With the legalization of weed in 33 states, the recent decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms in my home state of Colorado, and even ambitious entrepreneurs going on ayahuasca retreats, people are looking for quick ways to cut through the ego’s BS and taste what exists beyond.
Killing your ego is beneficial, but how you do it makes a big difference. I recently met a guy in Costa Rica who had just gotten out of a two year ayahuasca trip in the jungle. Dude could barely handle reality and became totally nihilistic. He didn’t see the point of living in the material world when he had seen the other side.
I advocate for a regular meditation practice because meditation provides sustainable results by removing your ego and changing reality over time. I’m not saying drugs don’t have a place in the process, but I’m saying in a day and age where people have quick access to powerful drugs, education will help you make better decisions for your own journey.
In this article, I’ll use science to explain what happens to your brainwaves on drugs, look at the ego’s place in your brain structure, and talk about what it’s like to experience a drug induced ego death. Then, I’ll discuss how meditation can achieve the same results over more extended periods and finally, how meditation and drugs may work together.
Your Brainwaves on Drugs
The source of your thoughts, actions, and emotions come from millions of neurons that communicate within your brain. By studying brainwaves, scientists can examine how your neurons fire while you do different tasks like sleeping, writing, talking, meditating, and taking drugs.
There are five different types of known brainwaves: alpha, beta, theta, delta, and gamma. Each wave is characterized by different wavelengths and frequencies (Hz). Think of brain waves like musical instruments. The slowest delta wave has a slow frequency and a long wavelength like the deep sound of a drum. The fastest gamma wave has a fast frequency and short wavelength like the high pitched sound of a flute.
- Gamma (38-42 Hz): Brain at peak concentration, focus, and visualization (expert meditators, flow state)
- Beta (12-38 Hz): Aroused brain engaged in cognitive activities (reading, writing, talking)
- Alpha (8-12 Hz): Relaxed but alert brain (beginning meditators, exercise, walking)
- Theta (3-8 Hz): Completely relaxed brain (daydreaming, showering, freeway driving)
- Delta (1-3 Hz): Resting brain (dreamless sleep)
An incredible collection of research shows that psychedelics and meditation cause a more relaxed brain with altered connectivity between brain regions. This chart shows how different brain waves go up or down with different types of drugs.
Increased gamma wave activity — the kind associated with deep concentration — is experienced in all these drugs except with magic mushrooms. One interesting study discovered gamma waves dominate Tibetan monks’ brains while in deep meditation while focusing on feelings of compassion. Gamma waves also increase activity in brain regions responsible for memory recall and sensory perception. Increased gamma waves during meditation and psychedelic experiences can cause increased focus, sensory perception, and creativity.
Does the Ego Really Exist in Your Brain?
Over the past 80 years, neurobiologists have studied psychedelics to investigate psychedelic states and neurobiological functions. Though studies show that different hallucinogens cause slightly different brain states, something called the Default Mode Network (DMN) is repeatedly found to be quieted during psychedelics and meditation.
What’s interesting is that science is commonly referencing the DMN as the neurobiological ego — basically, where your ego ‘lives’ in your brain. These structures are responsible for processing personal information, describing yourself, reflecting on your emotional state, autobiographical memories, remembering the past, and projecting simulations of the future.
Basically, a lot of the same functions that the ego has.
The DMN also plays a key role in what’s called ego-dissolution or ego death, a phenomenon found in schizophrenic patients and people tripping on psychedelics. The experience is a dramatic shift in self-consciousness characterized by losing your sense of self, time, and the boundary between you and the environment. If you’ve ever taken psychedelics, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Good and Bad of Ego Death
The ego creates a self-identity by collecting beliefs, memories, and stories that create your reality. The ego continually defends itself and makes you feel separate from everyone else when in fact, we are all the same connected energy. Living out of ego results in a shaky reality built on depression, anger, greed, jealousy, and revenge. It’s the biggest barrier to living a life of purpose and joy.
The ego is a mutha.
Ego death sounds like destruction, but the ego can’t be killed till you attain enlightenment. Till then, you can only elevate above your ego so it no longer runs your life and robs you of unity, wholeness, and boundless love. Without your ego in the way, you can be authentic and operate from your soul.
Psychedelics can get you to ego death faster. For centuries, people have used traditional psychedelics like psilocybin, mescaline, and ayahuasca to connect with higher powers and experience oneness. During ceremonies, daily preparation and rituals with shamans helped people have safe psychedelic spiritual journeys.
Outside tradition, there are accounts of psychedelics successfully breaking mental barriers, replacing false beliefs, and transforming people’s lives. Scientists are even studying how psychedelics can treat crippling mental disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety.
However, with the recreational psychedelic industry, there are some risks. Easier access to these drugs encourages people to skip preparation rituals and experienced guides. Instead, they go straight into the trip. People searching for ego death take excessive amounts of psychedelics without proper guidance. When you remove your ego in one blow without any foundation or emotional support, you can become cynical and nihilistic. Some people unsafely achieve ego dissolution only to feel disillusioned afterward and convinced there is no point in this material world.
