You don’t normally hear from neurologists about drug induced hallucinations. I’m pretty sure most people don’t want a doctor who openly admits to drug use. However, Oliver Sacks has openly talked about his experimentation with drugs in the 1960’s, and he is famous for his neurological work.
In his book The Mind’s Eye, he addressed his experimentation with a footnote about the mental images amphetamine use gave him. Now, he has a new book called Hallucinations where he deals with mental imagery brought on through many different ways, and yes, a chapter does focus on drug use.
Now, before you go running to the corner to purchase amphetamines because “a doctor told you to,” you probably need some context. The majority of his book explores more natural hallucinations, such as those brought on by neurological disorders, grief, brain injuries, and migraines.
According to an interview with North Country Public Radio show Fresh Air, Sacks has always been interested in hallucinations because he has a brother who is schizophrenic, and “would talk with his hallucinations.”
He has also had hallucinations that were not from altered states. On a mountain climbing trip, he tore his thigh muscle and dislocated a knee. This is when he began to hear auditory hallucinations teling him to stay awake. This hallucination likely saved his life.
Sacks’ research is actually fairly new in the neurological community. Until the 19th century, there was absolutely no medicalized conversation about hallucinations, and very little public discussion on the topic in general. Most that experienced these types of moments were instead faced with guilt, shame, and anxiety because of cultural beliefs about seeing or hearing non-tangible experiences.
“I think hallucinations need to be discussed,” he says. “There are all sorts of hallucinations, and then many sorts which are OK, like the ones I think which most of us have in bed at night before we fall asleep, when we can see all sorts of patterns or faces and scenes.”
Sacks is now using the advanced imaging capabilities medical professionals have at their hands to try to see what is happening in the brain as people are hallucinating. Soon, we may finally be able to understand what is occuring inside the brains of schizophrenics, as well as drug users and those injured to the point of hallucinations.