In Advanced Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Supplements (Lulu, 2006), Thomas Yuschak describes how a combination of galantamine and alpha-GPC (glycerophosphocholine) can help induce powerful lucid dreams and out-of-body experiences, and how other substances can be used to support this.
Unfortunately, galantamine is now available only by prescription (in the UK, at least), probably because it has been found effective in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, so my experiment was limited to alpha-GPC alone.
The following is a simplified description of how alpha-GPC effects dreaming. To anyone seeking more detail and ideas for further experiments, Yuschak’s book is likely to be of interest.
The technical part
Alpha-GPC crosses the blood-brain barrier and acts as an acetylcholine precursor. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that research has linked with the ability to think, learn and remember. It also plays a major role in the regulation of sleep: its levels gradually rise during the night, in tandem with decreasing levels of serotonin.
Chemical structure of alpha-GPC. (A source of Choline, which is supposedly good for you — in appropriate doses.)
Our sleep consists of alternating phases of deep, dreamless sleep, and of relatively lighter, dream-filled sleep – also known as ‘REM sleep’. As the night begins, the phases of dreamless sleep are longer at first and the phases of REM shorter. This relationship gradually reverses as morning approaches. REM sleep is therefore associated with lower levels of serotonin and higher levels of acetylcholine, whereas in deep, dreamless sleep the ratio is reversed.
I went to bed at 10.30pm and fell asleep as normal. Then, at 3.40am, as my acetylcholine levels were naturally beginning to rise and the phases of REM naturally growing longer, I took 600mg of alpha-GPC and returned to bed. I had some difficulty getting back to sleep, and after about 30 minutes I got up again for the toilet.
The fun begins
Some time later my landlord came in to say he was taking his niece out for the day. I heard him explain, ‘Duncan is testing the effect of supplements on dreams’. But then I remembered I was at my partner’s house – so the appearance of my landlord could only mean one thing…
‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ I exclaimed.
It was totally indistinguishable from being awake. It didn’t feel at all like I was dreaming; I only knew, logically, that this had to be the case. When I looked closely at articles in the room (some coloured chess pieces near the window, for example) I knew they didn’t exist in reality – and then I noticed how other items were in different places from where I knew they really were.
Still a little nervous that I might be making a huge mistake, I drew the curtains apart and forced myself through the glass. It gave way like jelly.
So now I was certain – and I recognised it had to be the drug, making the dream more vivid than usual. As I floated to the pavement, the dream showed no sign of breaking apart. The concrete under my feet was as solid as reality.
Beforehand (for reasons I won’t explore here) I’d set myself the task of visiting the gospel scene where Christ raises Lazarus. ‘Take me to Lazarus!’ I shouted at the sky, spreading my arms. Darkness rushed over me and I sank into the ground. But then, disappointingly, I awoke.
Back in again…
Hoping to regain the dream, I lay still with my eyes shut. But whilst awake, I was becoming conscious of the effects of the drug. The mind felt fluid, in a state of rapidly rolling forward. For a time, there was hypnagogic imagery of a printing press. Black characters on white scrolling past. The typography and arrangement of letters was gorgeous: isolated characters, sometimes in combinations, as if to draw attention to their beautiful shapes.
This gave way to some internal dialogue, which immediately detached itself and became an external character: a tall woman, hair in a black bob, wearing a floral-print dress. My reaction to this also split off and became a person. In an instant, there were four of them, distinct personalities, all gabbling away in conversation on the effects of the drug.
The next I remember, I was at my parents’ old house, helping my mother stack food in the cupboards, our long-dead cat weaving between our feet, looking as scraggy as she had during her final months. I was holding a sack, and when I bent to sniff inside, discovered it was full of huge cornflakes, each a couple of inches wide. Making sure Mum didn’t see, I let some drop near the cat, who wolfed them down gratefully.
I’m not sure I was always entirely lucid. It seemed that four or five times during the night, I realised I was fully conscious, threw myself out through the window, and tried to realise my Lazarus goal. But the drug wasn’t particularly improving my habitual shortcomings when it comes to lucid dreams: either I wasn’t quite lucid, or – when I was – it lasted only a short time. The drug was heightening the intensity and fluidity of my usual experience, but it wasn’t fixing its usual problems.
Yuschak’s book is self-published, but available from usual outlets.
After a couple of failures, I gave myself a break and simply enjoyed the scene from the window. My partner lives on one of Brighton’s quirkier shopping streets. The architecture was now augmented, upwards and outwards, with hardly any sky or road between the facing buildings. Everywhere were ramshackle stalls and entrances, giving the place a third-world feel.
When I jumped down, someone told me that two Buddhist monks had come to work on a neighbouring stall. I grabbed some cartons of lychee juice – which seemed an appropriate gift. The two monks had shaved heads and dark-red robes. As we chatted, it became clear they were more concerned with the rules and culture of their tradition than in mastering meditation and gaining insights. Still, they were nice guys, and it was interesting to talk about their travels.
In fact, everyone, everything, seemed to want to talk. The mind itself was in a state where it felt far easier than usual to discourse at length, to spin out stuff in a swift and ceaseless stream. But it was a problem to make any of it stick. It seems I have forgotten a great deal. I had to make a conscious effort to rescue these fragments.
