Citation: Anatoli Smorin. "Different Facets of Sensory Deprivation: An Experience with Floatation Tanks & Various (exp112671)". Erowid.org. Jan 20, 2019. erowid.org/exp/112671
Float Tanks: A Chronicle of Experimentation
This report is designed to act as a summary of six separate experience reports. The collection of reports is a series of experiences that each takes place in sensory deprivation, or floatation tanks, under the influence of a variety of substances. Each experience could be read on its own, but I believe that tying them together as a collection is more useful as it allows a reader to hear about the different facets of sensory deprivation while on a variety of substances from a singular perspective.
The reports were written using extensive written notes from before, during, and after the experience as well as audio recordings taken during the experiences (when not in the tank). The sensory deprivation experiences occurred over a span of 8+ months. The experiences that I chose to produce full experience reports for were not the only times I used these (and other) substances during this time period. I intentionally had no tolerance for these full-report experiences.
For all of the reports in this collection, I prepared dosages using a freshly calibrated milligram (.000 g) scale. The substances ingested were sourced through highly vetted chemists with the exception of pharmaceuticals that were sourced from legitimate pharmacies.
I have been using sensory deprivation / floatation tanks intermittently for the past eight months. I have had a full spectrum of experiences during float sessions. Some have been easy and positive, others hectic and riddled with anxiety. No matter the nature of the time spent in dark, I keep coming back for more. I consistently felt grounded, more peaceful, and generally happier after floating.
Please find below a link to each of the related reports. Below the links are some retrospective comments on my floatation tank experimentation.
Take 1 [sober]: Discovering a Useful Wellness Tool
Take 2 [alprazolam & etizolam]: The Nod-less Nods
Take 3 [esketamine]: Embracing Shallow Thoughts
Take 4 [esketamine]: Decimation of Mental Clutter
Take 5 [oxycodone]: Deep Happiness
Take 6 [MDMA]: Clarity of Silence
I consider myself to be well versed in the realm of substance use. Previous experiences include opioids, stimulants and psychedelics. A fair amount of my substance usage history includes novel research chemicals, often in less than common combinations.
I have amassed all of my notes and experiences into a series (in no particular order) of comments regarding sensory deprivation tanks. The content below leverages data from not only the six experiences that are discussed in the formal reports, but also a number of other experiences for which the notes never reached a finalized product. Please keep in mind, all commentary below is my personal experience and your mileage may vary.
What is a float tank?
Without getting too historical or bogged down with technical details, I’ll offer my quick down-to-earth description of what a float tank is. A float tank is a device used to experience sensory deprivation. Sensory deprivation occurs when one is deprived of normal external stimuli, such as sight, sound, and feel. Floatation tanks come in a variety of designs and styles, but the pods I used most often are similar to large wide bathtubs that have a lid that flips open to allow the user to enter. Inside each tank is roughly 9 and 12 inches of a solution made of Epsom salt and water. The float center I patronize most often aims to make a saltwater solution that creates a specific gravity of around 1.27. The temperature of the liquid is typically 95-Fahrenheit degrees, while the air in the room is maintained at around 75.
The auditory effects I have experienced during sensory deprivation sessions have ranged vastly. Sometimes there are no effects at all and I am immersed in a deep silence. Other times strange mechanical noises clatter, clang, and grind so loudly I cannot concentrate on anything else. The most common effect in my float sessions has been a light ringing tinnitus. I find I will notice the ringing, and then it somehow slips into the background for a while. Eventually I notice it again but the sound is generally not disturbing or annoying. The most interesting auditory effect in my experiences thus far was when my tinnitus synched up to my emotional status.
The most interesting auditory effect in my experiences thus far was when my tinnitus synched up to my emotional status.
The more worried I became and the more I focused my thoughts on negative things, the louder and higher pitched the buzzing noise in my ear became. When I listened (pun intended) to the ringing noise as a warning, I could re-ground myself and begin to calm down. As I did this, the auditory effects changed to a much calmer, quieter, and lower pitched noise. Eventually as I reached tranquility the tinnitus became a truly pleasant ambient white noise, like the soft waves of an ocean reaching the shore.
