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Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness (NOSC) or Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) have been pursued by human beings for many centuries. 

In the early 1900s, William James, and American philosopher and "Father of American psychology" whose interest in ASC sparked a resurgence in this area of psychology--focused on the first-person-subjective-experience and viewed introspection as a valuable research method in the academic community. 

Social changes in the 1960s further led to changes of the scientific perspective to where introspection as a scientific method and ASC became more widely accepted as valid realms of experience.  

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist known for Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs--that has been used to explain how effort and motivation are correlated in the context of human behavior with the goal to attain self-actualization--contributed to the depathologization of altered states through his research on "peak experiences" as moments of "highest happiness and fulfillment."

Stanislav "Stan" Grof, a Czech-born psychiatrist moved to the United States in 1967 to work as a clinical and research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  He is one of the principal researchers in the use of NOSC for the purpose of exploring, healing and obtaining growth and insight into the human psyche.


Stan Grof, along with William James, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and Roberto Assagioli, set the stage for the birth of Transpersonal Psychology in the late 1960s.  It is strongly influenced by the "human potential" and consciousness-changing practices.   It attempts to integrate insights of Western psychology with the wisdom of Eastern spiritual traditions including Buddhism, Hindu Vedanta and Yoga. particularly their examination of "higher" states of consciousness and "higher" stages of human development.

In 1998, Adolph Dittrich published in Pharmacopsychiatry the first standardized psychometric assessment of ASC in humans, a.k.a. the APZ questionnaire.  The APZ questionnaire comprises of three dimensions of ASC that Dittrich explains below: 

1. Oceanic Boundlessness "Positive aspects of ego-dissolution.  These experiences my involve heightened mood, general feelings of well being, loss of boundaries and a radically altered sense of time and absorption.  In the extreme, this dimension captures the sense of ineffable profundity, sublime happiness and intense feelings of connectedness sometimes reported in altered states."

2. Dread of Ego-Dissolution "Negative experiences related to derealization.  This dimension thus measures fearful sensation associated with ego-disintegration such as thought disorder, loss of self-control, paranoid thoughts and anxiety.  These experiences are similar to the depersonalization and cognitive distortions associated with schizotypy."

3. Visionary Restructuralization: "Accounts for sensory illusions, an altered sense of meaning, synesthesia and ideas of reference.  The experiences captured by this dimension are related to perceptual distortions, body image changes, hallucinations and an altered sense of significance of objects and the environment."

My consciousness expanded at an inconceivable speed and reached cosmic dimensions.  There were no more boundaries or difference between me and the universe.  I felt that my old personality was extinguished and that I ceased to exist.  And I felt that by becoming nothing, I became everything.  - Stan Grof

Characteristics of NOSC according to MAPS Therapy Training:

Perceptual Changes

Transpersonal Experiences

Extreme States

Common Fears

Potential Beneficial Qualities

Five ways to induce NOSC according to Dieter Vaitl, et. al

Spontaneous: Day-dreaming, near death experience

Physical & Psychological: Fasting, Sex

Psychological: Music, Meditation, Hypnosis, Sensory Deprivation

Pathological: Epilepsy, Psychosis, Brain Damage

Pharmacological: Psychoactive substances

Activities that can induce NOSC:





Presence in Nature

Dream State



Spiritual Breakthrough

Rites of Passage

Somatic Experiencing

Holotropic Breathwork

Medicine Work


Near Death Experience



Peak Experiences

Panic Attacks


Heavy Intoxication

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