Why Sensory Deprivation Techniques May Enhance Psychedelic Treatment

Illustration of person floating

Sensory deprivation and psychedelics have a long shared history. Physician John C. Lilly invented the first isolation tank in 1954. These dark, soundproof tanks are filled with warm salt water. Users float for long periods, completely cut off from the outside world.

Lilly found that people deprived of external stimulation sometimes had hallucinations. Without sights or sounds, they experienced similar effects to psychedelic drugs.

Later, Lilly would conduct experiments combining the use of psychedelics and sensory deprivation. Of his own experience taking LSD in an isolation tank, he wrote:

“The lack of distracting stimuli allowed me to program any sort of a trip that I could conceive of. This freedom from the external reality was taken as a very positive point, not a negative one. One could go anywhere that one could imagine one could go.”

Sensory Deprivation and Psychedelic Therapy

Set and setting are important to the psychedelic experience. Sensory deprivation techniques are used in therapeutic settings to make it easier to have such an experience. Psychedelics heighten our sensitivity to sight, sound, touch and other senses. Blocking out external stimuli helps the patient relax and encourages inner exploration. Isolation tanks are hard to find. But you can use other devices that will achieve the same effect.

Sitting in a zero-gravity chair is how astronauts sit during liftoff. Your weight will be evenly distributed across the chair and you will feel weightless. Patients are also given eye masks to block out visual stimuli. Using headphones may serve two purposes. They can close you off to outside noise and play music that will enhance your trip experience.


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