collage of a woman floating in a bath with flowers caco and psychedelic drugs

I Went on a Quest to Get High Without Drugs

Cacao, orgasms, breathwork, and other creative ways to elevate your consciousness without using psychedelics.
Real information about using drugs and alcohol.

For about three years, I worked frequently with psychedelics. I used a variety of substances, including ayahuasca, iboga, and mushrooms, and I considered myself fortunate that all my experiences were positive. Around the three-year mark, though, I began having emotionally difficult trips that were exhausting and hard to recover from. As it turns out, this is fairly common. 

“For some individuals, repeated psychedelic use can alter the function of key nodes and networks in the brain so as to induce trip experiences that are atypical for those they've had in the past,” says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. “If this occurs with regularity, it may somewhat colloquially be your body's—and brain's—signal to you to lay off the psychedelics for a while, in an attempt to let your brain's node and network function settle down and return to some level of its prior normality.”


So, two years ago, I decided to take a hiatus from psychedelics and all other drugs. Since then, I’ve found some other creative ways to experience altered and elevated states of consciousness. Here are a few things I tried to get high without drugs, how they worked for me, and why it is that they might work the way they do.


Many people just think of cacao as what goes into a chocolate bar, yet it’s also been a part of spiritual ceremonies dating back to the ancient Omlecs, Mayans, and Aztecs. Many of their descendants—and people from a variety of other cultures—use it to elevate their consciousness today. Over the course of my drug-free two years, I’ve attended several cacao ceremonies in Los Angeles and made cacao drinks myself from pastes and powders I bought online. (My favorites are Keith’s Cacao, Ora Cacao, and Zeal Superfoods Organic Cacao Powder.)

I find cacao to be mood-boosting, energizing, and sometimes even heart-opening. During one ceremony, I had a good cry; during another, I contemplated the Bible. During all of them, I felt more open to people and made new friends. When I drink cacao in the morning, I feel happier and more creatively inspired throughout the entire day.

“In the old psychedelic literature from the 60s, the whole point of psychedelics was to induce this common bonding feeling of love and peace.” —James Giordano


Cacao contains a compound called phenethylamine, which is stimulating and may also release dopamine, leading to feelings of “friendliness, amorousness, bonding, togetherness, and affiliation,” said Giordano. “In the old psychedelic literature from the 60s, the whole point of psychedelics was to induce this common bonding feeling of love and peace.”

So, while it won’t induce hallucinations or anything of that sort, cacao can be a way to get some of the pleasure and connection psychedelics provide—and with few risks. I just try to avoid it at night because it does have some caffeine


Rapé is a form of tobacco you can blow up your nose using an instrument with two tubes, one that you or someone else blows into and one that delivers it to your nose. It has traditionally been used in South American indigenous cultures and is believed to help you feel mentally sharper and connect with your body.

Of all the things I tried, rapé is the closest I got to feeling like I was on psychedelics. It gives me a sense of calm, presence, focus, and optimism—a feeling that things will work out. The acute effects only last a few minutes, but sometimes, I’ll feel it for hours. One night, I used rapé before a restorative yoga class, and during the class, I cried with my whole body as I realized how much more I needed to love myself. On another evening, my friend and I did it together and had a trippy conversation about sex and spirituality. 


“Rapé is a psychoactive chemical, and anything that's psychoactive certainly has the potential to affect cognition, sensation, and perception and be mind-expanding,” says Giordano. Like cacao, rapé will not cause hallucinations but may provide other effects typical of a psychedelic experience, such as increased energy, relaxation, and clarity of thought. These effects actually stem from the nicotine in the rapé, which can be a double-edged sword: While not as addictive as cigarettes, rapé can be habit-forming if used in large quantities, says Giordano. So, it’s best to use it once in a while rather than daily. 


Breathwork is the practice of breathing in a specific, directed manner to alter or improve one’s state of mind. A few common types of breathwork involve breathing a two-part inhale (puffing up your stomach and then your chest) followed by a powerful exhale or simply breathing in and out through your mouth rapidly and deeply. I have done breathwork in groups and one-on-one sessions, and it’s helped me process emotions psychedelics used to help me with.

Breathwork gives me the sense that a bright future is ahead of me. I feel more daring and inspired to do things like travel or reconnect with people I haven’t talked to in a while—a feeling that usually lasts an hour or two. This could be explained by the fact that breathwork is essentially intentional hyperventilation, which puts your brain in a hyper-oxygenated state, said Giordano. “When you hyperventilate, there are changes in carbon dioxide concentration, and people feel not only like they’re beginning to feel faint and woozy, but they have a change in their level of perceived consciousness.”


Breathwork is generally safe but should be done under the guidance of a facilitator, as excessive hyperventilation can cause side effects like dizziness or tingling. Personally, I haven’t experienced any negative reactions and usually find that breathwork provides me with new insights and emotional releases.

