Ego Dissolution During Psychedelic Experiences

Ego dissolution during psychedelic experiences has the potential to heal. What do these experiences mean and how can we integrate them?
ego dissolution on shrooms
Author: Guy Borgford
By Guy Borgford
October 31, 2022

Ego dissolution during psychedelic experiences can be a profound, humbling, and challenging experience. With support and integration, this state has the potential to produce healing and enhance well-being. Join Guy Borgford in exploring more about ego dissolution on psychedelics. (Image credit Mush Stock)

For anyone who’s experienced ego dissolution on psychedelics, there are often no words to describe the transcendent experience of the collective consciousness. Being nothing and everything all at once does have a way of shaking things up and this state of consciousness is often where people experience the deepest healing and personal transformation. 

But ego dissolution on psychedelics can be pretty unnerving, if not terrifying, if one isn’t aware of, and open to having this experience themselves. Being aware of the importance of surrender, the power of the breath and meditation techniques, and understanding what some ego dissolving experiences can be like, are invaluable tools to help establish a framework to better navigate these extraordinary states of consciousness. 

So, how does one dissolve one’s ego? Well, just as there are many ways to enter non-ordinary states of consciousness, there are also many ways for one’s ego to fizzle off like an alka seltzer in tap water. From meditation, yoga, childbirth, and sensory deprivation, to breathwork, sweat lodges, and plant medicines, there are many activities and experiences that have the power to shut down our egoic connection to this ordinary state of consciousness and enable us to experience what lies beyond the individual sense of self. 

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What Does “Ego” Mean?

First coined by Sigmund Freud, the term ego was foundational to his psychoanalytic theory of the human psyche. In this framework, Freud postulated that the human mind could be carved up into three distinct core elements. First, the id was determined to be the primitive and instinctual part of the human mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories. Secondly, the super-ego was positioned as a moral conscience, and finally, the ego was put forth as the realistic part that mediated between the desires of the id and the super-ego. 

In regards to ego dissolution and the psychedelic experience, we use the term ego to refer to one’s sense of self and the part of our mind designed to keep us safe and keep things under control. With surrender being a key component of a successful, high-dose psychedelic journey, it’s easy to see how our ego’s need to control the situation can sometimes cause friction and lead to challenging psychedelic experiences. 

ego dissolution on psychedelics

Historical Roots of Ego Dissolution

References to ego dissolution are evident throughout spirituality and religion, psychology, philosophy, myth, meditation, and psychedelics – and sometimes go by other names such as ego loss, ego death, and psychic death. However the definition of each, all point to the same state of a complete loss of subjective self-identity. 

In both Zen Buddhism and Vedanta, what are referred to as ‘enlightenment experiences’ are described as insight into the emptiness of the self. Like the psychedelic practitioners of today who understand and communicate the enormous value of integration, teachings from these spiritual practices state that the mere experience of enlightenment isn’t enough – one must strive to work this state of grace into their everyday lives. Similarly, fana in Sufism, or the “kiss of the death” in Judaism which all point towards the notions of ego death. It is about letting go of a known state of consciousness and connection to identity of self and merging into a higher, divine one. 

Iconic psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung referred to ego death as psychic death and like others delving into the subject matter, defined it as total loss of the subjective self. While the master of myth, Dr. Joseph Campbell discussed the topic, he wrote of the archetype of the hero’s journey and how, in the second stage of the journey, the hero must surrender their old sense of self before undergoing a transformation and experiencing a type of rebirth. Psychedelic Support collaborator, Dr. Kile Ortigo investigates the parallels between the Jungian Hero’s journey and the psychedelic experience in his book, “Beyond the Narrow Life” and this death of the ego is seen as a catalyst for transformation in myth and a means to manifest mystical experiences and fundamental personal change and growth while in the psychedelic state. 

In the early 1960’s, Dr. Timothy Leary, whose rogue, almost anarchistic evangelism of psychedelics led Richard Nixon to shut down access to psychedelic medicines and officially declare the massive misstep into the War on Drugs coined the term ‘ego loss’ to describe ego dissolution in psychedelic states. He and his colleague Richard Alpert, who later became known as Ram Dass, both promoted the benefits of losing the connection to the individual self and entering a mystical state of non-duality. 

In an article entitled, “What is Ego Deth and How Does it Work?” by James Kent notes, “In clinical terms, ego death is more like a fugue state, reverie, amnesia, senility, or dementia —an episode that may be phenomenally similar to a mystical state but is otherwise lacking in spiritual context.” As we know, looking at such layered experiences through a purely materialist lens of a clinical eye, can easily strip the spirit from the body, mind, spirit connection.

What is Ego Dissolution on Psychedelics Like?

According to our good friends at DoubleBlind, the ego death or ego dissolution experience is described as being: “You are fully “in the moment” and able to see things from a macroscopic, more objective perspective. You are no longer an individual isolated from life as it takes place around you, but rather feel interconnected with the universe and all its inhabitants, experiencing intense feelings of love, euphoria, and unity while the self is temporarily forgotten. This state of selflessness and subsequent feelings of connectivity with the universe are often referred to as “ego death.”

