Lucid dreaming can be simply explained as the ability to recognize that you’re dreaming while you’re in the dream. For those who have mastered this ability, the possibilities are literally limitless. But like everything else in life, that mastery doesn’t come easy.
“I believe that virtually anyone can learn how to gain lucidity in a dream,” says David J. Brown, the author of Dreaming Wide Awake: Lucid Dreaming, Shamanic Healing, and Psychedelics. “But there are certain qualities that make it easier for some people to lucid dream than others. Women are more likely to have lucid dreams, as are younger people, those involved in kinesthetic activities, and those who practice meditation and play video games.”
According to Brown, research shows that pretty much anyone who practices certain methods long enough will have a lucid dream. High Times recently caught up with him to discuss visionary states, cannabis use and the best techniques for lucid dreaming—and we’ve also got a how-to excerpt from his new book.
What led you to pursue lucid dreaming?
I became interested in lucid dreaming as a teenager, when—a few days after my initial experience with LSD—I spontaneously awoke within a dream and realized that I was dreaming.
What can people learn about themselves through lucid dreaming?
As Freud said, “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious,” and I suspect that lucid dreams are even more powerful in this regard than ordinary dreaming. Simply being able to consciously observe the contents of our dreams from within them, with lucid eyes, can reveal much about how the inner workings of our minds function. One of my favorite ways to learn more about myself during a lucid dream involves utilizing a technique that I picked up from dream expert Robert Waggoner. The technique is rather counterintuitive, and it involves ignoring the dream environment and dream characters around you and creating a dialogue with the creative intelligence that is actually constructing the dream. In other words, once you become lucid in dreams, you can simply raise your head to the “sky” and talk to the dreaming mind itself. If you ask it questions, the dreaming mind will respond—sometimes in spoken words, and sometimes by changing the dream environment around you.
What’s most uncanny about this mysterious, dream-constructing intelligence is that, like the voice in one’s head that is sometimes heard when using ayahuasca or magic mushrooms, it seems to know us better than we know ourselves. So the dreaming mind can be dialogued with as kind of an enlightened psychologist that seemingly has the ability to answer just about any question that we may have about ourselves.
Does cannabis help or hinder the practice of lucid dreaming?
Neuroscience researchers generally assume that cannabis use suppresses dreaming, because there are measurably less REM periods in the sleep of people who regularly use cannabis. [REM, short for “rapid eye movement,” is the term for those periods of sleep when people are most likely to be dreaming.] And people who use cannabis daily report that they remember fewer dreams.
However, I suspect that the real reason why there are measurably less REM periods—and subsequently more deeply restorative sleep—with regular cannabis users is not because cannabis use suppresses dreaming, but rather because being high on cannabis is actually dreamlike in some ways, and as such may serve a similar psychological function of moving information from the unconscious mind to the conscious ego so that people don’t need to dream as much. This may be what “stoned insights” are actually doing in our minds. If cannabis use truly suppressed dreaming, then one would think that regular stoners would be suffering mentally in some way—because studies demonstrate that when REM sleep is deprived, this causes people to have cognitive and emotional difficulties, which generally isn’t the case with regular cannabis users.
However, it’s true that people tend to report dreaming less when they use cannabis, and when regular cannabis users stop using the herb, then they tend to have a wild abundance of dreams for a few days—and during this period, it becomes easier to have a lucid dream, as many people have reported. However, personally, I’ve had hundreds of lucid dreams after going to sleep stoned, so it doesn’t seem to have hindered my ability much. Someone told me that they specifically use cannabis to help them lucid dream by waking up a few hours before normal, taking a single hit, and then going back to sleep. So it’s important to remember that everyone has a unique nervous system, and cannabis can affect people’s dreams in different ways.