Some people say they these effects or states of mind can be reached without the use of them. They point to techniques like meditation, fasting, sensory deprivation, pain ordeal, and others as being sufficient.
I ask, what exactly is being reached in these states for us to say that the drug’s effects aren’t unique? I like to think that these drugs have unique effects which cannot be achieved otherwise. The most obvious unique effect is the sensory distortion. I can’t think of any other state of mind which processes sense data in the same way. Another unique effect is the way one handles thought. The mental chatter and imagery we normally experience is altered in a way that none of the claimed “substitutes” can achieve. An additional unique effect is the reliability of repeating the experience with different people. The other techniques may or may not produce any effect; but with the psychedelic, one is guaranteed of having an effect be felt. It’s clear how psychedelics should be understood to be in their own class of effects because of the intensity and repeatability of the experience compared to the alternative given.
All of the previous mentioned techniques do alter consciousness in general, but they are usually in much less of a degree. For example, a person attempting sleep deprivation may see very mild sensory alteration like colors or halos of light after a few days. But a person who has dosed some LSD will not only see extra or heightened colors, but geometric shapes, lattices, patterning, breathing textures, flowing grains, magnified details, etc. Or consider a meditator who experiences a change in the way they understand person identity. After a while they reach a state of mind where he or she feels to have lost their sense of self against a backdrop of pure emptiness or void. An individual who has taken some psilocybin mushrooms may also feel like their sense of self has dissolved into the world, merging with it; but they are able to be awake and interact with the world, thereby adding much more to the experience by not being tether to the same mediation position. Without a doubt, the alternatives offered do not come close to match the immediacy of the effects of psychedelic compounds, because that sense of urgency is not common to them.
These intensified effects do have their price. Psychedelic drugs are notorious for being very mentally abrasive, with negative effects leaving an imprint long after the metabolism of the drug has finished. However, the opposite scenario is also true: a person may experience long lasting positive effects. Another drawback to their use is the fact the effects are temporary, with only pieces remaining to help foster insight. In much the same way like everything else, psychedelics do have their less then helpful features.
Saying these drugs effects are unique does not give them a flawless potential for use. They have problems like anything else, but they are also unique in their own right. So when it comes to psychedelics, things like meditation, fasting or sensory deprivation may seem like substitutes, but they are not. The effects may overlap, but it must be treated in its own class distinct from other non drug ways of altering consciousness.