A NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE FROM FAR, FAR AWAY

(The following account may be interpreted as a cautionary tale)

by Jake

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It is reproduced here with the author's permission.

The Salvia divinorum Research and Information Center
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Daniel Siebert


I had my first full-blown salvia experience last night. It left me shaken and humbled after the effects had finally worn off. Even now, more than 12 hours after the event, I still feel quite badly shaken.
        I've never experienced anything even remotely like this. It demonstrated to me beyond any shadow of a doubt that up until then all my previous Salvia divinorum trips had been at best threshold experiences—incredible experiences in themselves but nonetheless very far from full-blown. In other words, during all my previous salvia trips I always seemed to have the option to stop the experience at any moment of my choosing, simply by opening my eyes, getting up off the settee, and just walking around the house until I felt better, more in control of my faculties, and so forth.
        How very different last night was!
        Actually I arrived home from work at about 5:30 p.m., as usual. Janice was already at home with our four dogs, three cats, and certain other small, furry animals. After I had taken off my coat and boots she suggested an idea for our dinner, which I agreed to immediately. And so I began peeling some potatoes at the kitchen sink while she got busy chopping up various onions and peppers and chilies found in our refrigerator, plus some frozen chicken meatballs, which she popped into the microwave oven for several moments.
        Basically, this was a good example of stir-fry cookery, plus a pot of potatoes, boiled thoroughly and either mashed or left whole. The idea was that we'd have the potatoes together with our stir-fry.
        During the preparation of our meal—in other words, while Janice was chopping onions and peppers, and while I stood at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes—I suddenly fancied the idea of a beer. Actually, I had bought a six-pack of German pilsner from Lidl on the edge of Alness a couple of days earlier and still had five of them left, cooling in the fridge. So I decided to have a few while awaiting the readiness of our foodstuffs.
        The German pilsner tasted very good. Light, crisp, clean, and refreshing. Exactly what the doctor ordered after my day of drudgery in the workplace. It was after my second or third beer that I decided to try some of my fortified salvia leaves.
        Important note: I had already experimented with the fortified salvia leaves several times previously since buying them in Inverness more than a fortnight earlier, and though I knew the effects to be fairly strong, they still felt easily within my ability to handle. All one had to do was smoke a tiny amount of the leaves in a specialized smoking device known as a bucket bong, lie back, and enjoy the show. Such were my experiences thus far.
        Well, I suppose it must've been about seven o'clock when I took that first hit from the bucket bong (Emmerdale was on TV, I could hear it through in our living room). Standing in the kitchen, I lit the leaves with my lighter, lifted the bong according to the manufacturer's instructions, and waited until all the leaves had burned to a white ash. Then I removed the metal part and inhaled deeply. I estimate that I held the smoke in my lungs for a good 20 seconds. After this, I went and sat down at our computer because I wanted to download some pictures of Billie Piper from the internet (she appeared as Rose on Doctor Who, last Saturday), but after smoking the green flakes of salvia this didn't seem nearly so important to me anymore.
        Sure enough, I could feel the effects take hold of me almost instantaneously, just a mild sensation of pins and needles all over my body plus a general feeling of wooziness similar but not identical to that obtained from smoking cannabis. (Unless, of course, I chose to shut my eyes in quiet darkness. With my eyes wide-open I had rarely experienced any visuals while under the influence of salvia. Eyes closed was a different story altogether.)
        It was roughly then that Janice came through to the kitchen and asked if I wanted to eat my dinner now, to which I replied, “No thanks.” (I believed, and continue to believe, that the ingestion of any food would interfere with my forthcoming trip.) Janice said, “Okay,” then she served herself some stir-fry and boiled potatoes and went back through to our living room and resumed watching Emmerdale. I could always eat later.
        Meanwhile I could feel the effects of my first hit beginning to wear gradually off.
        By now I felt ready for my second hit of salvia, and to facilitate this I decided to try a slightly bigger portion of those green salvia flakes. This time I filled the metal gauze container to the brim with salvia (whereas normally I had barely covered the gauze with the most meager amount of salvia flakes). Like the first time, I held the lighter to the leaves and watched them burn, then I inhaled the smoke and waited for the effects to kick in.
        My memory of what happened next is fragmentary at best.
        Even before I could place the bucket bong down on the kitchen surface I felt this incredibly heavy pull, a terrific downwards pull like that from an unbelievably powerful magnet, and suddenly everything I knew disappeared from sight. It happened very suddenly. I could not recall whether I was standing up or lying down (it felt as if I was lying down, the incredible increase in gravity allowed no alternative), then I realized that the person who had smoked the salvia leaves had actually disappeared from existence and all I could see was an infinity of orange fish scales, each of which contained (or appeared to contain) an oversized, single eye (blue-green), and every eye seemed to be watching me intently. For the most part they seemed indifferent to my sudden appearance in their midst, or such was my impression. They had definitely registered my arrival, however. I felt as though I were being watched by them.
        This was my world now. The only world I knew and the only world I had ever known. It was just an infinite expanse of three-dimensional, one-eyed fish scales, trembling ever so slightly as though from a gentle breeze. The same way a field of wheat might ripple in the wind. At this stage I felt no alarm, it was just very strange to be there (stunning would be a better word), just floating in an infinity of one-eyed fish scales. Apart from the bluish-green eyes, everything else was colored very brightly orange. The same kind of orange one might expect to see in a tropical sunset, or a sunrise. Had I been able, I would've liked to ask those one-eyed fish scales a couple of simple questions, the most likely examples being:

