In Part 1, we recapped Dr. Rick Strassman’s presentation at the Psychedelic Symposium that took place this past September at the University of Michigan. In this presentation, Strassman posits that there lies the potentiality that psychedelics act as mental amplifiers or “super placebos”. Following the transcript of his presentation we inserted our own commentary regarding the phenomena of hypnoanalgesia as possibly providing support for the notion that hypnosis can induce similar mental amplificatory properties in terms of dramatic pain reduction and nullification.
(This TEDX talk with 10 million views shows Nerenberg hypnotizing a group of young adults on stage.)
DMT Quest reached out to Nerenberg to discuss his foray into inducing drug-like experiences via hypnosis as well as the concept of endogenous DMT’s possible relationship to deep trance. His comments are as follows:
How to induce drug-like experiences via hypnosis: “The one catch…. it requires a specific trance. It’s a somnabulistic trance which is a deeper trance than regular hypnosis. Only about 1/3 of people will be able to achieve that depth of trance in a public setting.”
How to tell if the subjects are in a somnabulistic state of deep trance: “In truth there’s a lot of diversity to hypnotic behavior. Generally speaking, the sign of somnabulism is a flickering of the eye lids which happens 80% of the time. The second sign is based on the muscle tension of the wrist, a person not in somnabulism has normal muscle tension but a person in somnabulism has virtually no muscle tension… their wrist is very limp.”
How people can act so silly from somnabulistic hypnotic trance: “Stage hypnosis works by finding the most hypnotizable people in an audience and then doing something called fractionation. In hypnotherapy fractionation is when you put someone in a trance, you wake them up, and put them back in a trance. The theory is that as you wake the subjects up and put them back in trance they go deeper each time. This is why if you go to a stage hypnosis show you’re far more likely to see outrageous things towards the end of the show than the beginning. For example, if I tell someone they are a chicken within 3 seconds of hypnotizing it might just wake them up and they come out of trance. But if I do it 45 minutes into the show after numerous cycles of waking them up and putting them deeper into trance (fractionation), it will probably work.”
Deep hypnosis and endogenous DMT: “I think deep hypnosis is something like the Holodeck on Star Trek. A place were people can have their experiences and everything was extremely realistic. With a flip of a switch the Holodeck could be turned off and the people would go back to just being Star Trekkers. For example, a group of people on stage… I will put them in a slow motion state. They are all in slow motion experiencing time differently… I think they’re all experiencing something like the Holodeck. They’re experiencing a state in which time is different for them while they’re in the hypnotic state. I think this could have something to do with the way DMT works. From all accounts, when people smoke DMT, its widely reported that the perception of time is greatly altered. DMT is generally presented as hallucinatory but I would present it more as an internal theater chemical. A dream theater of sorts that opens up.”
On the ability to influence physiology while in hypnotic trance: “At the hypnotic bar, one of the states I induce is hypnotic MDMA/Ecstasy. It’s actually one of the easier ones to induce. I’m in the middle of doing a documentary and I came across a study that shows that blood levels of serotonin increase as people gaze into each others eyes. We know that MDMA induces an increase in serotonin as one of it’s effects. One thing about the somnabulistic trance is that if you have something, you can double it… it’s a kind of rule specific to that depth of trance. It doesn’t work in other trance states. It’s based on a person having a specific feeling and suggesting that they feel it twice as strong…. and you can keep repeating this effect. What I do is that I take two people, I put them both in somnambulistic trance and I have them look into each other’s eyes. When they’re in this trance they go deep into eye gazing at each other which naturally induces an increase in serotonin levels. I give each of them instructions to go deeper into the state and double their levels of compassion. I continue to do this until they reach an extreme state of bliss. Having done this multiple times with multiple subjects who have taken MDMA prior, they claim that the feeling is extremely similar.”
On whether hypnosis could be comparable mechanistically to an amplified version of the placebo effect: “In hypnosis we would call placebo “suggestion”. One of the reasons why I believe hypnosis is not fully embraced and understood by the medical community is the diversity of outcome. While the diversity is not that extreme all things considered, it does vary based on the depth of trance. For instance, if I can get a person in somnambulistic trance, I’m 90 percent sure that I can make their back pain go away via suggestibility. However, if I can’t get them in that depth of trance, they might just look at me with no effect. There are also people who are highly suggestible but don’t go into deep trance. But yes, I would say that there is definitely overlap when it comes to the placebo effect and the effects of suggestion under hypnosis.”
