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Psychedelics, Breathwork, and Epilepsy: A Deeper Dive

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, which are sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain.

Over time, recurrent seizures can lead to changes in brain structure and function, affecting cognitive and emotional processes.

While the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and the benefits of breathwork have gained attention in recent years, it's essential to understand the risks they pose to individuals with epilepsy, especially considering these changes.

1. Psychedelics and the Brain's Electrical Activity: Psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin, and DMT, are known to alter perception, mood, and various cognitive processes. They achieve this by affecting neurotransmitter systems in the brain. However, these alterations can also lead to changes in the brain's neuro-electrical activity. For someone with epilepsy, this can increase the risk of triggering a seizure. Even in individuals without a history of epilepsy, high doses of psychedelics have occasionally been linked to seizure-like activity.

2. Intense Breathwork, Oxygen Levels, and Endogenous DMT: Breathwork practices, especially those that involve rapid breathing (like Holotropic Breathwork), can lead to changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Altered levels of these gases can influence the brain's activity quite significantly, through influencing blood flow and pH, potentially making neurons more excitable. Additionally, prolonged, intense breathwork has been suggested to raise effective levels of endogenous DMT, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound in the body. For someone with epilepsy, the heightened excitability combined with increased DMT levels can significantly increase the risk of a seizure.

3. Sensations and Physiological Shifts: Similarities and Considerations Both epileptic seizures and experiences induced by psychedelics or breathwork can lead to profound sensory, emotional, and cognitive changes. Some similarities include:

  • Altered Perception: Both seizures and psychedelics can lead to hallucinations or distortions in perception.

  • Emotional Intensity: Seizures can sometimes be accompanied by intense emotions, similar to the emotional rollercoaster one might experience during a psychedelic journey or deep breathwork session.

  • Dissociation: Both epilepsy and these practices can lead to feelings of dissociation or being detached from reality.

  • Time Distortion: A sense of time dilation or contraction can be experienced in both scenarios.

  • Frontal Lobe Seizures can cause muscle contractions, unusual movements, or even an inability to move.

These similarities can be disorienting and potentially distressing for someone with epilepsy, as it might be challenging to distinguish between the onset of a seizure and the effects of a psychedelic or breathwork session. This overlap in sensations makes it even more crucial for individuals with epilepsy to approach these practices with caution. The inability to differentiate between the two can delay necessary medical intervention during an actual seizure.

4. The Synergistic Effect: Combining psychedelics with intense breathwork can amplify the risks. The simultaneous alteration of neurotransmitter systems and blood gas levels might significantly increase the likelihood of inducing a seizure in susceptible individuals.

Conclusion: While many people find value in the experiences brought on by psychedelics and breathwork, it's crucial to approach these practices with caution, especially for those with epilepsy or at risk of seizures. The potential changes in brain structure and function due to recurrent seizures, combined with the effects of psychedelics and breathwork, present a complex interplay that requires careful consideration. Always consult with a healthcare professional before embarking on any new therapeutic or spiritual practice if you have an underlying health condition. Safety should always be a priority.

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