Psychonautics (from the Ancient Greek ψυχή psychē ["soul", "spirit", or "mind"] and ναύτης naútēs ["sailor" or "navigator" – "a sailor of the soul"]) may be defined as a methodology for inducing altered states of consciousness — typically those produced by hallucinogenic substances — as well as to an exploratory research paradigm which seeks to navigate these states to gain insight into the structure and function of the human psyche and unconscious.
The term has been diversely applied to cover all activities in which altered states are systematically utilized to study and enhance the human condition. These activities include the ritual and ceremonial practices of traditional shamanism, various forms of meditation, trance, yoga, and the ritual use of hallucinogenic or entheogenic substances.
A person who endeavors to explore altered states for such purposes may be called a psychonaut.
The term psychonautics derives from psychonaut, a term usually attributed to German author Ernst Jünger. Jünger used the term in describing the pharmacologist Arthur Heffter in his 1970 essay on his own extensive drug experiences Annäherungen: Drogen und Rausch (translated as "Approaches: Drugs and Inebriation"). In this essay, Jünger draws many parallels between drug-induced experiences and physical exploration—for example, the danger of encountering hidden "reefs."
Peter J. Carroll made Psychonaut the title of a 1982 book on the experimental use of meditation, ritual and psychoactive substances in the exploration of consciousness and of psychic phenomena, or "chaos magic". The term's first published use in an academic context can be traced to ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott in 2001.
Formal definition and usage
Clinical psychiatrist Dr. Jan Dirk Blom describes psychonautics as denoting "the exploration of the psyche by means of techniques such as lucid dreaming, sensory deprivation, and the use of hallucinogens or entheogens." He describes the psychonaut as one who "seeks to investigate their mind using intentionally induced altered states of consciousness" for spiritual or scientific research purposes.
Psychologist Dr. Elliot Cohen of Leeds Metropolitan University and the U.K. Institute of Psychosomanautics defines psychonautics as "the means to study and explore consciousness (including the unconscious) and altered states of consciousness. It rests on the realization that to study consciousness is to transform it. It is associated with a long tradition of historical cultures worldwide." Leeds Metropolitan University is currently the only university in the United Kingdom to offer a module in psychonautics.
Distinction from recreational substance use
The aims and methods of psychonautics (when mind-altering substances are involved) can be distinguished from those of recreational drug use. While typically viewed as some of the most powerful tools for such purposes, the use of mind-altering substances are considered but one of an array of methods that facilitate personal insight, as well as for reasons which may take place in a communal religious or spiritual context.
In contrast, recreational substance use is primarily sought out for purposes other than self-exploration, such as pleasure-seeking or socializing. Although these two concepts can often manifest themselves as a byproduct of substance usage, an important point of divergence between the two contexts depends entirely on the user's intentions, desired and actualized outcomes.
- Psychoactive substance use - Psychoactive substances in general can be used as tools for psychonautics, depending on the intent and outcome. However, hallucinogens make up the majority of substances used for the purpose of psychonautics. These typically include naturally occurring, plant-based psychedelic such as peyote, ibogaine, psilocybin mushrooms, LSA and DMT (in the form of ayahuasca), although they can also include semisynthetic compounds such as LSD. Dissociatives such as ketamine, dextromethorphan and atypical psychedelics such as Amanita muscaria and Salvia divinorum are sometimes used as well. Those who attribute extra-worldly, religious, or spiritual significance to these substances may refer to them as entheogens ("generating the divine within").
- Dream exploration (also known as oneironautics) - A branch of psychonautics which focuses on exploring and enhancing dreams. Includes techniques such as keeping dream journals and lucid dreaming techniques in which the person attempts to retain a degree of volition and awareness.
- Ritual - Ritual is used as a means of inducing an altered state and also for practical purposes of grounding and of obtaining suitable focus and intention.
- Sensory deprivation
- Sleep deprivation
- Oxygen deprivation (via smoke inhalation or holotropic breathwork).
Note: The methods listed above may be used in combination, and should not be considered exhaustive. For example, archaic traditions such as shamanism may combine ritual, fasting, and hallucinogenic substances.
- Responsible use
- Psychoactive substance index
- Subjective effect index
- Replication index
- Experience index
- Newcombe, R., & Johnson, M. (2000). Psychonautics: A model and method for exploring the subjective effects of psychoactive drugs. Club Health.
- Blom, Jan Dirk (2009). A Dictionary of Hallucinations. Springer. p. 434. ISBN 978-1-4419-1222-0. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
- Ketamine Case Study: The Phenomenology of a Ketamine Experience | http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/16066350801983707
- Jünger, E. (1970). Annaherungen: Drogen und Rausch. Psychonauten (pp. 430).
- Carroll, Peter J. Liber Null. (1978) and Psychonaut. (1982) (published in one volume in 1987). ISBN 0-87728-639-6.
- Ott, J. (2001). Pharmanopo-psychonautics: human intranasal, sublingual, intrarectal, pulmonary and oral pharmacology of bufotenine. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 33(3), 273. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2001.10400574
- UK Institute of Psychonautics and Somanautics | http://www.transpersonalacademy.co.uk/psychonautics.html