On certain people that are more hypnotizable and why: “One thing that I’ve noticed is that it seems as though home schooled people tend to be much more highly hypnotizable percentage wise compared to the average non-home schooled person. One of the theories I have regarding this is when a child is in school and is gazing out the window (or some other trance state), they usually get reprimanded by the teacher or harassed by fellow students. This essentially dissuades and disrupts them from the trance state in a slightly traumatic manner. The modern school system seems to play a role in associating the trance state with weakness and gullibility. The home schooled children doesn’t have to deal with this and this is one of the main reasons why I believe they are so highly hypnotizable. This could extend to other underlying reasons why a percentage of the population are more hypnotizable than others… the environment they grew up in plays a big role.”
On recreating Ayahuasca experiences: “One night when I finished doing a show at the hypnotic bar in Toronto, some people said to me, “Hey, since it seems like you were able to induce various drug states, do you think you can try to replicate Ayahuasca?” At this point I had never experienced Ayahuasca myself but I was like sure… lets give it a shot. We ended up gathering a group of five volunteers who had all done Ayahuasca before. I put them under trance, included suggestions, and played a mix of sounds that are traditionally integrated with the Ayahuasca ceremony such as Icaros-like songs, shakers, and chanting. Three people out of that group (5 total) reported re-experiencing Ayahuasca states. They said that they smelled the scents and emotions. The next attempt we got a group of 18 people together, and once again half of the group reported Ayahuasca-like sensations. At this point, I felt that I couldn’t properly guide people’s hypno-Ayahuasca state without having experienced it myself so I ended up taking the plunge shortly thereafter. Since then I’ve experienced Ayahuasca multiple times and am now much better at recreating the experience via hypno-Ayahuasca for others by essentially re-creating the entire ritual (sounds, music, ceremony) once the person is under somnambulistic trance. The people that only go into light trance scratch the surface of the experience but those that go fully somnambulistic will have the full experience… without side effects!”
DMT Quest Note: It’s interesting that while some people will doubt whether a person is capable of experiencing Ayahuasca without ingesting the brew, there are many studies indicating that hypnosis alone can create many of the measurable peripheral changes to the system associated with Ayahuasca such as pupil dilation, blood pressure changes, and heart rate increases. This doesn’t include the fact that the mammalian system produces the precise chemicals necessary to replicate the experience in the form of Endohuasca.
DMT Quest Question: “Excuse my ignorance as I’m not a hypnotist… but is it possible to simply do a hypnotic induction with the subsequent deepeners needed to induce somnambulism and literally instruct the body produce 500% more DMT in the brain? In essence, is there a way to induce specific endogenous psychedelic release via suggestion or does a person need to be able to visualize or remember a past psychedelic experience?”
Nerenberg stated, “It seems as though what you’re describing could possibly be trained. It would be interesting to see if future studies see any correlation between increased DMT levels and REM stage sleep. One of the tests I do is I will take 5 somnabulistic people, put them all in deep trance and tell them they are walking down the street and they will move and twitch in a similar way to someone that is dreaming. The movements are not exactly in line with what they are dreaming about but there is some correlation. For whatever reason, everybody who I’ve come across that is somnambulistic can experience flying when in deep trance. Often just for fun I will suggest that these people experience themselves on a tropical island and then as they walk through the jungle they see an enormous eye that turns out to be a giant dinosaur that chases them. At this point you can see them become very nervous and they’re body starts to react. Then I instruct them to simply fly up in the air and they do. My point in stating all of this is that I think that when they are experiencing these vivid, visionary states during deep trance I believe that endogenous DMT is a part of that. I believe these states are very similar to dreaming and if we wanted to upregulate DMT in the brain, we would basically induce access to the dream state. The stronger the state becomes via fractionization and intensifying the experience via suggestion alongside extended time in this state, the greater the effect will be. I imagine that you could essentially work your way back into this state via suggestion and develop a quick trigger to access this state which I hypothesize that DMT is involved in. That’s just off the top of my head.”