As stated previously, these states of ego dissolution on psychedelics can be met with awe and inspiration or fear and despair. Attention to set and setting, adequate preparation, and people on-site providing guidance and standard safety protocols during the psychedelic experience are all ways to reduce challenging ego-dissolving experiences produced from psychedelic medicines and instead set them up as incredible opportunities for healing and personal growth. Without adequate integration efforts, these meaningful experiences fade into the realm of personal experience highlights, rather than guiding beacons of light that transform our lives. 

Personal Account of My Journey to Understanding the Ego 

In writing this post, I thought it might be valuable to share my own experience with ego dissolution. Since beginning meditating a few years ago, I began my journey into experiencing and integrating the state of ‘nothingness’ when one finds oneself not being tethered to this consensus reality via an ego. I was led to meditation through a mystical experience my sister had while attending a transformational breath class. In her ego-dissolved state, she encountered what she described as ‘an entity’ that then informed her that I [ego me] needed to ‘WAKE UP!’

As one often does when one gets messages from divine energies, albeit via a third party, I got set to waking up and started by creating a meditation practice right away. Within a week my meditations got significantly longer and over the subsequent months I noticed major shifts in my life, from the food I ate to the media I consumed. I began deleting apps on my phone and opted out of everything that smelled like sensory overload. As I committed more and more time to meditation and learning about it, I observed marked differences in my lucid life and within a few months I built up the ability [which IMHO anyone can do] to dissolve or what I like to say, suspend my ego through meditative states of consciousness. 

After experiencing what I later learned was a textbook Kundalini Awakening, I began my journey working with plant medicine and throughout the past few years, have on different occasions experienced ego dissolution from combining meditation with cannabis and while under the influence of various psychedelic tryptamines. The experiences continue to strike me with awe, cloak me in love, and change me as a human being and how I exist in this world. 

From an integration perspective, I’ve combined a devout meditation practice, daily gratitude, mindfulness, daily fixes of Nature, writing, art, the Divinity of quiet, and a continuing sacred approach to plant and fungi medicine to leverage these experiences and make meaningful changes in my life. From processing unresolved trauma across my lifetime and those of my ancestors, to kicking multiple addictions, to finding my life’s purpose, these experiences in the Collective Consciousness have changed my life in ways I find difficult expressing in words. 

Research on Ego Dissolution on Psychedelics

Scientists have delved into quantifying these experiences of ego dissolution associated with psychedelic use. By visualizing the brains of research volunteers, the changes in levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate were associated with the perception of ego dissolution.1,2 Negative experiences of ego dissolution were associated with greater glutamate levels in the medial prefrontal cortex, a region involved in decision making and retrieval of memories. Furthermore, the disintegration of the default mode network under classical psychedelics was associated with varying degrees of ego dissolution as well. 

The Ego-Dissolution Inventory, which highly correlates to the unity factor of the Mystical Experience Questionnaire, is often used in studies to examine the depth of ego loss that a participant has felt which is often positively correlated with the dose of psilocybin taken.3  In addition, study results show that participants with the lowest dread of ego dissolution had the greatest long-term reductions in depression.

Last Words

The safe and respectful use of psychedelics, when combined with sound integration practices that connect our body, mind, and spirit are valuable tools in our own journeys, and the collective journey of our species. Psychedelics are just one set of tools human beings can use to access these non-ordinary states of consciousness and experience ego dissolution. Whenever embarking on this work, please do so intentionally, mindfully and safely. And remember to integrate! 

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  1. Lewis, C. R., Preller, K. H., Kraehenmann, R., Michels, L., Staempfli, P., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2017). Two dose investigation of the 5-HT-agonist psilocybin on relative and global cerebral blood flow. Neuroimage, 159, 70-78.
  2. Mason, N. L., Kuypers, K. P. C., Müller, F., Reckweg, J., Tse, D. H. Y., Toennes, S. W., … & Ramaekers, J. G. (2020). Me, myself, bye: regional alterations in glutamate and the experience of ego dissolution with psilocybin. Neuropsychopharmacology, 45(12), 2003-2011.
  3. Nour, M. M., Evans, L., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2016). Ego-dissolution and psychedelics: validation of the ego-dissolution inventory (EDI). Frontiers in human neuroscience, 10, 269.
The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should be a substitute for medical or other professional advice. Articles are based on personal opinions, research, and experiences of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Psychedelic Support.

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Author: Guy Borgford
Guy Borgford
Starting with a meditation practice a few years ago, Guy quickly began intentional work with plant and fungi medicine shortly thereafter, resulting in both profound healing and personal and spiritual development. Along with a variety of consulting positions at various organizations in the psychedelic space, Guy is also an artist and avid student of learning about our natural world with a keen interest in regenerative systems design. He runs a meditation retreat from his home in the North Cascade Mountains and counts the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy and working with the legendary and beloved Dennis McKenna among his volunteer experiences. Learn more and connect with Guy on his Linkedin Profile.

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