Meditation as a Substitute
Ego death is alluring. It promises clarity when you’re uncertain and boundless love when you’re depressed. But since the ego can’t be killed overnight and screwing up your reality trying to achieve it is risky, a more sustainable option is to quiet your ego instead.
Ego death does not require drugs. It can be achieved in a spiritual journey called enlightenment. Hindus believe with a dedicated meditation practice, you can break down the ego and reach the point of oneness. Achieving enlightenment or nirvana breaks the cycle of suffering and reveals a powerful truth — we’re not our bodies or minds but a soul connected to the universe. Not only do we know it, we feel what it means to be universally connected. It is pure love and joy.
However, meditation is not for people who like shortcuts because it works over long periods of time. If you’re already meditating, psychedelics used correctly can enhance meditation and give you access to deeper levels of awareness. In fact, a recent study showed that large doses of psilocybin, along with a meditation practice, produced enduring positive social attributes like closeness, gratitude, and forgiveness.
Related: How to Legit Control Your Thoughts
I’m sure there are tons of benefits from blending the two, but there is a fine line between dependency and enhancement. It’s important to be educated on the risks and be guided by an experienced practitioner before mixing marijuana or mushrooms with meditation.
The Bottom Line
Everybody should go on an inner journey to overcome their ego, and the path to get there is what I outline in my book, Bling. The abundance of psychedelics, coupled with the lack of experienced guides or shamans, makes ego death convenient but risky.
Meditation is powerful because you can experience what otherwise requires drugs in a totally safe and sustainable way, while gaining a ton of other benefits like increased focus and less stress. If you do choose to do any of these drugs at your own risk, then meditation can act as a foundation that will help you return from your trip in a way that keeps you grounded in this world while knowing you touched a world beyond your ego.
Fam, what are your thoughts on mixing drugs with meditation? Drop your comments below. I’d love to hear about your experiences!
- Dambrun, M. & Ricard, M. (2011). Self-Centeredness and Selflessness: A Theory of Self-Based Psychological Functioning and Its Consequences for Happiness. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1037/a0023059
- Davidson, R. J. & Lutz, A. (2008). Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2944261/
- Galindo, L. & Berge, D. (2018). Default Mode Network Aberrant Connectivity Associated with Neurological Soft Signs in Schizophrenia Patients and Unaffected Relatives. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5767074/
- Griffiths, R.R & Johnson M. W & Richards W. A & Richards B. D & Jesse, R. & MacLean, K.A, & Barrett, F.S, Cosimano, M.P & Klinedinst M. A. (2018). Psilocybin-Occasioned Mystical-Type Experience in Combination with Mediation and other Spiritual Practices Produces Enduring Positive Changes in Psychological Functioning and in Trait Measures of Prosocial Attitudes and Behaviors. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29020861/
- Herrman, N. (1997). What is the Function of the Various Brainwaves? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22
- Hoffman, E. & Keppel-Hesselink, M. J. & Da Silveira, M. Y. (2018). Effects of a Psychedelic, Tropical Tea, Ayahuasca on the Electroencephalographic (EEG) Activity of the Human Brain During a Shamanistic. Ritual Retrieved from https://maps.org/news-letters/v11n1/11125hof.html
- Millière, R. (2017). Looking for the Self: Phenomenology Neurophysiology and Philosophical Significance of Drug-Induced Ego Dissolution. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00245/full
- Millière, R. & Carhart-Harris, L. R. & Roseman, L. & Trautwein, F. & Berkovich-Ohana, A. (2018). Psychedelics, Meditation, and Self-Consciousness. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137697/
- Muthukumaraswamy, D. S. & Carhart-Harris, L. R. (2013). Broadband Cortical Desynchronization Underlies the Human Psychedelic State
- Muttoni, S. & Ardissino, M. & John, C. (2019). Classical Psychedelics for the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety: A Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31382100
- Nour, M. M. (2016). Ego-Dissolution and Psychedelics: Validation of the Ego-Dissolution Inventory. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906025/
- Sampedro, F. (2017). Assessing the Psychedelic “After-Glow” in Ayahuasca Users. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317578695_Assessing_the_Psychedelic_After-Glow_in_Ayahuasca_Users_Post-Acute_Neurometabolic_and_Functional_Connectivity_Changes_Are_Associated_with_Enhanced_Mindfulness_Capacities_Formatted_Article
- Sanches, R.F (2016). Antidepressant Effects of a Single Dose of Ayahuasca in Patients with Recurrent Depression: A SPECT Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26650973
- Schenberg, E. E. (2018). Recording Brain Waves in Extreme Situations: The Psychoactivity of Ayahuasca. Retrieved from https://pressrelease.brainproducts.com/extreme-eeg/