Dreams are automatically a little like a psychedelic trip that we experience every night. Not much makes sense, things happen randomly, and we are often left at the mercy of the half-awake part of us that puts together ideas to create this haphazard story line. Sometimes we wake up smiling, sometimes we wake up panicked. Sometimes we wake up and can’t get our dreams out of our heads. Now imagine if you could enhance your dreams, by getting high in your sleep. This is possible with oneirogen drugs.
What are oneirogen drugs?
Oneirogen drugs aren’t a specific classing of drugs in terms of taxonomy. Instead, the term applies to many different compound of different drug families. The term denotes compounds that enhance dreams, and refers to different plants and synthetic compounds from dissociatives, to deliriants, to poisonous mushrooms, and so on. Some of these drugs, in smaller doses, have little-to-no effect on waking life, and are more known for what happens after your head hits the pillow.
Such drugs have been used in spiritual traditions for thousands of years by different native cultures. The word oneiromancy is used to define the idea of interpreting dreams to tell the future. In practices of this nature, those taking the drugs are using them for psychic abilities and to receive prophecies.
Some of the more well-known oneirogens include: Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), which is already tied to the witches of Harry Potter; African dream herb (Entada rheedii), a member of the Mimosa Family, which is used in traditional African medicine to induce vivid dreams; codeine, of the opium plant; melatonin, which is a hormone produced by our own bodies; and datura, which houses scopolamine, a potent deliriant hallucinogen.
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Then there’s African dream root (Silene undulata), known to the Xhosa people of South Africa as a sacred plant; diphenhydramine, also known as Benadryl, an over-the-counter allergy and sleep medication that functions as a deliriant hallucinogen in high enough doses; Salvia divinorum, which brings on some of the most potent and other-worldly hallucinations possible; Amanita muscaria mushrooms which work on the neurotransmitter GABA, among other functions; and DXM, a synthetic drug used for cough suppression, which gives users a trippy getaway from being sick. These are just a few examples.
Effects of oneirogen drugs
So what exactly do these dream-enhancing drugs actually do? In terms of the kinds of effects produced by oneirogens, a user can expect one or more of the following: microsleep, hypnagogia, fugue states, REM, hypnic jerks, lucid dreams, and out-of-body experiences. Though something like REM is a standard sleep phase, such drugs can increase the time spent in it.
The first, microsleep, refers to sleeping episodes of less than 30 seconds. Think of continually dozing off until your head hits your shoulder, and then waking up again. That’s a microsleep. In this stage, your brain can quickly go between wake states and sleep states. These sleep episodes are generally too short to be registered by the brain as sleep, as they’re less than the necessary minute or so, for that to happen. Outside of use of a drug to provide this effect, it generally comes from sleep deprivation.
Hypnagogia is another product of oneirogen drugs. This term refers to the state right between waking and sleeping, in which its common to experience hallucinations or sleep paralysis; the latter being what allows us to dream like we’re in motion, while remaining motionless. When in this state, we are generally not conscious.
The next thing these drugs can cause, is a fugue state. In psychology, a fugue state is classified as a conversion disorder (psychologically-driven issues that manifest as problems like numbness, paralysis, and blindness); a dissociative disorder, (disruptions in perception, awareness, memory, and identity), or a somatic disorder (mental disorder that manifests as physical sickness or injury). A fugue state is characterized by temporary and reversible amnesia. Oftentimes its accompanied by the person in question simply wandering away from where they’re supposed to be, with no knowledge of who they are.
Another possible effect of oneirogen drugs is what it does to REM sleep. REM – rapid eye movement – refers to the period of sleep in which the eyes flit around under the eyelids, and in which dreams generally happen. Though it might seem like we dream through the night, this stage accounts for only about 20% of total sleep time for adults. Unless you take a drug that can prolong this phase.
These drugs also lead to hypnic jerks. Have you ever experienced a tick in your body while falling asleep. Like an involuntary movement, a quick little muscle contraction? Well, that’s what it is. Often, a dream or hallucination accompanies the jerks, likely because its around the same time as hypnagogia. Common hallucinogenic experiences include feeling like falling, or flashing or bright lights.
Lucid dreams are also encouraged by oneirogens. Lucid dreaming is when a person is completely aware they are dreaming, while dreaming. Most people are never aware they’re dreaming when asleep, making lucid dreaming an interesting path for studying psychometrics. While some people will never have this experience on their own, others have it frequently, and can bring it on at will. Some even say that lucid dreaming allows the dreamer to control their actions in their dream, something the rest of us cannot do.
The last aspect of oneirogen drugs, is there ability to produce out-of-body experiences. These experiences produce a sensation that makes the person feel like they’re conscious mind, is outside of their physical body, much of the time looking down on it. As in, the physical body and the mind are separated. Some refer to these as dissociative experiences.
The importance of dreams in history
The idea of dreams providing insight and information, is seen all throughout religious history, and history in general. For example, in the bible, many people including Abraham and King Solomon, were all given instruction or useful information in their dreams.
This idea shows up in Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Greek, and Ancient Roman texts. The Ancient Egyptians used many herbs to induce dreaming, as they believed that the most important prophetic information was handed down that way. The Ancient Greeks had a dream book called Oneirocritica, which was written by a guy named Artemidorus. As one of the oldest remaining recordings of dream analysis, it was even mentioned by Sigmund Freud in his own Interpretation of Dreams.
The Ancient Romans believed the god of sleep – Hypnos – along with his sons Morpheus, Icelus, and Phantaseus brought dreams to humans, with each son bringing a different kind of dream. Morpheus brought on dreams about other people, Icelus brought on dreams about animals, and Phantaseus brought on dreams about inanimate objects.
The importance of dreams goes back even further to Mesopotamia, from which we still have The Epic of Gilgamesh. This long-form poem is thought to be the oldest piece of notable writing still in existence, and the second oldest religious text in existence. There are several examples that involve oneiromancy in a prophetic way, with part of the poem itself inscribed on a Dream Tablet. Incidentally, this tablet found itself illegally imported to the US and owned by a number of different people, before being identified for what it was by the US government, and returned to Iraq from which it came.
Such drugs also make their way into the literature of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, often called “First Nation.” First Nation is comprised of many different separate cultures, with different religions and traditions. For example, in some, animals deliver the dreams of newborn children, while in others, symbols from dreams are used for divination; applied to activities like hunting or fishing.
Dreamcatchers originate from this area, and are a good testament to how much power native cultures attach to dreams. Dreamcatchers are originally from the Ojibwa culture, and consist of a shape made out of a willow hoop (generally round), with some kind of woven net or web, which can include different designs, feathers, beads, and other adornments.
The purpose of a dreamcatcher is to filter dreams so only the good ones get through, and are meant for the protection of children. The original tale involves a Woodland Chief’s child who fell ill, and couldn’t sleep because of bad dreams. A medicine woman constructed the first dreamcatcher to aid the child, who made a quick recovery upon its employment.
Dreams are weird and trippy, and all the science in the world can’t tell us exactly why we have them, or how. They remain a final frontier in the study of consciousness; with oneirogen drugs as a way to promote their vividness, and the possible messages they bring.
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