– End of dialogue
The field of inducing psychedelic states without the exogenous psychedelic ingestion is intriguing in terms of the possibilities and deciphering the mechanisms with which they take place. While some might find it difficult to believe that a full-blown Ayahuasca-like experience is possible from hypnosis, a 2017 study published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, & Practice found that hypnosis alone is capable of inducing mystical-type experiences. The study would comprise of 113 undergraduate volunteers who would undergo hypnosis with suggestions for a mystical experience. 26% of the subjects reported a moderate mystical-type experience while 9% of the subjects reported a mystical experience to a “great degree”. Individuals high in hypnotic suggestibility scored higher on a scale of mystical experience. The researchers concluded, “Our findings represent a demonstration proof that hypnotic suggestion can play a viable role in inducing mystical-type experiences of varying degrees among about a third of participants in a laboratory context and support the hypothesis that the ability to experience hypnotically induced mystical-type experiences varies as a function of hypnotic suggestibility.”
As we’ve cited many times in the past, not only does the mammalian brain and nervous system contain the endogenous chemical mix (DMT/5-MEO) to induce hallucinatory phenomena, an unpublished study cited by veteran DMT researcher Dr. Steven Barker claims that LSD was found to increase the levels of endogenous DMT in rats by 400% and 5-MEO-DMT by 1000%. If this study is replicated in the future, it will allude to the notion that LSD does not operate as a singular biochemical catalyst but rather as a stimulant of the endogenous hallucinatory system as Barker has stated (down below). There could be overlap in terms of the mechanisms with which a somnambulistic trance induces an upregulation of a specific matrixes of endogenous hallucinatory chemicals to induce the subsequent effects. It’s not as if Nerenberg is presenting hypnosis induced mystical experiences as being consistent 100% of the time during regular trance. Instead he’s stating that it is seemingly accessible to somnambulistic subjects (30% of the public) during deep trance (somnambulism) activated via fractionation over a certain time period. From a basic measurably objective perspective, it seems as though the hypnotic fractionation cycles create a significant amplification of slower brain waves compared to normal waking consciousness (with a possible coupling/phase locking of gamma waves). There also lies the possibility that instead of huge increases in endogenous biochemical release comparable to pharmacological doses (ex. drinking Ayahuasca), that a form of neural circuitry/pathway retracing is taking place for the subjects that have already experienced exogenous psychedelic administration. This would allow a person to re-experience the hallucinatory phenomena without having to produce the same levels of biochemicals needed to induce the initial experience.
It’s obviously a complicated topic of discussion.
In 1963, the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis published a study that utilized a combination of LSD and hypnosis in an attempt to better control the response variability of LSD in a therapeutic setting. The study took place in 2 sessions with the first being an interview to screen eligibility and train the subject in hypnosis. The second session would include administering 100 to 150 µg of LSD to the subjects and utilizing the 30 to 45 minutes of drug onset time to hypnotize the person as deeply as possible. After the LSD began to induce it’s effect, the subjects were encouraged to understand and examine their current difficulties (narcotic drug addiction) in multiple contexts outside of their current situation. After 3 hours the subjects were brought out of hypnosis and given post-hypnotic suggestions to remember what occurred during the session and continue working on their problems. The volunteers were observed until the next morning in which they successfully came to view their previously unresolved problems in a more insightful and hopeful perspective.
In 1965, a study published in the journal Psychopharmacologia observed the effects of a variation of combinations of hypnosis, LSD administration, and psychotherapy which included 70 volunteers (40 males, 30 females). Much like the previously cited study, in the first visit the volunteers were screened and trained in hypnosis. The second visit comprised of the volunteers receiving LSD (2mg/kg) and the clinicians would hypnotize the subjects as deep as possible for the 30 to 45 minutes prior to the LSD taking effect. The researchers would utilize survey scores following the study and found that the combination of LSD and hypnosis induced significantly greater alterations in consciousness when compared to hypnosis or LSD alone.
The concept of utilizing hypnosis to mold and maneuver the psychedelic experience seems very important. There is the possibility that if psychedelics act as the “ultimate placebo” and if hypnotic “suggestibility” also acts as an amplifier of the placebo effect, that a targeted outcome and potentially lessened negative experiences during these journeys are possible. It seems as though psychedelics act as amplifiers of neuroplastic potential and that hypnosis can help guide the areas of specific neural restructuring that could provide significant positive effects if harnessed optimally.
While the visionary states of psychedelics and hypnosis have yet to be fully understood in terms of the reason for their occurrences and implications in terms of the “ultimate placebo”, the distinct physiological effects of hypnosis does create another avenue of discussion.
In Part 3 we will dive into a conversation we had with clinical hypnotherapist Sharon Waxkirsh regarding her work utilizing hypnosis in a medical and surgical setting.
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