Council on Spiritual Practices About CSP | Site Map | ©
Search CSP:   

Do Psychedelic Drugs Mimic Awakened Kundalini?
Hallucinogen Survey Results

Donald J. DeGracia
Copyright 1995. Used by CSP with permission.


During September and October of 1994, I posted a survey to various newsgroups on the Usenet asking people about their experiences with hallucinogenic drugs. Here I would like to share, as was promised, the results of this survey. At the time of posting the survey I stated that my intention was to show that there is more to the effects of hallucinogens than merely inducing hallucinations and delusions, as is currently believed in the medical and psychiatric community (many notable exceptions notwithstanding!). Thus, I will now state that the purpose of this survey was to test the hypothesis that the effects of psychedelic drugs (e.g. LSD, mescaline, peyote, etc.) are similar to the effects of a phenomena known in esoteric literature as the awakening of the kundalini.

The idea of kundalini derives from Tantric yoga and refers to a supposed ``energy'' that lies latent in average people at the base of the spine. By practicing specific yogic exercises, one supposedly can ``awaken'' this kundalini, which in turn leads to severe alterations in consciousness including the onset of psychic abilities and possibly conferring enlightenment (see Table 1 below). These Tantric ideas have also been adopted by certain Western occult traditions throughout this century.

However, what strikes me is the overwhelming similarity between reports by people who have undergone kundalini awakening and what occurs to people who have taken hallucinogenic drugs. According to Charles Tart, both of these states can be considered altered states of consciousness (ACS) [1]. However, accounts of the subjective qualities of both these ACS show that the phenomenology of both states overlap to a considerable degree. Table 1 summarizes the effects of kundalini awakening at physiological, sensory, emotional, cognitive and spiritual levels. These effects come about through the specific exercises of kundalini yoga, which are often breathe control exercises, though there are antectodal accounts of the spontaneous occurrence of these symptoms in people.

The logic of the survey design was to recruit respondents experienced in psychedelic drug usage and determine if they have experienced some of the effects, listed in Table 1, associated with kundalini awakening when under the influence of psychedelic drugs. Therefore, all survey respondents were psychedelic drug users. No attempt was made to recruit people who may have experienced bona fide kundalini awakening because of the relative rarity of this occurrence.

(Table 1)

I.Physiological level

A. Motor
1. Spontaneous performance of asanas (postures) even if the aspirant knows no Hatha yoga. (@,#)
2. Spontaneous twisting and/or revolving of the body and limbs, dance-like gestures. (#)
3. Spontaneous movement of hands in formal Indian dance patterns. (#)
*4. Trembling of the body (#)

B. Non-Motor
*1. Sensations of heat or cold. (@),(#) 2. Constriction of breathing. (#)
3. Automatic breathing of various kinds. Temporary stoppage of breath. (@)
*4. Spontaneous laughter, tears of joy (@); automatic/involuntary laughing or crying. (#)
*5. Creeping sensations in the spine (#)
*6. Tingling sensations through the body. (#) Itching or crawling sensations under the skin. (@)
*7. Alterations in sexual desire (usually decreased)

II. Sensory (Special Senses)

*1. Sensory hallucinations: audio, visual, taste and smell.(@)
*2. Audio hallucinations: humming, rushing water, tinkling, bell sounds, etc. (#)
*3. Closed-eye perceptions: dots, lights, flames, geometrical shapes, pure white light. These may be perceived as visions of saints or deities. (#)
4. Utterances of deformed sounds. (@) Spontaneous chanting, singing or vocal noises. (#)
5. Feelings that the body has become extremely huge or small (anima) (#)

III. Emotional

*1. Extreme feelings of ecstasy and divine bliss. (@)
*2. Extreme feelings of fear. (@)
*3. Enhanced sense of empathy
*4. Loss or dissociation of emotions

IV. Cognitive/Spiritual

*1. Recall past lives. (@)
*2. Enhanced intuition and psychic powers (siddhis). (@)
*3. Feelings of unseen guidance and protection. (@)
*4. Emptying of the mind. (#)
*5. There is an experience of being a witness in the body.(#)
*6. Questions may arise in the mind and be spontaneously answered (revelation or enhanced insight). (#)
*7. The hidden meaning behind the (Indian) scriptures are revealed. (@)
*8. Mystical experience

Table 1: List of Effects of Awakened Kundalini. Note; (*) lines of the list are attributes identified in the psychedelic drug survey. Lines marked (@) are from [2] and lines marked (#) are from [3].

