Is there really a drug that gives everyone the same hallucination?
August 8, 2018 6:42 PM   Subscribe

In Tim Powers' "The Stress of Her Regard", there's a mention of a drug that gives everyone the same hallucination. Is there really such a drug?

The bit goes:

"There's supposed to be a plant in South America that gives people hallucinations if they drink a tea brewed from its leaves—like opium, but in this case everybody sees the same vision. A vast stony city, I understand. Even if a person hasn't been told what to expect, he'll still see the city, same as every other person who's taken the drug."

I'm wondering if this has any basis in fact (Tim Powers tends to use some real-world crust around his fantasy fillings), or if there are other drugs where most people tend to see the same things (Like, are "machine elves" actually a thing? Is tie-dye popular in hippie culture because it looks like what you'd see if you were high?) I don't have any actual experience with drugs other than bad 80's DARE PSA's and such, so please forgive my ignorance!
posted by The otter lady to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a bit of poetic license applied to the DMT/Ayuhuasca trip, which as far as I know does have a lot of fairly striking commonalities across users. I doubt (and don't really know) that literally everyone sees the city… but yes, it's something I've heard of. Perhaps someone else will know more.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:53 PM on August 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

There is lore around DMT, which is available in South American plants, that it's common to see certain things, "language becomes visible," "alien entities," things like that, but I've never heard of a "take this, see that" substance, but he may just be taking artistic license with this idea.
posted by rhizome at 6:54 PM on August 8, 2018

Read DMT: the spirit molecule for accounts of those striking commonalities. Iirc there were lots of robotic hornets, circuit board cityscapes, and a specific kind of alien. But I read it a long time ago. It’s not strictly speaking an academic text but it was well sourced and everything.
posted by Sterros at 7:00 PM on August 8, 2018

Erowid's database, after all these years, is still the best resource for finding both academic and personal accounts of psychoactive drugs. Here is the DMT vault and the related Ayahuasca vault.

Another common hallucinations on psychedelics include "breathing walls" (and other objects) with psylocybin mushrooms. And I think that among all psychedelic drugs, users report more abstract geometric visual distortions, sometimes described as "fractals."
posted by muddgirl at 7:07 PM on August 8, 2018 [10 favorites]

You can definitely get similar feels and vibes and even features and so on (which DMT/ayahuasca is known for as above) but no there is absolutely no hallucinogen that will give two people identical and specific hallucinations of a being or a location. People might share a concept of “machine elves” and influence each other’s hallucinogenic experiences but they’re never going to “see” the same “elf”.

When you get to things like abstract patterns (like tie-dye) it’s definitelt more likely people will experience similar hallucinogenic overlays to reality (just like they experience similar audio flanging) but you can’t give two different people a drug and get an relatively identical report out of them the way you can with two people looking at the same location with the same telescope.
posted by griphus at 7:08 PM on August 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also just seconding Erowid trip reports as a great place to read about this.
posted by griphus at 7:15 PM on August 8, 2018

All six people who recounted a belladonna trip to me in person mentioned hallucinating that the ground in front of them as they walked along was boiling like a pot of oatmeal.
posted by jamjam at 9:30 PM on August 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

I agree with others that the author was most likely referring to ayuhuasca. There is a lot of lore/hearsay out there about commonalities in ayuhuasca visions but in my personal experience it's just not the case. The less spiritually inclined among us don't see snakes and ancient cities, hard as we may try. My personal belief is that the common visions are due to "set" (as in "set and setting") and not due to some magic property of DMT.

"Even if a person hasn't been told what to expect" is prima facie bullshit. South Americans would know all about Ayahuasca because it's a thing there, and no Westerner would force themselves to drink gritty black sludge, of unknown jungle origin, that tastes like absolute shit, without the promise of magical snakes and ancient cities.

Like, are "machine elves" actually a thing?

Did you by chance get your "machine elves" reference from this article? Because that article is a jumble of comically awful non sequiturs. The author concludes that DMT provides everyone with the same alien magic show based on an experiment where half (!) the subjects experienced visions of “clowns, reptiles, mantises, bees, spiders, cacti, and stick figures” and yet somehow these were the "same beings" as "self-transforming machine elves" later reported by Terrence McKenna? What the woo woo.
posted by rada at 11:09 PM on August 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Terence McKenna - You Get Elves, Everybody Does. DMT Elves have been a thing for ages.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:55 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Terence McKenna - DMT Gnomes & Christmas Elves probably a better link.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:57 AM on August 9, 2018

Thanks for all the help! I had seen "machine elves" mentioned in two or more random internet comments on hallucinations and the phrase stuck in my mind because it was such an odd mental image.
posted by The otter lady at 9:49 AM on August 9, 2018

It seems to me like the presence of entities is a common hallucination within the tryptamine family but (a) not everyone sees the same entities as McKenna - people feel they are aliens, or devils, or angels, or clowns, etc etc. (b) at this point McKenna's experiences with psychedelics are so well known among enthusiasts that it's impossible to say that people don't go into DMT with prior expectations. My favorite reports are from people who see literal keebler elves or Santa's elves, even though that's not what McKenna meant by elves.
posted by muddgirl at 10:30 AM on August 9, 2018

There are definitely 'patterns' of hallucination known as entoptic forms that can be traced to some drug families. These can then take on a similarity of interpretation through shared recollection of the experience (ie two people recalling 'seeing' a similar scene arising from a particular quirk in the disturbance of the visual cortex). A recent paper references this:

"The engagement of psychedelics with innate systems is exemplified in their stimulation of entoptic forms. Evidence that psychedelic substances stimulate the release of innate cognitive forms originated in Kluver (1928) studies of the effects of mescaline on subjective experiences. Reports of recurring geometric patterns led to the concept of entoptic images, visual experiences generated by mechanisms within the visual system. Kluver (1928) noted the recurrence of specific patterns that he labeled “form constants.” These were represented in several principal types: basic geometric forms and patterns; a lattice or grating, including honeycombs, checkerboards, and cobwebs; tunnels, funnels, and cones; spirals; and more complex phenomena based on combinations of these forms. "

I can definitely see 'vast stony city' arising from something like this.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:47 PM on August 9, 2018

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