and Jung, but known to many eastern mystic traditions by different names for millennia) would book in and have a therapeutic LSD session under medical supervision.

According to Grof’s fascinating text, (Grof, S. 1976, 25) quotes ‘many people from artists, poets, inventors, scientists, religious traditions, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers and people interested in personality theory, psychology of religion, psychotherapy, genetics, mythology, education, psychosomatic medicine and obstetric practice. All came to see him for information and especially those people who had personally taken the drug who had experiences and who wanted answers’.

Dr.Grof also reports that chronic alcoholics, cocaine and heroin addicts have been successfully treated, especially after perceiving and then totally entering into a deep spiritual experience. This God (for want of a name) experience totally transformed and subsequently changed the lives of Grof’s patients.

Only a few researchers currently have legal permission to conduct trials using LSD. The FDA gave (Psychedelic Science 1998) Dr Rick Strassman, a psychiatrist from University of British Columbia, permission to begin trials in the USA following successful trials in Brazil during 1992 using another hallucinogen, Ayahuaska. The Brazilian government subsequently legalised Ayahuaska for spiritual, religious and therapeutic use.

Psychedelics and creativity:
LSD has long been known to be associated with some creative personalities e.g. artists, musicians, poets even intellectuals. One example is bio-geneticist Dr Kary Mullis (Psychedelic Science 1998) who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1993. He invented a technique known as PCR, which is used for multiplying tiny amounts of DNA for use in genetic research. He had a creative breakthrough, his mind was able to sit down with the molecules and figure out the problem that he had been working on. He attributed this ability of his mind to the use of Psychedelics.

Arguments against the use of LSD and Psilocybin

In problems with LSD, Ungerleider quotes ‘at the present time, it can be suggested that observers of large numbers of LSD reactions may witness the entire gamut of psychotic and nonpsychotic states. Catatonic, paranoid and other varieties of schizophrenic syndromes, manic-depressive states, paranoia, confusion, anxiety and other mental states that have no psychiatric diagnosis equivalent’ (Ungerleider, T. J .1972, 66-68). As of 1968 there were well over 1000 scientific articles available in English about the Psychotomimetics of the LSD series.

LSD users often use other drugs at the same time as LSD, which can make the outcome an unknown quantity. LSD is dangerous enough without taking more risks. Antidotes of choice are chloromazine and sodium amobarbital (Ungerleider, T. J. 1972).

Illicit use of LSD is fraught with danger in comparison to clinical therapeutic administration of the drug because of many factors.
· Dosage, strength, purity, setting
· Help close by if needed (emergency - medical or psychological)
· The unknown contents of the unconscious mind - unchartered waters
· Loss of control, once the drug takes effect you are at its mercy until it wears off
· Experience may last, for twelve to sixteen hours but can last for days (Ungerleider, T. J .1972).
· Non-ability to integrate the psychic experiences with reality once the drug wears off
· Risk of developing psychosis or schizophrenia in predisposed individuals
· Flashbacks

Arguments for the use of Stimulants


Are drugs that increase neural firing and behavioural activity. Drugs in this category include amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine, caffeine, nicotine, and methylphenidate (McLennan, T. 1986, 68-71). They are a class of drug that can provide the users with a feeling of empowerment, confidence, calmness, increased energy and elation or euphoria.

Note on nicotine; during the research for this article I discovered one of the major multinational cigarette companies was found to be genetically modifying the DNA of tocacco plants to make cigarettes 10 times more addictive. This is pathetic and immoral if you consider how far they go for profit irrespective of the lives that suffer.

