On Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 10:15 AM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com> wrote:
>> I thought it was impossible to live that and to be able to come back from
>> such an experience, but it happens that with salvia divinorum, some subject
>> can live the experience of quasi-total amnesia, where not only you forget
>> which human you are, but you can forget what a human is, what time is, what
>> space is, and yet, retrospectively, after coming back, you realize that
>> despite having forgot everything, you were still conscious, and you were
>> still considering you as a living entity of some sort.
> I've not had that experience, but I might try it. I think though that even
> in such a state one must have some short-term (~second) memory to have a
> human kind of consciousness. Obviously you now have memories of what it was
> like. I have known people with severe Alzheimer's disease who seemed merely
> reactive and apparently had no memory, even short term. I don't think they
> were as conscious as my dog or the fish in my pond.
Experience reports of Salvia Divinorum (or salvinorin A, it's chief
psychoactive compound) use in the literature contain many common
themes related to memory deficits, and represent a fascinating
"uncontrolled study" in the phenomenology of consciousness. There are
of course many concurrent effects (visual and auditory hallucinations,
somatic sensations, distortions of body image, etc.) shared with other
hallucinogens, but the impact on memory seems unique.
At typical dose levels resulting from smoking the plant leaves or
fortified extracts of the plant leaves, many users later report that
they had forgotten they had taken a drug, and were confused (and often
terrified) about why they were experiencing what they were. This is
reported as a sudden onset phenomena, not a gradual one, and is often
compared to the feeling of waking up in a strange place with no memory
of how one got there. This suggests that one action of the drug is to
disrupt the last few minutes of episodic memory formation. However,
these same reports also state that as the effect of the drug began to
peak and then wear off, usually in a matter of a few minutes, the
users suddenly recalled the events leading up to their intoxicated
state. This then suggests that, at these doses, the drug only
disrupts access to recent episodic memory, but the memory is still
formed for later recall. This is different from the form of permanent
memory loss that occurs in head injury cases where the victim cannot
ever recall the moments leading up to, say, a vehicle collision.
At higher doses, a common theme is that (along with the prior episodic
amnestic effects) the user reports having forgotten key fundamental
concepts like "what being human is" or "what space is". This sort of
semantic memory loss is difficult to imagine, but it is fascinating
that even under such extreme conditions, the user is experiencing a
stream-of-consciousness that can later be recalled. Less frequently,
reports at higher doses describe feeling like "all of my prior reality
was a joke being played on me", and "I was experiencing the REAL
reality, and everything that happened before was just a construction
or movie set."
Some users go on to report even more bizarre cases where they report
"having lived another lifetime somewhere else", and are shocked and
dismayed when the drug begins to wear off that it was all a "dream",
and that this reality is the real one. This sounds like a more
extreme version of our normal REM sleep, where when dreaming, one
doesn't usually realize one is dreaming, but sorts things out upon
Compounding these impacts on memory are reports of changes in body
image and identity. One recurring theme (that is shared with other
hallucinogens) is the feeling of "merging" with objects in one's
visual field. This is reported as both incorporating the physical
object into one's body image and changing one's perspective to be that
of the object. In one case, a user reported that "I actually KNEW
what it was like to be a swing set, to live every day in the
playground and be happy when children were using me, and sad when the
park was closed."
Another unique aspect of the effects of salvinorin A is its extremely
short-lived activity. Most reports seem to indicate that the smoked
form of the drug wears off in as little as 10-15 minutes, completely
returning the user to "baseline" in less than a half-hour.
All of this indicates that salvinorin A has potent but short-lived
effects on the brain systems involved in memory, identity, body image
and perception of time and space (along with a host of other effects
not discussed here). Regardless of one's view on the use of these
substances to alter one's cognition, it seems there is a great
opportunity to study these effects to zero in on how these brain
systems are related to our subjective experience of reality.
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