The visual effects I have encountered during float sessions drastically varied depending on the substance(s), or lack of, which were ingested on the given day. In general, I found psychedelic experiences to be less visual inside a tank than a comparable dosage taken in other settings. Some phosphene imagery occurred during almost every float with the exception of some opioid experiences. I had anticipated my open-eyed environment would look similar to my closed eyelids when under the influence of more visual substances but found this to almost never be the case. My closed-eyed mind’s eye was often far less active, vibrant, and bright than when taking the same substances and dosages outside of a tank.
I spent a fair amount of time attempting to control visuals while in a tank. I was hoping to be able to use actual visualization as a tool to assist with problem solving or creative creation. On several occasions I was experienced minor success but most often my attempts were fruitless. The few times I was successful were not specific to a single substance and were very generic. I was able to see an image of a house, with detail similar to an artist rendering, and rotate the house as I watched from a bird’s eye view. I was attempting to change layout and exterior aesthetics, such as mason work and window placement, but was not able to gain this level of control.
Every float session has provided me with some level of satisfaction. I generally found sedative / depressant substances to provide less stressful and more pleasant floats. These substances often provided one of my favorite phenomena that took place during a float: the complete separation from time awareness. There is a special pleasure that I get from allowing myself to become completely present to the level that when I lose the concentration, I cannot tell how much time has passed while I was in the special state. On one occasional the entire float session passed in not much more than the blink of an eye. I was absolutely stunned when this happened and I found the “post float glow” to be more intense on this experience than on any other.
There have been a lot of floats that were “type two fun” – stressful and unpleasant during the experience itself, but enjoyable and useful after some time had passed. These came under the influence of a wide array of substances and sobriety. I found dissociatives to be the most “holy shit this is fun right now!” Benzodiazepines were also very fun in that they opened doors for me in regards to my ability to meditate in a tank.
Least Favorite Experiences:
I have yet to have any truly negative or harrowing experiences in a floatation tank. There have certainly been moments when I wanted the session to be over and my thoughts went out of control. Stimulants were by far the most consistently unenjoyable to the point where I was essentially “one and done” with this class of substances while in a floatation tank. I found that slow methodical thoughts were the most useful when in sensory deprivation. If I was worrying or having an unpleasant float, my thoughts were generally fast. Trying to slow down anxious thoughts was a very difficult task for me in this setting. There were a few instances were I became so uncomfortable in my head that I opened the tank, almost literally needing
to see the time and connect with my senses again. I generally fought to keep myself from taking one of these 30-second breaks even though after one I almost always had a far more relaxed and productive float. Fighting the urge was useful as well, but the most uncomfortable I have been in a tank was fighting the desire to be out of said tank. In the end, the juice has always been worth the squeeze for me.
Take away / long lasting effects:
The biggest impact regular sensory deprivation sessions have had on my life is the forced break in “normal” they provide. If I am having a bad week or bad day and feel tightly wound, I force myself (with the assistance of my partner Kai) to go float even if I feel there is not enough time or I am in the wrong state of mind. Without fail, I always feel better after a float in this scenario. I experience true relaxation and a sense of refocusing on the bigger picture. The effects are acute and have significant duration.
I experience true relaxation and a sense of refocusing on the bigger picture. The effects are acute and have significant duration.
The variable is of course that I often ingest substances for my floats and these could be providing the positive effects rather than the float itself. While I admit this unknown, I can say with certainty that at the very least the combination synergizes to provide greater results than if I was to have taken the substances outside of a float tank. I also feel the therapeutic glow is more genuine than the effects that alcohol or benzodiazepines (two of my choice “forced relaxation” substance genres) can provide.
