Growing up in suburban Kansas, my parents watched shows about drug addicts religiously. As I got older, these shows gave me absolutely no desire to try any substance that could possibly be addicting.
Yet, on the University of Miami’s Yoga Day in November, Kiro Ace, the creative director of Kiro Ace Design, introduced me to a way of experiencing a “trip” without taking any sort of drug.
The concept freaked me out — after all, the only knowledge I had about hallucinogens came from reality TV shows. Harry Styles had just recently been candid about his use of psilocybin mushrooms — also known as magic mushrooms — through the songwriting process on his latest album; however, I was still skeptical.
Psychedelic drugs like mushrooms and LSD — known as acid — have been said to unlock parts of the human subconscious, taking the user on a path of self-discovery through hallucinations.
Ace turned to hallucinogens after winning his battle with cancer at the age of 27. He used them to calm his anxiety and find internal peace. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, hallucinogens can lead to paranoia and visual disturbances, as well as symptoms that can be mistaken for neurological disorders, like strokes and brain tumors.
After hearing about psychedelics’ potential harm to the body, Ace sought a way to experience the same effects without the drugs. That’s how he discovered Lucía No. 3, a hypnogogic light machine that produces a similar experience to psychedelic drugs.
According to the product’s website, the Lucía No. 3 was created by two Austrian scientists, Dr. Engelbert Winkler and Dr. Dirk Proeckl, who developed the technology to “assist in awakening the consciousness of humanity.” After Dr. Winkler had a near-death experience, he was inspired to research near-death experiences and to analyze the principals of Shamanic, meditative and Esoterian traditions.
Ultimately, his research turned into the creation of the Lucía No. 3; today, there are about 200 of these machines across the world, with 20 in the United States and just one in the city of Miami. Ace bought the $22,000 medical device to practice meditation and to regulate his emotional state. After seeing the positive benefits firsthand, he decided to open the machine to the public.
The machine, which features a flashing light that the patient sits in front, is said to open the “third eye,” causing users to hallucinate. Sessions, which occur in Ace’s apartment in Miami Beach, typically last an hour but can be as short or as long as the user wants. Ace said that he has undergone three hours in front of the light; meanwhile, I couldn’t even handle two minutes.
He said that it’s typical for people to reject the sensation at first because users see themselves in their truest form, which can often be difficult to handle.
“People who are afraid are scared of what they don’t know about themselves,” said Ace. He warns that the light should not be used on people who are photosensitive or prone to seizures since the device sometimes can cause a temporary paralysis while having an out-of-body experience.
When I sat down in the chair to undergo this experience, I was terrified of having a bad trip. I had read about people who have become depressed or acted otherwise abnormally as a result of their experience. But what I learned was that each user’s experience depends largely on the individual’s mindset, as well as other life circumstances at the time of the trip.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of a bad trip because, even if it’s scary in the moment, it will ultimately make you a stronger person and more able to handle something that triggers you in your day-to-day life,” Ace said.
He placed headphones over my ears and started to play soft music. He told me to shut my eyes and turn my head away from the light. As I started seeing a kaleidoscope of colors and images, I began to slowly turn my head until the light was directly in front of me. At first, I saw reds and oranges. My mind immediately started to race, wondering if the colors I saw had to do with the state of my emotions.
Suddenly, I saw a pair of ancient, Egyptian-styled eyes with thick, black eyeliner; when the eyes jolted open, I could see nothing but the purest white imaginable. In the distance, I could hear Ace telling me to breathe. Even though I thought I was breathing, he had to stop the machine immediately—as I was not, in fact, breathing at all. According to Ace, I was on the verge of fainting due to a naturally low heart rate. Opening my eyes, I was eager to hear what he had to say about what I saw. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy.
“Each person has to interpret it for themselves,” said Ace. “I don’t know what is going on in the patient’s lives—only he or she does.” Rather than hear my diagnosis, I had to sit and take a good, hard look at what my subconscious might be trying to tell me.
According to Ace, it usually takes around six sessions to help the patient become less anxious in their everyday life. The product’s website warns that patients will typically have different experiences from session to session. Just because one session left them feeling happy and relieved doesn’t mean that the next session will produce the same result. Yet, if the patient is willing to take the good with the bad, he or she can experience benefits like better sleep and less anxiety over time.
How To Experience a Drug-less High
Like Elle Woods famously said, “Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy.” What she left out is that that there’s another system working within the body to produce a “high” feeling, called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is made up of lipid molecules called endocannabinoids that help regulate pain and emotions. The brain perceives the cannabinoids in the same ways that it does cannabinoids in marijuana, which have a greater effect on one’s mood than endorphins. According to research done at the University of Arizona, the body releases more endocannabinoids when the intensity is at a moderate level during exercise, particularly when the heart rate is at 70-85% of one’s maximum heart rate.
Over the past few years, meditation and mindfulness have become buzz words on campuses and in workplaces. It remains unclear what mindfulness means, scientifically speaking, but there are some benefits that scientists can agree on. For one, studies have shown that meditation improves one’s attention span, decreases reactions to stress and even increases compassion. While it may not produce the typical “high” according to researchers, it does increase self-awareness.
During sex, dopamine — a neurotransmitter that produces a feeling of euphoric reward — is released. Dopamine is also linked to addiction and the “high” that people experience when taking drugs. Oxytocin, the hormone that makes people feel warm and cuddly, is often released, specifically in women, after sex—it’s the hormone that makes one feel more connected, or attached, to their sexual partner. A study published in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology found that an orgasm can even affect brain activity to the point of a trance-like state, altering a person’s state of consciousness. According to an Elite Daily interview with neuroscientist Adam Safron, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, the best way to achieve this state is by keeping a steady and consistent rhythm—staying in-sync with your partner.
Isolation tanks, also known as sensory deprivation tanks, were first created in the 1970s for commercial use; in 2020, they’re currently experiencing a spike in popularity. These dark, soundless tanks are filled with a foot or less of skin-temperature saltwater. The person inside floats in the super-buoyant water, experiencing a loss of the senses. While this treatment has been linked to results such as better sleep and decreased stress and anxiety, some people have reported experiencing hallucinations.
This article was published in Distraction’s spring 2020 print issue.
words_gabrielle lord illustration_avani choudhary