Altered States can be entered in numerous ways, with or without the help of substances. While I (EJO) had experienced altered states many times without the assistance of psychedelics, I was never so impressed by the power of non-ordinary states as when I sat with a guest doing peer coaching at a festival several years ago. The guest, who had been volunteering in the sun all day, had dehydrated to the point of hallucinations. He had worked with a kind of religious fever while experiencing extreme dehydration. As he talked about his God experience that afternoon, it occurred to me that perhaps I had been unknowingly discounting the emotional potency of altered states that occur accidentally or incidentally.
After that, I began contemplating how, society at large, undervalues altered states from endogenous sources, meaning those states that arise from the body. I’m not suggesting that becoming dehydrating or tempting death are good ideas, simply that we should not discount the value of substance-free altered states in the pursuit for self growth. Both internally and externally produced altered states provide a noetic quality or a compelling sense that the experience is “real”. This means that one form of altering consciousness is not somehow more valid than the other. They even have different benefits from entheogenic states.
For instance non-substance induced experiences might be considered safer. While no activity is without risk, the chance of adverse events like a psychotic break or getting arrested are not typically associated with endogenous altered states. It’s also appealing to be able to stop the experience as anytime, instead of having to let a substance wear off. Typically, internally produced non-ordinary states of consciousness are legal, therefore eliminating any paranoia related to fears of “getting busted”.
There are also benefits associated with the need to train to produce altered states from practices such as meditation and breathwork. Increased self control and decreased stress responses are commonly reported side effects of meditation. Longer term benefits of meditation include physical changes in the structural shape of the brain. Once the training is complete, there need be no cost for entering higher planes.
I would suggest that rather than comparing endogenous and exogenous altered states of consciousness as better or worse, that the community treat them as equals. Recognizing that each practice and substance has benefits and shortcomings is something that the journeyer will need to take into consideration. Different experiences can help explores reach their unique goals and situation. For those trying to heal, the most powerful approach maybe to begin the long journey with an endogenous practice while enjoying some immediate benefits from exogenous Psychedelic experiences.