I am very glad I chose to be sober for my first experience in a float tank. It provided an excellent baseline and opened my eyes in the way only firsthand experience can, to altered states of consciousness without the ingestion of a substance. Prior to my first float, I had felt some “high” from a handful of good meditation sessions. I have also of course experienced natural adrenaline rushes and the positive lift from habitual physical exercise. This was different in that it was a unique flavor of positivity and calmness. It was drastically more intense than I could have expected or even believed possible (far beyond placebo).
I have had a mixed bag of easy and difficult experiences while floating sober. The challenges were linked to my inability to let myself go or to get caught up in thoughts about discomfort from lack of stimulation. It is a slippery slope for me to start wondering how much time is left and letting this develop into an obsessive desire. The upside to being sober was the overall ease of the experience. I did not need to coordinate a sober driver to get me to and from the float shop. I was not concerned about my external appearance (not looking intoxicated) while interacting with employees. During the float itself, if things began to go awry, I always had the “at least I’m not tripping and struggling through this” card in my back pocket. Sensory deprivation is certainly plenty challenging and rewarding for me when sober.
Benzos were extremely useful for me in a therapeutic manner while floating. I used alprazolam and etizolam to ensure a completely anxiety free experience on my second float. I believe this was instrumental in allowing myself to know anxiety, worry, and discomfort were not
mandatory parts to a float session. While I knew this to be true, actually experiencing an entirely peaceful session was validating and powerful. I was also able to use smaller dosages of benzodiazepines to place myself in a calm state of mind prior to and during multiple other floats. This helped take the edge off and allow me to be more productive with my time in the tank. I employed this method successfully when benzos were the only material ingested as well as in combination with various other substances.
In a more recreational mode, I also enjoyed the benzo and float combination. This combo provided a very stereotypical “floating” experience: complete serenity drifting through absolute nothingness.
Some of my favorite experiences were using ketamine, esketamine, or other dissociatives. I found these substances to combine well with sensory deprivation. I became fascinated with the mental clarity that was attainable with this class of substance in this unique setting. Overall, the dissociative visuals were far less intense in the tank than when taking them at home or elsewhere. It took me several high dosage experiences to even realize the substances were active and that the effects were just drastically different than any other experiences I have ever had with these types of chemicals. I found the tank to be a nurturing environment more so on dissociatives than any other class of substance. I always felt right at home despite the fact that I was actually in a salt filled space-pod looking contraption at a commercial facility. The combination of physical sedation and the mental space opened up by these compounds was delightful when paired up with sensory deprivation.
No denying that my opioid floats were generally very pleasant experiences. These floats did not (yet, anyways) ever produce much in the way of productive thoughts or grand realizations. They did provide me with much needed relaxation. To date, opioids were by far the most physically euphoric of any substance I have floated on. The rushing of pleasure and tickling itches feel good to me just about anywhere; floatation tanks are no exception. While the sensory deprivation combined with the mental and physical effects of these types of substances were very enjoyable, I will say that there was not an exceptional amount of synergy between the substance and the setting. I found less of the “post float glow” on opioid experiences and the commuting process sometimes seemed to be an unnecessary hassle. I would have enjoyed the substance just as much in my bed, on my couch, or on my porch just as much as in the float tank.
Well jeez, what can I say. This genre of substance was pretty much a swing and a miss for me in terms of using in unison with a float tank. The substances seemed to thrive on everything the tank removed: light, interaction with others, tactile input, and music. I was challenged by stimulants in the tank. I had racing thoughts that I fought hard to control. To make things more difficult, I felt as though I was physically overheating due to the warm and humid environment. I had several nice moments on MDMA in the tank but it took nearly an entire session to reach this moment and I was actually sitting up with the lid open (to allow cooler air to circulate) when it occurred. I likely won’t ever repeat this combination again unless floating becomes too easy (it won’t) and I want to make the experience more stressful, or I come across a novel stimulant that has some unique characteristic that would lend it to sensory deprivation (very unlikely and I cannot imagine what such a trait might be).
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