A survey consisting of 38 questions related to the psychedelic drug experience was posted to the Internet. The survey was designed as follows: demographic data was asked to obtain a respondent profile. Drug usage questions were asked to gauge the experience of the respondent with using psychedelic drugs. The remaining questions focused on the phenomenology of psychedelic drugs. Drug effects fell into five categories: physiological, sensory, emotional, cognitive and spiritual. Nineteen questions referred specifically to effects of awakened kundalini. The remaining questions regarded established facets of the psychedelic experience.

There was no mention in the survey at all about kundalini. As far as respondents were concerned, they were solely reporting on their psychedelic experiences, so in this sense, the survey was blinded and respondents did not know they were being asked if they had ever experienced effects of awakened kundalini.

Completed surveys were received through the authors e-mail address and the data entered into a database (Microsoft Access, ver 1.1) where results were tabulated. For statistical analysis, yes/no questions were treated as a poll and the 95% confidence interval associated with percentiles calculated based on the final number of respondents.

A. Demographics.

Sixty one people responded to the survey (n = 61); 15% were female, 85% were male. Similar male/female ratios were seen in an OBE study previously conducted, suggesting that current Internet use is roughly 75-85% male. The age distribution was: 14-18 years (6.6%), 19-25 years (62%), 26- 30 years (20%), 31-40 years (9.8%), 41-50 years (1.6%) . The distribution by country was: Australia (8.2%), Canada (13.1%), Finland (3.3%), Ireland (1.6%), Netherlands (3.3%), Sweden (1.6%), Thailand (1.6%), UK (8.2%), USA (59%).

Clearly, this demographic data shows that roughly 60% of respondents were male, college-age students from the USA. The other 40% of respondents represent the countries of Northern Europe and Canada. Such demographic data is indicative primarily of who is using the Internet where. Usage
Polydrug (i.e. used more than just psychedelic drugs) users constituted 95% of the sample. 58% of respondents used psychedelic drugs more than 20 times. The length of time using psychedelics was: < 1 year (29%), 1 to 5 years (33%), > 5 years (37%). Respondents seem roughly equally distributed regarding length of time using psychedelics based on a 1 and 5 year distinction. Half of the users take psychedelics a few times a year, the other half take them a few times a month. The most prominent psychedelic used was LSD (95%), followed by psylocibincontaining mushrooms (82%), with smaller use of mescaline (18%) and peyote (13%). 45% reported using other psychedelics including morning glory seeds, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine - ``ecstasy'') or obscure compounds such as DMT (dimethyltryptophan).

Overall, the respondent sample was relatively experienced in psychedelic drug use.

B. Psychedelic Effects: Poll Questions.

For some of the questions pertaining to psychedelic effects, respondents were asked simple yes/no or more/less questions which could be easily tabulated. Respondents were also allowed to give a textual elaboration not amenable to simple statistical analysis (text data not discussed here). Table 2 shows the results of the polling questions, broken down by category. For binary polling questions (i.e. yes/no or more/less; questions with only two responses), a 95% confidence interval could be calculated assuming a Gausian distribution.

Statistical tests of independence were performed on 2x2 combinations of demographic data with psychedelic effects. All variables tested showed statistical independence. That is to say, there was no statistical evidence that any reported psychedelic effects were dependant upon such demographic factors as age, sex, or length of time using psychedelic drugs (not shown). However, such tests of independence were only marginally valid because of the relatively small sample size.

(Table 2)

Category    Psychedelic Effect     Yes      No     95% C.I.

I. Physiological
*     1. Chills/Vibrations         75%      25%       +/-11%

         A. Location of Chills/vibrations (n = 46)
           a. Chest         1.8%
           b. Limbs         1.8%
*          c. Spine/back    49.2%
*          d. Whole body    19.3%
           e. Not specified 24.6%

*    2. Spontaneous laughter      70.9%     29.1%     +/-11%
     3. Fidgety                   70.9%     29.1%     +/-11%
     4. Difficulty falling asleep 92.7%     7.3%      +/- 7%
*    5. Cold and clammy           40.0%     60.0%     +/-12%
*    6. Sexual desire during course
        of drug experience
        (more/less/other)         34% MORE  43% LESS  23% OTHER
*    7. Sexual desire immediately
        after the drug experience
        (more/less/other)         23% MORE  59% LESS  13% OTHER

II. Sensory
*    1. Visual hallucinations     96.7%     3.3%      +/-4%

        A. Nature of visual hallucinations (n = 59)
           a. ``Trails''                        91.8%
           b. Seeing objects breath           78.7%
*          c. Closed eyed imagery             93.4%
*          d. Seeing of faces and landscapes
              in objects such as paneling
              or carpet                       60.7%
           e. Things take on a chalky texture 34.4%
           f. Seeing of paisley shapes        52.4%

