Erowid: 'Carbogen - An Introduction'
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I've been eagerly awaiting the online publication of a pair of articles from last summer's print edition of Erowid Extracts
, the newsletter sent to Erowid members (which should
be everyone reading this blog, wouldn't you think?), on the topic of a gaseous mixture called carbogen:
"Carbogen" refers to a gaseous mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen (O2), most often administered via a mask attached to a regulator connected to a high-pressure cylinder. The ratio of 30% CO2 and 70% O2 is known as "Meduna's mixture", after Ladislas J. Meduna, a psychiatrist who pioneered its use as a therapeutic tool in the 1940s and 1950s. Although carbogen—sometimes described in the medical literature as a "panicogen"—is perhaps best known for inducing anxiety, sensations of suffocation, and unconsciousness, this extremely simple gas can cause surprisingly complex psychoactive effects when inhaled for even a few breaths. Reports of discomfort and anxiety experienced while breathing carbogen may be partially explained by the set and setting of traditional carbogen administration rather than properties inherent in the substance itscarbelf. Recent reports of positive, or even glowing experiences suggest carbogen may be more properly described as a unique psychedelic.
I was at a loft party once where a group of folks were doing carbogen in one corner, and I couldn't work up the courage to even consider inserting myself into that circle. Apparently the experience can cause a fair bit of anxiety:
When inhaling carbogen, it is common for subjects to feel that they are not getting enough oxygen. A recent experimenter said, "It's like feeling like suffocating". One of Meduna's patients reported: "In every case, when inhaling the gaseous mixture I experienced a terrifying smothering sensation; and before the moment of narcosis I had to exert every bit of my will power to keep from fighting the mask."
These feelings of suffocation can cause mild to severe anxiety, fear, or panic, as described by another patient: "After three or four inhalations, the feeling of suffocation becomes intense. And then it becomes necessary to breathe fast. About this time I start praying, 'Oh, God, please help me to go under this quick,' and it usually helps. However, there are times when nothing helps, I am so filled with panic."
In a similar spirit, Dale Pendell captures the flavor of a very unpleasant experience: "It's bad from the first lungful. It tastes sour. Alarm bells go off immediately. 'This is bad.' Will power is required to take even one full inhalation. By the second lungful, if you haven't ripped the mask off, full panic has set in. You need AIR! People start gasping at this point, faces flushed and sucking in the carbogen furiously."
But apparently it's got an upside as well, as some fairly glowing accounts in the articles depict:
- After 26 breaths, subject uttered in a profound tone, "Death is very personal." He later described that he had experienced every cell in his body dying. He said that after the seventeenth inhalation he "could have gone on and on in that state." It was "very peaceful, very serene, kind of like postcards from heaven."
- Subject took 25 fast, deep breaths of carbogen with loud exhalations. His breathing quieted in about a minute and a half, and another minute later he exclaimed, surprised, "The mask's off? How many?" At his fourth inhalation he had seen "something coming on…colors." He and the other subjects in the room agreed, "It's essence-oriented".
- Subject took 13 breaths and then said, "Oh my, it was neat. I went to this paradise land. Wow. [I was in a] brightly starry zone, I drifted past that to lush, green paradise. […] After about 4 breaths I saw the stars and didn't think much about the breathing discomfort. […] It was very, very visual once I got past the star land. Then I was coming back and it's like, wait a minute! […] Similar to but totally different from DMT, even as far as the feeling of being just yanked."
In typical Erowid fashion, these two carbogen articles are a fascinating look at a particularly "off the beaten path" experience, well-researched and thought-provoking. Check 'em out (and did we mention the part about becoming Erowid members
to help support this kind of work?).