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On Being Stoned, by Charles Tart

  On Being Stoned

    Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.

        Chapter 19.    Spiritual Experiences

    IN DEALING WITH spiritual experiences it is important to remember that the sample consists primarily of young college students of the West Coast, a very idealistic, serious, and religiously unconventional group. To many such students religion is not a question of going to church on Sunday but a seeking after mystical experience and a daily living of religious principles, many of which are derived from Oriental religions and philosophies (an excellent reference on the impact of the new religions is Needleman, 1970).



Contact with the Divine

    "I feel in touch with a Higher Power or a Divine Being to some extent when stoned; I feel more in contact with the 'spiritual' side of things" is an infrequent effect (39%, 13%, 24%, 12%, 10%), which begins to occur primarily at Strong to Very Strong levels of intoxication (1%, 7%, 18%, 17%, 9%) in those able to rate this. Meditators and the Therapy and Growth group experience it less frequently than Ordinary Users (p <.01, overall), the College-educated (p <.05) and Users of Psychedelics (p <.01) more frequently.



    A number of users feel they can meditate[1] more effectively when intoxicated: "I am able to meditate more effectively than when straight (if yes, please describe what sort of meditation you do on the back of this page)." This is an infrequent effect (46%, 10%, 13%, 7%, 9%). As might be expected, it is more frequent among Meditators (p < .05, overall). Daily users also experience it more frequently (p <.01, overall). Users of Psychedelics do not have to be as intoxicated to experience meditating more effectively (p <.05). This effect peaks at the Strong level of intoxication (5%, 5%, 15%, 7%, 1%). Note that many more users than the number formally classified as Meditators are giving positive responses here with respect to their occasional or informal meditation practice.
    Most of the comments offered by Meditators on this item simply repeated the name of the type of meditation they regularly did, but a few were more specific concerning how marijuana intoxication affected their meditation. These comments are given below.
    A 21-year-old masseuse who practices T'ai-Chi[2] and Hatha Yoga[3] writes:

At times I have felt that I have gotten a better feeling for T'ai-Chi while stoned. I have felt the chi[4] more fully and have been able to let it flow through me in a way that enabled my mind to give up control of my body. I have not actually meditated while stoned. But I have experienced while stoned the mindless serenity that I hope to be able to attain through zazen sitting.

    A male artist who practices Subud[5] writes:

Pot allows me to empty out, to drop the ego and immediate mundane concerns. A peace ensues and a rapport with eternity arises. It is as if a pressure valve was opened, and I am able to slough off the tensions and considerations of this three-dimensional "reality" and experience what seems to be a four-dimensional state of essentials, with flexible time and space. Pot is a sacrament when such cleansing states are reached. It is also religious (4-D) in that it goes from the most base to the sublime, from microcosm to macrocosm, Yin to Yang.

    A 19-year-old male student who practices meditation on mandalas[6] writes that when intoxicated he experiences "long perceptual jags of continuous absorption into and penetration of the perceived field."
    A 29-year-old electrical technician who describes his meditation practice as an eclectic mixture of early Christian and oriental techniques writes: "I find my ability to center in while stoned is increased. This is also the factor of 'letting go' which is enhanced during meditation. To me getting stoned is a communion of sorts with the God-head."
    A number of users mentioned that they practiced Zen[7] meditation exercises on occasion and that marijuana intoxication occasionally helped. This opinion would probably not be shared by regular practitioners of Zen.


Spiritual Experiences

    "I have spiritual experiences, discrete experiences which have had a powerful, long-term religious effect on me, while stoned (If so, please describe)" was answered yes by 33 percent of the users. Meditators answered yes and no in the ratio of two to one, while for Ordinary users the ratio was one to three (p <.0005).
    These figures overestimate the occurrence of religious experiences with marijuana intoxication per se because some users indicated in their answers that they were referring to experiences induced by LSD or similar powerful psychedelics. Subtracting these, we have 25 percent of the users reporting significant spiritual experience while intoxicated with marijuana.
    The distribution of several categories of spiritual experience is shown in Table 19-1, with experiences resulting from LSD rather than marijuana shown in a separate column. Examples of experiences in each category are given below.