Cervical Orgasms

About a year ago, I listened to a talk by psychologist and sex educator Dr. Jenny Martin, theorizing that cervical orgasms release DMT. While there hasn’t been research proving this, Martin explained to me in a separate conversation that people’s anecdotal descriptions of cervical orgasms often sound similar to descriptions of DMT trips, involving “this sense of ego dissolution and ego death”. In addition, DMT has been found in human placentas, bolstering speculations that the cervix can produce DMT.

To have a DMT-producing cervical orgasm, one needs to calm their mind, feel safe, and engage in lots of foreplay, according to Martin. “If you've just been on your smartphone before sex, you can't just snap your fingers and start penetrating your cervix and expect to have a cervical orgasm,” she says.

“If you've just been on your smartphone before sex, you can't just snap your fingers and expect to have a cervical orgasm.” —Jenny Martin


After putting on sensual music, massaging myself, and providing myself with lots of clitoral stimulation, as Martin advised, I used a rose quartz dildo to attempt a cervical orgasm several times. Each time, I felt pleasure but nothing building up to an orgasm. Eventually, I became impatient and touched my clitoris to get myself over the edge. 

While I did not experience a pure cervical orgasm, having a combined cervical/clitoral orgasm was nice; I could feel the orgasmic contractions more strongly and deeper in my pelvis than usual. I pretty much always feel refreshed and calm after sexual activity, but I cannot say I achieved a psychedelic state. Still, I’ll keep trying.

Baths of Varying Sorts

Last year, I was invited to an event hosted by the psilocybin company Psilouette that took place in a spa. Guests were offered psilocybin gummies, but since I wasn’t up for that, they gave me CBD oil. After taking it, I went into a room with a sauna, an ice bath, and speakers. I put on a playlist that one of my ayahuasca leaders would play during ceremonies and alternated between the ice bath and sauna. 

Wading in the ice bath just as “The Water Blessing Song” by Nalini Blossom played was magical. It felt as if the spirit of ayahuasca had come back to visit me and help me experience my wild essence as I swayed to the music and withstood the cold temperature. I continued dancing as I moved to the sauna with a profound sense of power and appreciation for my body. 


Another time, I mixed a drop of ayahuasca meant for microdosing into my bathtub. I felt once more like ayahuasca’s spirit was inhabiting my body. I started burping when I got out of the bath, a form of “purging” I used to experience when I actually took ayahuasca, and felt insights flow into me during a subsequent conversation with a friend over dinner.

It’s unlikely that someone could absorb ayahuasca through bath water unless there was a huge amount, according to Giordano, which there wasn’t. What’s more likely is that during both these experiences, a part of my brain that had previously turned on during ayahuasca ceremonies was reactivated due to the ayahuasca music and the presence of the substance. 

It’s similar to the conditioning exhibited by Pavlov’s dogs, Giordano explains: “A response you had during the drug-induced psychedelesis that's paired with music causes an affiliated response to the music. Your reflection on the experience itself can be enough to create a cognitive or perceptual rebound.” The ice bath may have also played a role, he says: “For some people, ice baths can release endogenous opioids, and that can obviously make you feel pretty good.”

A Frequency Machine

OK, now this is getting very new age, but there’s a machine called a Qi Coil that claims to emit the frequencies of ayahuasca, DMT, and other substances. Psychic Jusstine Kaye alerted me to the existence of this technology and was kind enough to let me try her own Qi Coil machine. It looks like an iPad, where you can select the frequencies you want, and you attach it to a stone that you hold to receive the frequencies. 

On the rooftop of a swanky Hollywood club, I selected the ayahuasca setting and held onto the machine. Quickly, a euphoric feeling came over me—more like MDMA than ayahuasca. Although she wasn’t holding the stone herself, Kaye, who sat next to me, said she was experiencing the same effect just by being close by. I felt as if I could look at situations in my life more objectively, without my ego in the way. With the help of this mindset and Kaye’s intuitive abilities, we had a conversation examining various changes I needed to make in my life. For the rest of the night and even on the Uber ride back, insights continued hitting me.

While Giordano has heard accounts of people experiencing psychedelic states through frequency machines, he doesn’t know of peer-reviewed research on this. According to the inventor of the machine, David Wong, it “emulates the effects of psychedelics by stimulating the brain's neural pathways using a combination of sound therapy and magnetic waves”. These sounds and waves “activate specific areas of the brain associated with psychedelic experiences,” he says. I don’t know if that’s what I experienced, but I definitely experienced something.

I still hope to one day return to psychedelics and experience the mental and physical health benefits they’ve brought me in the past. But in the meantime, I know I have plenty of healing and exploration available to me through non-psychedelic modalities alone. Things like breathwork, rapé, and even the Qi Coil can get intense, to the point of rivaling a psychedelic ceremony. Because psychedelics all carry risks, these often safer options are powerful alternatives, ones I’ll likely continue taking advantage of whether I use psychedelics again or not.