Increasingly they are used by:
· Athletes looking for an edge over the competition.
· People working long hours
· People suffering from poor concentration ability
· Depression sufferers
· Individuals with low self esteem and mental insecurity

Arguments against the use of Stimulants

· Dependence – Addiction level for this category drug is extremely high
· Tolerance – Need of increasing dosages to produce the same high
· Negative side effects - withdrawal produces symptoms which can last up to a month with deepening depression, fatigue, lowered energy, bodily pain, sleep problems
· Stimulant Psychosis – Paranoia, irrational fears, violence and injury can occur in heavy users and even in binge users. This can mimic acute schizophrenia with irreversible damage (Mc Lennan, T.1986).
· Cocaine binges - risk of seizures, loss of consciousness, stroke and death from respiratory arrest
· Cocaine snorting - damages the nasal membranes

Arguments for the use of Depressants


Depressants are a category of drugs that depress neural firing. Drugs in this category are: (National Institute of Drug Abuse Sixth Triennial Report to Congress 2001) Alcohol, Heroin, Morphine, Cannabis, Barbiturates (including medications - Valium, Librium, Xanas, Halcion, ProSom), Benzodiazepines, Methaqualone and Flunitrazepam.

· CNS (Central Nervous System) Depressants can reduce pain, anxiety.
· They can provide a feeling of wellbeing
· Lower inhibitions
· Slow the pulse and breathing and lower blood pressure.
· Some Barbiturates are used for Sleep Disorders and reducing tension
· Pre surgery Medical uses - Barbituates
· Euphoria

Arguments against the use of Depressants

· Poor concentration
· Can in large doses produce unconsciousness
· Implicated in emotional depression
· Co-ordination dysfunction
· Fever, Irritability - Barbituates
· Impaired memory
· Slurred speech and Diziness
· Impaired Judgement
· Drug Tolerance, Withdrawal, Addiction
· Benzodiazepines – associated with sexual assault
· Alcohol – related to high risk sexual (Weinhardt, L et al.2001.) behaviour , Brain Damage and Organ Failure
· Cannabis- Chronic users - Poor memory, respiratory disorders, fragmented and disturbed thoughts, Hallucinations (rarely)
· Overdose- Alcohol, Heroin, Benzodiazepines,
· Heroin intravenous users- HIV/AIDS risk
· Social problems- Heroin Addicts can become desperados, and may resort to Criminal activities to get their Fix
· Respiratory depression and arrest
· Coma
· Death


One doesn’t need to be an Einstein to figure out that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. This essay only partially explains the risks associated with these substances, further information can be retrieved from the NIDA website hyper linked in the reference list.

Yoga and Meditation offer safer alternatives to experience the Mysteries of the Mind and Consciousness

If people wish to explore their mind and altered states of consciousness, then the safest methods I know are through the disciplines of yoga and meditation. This is the ‘harm minimisation’ principle (Hamilton, M., et al. 1998) where you use the chemicals inherent within the mind /body complex. Yoga keeps your Body and Mind healthy with a systematic progression of techniques that gradually and naturally allows you to alter the depth of your awareness.

Global priorities

The transformative spiritual experience found at the depths of the unconscious mind, which Dr.Grof elucidated so precisely in his research has been well known in yoga traditions for millennia. His scientific research should be commended for the parallels he found between the deepest recesses of the unconscious mind and Kundalini Yoga (Grof, S, M.D. 1976, 202).


Although it should be pointed out here that Dr.Grof did report rare instances (a few in thousands) of Chakra and Kundalini arousal, my thoughts and the thoughts of Masters of Kundalini Yoga like Swami Satyananda Saraswati agree that this evolutionary force and Phenomena of Kundalini awakening demand absolute respect, decades of preparation Physical, Pranic, Psychological and Spiritual and the competent guidance of an Adept of Kundalini Yoga.

There are no shortcuts to this arena via drugs because you need absolute clarity of mind to reach the precipice of the Unconscious and jump beyond. Pandora’s box (the unconscious mind) needs to open slowly with the key of meditation; don’t blow it open with LSD etc, because you may find that the blast has shattered the jewels, which you seek within.

Drugs, which includes alcohol can weaken your psychic self defence mechanism which Reverend CW Leadbeater the famous Clairvoyant Yogi in his famous book “The Chakras” (1927) calls the ETHERIC WEB. Leadbeater who was a very famous and eminent authority on Kundalini (The Serpent Fire as Leadbeater calls it) and the Chakras warns of the inherent dangers that exist to ordinary man, and even to the aspiring Yogi (Chapter 1V) who may be trying to develop the Chakras. The use of drugs can weaken and even destroy the etheric web, which Leadbeater reports protects us from lower and undesirable astral entities and block the force of the divine life which can enter freely.