Things other than dreams were occurring. Before bed, I’d read an email from a friend about working with spirits. She was wondering how supplication of spirits or gods relates to that deeper level of religious insight, in which we recognise all is well – right now – just the way it is. If the goddess Yemaya gives us something that isn’t this all-pervading sense of wellness, then what is Yemaya?
I didn’t have an answer until, between the dreams, one arrived. It said: ‘The question is wrong.
Icon of the goddess Yemaya. In Santeria, she is the mother of all living things.
‘Yemaya isn’t anything. This is the realisation that everything is well. But if we can’t help having to take something from her, then with the infinite compassion of nothingness, the goddess will give.’
I made another tilt at Lazarus. Transitions in lucid dreams between scenes and states are always tricky, and can often chuck you out into waking consciousness. Yuschak describes a technique he calls ‘seeding’ (p. 163). Whilst falling asleep, we drop into our mindstream conscious images which, if our timing is on, will grow into our desired scene as we slip into dreaming. The challenge is to do this lightly enough. If it’s too conscious, we won’t fall asleep. If it’s too lax, the images will grow in unintended directions.
Of course, I failed. Despite picturing myself outside the tomb, hoping Christ might show up once I’d dropped off, I was too loose. My images took on their own life and meandered far, far away. Somehow, I ended up sitting on the floor beside four people on a sofa, explaining what I was trying to do. A plump girl in glasses, with curly hair, seated closest to me, kept talking across everyone. Finally I realised it might be good to shut up and actually listen to her.
‘There was a phone call for you,’ she said.
‘Who was it?’
‘A beautiful voice. Can you imagine,’ she went on, ‘picking up the phone and hearing this most beautiful voice reciting the most beautiful passages?’
‘What were those passages?’ I asked.
She repeated the name.
‘I don’t know who Captain Pigeon is,’ I apologised. ‘We don’t have him where I come from.’
The people on the sofa stared in amazement and pity.
‘Of all the TV programmes,’ the girl explained, ‘Captain Pigeon is the only one with no death or violence.’
I smiled, because although I hadn’t made it to the tomb of Lazarus, this felt like some kind of sign. The pigeon or dove is an important Christian symbol for the Holy Spirit, for peace, and for John the Baptist. If I’d been awake, this might have been a synchronicity. But I wasn’t awake, so it was only a dream of one.
Captain Pigeon, a.k.a ‘The Holy Spirit’ or ‘the dove from above’. (Francesca, The Baptism of Christ, c. 1448).
In a synchronicity, mind and reality come into alignment: a girl dreams of a golden scarab, and the next day a golden beetle flies through the window. I had wanted to see Christ raise Lazarus, but instead I’d had a phone call from Captain Pigeon. This might have been a synchronicity inside the dream, but – I realised – outside the dream it would not be meaningful at all.
‘Wow,’ I thought. ‘In here, I have absolutely no terms of reference.’
And then, bizarrely, the meaninglessness suddenly assumed an intense and paradoxical meaning. The non-synchronicity became one. Because Captain Pigeon, by drawing attention to his own senselessness, had transcended the dream. It felt like a message smuggled from another dimension.
I woke at 7.04am, when the drug would have reached its peak and was starting to decline. I could tell I wouldn’t sleep again, so I took the opportunity to examine the remaining effects in a more conscious state.
Its basic quality was that state when we’re consumed by an activity and cannot let it go; the feeling of being interested in and happy to work away at something all night. The label on the jar promised ‘mental acuity’. I’m not sure I quite agree with that. It seems to provide momentum rather than focus.
I can also confirm Yuschak’s observation (p. 71) that dreams under the drug seem inclined to feature music. At one point, from no visible source, I heard a funky piece played on a harpsichord; and whilst sitting by the people on the sofa, I heard trashy, but oddly light, dubstep being played. Whenever the music played, it was loud, which created an odd effect: because it was not actually sound, but a mental image of sound, it was possible for it to play at an ear-splitting volume, yet I could still ‘hear’ perfectly well (at the same time) conversations and other events in the dream.
Alpha-GPC is available from health shops. (Other brands are available.)
Reported side effects for alpha-GPC include insomnia and nausea. At 600mg I experienced none of the latter. The former was mitigated by ensuring five hours sleep before taking the drug. After this, indeed, my sleep felt rather light and brittle. After waking at 7am, I was fine at first, but 3-4 hours later started to feel tired. I also felt a little low and irritable as the effects wore off, but I’m a miserable git anyway, so this was nothing extraordinary.
I’ve seen numerous posts on forums from people who tried alpha-GPC without results. This is not surprising. It’s a diet supplement, not a psychedelic; it only enhances the conditions for lucidity and does not directly induce it. Combining psychological techniques with alpha-GPC makes it more likely to trigger lucidity, and it’s absolutely necessary to time the dosage correctly. A few hours of sleep should always be taken beforehand, not only to guarantee some rest, but also to ensure maximisation of effect during the later stages of the night (or early morning), when the REM phases are at their deepest and longest.
I shall definitely be using it again – sparingly, so as not to build tolerance. But I won’t be following the directions on the jar to use it as a dietary supplement and chug a couple every day. However, as I make my living mostly from writing code, it struck me that it might occasionally prove handy in this context.