3.2.15 Shirodhara

Shirodhara #

Binomial / Botanical Name Various Herbal Oils
Street Names Shirodhara
Major Active Compound N/A
Indigenous Source India
Form External Therapy
Personal Rating On Shulgin Scale ++


I know how this will sound to some people; largely because I may have been one of them had I not been the subject of the experience. It sounds wacky and unscientific, and I may come across as an unhinged freak (assuming I haven’t done so already). Nonetheless, the story, which is true, unfolded as described below.

In December 2015 I visited Rishikesh, India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This is famed as part of the 60’s hippy trail, as the Maharishi Mahesh guru retreat of the Beatles, and as a world centre for yoga. This region is also at the heart of an ancient medicinal practice called ayurveda, historical variants of which dispense medicines containing opium and other psychoactive substances.

The tale I am about to impart, however, does not directly relate to consumption of a substance or the compelling beauty of the place itself, but rather, a totally unexpected aspect of the ayurvedic tradition.

Whilst talking to someone who had been there for a while, I was referred to a remedy called shirodhara. This wasn’t a drug, but a treatment, which involved the pouring of hot oils onto the forehead. The interesting aspect of this is that these are poured directly on the spot behind which the third eye sits (commonly considered to be the pineal gland). I was told it would clear the mind and help me to relax.

Although this sounded like a glorified head massage, I duly attended, expecting the equivalent of a nice head rub and a rest. I lay flat on the bed, with pads covering my eyes, and the oils gently flowed: hot cool, hot cool, hot cool, with an occasional gentle massage. The hot was very hot; almost scalding.

Rather surprisingly I entered what felt like a pre-psychedelic headspace. This was nothing to write home about: it was the sort of feeling experienced when a trip is about to commence, but before it actually has. I put this down to some sort of meditative auto-suggestion and a possible pre-disposition due to fatigue.   However, then came a flash: an image of an African woman’s head. Whoa! This was hallucinogenic! Disappointingly, this disappeared as quickly as it came, but shortly thereafter I had another, similar vision, involving a steam train. Then the overall experience faded as I mentally sought to compose and re-establish myself.

The picture was there for an instant, and then it was gone, but it was clear and distinct. Moments later there was a repeat, with a different picture. This took me entirely by surprise, and I spent the rest of the session coming to terms with it. The shock of this unexpected manifestation was somewhat unnerving.

Outside, I sought my hippie friend. She got in first “What did you see? Did you see it?” I most certainly did. She then described her own visions, which were more lucid and longer lasting than mine. 

After this I rushed back to my accommodation and searched the Internet. Sure enough I found a variety of references. The following were typical:

And the renowned Shirodhara treatment where they drip oil on your forehead, causing you to have wild dreams and hallucinations

The rhythm of the oil trickling onto the third eye, which is the seat of our cognitive vision” “awakens the cognitive vision”,

To say that I was in an altered state is an understatement. During the session, I had unusual pictures coming constantly into my vision

I even found claims (unsubstantiated) that shirodhara causes the brain to release pinoline and DMT.

Whatever the cause, it was as real as any other psychedelic manifestation I have experienced, before or since. Its validity was also verified by an independent third party.

Despite knowing that this actually happened, I still find it difficult to assimilate, given that nothing had entered my body. However, it isn’t something I will ever forget, and it certainly opened my mind to a new frontier of possibilities.