Who was I? Unknown. In any case the question seemed completely pointless. I knew intuitively that I was nobody anymore, I was just pure energy floating in space, forever.

Where was I? Again, unknown. But definitely not in my kitchen. The kitchen was history. And definitely not the universe I was familiar with. This felt like a completely new universe now, a place I had never visited before.

When was I? Unknown. Irrelevant. Any other stupid questions?

        It was roughly then that my salvia trip took on a slightly more sinister nature. (Please bear in mind that I was still looking at hundreds of billions of one-eyed fish scales, all of which were staring intently back at me, or so it seemed.)
        Suddenly I felt a much bigger ripple in the midst of my strange surroundings, but this particular ripple seemed very different from all the others. I believe it must've been a whirlpool (or some kind of strange vortex, very powerful), for the next thing I felt was the distressing sensation of falling very quickly into it, like freefalling towards a massive black hole in outer space. I could still perceive those mad orange shapes that looked like one-eyed fish scales, but by now their color had changed in a very subtle manner from brilliant orange to a dull, pulsating red. And they began moving faster and faster, like countless schools of fish going round and round in a frenzy, close to the speed of light it seemed, until I recognized that the person I had once been was being hurled by the one-eyed fish scales into something I recognized vaguely as death.
        Was I dying? Was I dead already? And was this how it felt to be dead?
        At this stage I began to panic. I had the powerful impression that I was traveling to a place where there was little or no chance of my ever returning from it. I didn’t want to go there. I definitely didn’t want to go there. This was all just a terrible mistake. I began shouting. Honestly, it was just a stupid, stupid mistake. As if from a great distance, I had the vague memory that I’d smoked something incredibly powerful and that it was this particular decision of mine thet had brought me here, to the point of no return.
        I could still perceive those one-eyed fish scales, only now they were fish scales no longer. They had turned into something else, something very different. Instead of fish scales, they were now strange-looking bubbles of red and black. And there was an infinity of them. Now my entire universe swarmed with electrified bubbles of red, and in the center of every bubble I perceived a blackness that scared the living shit out of me. At this point my salvia trip took on a very definite turn for the worse.
        Suddenly the electrified bubbles of black and red swarmed into a pattern I recognized very vaguely as my wife, Janice. (I had a wife?) Her pattern was very much like a ribbon of black against the raging fire of red that threatened to catapult me into the great unknown. I felt as though she was looking down at me now, as if from a very great height. Though I couldn’t see her face, I got the impression that she seemed horrified by my condition. (Foolishly I hadn’t actually informed her of my intention to smoke fortified salvia.)
        Moments later my shredded reasoning went thus: Obviously Janice had come back through from our living room to see what all the fuss was about (I seemed to be shouting and swearing at the very top of my voice, the general gist of which was that I didn’t want to go to that awful place from which one could never return). And then, almost simultaneously, I perceived two other entities who closely resembled my mother and father. Again, I couldn’t make out their features. All I had was the powerful impression that both of my parents were there with Janice and that all three of them were watching over me with great concern during what was arguably my hour of greatest need. Suddenly I had three black ribbons as powerful allies against my battle with the fiery bubbles of electricity that continued to swarm around me. At one stage I distinctly heard somebody say, “Don’t worry, I’ll phone for an ambulance.”
        That I was dying seemed obvious. I was definitely dying. Perhaps I was even dead already. But somehow my physical condition became a concern of secondary importance. What mattered more to me was the fact that I had apparently done something so foolish as to cause so much alarm to Janice and my parents. I kept trying to tell them I was okay and that they needn’t worry about me. So what if I were dead? Try not to worry. Honestly, I’m perfectly fine. Just try not to worry, okay? (The sounds I heard myself uttering were not of any language I recognized or could repeat—they were more like chopped up pieces of alien Braille that kept flying through me—but I got the general idea that this was what I had tried to communicate to the three most important people in my life.)
