Years before I tried any psychedelics or even cannabis, I had a pretty trippy experience through meditation alone. At the end of an intense breath work class I lay down to close my eyes, and was met with bright exploding fractals and mandalas cavorting across my closed eyelids. These visuals were accompanied by a feeling that I was melting into the floor and the world around me. I felt a sense of oneness with the world that felt both strange and familiar, and made me start to giggle. Years later when I had an opportunity to experience psychedelics, I couldn’t help but notice that they often took me to the same post-meditation mindset. The more I asked around, the more I realized I was not alone in this. So what gives?
Why do psychedelics and meditation feel similar? The simple answer is that they influence the brain in similar ways. Both meditation and psychedelics affect, among other things, a regulatory system in our brains called the Default Mode Network (DMN). This network of neuronal connections is thought to be responsible for the “autobiographical self,” our mental framework that maintains an individual’s story and sense of self over time. Both meditation and psychedelics quiet the DMN’s activity, allowing a wider variety of neuronal connections and mental processes to take place.