The effects of drugs can deteriorate the physical body and mind (even destroy it completely) which is well known, but what is not well known is that it can also injure the more subtle:
v Etheric Body ( which can be equated to the Bio Plasmic or Pranic Body ) which houses the chakra system, and the
v Astral Body ( which houses another more subtle chakra system)

A note for Yoga aspirants: If the etheric and/or astral body is damaged not only can the mind regress into the lower chakras below Mooladhara Chakra (very dangerous and undesirable), but the upward evolution of consciousness which the Yoga aspirant is striving spiritually for is curtailed. Your efforts to spiritual evolve in this human incarnation can be wasted unknowingly by allowing this damage to occur.

I highly recommend aspring Yogis & Yoginis study this diligently and adhere to CW Leadbeater’s recommendations, which are also echoed by Hiroshi Motoyama in his book “Theories of the Chakras Bridge to Higher Consciousness” Chap V11.

Risk Management Summary
Risks which I have mentioned are; Arguments against the use of Depressants, Arguments against the use of Stimulants, Arguments against the use of LSD and Psilocybin (Psychoactive drugs) and the risks mentioned above to the Etheric Web which protects all human beings.

Future Thoughts

If only a fraction of research funding currently used to fight drug addiction and resources were channelled into understanding the phenomena of psychic and/or spiritual awakening in general and the deepest layers of the unconscious mind specifically, then new insights and hypothesis’s attained would remodel the thoughts of why people need drugs and why are they discontented with theretheir lives.


Leadbeater C.W. (1927) The Chakras
Quest Books - Theosophical Publishing House, Chennai (Madras) India.

Motoyama Hiroshi, PHD PHD. (1981) Theories of the Chakras Bridge to Higher Consciousness
New Age Books A- 44 Naraina Phase – 1 New Delhi India

Efron, D.H (1979) Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs.
New York, U.S.A: Raven Press

Furst, P. T. (1988) Hallucinogens and Culture (5th ed.)
. New York, U.S.A: Chandler/Sharp.

Grof, S, M.D. (1976). Realms of The Human Unconscious, Observations from LSD Researc
h, Toronto, Canada: Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd

Hamilton, M., Kellehear, A., & Rumbold, G. (Eds.). (1998), Drug use in Australia: A Harm Minimisation Approach.
Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Jason, L., Davis, M., Ferrari, J., & Bishop, P., (2001)
Research and Implications for Substance Abuse Recovery and Community Research
American Journal of Drug Education, 31, 83-122

McLennan, T, (Ph.D.) (1986)
Escape from Anxiety and Stress. The Encyclopaedia of Psychoactive Drugs
London: Burke Publishing Company Limited

National Institute of Drug Abuse Sixth Triennial Report to Congress (2001)
Research on the Nature and Extent of Drug Use in the United States
Retrieved June 1,2001, from the World Wide Web

Psychedelic Science (video recording) 11 April 1998, SBS Television.

Reber, A. S. (1995) The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (2ndEd)
. Harmondsworth, England:
Penguin Books Ltd.

Saraswati, Swami. Satyananda. (1984) Kundalini Tantra
Munger, Bihar, India.
Bihar school of Yoga

The Brain our Universe Within (video recording) 22 October 1996
, SBS Television.

Ungerleider, T. J (1972) The Problems and Prospects of LSD
(3rd ed)
.Springfield, Illinois, U.S.A:
Charles C Thomas

Weinhardt, L., Carey, M., Carry, K., Maisto, S., & Gordon, M., (2001)
Relation of Alcohol Use to HIV-Risk Sexual Behaviour Among Adults With a Severe and Persistent Mental Illness.
American Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 77-84

Swami Mounamurti Saraswati
This essay was partly of a presentation that I delivered to fellow students when I was studying 1st year Psychology at Wollongong University in 2001.
Copyright ©Copyright © (June 2001)
Last updated 27th July 2009

Though the author grants permission to copy the article, only in its entirety, which thereby acknowledges the sources and references of other inspiring authors.

Swami Mounamurti

KRP The Brain