Marijuana LSD

      Unity 10 3
      Stimulation of long-term interest in religion 7 2
      Contact with divine beings 4 2
      Long-term positive changes in life-style 3 3
      Deep peace, joy 2 0
      Miscellaneous 6 2


    Unity refers to the experience of feeling at one with the universe, God, others, the overall plan of things. Examples are: "... death would be a process by which I allowed myself to be absorbed into the light; at that point I felt as if a large part of me was the light. This experience gave me a lasting, more positive feeling about death and giving up the ego"; or "Mystical one with the all-knowing."
    Stimulation of long-term interest in religion refers to reports where the emphasis was put not on the experience itself, although it may have been impressive, but on the fact that it forced the user to confront basic religious questions and resulted in a long-term involvement in religious practices. Examples are: "Not really religious—but more like an important thing because it can mellow people down make them think about what they're doing. In this way hostility can be decreased; people appreciate each other more and can generally get their heads and hearts together. I guess that's kind of religious at that!"; or "I experienced the Kundalini force[8] twice when stoned; this has influenced me to begin seriously studying Indian sacred writings...."
    Contact with divine beings is illustrated by "I have seen Christ and spoken to Him; He's the one who knows me and I need Him"; or "Powerful feelings of the presence of a loving, powerful, helpful being, often. I should say, at this point I do not believe these effects occur because of the grass; I think they are experiences, which are sharper because of less surface noise and anxiety (grass seems very often to make concentration easier and more lasting)."
    Long-term positive changes in life-style of the type highly valued in religious teachings are illustrated by "Usually assumes form of a high degree of 'spiritual' empathy with others present"; or "... the communion and God-contact has caused me to alter my life-style; e.g., I don't lock our house, although there is expensive sound equipment, records, books, and art supplies in it. A willingness to share our food and home with people. Not saying no to people who ask for time and help. A calmer, serene attitude on life, but filled with more positive action, e.g., teaching sensory awareness to the Free University set."
    Deep peace, joy, represented by "... on pot I have experienced peace and joy from God"; and "Mostly the experiences are of a nature concerning a peaceful state of mind."
    Among the more interesting miscellaneous cases is one of purported recall of past life: "... strong identification with ocean led to doctrines of reincarnation[9]—also sound experiences of previous lives."
    Another interesting case was a humbling experience which also would qualify as a classical account of an out-of-the-body (OOBE) experience, although the user did not classify it as such in the earlier item dealing with such experiences (Chapter 10). Such experiences frequently lead the experiencer to a deep belief in the immortality of his own soul, usually expressed in the form that he no longer believes in survival of death, he knows it to be true because he has experienced being alive while "out" of his physical body. This does not logically follow, but the logic of it is usually not important to someone who has had the experience. The experience of this 19-year-old student was as follows.

I had quite an interesting experience while camping. I got stoned on grass, and as I was about to go to sleep, I came completely awake and aware of my surroundings. It was pitch black in the tent, yet I could see as if it were daylight. I felt as if my body were covered with eyes and I could see in all directions. I slowly floated up through the top of the tent, looking at the whole area. I got farther away, moving towards space. I got very realistic views of the earth. I kept moving up until I could see half of the earth, then the earth and the moon, continuing until I stood at the edge of space, inspecting the whole universe. I was all of a sudden struck by man's insignificance. Then I proceeded to move until I could see hundreds of universes glinting like stars. None of these universes was any larger than the head of a pin. It was incredibly beautiful. I began laughing almost hysterically because now our own universe, immense as it seems to us, was no bigger than the head of a pin and one among millions besides. I described the whole experience as it happened to several other people; and I believe from the reactions I got, I thoroughly scared the hell out of them.


Experiences Sometimes Interpreted as Spiritual

    A number of the intoxication experiences already reported on in other chapters are sometimes interpreted by users as manifestations of higher forces or spiritual forces, or as the workings of the user's own dormant spiritual nature.
    Auras around people (Chapter 6) may be considered manifestations of spiritual energy perceptible by psychic sight or, in the cases of saints and holy men, sometimes visible to ordinary people.
    Ostensible paranormal phenomena, namely, telepathy, precognition, and magical operations, discussed in Chapter 10 may also be interpreted as budding spiritual faculties.
    Out-of-the-body experiences may be considered by users as direct proof of the existence of the soul and budding spiritual faculties, especially when coupled with mystical experiences of the sort reported above.
    Floating in limitless space may be interpreted in the same manner as OOBEs and have a humbling effect.
    Sexual intercourse seeming more a union of souls (Chapter 13) may seem a way of being more in accordance with the divine plan.
    Possession (Chapter 17), especially by a force which seems good, is a classic religious phenomenon.
    At-one-ness with the world and archetypal experience (Chapter 18) may be seen in religious terms as greater attunement with the way of the divine, as can increased openness, childlikeness ("... except ye be as little children...").
    Readers further interested in the effect of psychedelic drugs in inducing mystical experience under proper conditions should see Pahnke's classic study (Pahnke, 1966; Pahnke and Richards, 1969) and Huxley's The Doors of Perception (1954). An interesting contrast to Huxley is Zaehner's experience of completely suppressing the effects of mescaline intoxication in order to prove that Huxley was wrong (Zaehner, 1957)!