        Just then I woke up. Like the onset of salvia’s active principle, salvinorin A, its departure from my body occurred with an approximately equal suddenness. One minute I was lost in a swirling eternity of angry bubbles and struggling against something so powerful that I knew I didn’t stand a chance, the next minute I had the giddy impression of being bounced out of this strange universe and back into what one might glibly refer to as “consensus reality.”
        Much to my surprise (and eternal relief) I woke up in a sitting position, on a wooden chair in front of our computer and with my electric guitar resting heavily on my thighs and stomach, though admittedly it took a moment or two for the recognition of my surroundings to kick in. I had absolutely no memory of having walked the short distance (about 10 feet) from the kitchen surface where I had inhaled my 2nd salvia hit to my computer, nor of how I had apparently managed to sling my electric guitar around my neck. But the strangest thing was I could still sense, see, hear, and (if I wanted to) even touch that other place I had just returned from. It was almost like being in two different places at the same time. Yes, I was sitting in front of our computer with the most stunned look on my face I’d ever had, but the angry bubbles were still there, though I felt a noticeable lessening in their power over me.
        I had two hands—amazing. Holding them up in front of me high, energy bubbles kept swarming away like bees from the tips of my fingers. I also had the impression that I was being unwrapped very slowly from a strange cocoon of electricity, and that the salvia’s strength was beginning to dissipate. Where was Janice? Had she managed to get the ambulance? And what of my mother and father? What had become of them?
        For several moments I dared not move a muscle (apart from confirming that I had two hands and that I was still able to move them around according to my will). Rather, I just kept sitting in front of my computer, staring blankly at the screen until such time I felt able to stand up and walk around safely.
        Eventually I gathered enough strength to stand up and walk the short distance from my computer to the living room, where I found Janice sitting on our settee, eating the remainder or her stir-fry and boiled potatoes and watching the latest episode of Eastenders (obviously she had finished watching Emmerdale on ITV and had switched over to BBC1).
        This was amazing. Though I didn’t quite appreciate it at the time, the fact that Janice was still eating her dinner meant that I couldn’t have been away for as long as I had first thought. (It felt as if I had been away forever.) Based on the amount of food she still had left on her plate, I estimated that I had been gone for upwards of 5 minutes, possibly longer, but certainly no longer than 10 minutes. Again, this seemed absolutely amazing.
        I had never been so glad to see another human being in my life. I felt so relieved to be back in my own universe, back in my own house with Janice and our family of furry animals, where everything was familiar to me and various phenomena such as gravity and time worked in a predictable, familiar fashion. It felt great to be back, of course it did, but I was still in great shock from my 2nd hit of the salvia leaves. Though I desperately wanted to express myself to Janice, explain to her what had happened to me, I found that I couldn’t speak. About all I could do was sit down next to her on our settee in stunned silence and watch Eastenders while she ate the remainder of her stir-fry. Seriously, this was all I could manage to do. Such was the magnitude of my shock.
        Watching the television, or rather just staring blankly at the television, I realized that bubbles of electricity similar to but not quite the same as those that had engulfed me like a swarm of angry bees were still flying off the surface of my body and that the salvia hadn’t quite finished with me yet. I felt as though I hadn’t entirely returned to my own universe yet, but that I was nearly there, and that all one had to do was wait very patiently for the bizarre after-effects to wear off.
        But still I was unable to speak to Janice. I didn’t seem to have enough energy to say anything. I wanted to tell her I was okay, and that I wouldn’t be requiring that ambulance after all. Moreover, I wanted to tell my parents that they needn’t have worried at all and that I was definitely okay now, despite the fact that neither of my parents were actually there. (They lived about a hundred miles away to the south, in the post-industrial city of Dundee.)
