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MDMA and Hypnotic Anchoring

by Philip H. Farber

My introduction to MDMA came while I was very much into practicing and studying yoga. This was in the early '80s, when Ecstasy was still legal and the hype which accompanied the appearance of the substance - heart chakra activation and so forth - was very appealing to an aspiring yogi.

I noticed, during my earliest MDMA experiences, that some of the chakras that I had been working with during my yoga practice "lit up" spontaneously while I was on the drug. This included, but was not limited to, the heart chakra, as had been promised. Whether I was responding out of suggestibility to the drug's advance press or not was immaterial; the experiences were very real. The next logical step, for me, was yoga and meditation practice while under the influence of MDMA, which produced extraordinary results - meditation on a single chakra could be taken far beyond what I had previously accomplished. The experiences were largely kinesthetic and visual, with some attendant auditory phenomena - that is, I could feel strong sensations in the area of the chakra which was "activated", could see the area infused with brilliant light, and occasionally heard tones or a kind of white noise associated with the experience. I noticed, days later, that my body seemed to hold a physiological memory of these states. That is, certain physical responses that occurred during the MDMA/yoga sessions - change or relaxation of muscular tension, alteration of breathing patterns, heart rate and so forth - seemed more easily recalled after these sessions. I could remember, for instance, the breathing pattern (modalities of this include which part of the chest or abdomen is doing the work, fullness of breath, which muscles seem to be resisting or relaxing), and by remembering this recall the other physical and mental parameters of the experience and very deeply re-enter the state I had achieved during the MDMA session. At that stage of my work, I had encountered other intense and interesting altered states with other psychedelics, but the memories seemed more abstract, and re-entering those states was not quite as easy as with MDMA.

I decided to explore this phenomenon further, and set up specific hypnotic "anchoring" routines for some of the more interesting altered states encountered through the MDMA/yoga work. Anchoring routines are the basic tools for producing post- hypnotic responses. It is based on an idea very much like classical conditioning, and can be easily demonstrated with humans. A particular cue, in any representational system, is associated with a specific action or experience. Thus, Pavlov's bell is the anchor which activates the experience of salivation in Pavlov's dog. In the popular conception of post- hypnotic instruction, the anchor, for instance the phrase "Afghanistan banana stand" elicits the response, for instance, "Shoot the Pope." Some examples of non-hypnotically produced anchors: What response do you have to the smell of your favorite food? To various tonalities of your lover's voice? To the sound of the telephone ring?

In general, the hypnotically-generated anchor cue is one that is not to be confused with randomly experienced words, touches, or visual components. That is, if an uncommon word, sound or sensory experience is selected, it will have few if any associations already anchored to it, and will run little risk of acquiring additional associations that might dilute the desired response. The process of anchoring attaches the meaning or experience to the cue. This is closely analogous to the way that a ceremonial magician learns and acquires meaning for the "barbarous words" of a ritual.

For my purpose, I focused on cataloging sensory data during the experience, running through a mental checklist of sensory representational systems (that is, the sensory modes through which experience is understood: auditory, kinesthetic, visual and olfactory/gustatory) and as many submodalities of these as I could be aware of (submodalities of auditory experience, for instance, might include whether the sounds were external or internal, tonal or verbal, pitch, volume and so forth). The very process of running through this checklist seemed to enhance and intensify the experiences. As I focused on each representational system, I would then add to it the selected cue, intoning the chosen word or making the selected gesture. The result was that the various modalities and submodalities became "stacked" on the anchor.

Anchoring method, in short:

1. The desired state is attained by whatever method. In my case, this involved yoga meditation combined with MDMA.

2. Attention is directed toward VISUAL experience. Submodalities are mentally cataloged: What is seen? What color? How bright? Internal or external? etc...

3. Anchor is added to VISUAL experience. In my case, I either used a Sanskrit word associated with the yoga practice, or a physical sensation, for instance squeezing my thumb between first and second fingers.

4. Attention is directed toward AUDITORY experience. Submodalities are mentally cataloged: What is heard? Is it tonal or verbal? Loud or soft? Internal or external? etc...

5. Anchor is added to AUDITORY experience. The same anchor that was used for visual is reapplied.

6. Attention is directed toward KINESTHETIC experience. Submodalities are mentally cataloged: What is felt? Internal or external? Tactile or visceral? What is posture like? What part of chest or abdomen is breathing from? etc...

7. Anchor is added to KINESTHETIC experience.

8. Attention is directed toward any SYNESTHESIA. Synesthesia being "cross-wiring" of the senses in which, for instance, a sound is felt, a vision is heard, etc. In my case there was a strong crossover between visual and kinesthetic experience.

9. Anchor is applied to each SYNESTHESIA in turn.

10. If there is any olfactory/gustatory experience of note, the same technique is applied. In my case this sensory representational system was not an important factor.

11. Once all sensory parameters are anchored, the experience Ä and the anchor Ä is ended in some pronounced way. Get up, move around, take a deep breath.

12. Test the anchor. Intone the word, make the gesture, etc. Does the anchor restore the full sensory experience? If not, you can repeat the process, restoring the state by the non-anchor method (step 1) and re-anchor the representational systems which may not have been anchored strongly.

13. Some time after the experience is over, you can use the anchor to return to the original state. This is sometimes surprising in its effectiveness.

By this method, I was able to create a single word, sound, color, or gesture by which I could later elicit the entire physical, visual and auditory experience. In other words, if I would, at any time, focus my attention on the word chosen for, for instance, the third eye, the physical, visual and auditory experience of that chakra being activated would follow, seemingly of it own accord.

Now, in my opinion, this is the normal process by which we learn any number of things, broken down into its component parts. BUT, in this case, by the use of MDMA and the specific hypnotic anchoring techniques, the learning process was greatly accelerated. The anchors remained as extremely strong resources for several months after the experiments, before their effect began to fade. They never did fade entirely, and today, nearly ten years later, I can still elicit some measure of these experiences by using the original anchor cues (which is useful, since MDMA is presently illegal and I no longer have access to it). Since I do not have an identical clone, I had no control for this experiment other than my earlier non-MDMA practice of yoga. I know of only two other people who repeated this experiment much as I did... both reported extremely similar results.

What I find particularly suggestive about this course of experimentation is the idea that powerful and unusual altered states of consciousness can be, in a sense, filed away for later use, then activated at will, when necessary or useful. There are also some provocative suggestions concerning the functioning of memory in general, and in relation to all psychedelics. I tend to think that some of the phenomena that has been lumped under the heading "flashbacks" actually might be a memory effect created by the random anchoring and then cuing of an altered state, rather than any permanent biochemical change or damage to the user. To this end, I've made some small, less thorough experiments with anchoring using other psychedelics, with encouraging results.



Bandler and Grinder. Patterns in the Hypnotic Technique of Milton Erickson. Meta Publications, 1975.

Boas and Brooks. Advanced Techniques: an NLP Workbook, Metamorphous Press, Lake Oswego, Oregon, 1984.

Dilts, et. al. Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Volume One. Meta Publications, 1979.

Erickson, Rossi and Rossi. Hypnotic Realities: The Induction of Clinical Hypnosis and Forms of Indirect Suggestion, Irvington Publishers, 1976.

Farber, Philip H. "Hypnosis and Ritual Magick," Mnemosyne's Scroll, Winter, 1993.


© copyright 1994 Philip H. Farber. All rights reserved.