    Although not all users who had had spiritual experiences while intoxicated felt this had made getting intoxicated an act of religious significance for them, 22 percent of the users did: "Getting stoned has acquired a religious significance for me." Another 4 percent indicated LSD use, rather than marijuana, had acquired religious significance.
    The Meditators indicated much more frequently than ordinary users that getting intoxicated had acquired a religious significance for them (p <.01).
    The reasons given for this were quite varied. The simplest sorts of explanations were on the order of "I now pray daily and have faith and a need for religion, which I didn't feel a year ago"; or "Grass is a way to reach God"; or "Very simply, I can talk to God." The more complex explanations of yes answers indicated that the insights and experiences arrived at while intoxicated had led to the formulation of a set of religious beliefs; e.g., "In many ways I feel that when stoned I have released myself from some of the hassling of the 'real' world and can be more at one with what is lasting or ultimate—that is, I feel I have more of a chance of considering it.... It's an analytical contemplation tool—see deeply if not broadly—any answers found must check out down in the 'real' world.... The view of myself and the world I get is also much more peaceful, less filled with petty distractions..."
    Many users also indicated that using marijuana was religious to them, but not in the conventionally understood meaning of the term; e.g., "Grass can definitely serve as a sacrament for me; that is, I frequently feel more religious after smoking and will often smoke to achieve this effect. I doubt if this would work in the same way if I simply smoked and then went to church; feeling religious is something personal that you cannot turn on every Sunday morning." Or, "When I am stoned, I am more aware of who I am spiritually. Grass has helped along the way of self-realization, and in this sense it is a sacrament."



    "Everything in nature appears to be good. I have great feelings for all of nature and feel that all things (plants, bugs, people, etc.) are of the same substance and makeup, doing the best they can in their struggle to hold onto life and find happiness. Everything takes on this 'struggle for existence' theme and meaning, and this is all very beautiful" (Usually, Strongly).
    "Am able to experience the blinding white light[10] of universal soul" (Rarely, Maximum).
    "Zen, Tea Ceremony, ritual charm apparent for the first time" (no specification of frequency or level).
    "Feeling of reaching 'it,' white void or infinity, or point where yin/yang, life/death, yes/no meet" (Usually, Very Strongly).



    Figure 19-1 orders various spiritual experiences and related phenomena by level of intoxication. The overall ordering is highly significant (p <<<.0005).

Just        Fairly    Strongly    Very

Type size code:
Possessed by evil force
Aware of chakras
Possessed by good force

Just        Fairly    Strongly    Very

    At the Moderate to Strong levels, spiritual experiences tend to be concerned with the way the world is perceived, such as being open and childlike, being closer to one's sexual partner. Meditation may begin to seem more effective. Moving toward the Very Strong level, the nature of the perceived world begins to change, so that events may become archetypal, the user may feel at one with the world or in touch with a higher power, and psychic or spiritual events may begin to occur. Going higher, time begins to be transcended by stopping in many cases or by ostensible precognition in rare cases. The user may feel himself possessed by outside forces on rare occasions, and the ordinary world may be completely left behind. Mystical experiences may occur at these very high levels that the users cannot describe for lack of words.



    Table 19-2 summarizes the relatively linear effects of various background variables.
    A general pattern of more frequent spiritual experiences for the Meditators and those with more drug experiences is clear.