        Watching Eastenders, I realized there were millions of red-green bubbles evaporating off the TV screen too. I couldn’t quite follow anything those frivolous TV characters were saying, and one could completely forget about trying to decipher the equally frivolous plot, but it seemed to me they were discussing somebody I had once known, albeit in the third person, and the gist of their conversation was that this same person had had a very lucky escape and that the salvia had obviously been much too strong for him to handle.
         “He’s had a near-death experience,” character X remarked casually to character Y outside the Queen Vic.
         “I know,” replied character Y. “That was the Salvia divinorum. He obviously smoked far too much of it that second time, poor lad.”
        Actually, I cannot say for certain whether those were the exact words I heard. I just had this very vivid impression that I was being spoken about by actors in a plot on TV and that the subject of their conversation was centered on both me and my salvia trip. Nonetheless, I was very glad when the dialogue on Eastenders started to make a little more sense, and I realized my ordeal was nearly finished. I could understand language. I could move my arms and legs. I could even ask Janice whether everything was okay (it was, she confirmed between mouthfuls of stir-fry), though I had neither the words nor the energy to tell her about what had happened to me in our kitchen.
        Gradually, ever so gradually, those strange bubbles started to disappear from the surface of my skin, like bubbles of soap being blown away by a stiff wind. But the fact that Janice was eating her dinner and watching Eastenders suggested to me that I had been mistaken about her rushing through to the kitchen to see what all the shouting and swearing was about. Which obviously meant that I hadn’t been shouting and swearing in the kitchen as I had first believed. And what of the ambulance? At the height of my salvia trip I could’ve sworn I heard somebody (i.e. Janice) telling me not to worry because she would call for an ambulance immediately. Except there was no such ambulance. No blue lights flashing, no ear-splitting siren ripping through the night air with its plaintive wail. And as for my parents, both of whom lived very far away, there was no sign of them either. Had I simply hallucinated them into existence too?
        Towards the finish of Eastenders, close to eight o’clock in the evening, Janice turned to me and said she was seriously considering the possibility of going upstairs to bed. Not only had she finished her stir-fry, she had also polished off the better part of a bottle of Australian red wine and she seemed very tired now because of this.
        Normally I like to stay up rather later than 8 o’clock in the evening to watch other stuff on TV or just listen to my favorite music (KISS, etc.), but following my unexpectedly difficult journey through salvia space all I wanted to do now was curl up into a ball and go to sleep, and sooner rather than later. Thus Janice and I went upstairs to bed (this seemed far more important than eating stir-fry, empty stomach notwithstanding), and not long after this I must’ve fallen asleep.
        I doubt whether my dreams that night had anything to do with salvia. I can recall that Janice and me were standing at the foot of a tall mountain I had never seen before. It was covered in snow and ice. I saw a tiny figure standing at the top of the mountain. Suddenly the tiny figure (more a speck than a figure) took a running jump from the mountaintop and plunged towards us at an incredible rate (much, much faster than the effect of gravity could account for). At the very last minute, I realized the figure came equipped with a kind of hang-glider apparatus, with which he (or she, it was impossible to decide) managed to redirect his (or her) trajectory towards a certain death by pulling a lever on the hang-glider, at which point the figure soared skywards, doing several loop-the-loops in mid-air, and so forth. Immediately thereafter the sky in my dream became filled with similar soaring figures, like a swarm of aviators buzzing in and out of the clouds.
        So that was last night’s dream. Or at least a very small part of my dream, about all I could remember dreaming. Like I said, I doubt whether it had anything to do with my salvia trip. It was just a very vivid fragment of a dream, that’s all.