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This is an archive version of 'Psychedelic Information Theory' Alpha chapters. The final version of this text can be found at:
Mania & Hysterical Freakouts

Chapter 25: Psychedelic Information Theory

Anxiety and paranoia may be the most commonly reported emotional side effects of psychedelic experimentation, but the range of emotions experienced on psychedelics hits all human extremes. This spectrum naturally moves between highs and lows, and when talking about emotional highs, it doesn’t get any higher than mania.

There are many clinical and historical definitions of mania that I will not go into here, but for our purposes we’ll just drop in some good terms and descriptors that apply to the state: elation, accelerated or tangential thinking, impulsivity, rapid speech, increased physical energy and stamina, distractibility, euphoria, delusions of grandeur, megalomania, messianic ideation, an so on. This is the kind of effect you would expect from amphetamines, speed, cocaine, stimulants, or any combination of drugs that gives you that all-consuming rush of dopamine and norepinephrine. The dopamine speeds your ability to think and react, and gives your body a warm and satisfied sense of well-being. The norepinephrine simultaneously readies your body to react to stress, and milks your body for latent energy stored in your glands, blood cells, muscle cells, and fat cells. In concert, these two neurochemicals make you feel like a walking god: confident, lighter than air, quick to react, ready to tackle any challenge. They also disrupt hunger cravings, and make you feel charged with energy even on an empty stomach. Rapid heartbeat, restless energy, twitching and fidgeting, the inability to relax, and sexual arousal are all signs of mania coming on.

Having experienced mania many times I can say that there are some definite upsides: faster and deeper thinking; faster reflexes; increased productivity. Sometimes I think it is a shame that people can’t turn on mania whenever they need to get things done, and then turn it off when they need to relax and sleep, but for many people that’s precisely why there are drugs. The increased energy of the manic state is what draws people to stimulants in the fist place, and what makes them most addictive in the long run. And even though psychedelics aren’t technically classified as stimulants, if you get your dose range right they can be used in the exact same way, and thus manic results are very easy to achieve. On psychedelics, people often feel like they are burning off excessive energy, or to put it in terms of Chinese medicine, radiating chi. This is often perceived as a cleansing experience, as if your spirit body is being flushed clean and fluffy-bright white by an eternal holy fire. Manic people often feel that they have high-voltage electricity coursing through their bodies, that they are invincible, that they can transcend the laws of physics with the sheer power of their will, and may even believe they can fly. It is easy to see why the all-consuming power of pure mania can be so seductive.

Psychedelics may induce mania by a variety of means, including the disinhibition of serotonergic modulation of pre-frontal networks caused by 5-HT2A receptor blockade; an increase in cortical feedback intensity caused by the cross-excitation of layer V pyramidal cells in both pre-frontal and medial-temporal cortices; and a large-scale release of dopamine and norepinephrine from the brainstem and basal forebrain in response to rapid shifts in signaling patterns coming from the neocortex. Phenethylamines (like mescaline and 2-CB) act directly on dopamine receptors, and many lesser active tryptamines and a large number of the active phenethylamines could easily be classified as amphetamines or very general stimulants with little or no “psychedelic” effects worth mentioning. However, there is a difference between being cracked-out on speed and being full-blown manic in the psychedelic sense. Psychedelic mania manifests in god-like delusions of grandeur coupled with unbridled physical enthusiasm for expressing or embracing those delusions. Psychedelic mania often goes way off the charts of rational thinking, turning into the kind of “wild and wooly” freak-outs of stoner lore: Running around naked screaming you are Jesus; Believing that you have been sucked through a black hole and elected King of the Universe by the Galactic High Council; Believing you are a time-traveling entity from beyond the void sent to save mankind; That kind of stuff.

There are obvious downsides to mania. When taken to extremes mania becomes dangerous. The combination of excessive energy and impulsivity often leads to stupid and/or violent behavior that can quickly lead to property damage or serious injury. Attempting to climb to the top of the tallest building or structure you can find, just to see if you can do it, is such a common manic side-effect of psychedelics it has it’s own nickname: Topping. Manic people will also feel like they can successfully fly back down to earth, or at least fall great distances without getting hurt, but don’t believe it. Hurtling downward at high speeds is not the best time for a reality check, and the reality check will come eventually, trust me on this one. But the scary truth is that mania is fun; no one wants to return from mania. Hitting that space is like being in a waking dream where you are in godlike control of everything and anything is possible. If a little bit feels good, a whole lot feels even better, right?

The main advantage and problem of mania is that it adds fuel to whatever else you may be doing or experiencing in a psychedelic session. If you are paranoid you will become manically paranoid; if you are euphoric you will become manically euphoric. But all emotional extremes will eventually lead to emotional outbursts: ranting, gushing, crying, sobbing, gibberish, maniacal laughter, impulsive behavior, and even uncontrolled physical and/or violent behavior. I lump all of these excessively emotional outbursts under the general term hysteria, which is essentially the state when runaway emotions override rational thought and take control of spontaneous outward behavior. Hysterical fear would lead to something like screaming, ranting, or possibly even violence. Hysterical laughter would lead to convulsions on the floor, eyes filled with tears, nose streaming with mucous, and stomach muscles cramped in pain. Hysterical gratitude can have you down on your knees praying and kissing the ground for no apparent reason. In tribal rituals, hysteria is traditionally expressed through ecstatic dance, speaking in tongues, or erupting into spontaneous convulsions as the body is overtaken by the holy spirit fire. And though the way hysteria manifests is different for each person in each subculture, each hysterical outburst is, at the core, primitive emotional exuberance overtaking all rational control of the body. It can be channeled in a positive way, it can be channeled in a negative way. Either way, it can be extreme.

Hysteria is typically associated more with mania, panic, and euphoria than it is with depression, but that is because the more common term for hysterical depression is “suicidal”. The person who is hysterically depressed will act out against themselves, cut themselves, overdose themselves, or find some other way to attack their own body. Hysterically depressed people will actively attempt to push anyone away who tries to help them, and may resort to violence to do so. Being hysterically depressed is just about the worst kind of bummer you can have, and it is the hardest one to talk people down from. Sometimes just being lavished with attention is all the hysterically depressed person needs in order to snap out of it, but often with the hysterically depressed there are deeper issues that have been lurking for a long time leading up to the outburst. Psychedelics are catalysts for many things, and emotional outbursts are high on the list of reactions that are catalyzed. Emotional outbursts can be good or bad depending on the type of person you are and the type of trip you find yourself in, but many people find that even the emotional bummers can be rewarding as long as no one gets seriously hurt. Freaking out to the extreme of our emotional range, either manically or hysterically, tells us a great deal about who we are and what makes us tick. Some people find digging around in emotionally sensitive issues to be messy and unsavory, but for psychologists, shamen, and meta-logicians, rooting around in the primal constructs of the human psyche is precisely what psychedelics are for.

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Tags : psychedelic mania
Posted on: 2006-07-28 18:22:06