TABLE 19-2
More Drug Experience More frequent:
    In touch with Higher Power
    Meditate more effectively
    Events archetypal
    Sex a union of souls
    Perform magic
    Auras around people
Less intoxicated for:
    Meditate more effectively
    Sex a union of souls
Meditation More frequent:
    In touch with Higher Power
    Meditate more effectively
    Spiritual experiences
    Religious significance to getting intoxicated
    At one with the world
Therapy & Growth More frequent:
    In touch with Higher Power
    Multiple OOBEs
    Possessed by good force
More Educated
Less frequent:
    Sex a union of souls
    In touch with Higher Power
Older   Less intoxicated for:
    Float in limitless space
Males More frequent:
    Multiple OOBEs
More intoxicated for:
    Events archetypal
Less frequent:
    Childlike, open



    For some users, important spiritual experiences have taken place while they were intoxicated with marijuana, or as a result of marijuana use. Some of these have been spontaneous, others deliberately sought through meditation, which many users feel is enhanced by intoxication. Because of these experiences, the use of marijuana has acquired a religious significance to some users.
    Whether these drug-induced spiritual experiences are "genuine" is a question that academics and theologians can argue about forever. The best experimental data on this question are Pahnke's (1966), which indicated that the characteristics described for drug-induced mystical experiences did not differ significantly from those of naturally-occurring mystical experiences, but that study dealt with much more powerful psychedelics than marijuana.
    Certainly some of the users have made marijuana or LSD use a religious sacrament for themselves, and two respectable churches in the United States have considerable experience in the sacramental use of the more powerful psychedelics (Aiken, 1970; Clark, 1970; Osmond, 1970; Watts, 1970).
    My informants, who have extensive drug experience and have devoted much time to serious spiritual interests, note, however, the use of psychedelic drugs for spiritual growth has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages center around the possibility of the drug experience serving as an "opening," an experience of possibilities and potentialities. The spiritual possibilities seen must be developed and worked with in the user's everyday life, however. Constantly seeking to reinduce these spiritual experiences with drugs may lead to a substitution of thrilling experiences for real work.



    1. For readers interested in the psychology of meditation, I recommend Ornstein and Naranjo's (1971) new book highly. (back)
    2. T'ai-Chi is an ancient Chinese discipline of moving the body in certain ways while practicing mental centering and direction of psychic energy (chi, ki, prana). Descriptions may be found in Chang and Smith (1967) and Feng and Kirk (1970). (back)
    3. Hatha yoga, as distinguished from other branches of yoga, is primarily concerned with development and control of the physical body. Some of the unusual-looking positions used by its practitioners have been the basis of the popular stereotype of yogis as people who are contortionists. It may be practiced alone for its health benefits, but in terms of the overall yoga system it is considered a basic and beginning form of yoga; it is necessary to strengthen and control the physical body so it will not be a source of distraction during more advanced meditation. The reader interested in yoga may see Behanan (1937), Blofeld (1970), Chang (1963), Evans-Wentz (1958), Garrison (1964), Johnston (1968), Muses (1961), Wood (1954), and Yeats-Brown (1958). (back)
    4. Chi is the spiritual energy that the practitioner attempts to direct through his body. See the discussion of experiences of energy in Chapter 11. (back)
    5. Subud is a modified form of Sufism (See Shah, 1964, 1968 for general information on Sufism) which uses a form of opening meditation (Ornstein and Naranjo, 1971) known as the latihan for direct contact with higher forces (Needleman, 1970). (back)
    6. The mandala is a visual meditation symbol whose essentials consist of a center and a patterned periphery. The overall symbol may be very simple or exceptionally complex. It embodies certain symbolic principles in its design as well as forming a fixation point for the meditator. See Arguelles and Arguelles (in press), Tucci (1969), and Wilhelm and Jung (1962). (back)
    7. Good introductions to Zen Buddhism may be found in Suzuki (1959, 1962) and Watts (1957). (back)
    8. The Kundalini force refers to the ancient Indian idea of a special sort of power (prana ki chi—see Chapter 11) which is stored in a special center at the base of the spine. Certain meditation exercises or drugs are supposed to be able to liberate this energy so it can flow up the spinal column, activating various chakra centers on the way and finally producing a state of consciousness conducive to liberation and enlightenment in the properly prepared yogi. It is considered highly dangerous to release the Kundalini force without proper training under the guidance of a master. See Gamson (1964), Govinda (1960), Krishna (1970), and Woodruffe (1931). (back)
    9. Beliefs about the idea of reincarnation in the West are generally so distorted as to be ludicrous. The reader interested in some accurate presentations of Eastern ideas and an introduction to the scant scientific literature on the subject should see Chari (1967), Ducasse (1960), Head and Cranston (1967), and Stevenson (1966). (back)
    10. The perception of the clear light or the white light is an advanced type of mystical experience sought after in many Oriental approaches to liberation. See Blofeld (1970), Govinda (1960), or Leary, Metzner, and Alpert (1964). (back)

Chapter 20

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