*    2. Audio hallucinations       54.1%     45.9%     +/-13%
*    3. Mixing of sense modalities 54.1%     45.9%     +/-13%

III. Emotional
*    1. Alterations in emotions    80.3%     19.7%     +/-10%
*    2. Increase in empathy        75.4%     24.6%     +/-11%

IV. Cognitive
*    1. Alterations in thought     93.4%     6.6%      +/-6%
*    2. Alterations in personal
identity 60.6% 39.4% +/-12% 3. Can you concentrate when on hallucinogens? 80.3% 19.7% +/-10%

V. Spiritual
*    1. Has taking hallucinogens
created long term changes in your personality? 80.3% 19.7% +/-10% 2. Out-of-body experience induced by hallucinogens 39.3% 60.7% +/-12% * 3. Have you ever had a spiritual or religious experience on hallucinogens? 86.9% 13.1% +/-8% * 4. Has use of hallucinogens made you more or less spiritual or not affected (N/A) your spirituality? 71% MORE 3% LESS 26% N/A

Table 2: Results of polling questions from psychedelic drug survey. Note that * categories correspond to kundalini effects.

The data in Table 2 essentially replicates previous work on the effects of psychedelic drugs [4]. This data, when compared to Table 1, shows definite overlap in the phenomenology of hallucinogen effects and kundalini awakening. Some of these effects occur with high frequency. For example, 75% +/-11% of respondents reported feelings of chills and vibrations. Within this subset, 49% directly reported that these chills or vibrations occurred on the back or along the spine, thus describing a prominent feature of the kundalini experience; chills and vibrations along the spine. In the theory of kundalini yoga such sensation is associated with the ascent of the kundalini through the chakra system.

Other psychedelic drug effects corresponding to kundalini awakening reported with high frequency are the following: spontaneous laughter (70.9% +/-11%), visual hallucinations (96.7% +/-4%), alterations in emotions (80.3% +/-10%), increased empathy (75.4% +/-11%), alterations in thought processes (93.4% +/-6%), changes in personal identity (60.6% +/-12%), long term changes in personality (80.3% +/-10%), and explicit spiritual experience (86.9% +/-8%). Unfortunately, space limitations prevent elaboration on each of these categories. The textual question responces revealed that changes in these categories closely resembled kundalini based experiences.

When asked if the use of hallucinogens has made the person more or less spiritual or if the drug has not affected their spirituality, 71% of the people said 'more', with 26% saying the drug has not affected their spirituality. This question of course relates to the mystical aspects of the kundalini experience.

A number of other kundalini associated phenomena were reported by respondents with less frequency including: alterations in perception of body temperature, alterations in sexual desire, audio hallucinations, and synesthesia (mixing of senses). These factors were at or below the 50% frequency.

It is interesting to note that roughly 40% +/-12% of respondents reported having an out-of-body experience (OBE) while on psychedelic drugs. This frequency suprised even the author, for OBEs are not usually associated with psychedelic drugs. Based on conversations with one respondent reporting psychedelic induced OBEs (p-OBEs), it is clear that these have a different nature from ``regular'' OBEs, the latter being associated with dreams and sleep [5]. The p-OBE appears to involve the complete absorption of the subject in the content of the visual imagery and is characterized by a relatively formless and ineffable set of experiences. This is in contrast to ``regular'' OBEs which are essentially lucid dreams and contain well defined content and environments and can usually be expressed in words effectively [6].

Taken as a whole, this polling data strongly suggests that the effects of psychedelic drugs are very similar to those of awakened kundalini and that it is reasonable to compare these two ASC. An important implication of the idea that psychedelic drugs create a state very similar to awakened kundalini is that, by furthering our understanding of the physiochemical action of psychedelic drugs on the body and brain, we may also discover the physiochemical changes associated with awakening of the kundalini.

Common Mechanisms?

The similarity of the psychedelic and kundalini experiences suggests common, or at least overlapping mechanisms of action in both these ACS. Aside from the phenomenological evidence that these two states are qualitatively similar, is there any other evidence in support of the similarity of these two states? Consider the following evidence:

1. LSD binds to serotonergic neurons in the raphe nuclei of the brain stem.

It is known that psychedelics mimic the action of a neurotransmitter called serotonin [7]. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter in various brain regions, but psychedelics seem to exert their greatest effect at serotonergic neurons located in the brain stem, in clusters of neurons called the raphe nuclei [8]. The raphe nuclei are known to play an important role in regulating autonomic nervous system activity, regulating sleep-wake cycles, and states of arousal [9].

2. It is also known that kundalini yoga is based primarily on breathing exercises.

The centers that regulate breathing are also located in the brain stem in areas close to the raphe nucleus, and in areas that have neural connections to the raphe nucleus [10].

3. It is a relatively common experience amongst psychedelic users to feel sensations of pressure at the back of the neck during the drug experience.

4. From the survey, 92.7% +/-7% of respondents reported the inability to fall asleep when on psychedelics, as well as other unusual autonomic nervous system activity, thus further implicating brain stem functional alterations.

All of this points to something of great relevance going on in the brain stem. The ``trigger'' region in the nervous system for both the exercises of kundalini yoga and hallucinogens appears to be the brain stem. Something occurs in the brain stem that has tremendous consequences both throughout the body and within the higher regions of the brain, leading to the drastic alterations in consciousness characterized by these two very similar ACS.

Such evidence leads to the following prediction: noninvasive brain scans (such as MRI, PET scans, or EEGs) performed on individuals undergoing bona fide kundalini awakening should be similar to such scans of individuals under the influence of psychedelic drugs, and both groups will be different from controls. To this author's knowledge, such observations have not been made yet.

If indeed the contention that the psychedelic drug induced state is similar to the state of aroused kundalini is true, this has many implications. The most important implication in this author's opinion is that if psychedelic drugs can cause symptoms of kundalini awakening, then there must be a definite biological basis for this phenomena.

Clearly, psychedelic drugs can serve as a reasonably reproducible tool for the study of altered states, though the action of these compounds in the nervous system is only incompletely understood at present [11] and consensus as to the nature of psychedelic effects is lacking. Comparing kundalini awakening with psychedelic effects is a step towards alleviating this lack of consensus about the nature of psychedelic effects.

If the connection between psychedelics and kundalini is valid, then it is expected that the physiological changes associated with both states will be similar. Thus, by using psychedelic drugs as a ``model system'' of kundalini awakening, and determining the mode of action of psychedelics, we will thereby come to understand, at least in part, the physiological changes associated with awakened kundalini. Such work promises to unravel the biological basis of the siddhis (or psychic powers) and the process of enlightenment associated with kundalini awakening. What this means is the possibility of joining parapsychology and the study of paranormal and esoteric states of consciousness to the rest of the world of accepted science, in particular neurobiology. To bring the study of the so-called paranormal into the fold of the accepted scientific disciplines is no trivial feat; psychedelics offer such a tool if used reasonably. Furthermore, the introduction of Eastern concepts related to kundalini yoga into a neurobiological framework could serve to enlarge the Western view of the potentials of the human brain and mind.

[1] Tart C, (1990) Altered States of Consciousness, 3rd edition, Harper San Francisco.

[2] Ajit Mookerjee. (1986) Kundalini The Arousal of the Inner Energy, 3rd ed. Destiny Books, Rochester Vermont.

[3] John White (Ed). (1990) Kundalini Evolution and Enlightenment (revised ed.). Paragon House. New York.

[4] Harman W, Fadiman J. (1970). Selective Enhancement of specific Capacities Through Psychedelic Training. In: Psychedelics. Eds Aaronson B, and Osmond H. Anchor Books, New York.

[5] Rogo, D.S. Leaving The Body. New York: Prentice Hall, 1986.

[6] LaBerge, S (1985). Lucid Dreaming. Tarcher, Los Angeles.

[7] Pierce PA. Peroutka SJ. Antagonist properties of d-LSD at 5-hydroxytryptamine2 receptors. [Review] Neuropsychopharmacology. 3(5-6):503-8, 1990 Oct-Dec.

[8] McCall RB. Neurophysiological effects of hallucinogens on serotonergic neuronal systems. In: Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 1982:

[9] Morgane PJ. Stern WC. (1975) The role of serotonin and norepinephrine in sleep-waking activity. National Institute on Drug Abuse: Research Monograph Series. (3):37-61, Nov.

[10] Loewy A. (1990) Central autonomic pathways. In: Central regulation of Autonomic Functions. Eds. Lowey A, Spyer K. Oxford Univ. Press.

[11] Van Woerkom, A.E. ``The Major Hallucinogens And The Central Cytoskeleton: An Association Beyond Coincidence? Towards Subcellular Mechanisms In Schizophrenia''. Medical Hypothesis. 31, 1990, 7-15.

[Error Creating Counter File -- Click for more info]

Inside the Entheogen Project Section
Entheogen Project Series

About CSP
Purpose and Results

Religious Leaders
needed to help with research
in Baltimore or New York

The Mystical Core
of Organized Religion