Interview by Bryan Henderson (aka Crow) of Modified Mind
The medical community argues against it . . . media has used it as a shock story . . . but it's a procedure that has been around for ages, and some people believe it to be effective: trepanation. The desire to increase one's conciousness permanently has led some brave people to undergo this procedure. This is the story of one such brave individual . . .|
NOTE: If you'd like to ask questions, the individual interviewed here can be contacted via this BBS forum.
For those who don't know much about trepanation, can you please explain the procedure and it's believed benefits?
Trepanation is the act of drilling, cutting, or scraping a hole into the skull. It is the oldest surgery known to man and has been used to treat head injuries, brain tumors, chronic headaches, insanity, and most recently, touted as a cure for chronic depression and/or chronic fatigue syndrome. It has been theorized that by cutting a hole into the skull and leaving it open permanently, you would allow a permanent increase in brain blood volume, or that the brain would adjust itself to a new equilibrium, a new 'brain blood volume to cerebro-spinal fluid' ratio. The idea is that by re-opening the skull you would allow more blood to flow to the brain, on a permanent basis, and that you would restore the brain pulsation level to that of infancy, when the skull had not yet sealed itself shut and forced much of the brain blood out of the head. The increased blood to the brain would mean more oxygen to the brain, and the theory is that it would again function at the levels of youth. The recent resurgence of interest in trepanation, largely due to websites on the internet and the continuing popularity of body modifications of all kinds, has been largely due to the idea that trepanation brings with it a permanent high. Smoking pot, drinking caffeine, dropping acid, all these things, along with any other effect they have, increase blood to the brain. Many think that this would restore the energy level and mental stamina of youth, that having more blood to the brain would make more of it work and enable to function at a higher level.
What thoughts were running through your mind as you underwent the procedure?
As it happened, the main thought was the sanitary state of my opened skull. We had prepared ourselves as much as possible and then some, so I wasn't really too worried really, but that was the thought that never left my mind. I did think, if a mistake is made, if we penetrate the meninges and CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) begins to flow out of my head, we would have to rush me to the emergency room? I thought to myself how to remain as calm as possible if that occurred so that I could convince the doctors that I am a sane healthy man and not to have me committed. I was honestly more concerned of getting caught doing it than any other thing. I was afraid of legal repercussions of any kind. My thoughts were also on the physical sensations of course. I was focusing more and more on inner feelings and sensations than anything going on in the room or otherwise. I was paying as close attention as possible to any feelings of blood flow through my neck and my head. Was I feeling any different yet? Was I feeling more energy? It was hard to tell. Of course I was excited. Of course I was feeling like I had never felt before. "Man this is loud," was a continuous thought as well. A flex-shaft dremmel to the skull creates quite a loud noise.
Did the friend who performed this procedure have any medical background?
No. They had cut and pierced themselves and others and had experience with implants and things along those lines.
Did you try to seek out someone with prior trepanning experience to perform the procedure, or was your friend the immediate choice?
I met someone who had trepanned himself but quickly realized he was more lucky than he was prepared and intelligent. I didn't believe him and still don't that he actually did it himself. He didn't know anything about autoclaves, sterility, what kind of tools to use or anything. My friends and I were much more prepared, educated, and safe about it. I didn't try to find a doctor for all the obvious reasons (cost, trust, opinion, etc) but mostly because I think even if I found a doctor, they bother me. I hate vested interests like the medical industry is so prone to.
What made you decide you could trust this friend with such a procedure, both in the physical performing of it and the acceptance of something that is sometimes considered as being insane?
I go with my feelings about trust, and I felt absolutely certain I could trust this person and their intentions. As for ability, it seemed, after seeing them done and reading about them and having used the tool on drier harder bone, that it would be harder to be careful and slow than to be smart enough to pull it off. The procedure itself is not very complicated. Keeping it clean and knowing how to, and being comfortable around blood and the opened body are the major factors. My friend seemed perfectly suited in all those ways. As for the acceptance level, the plan was that we would take turns trepanning each other, me one day, my friend the next. After mine was done and it was the long ordeal it was, and that I was so high from it at the time, I told my friend I wasn't very comfortable doing it and that perhaps it'd be best to wait and see how mine 'held up' or whatnot.
So, did your friend ever undergo the procedure, or has he followed on your opinion and opted not to be trepanned?
I believe it's still being seeked actively, but since I never became comfortable with the idea of performing one while he was here, and he doesn't live near me, he may have it done elsewhere. I believe he is still seeking it.
What originally inspired you to look into trepanation?
I was inspired to consider trepanation at first by hearing of it through a few friends who took interest in it for reports they were working on and through a desire to decrease regular headaches. Upon closer investigation, I found out about all of the other speculated benefits of going through this procedure. Out of all the writings I found available, all the reports, articles, websites, interviews, etc that I could find were two-sided of course, but only the arguments in favor contained anything that seemed like intelligent statements. There would be someone who had been trepanned raving about how great it was, or someone interested who was intelligently theorizing at great length, about how pleasant the effect would be and why. Then there would be the opponents. They would generally be doctors and medical practitioners and psychologists. They would say it was placebo, that the theories made no sense, that it was insane to consider, but would not argue against it nearly as well as the proponents had. This made me think that perhaps they were against it because it did indeed work. I thought that perhaps vested interests were keeping it down as they do with natural birth control & any other thing that can be easily performed without their professional and very expensive help. I was made even more curious when I began to theorize a relation between the mental control techniques of modern day philosophers such as Timothy Leary, Robert Wilson, Christopher Hyatt, and the idea of blood to the brain giving it even more energy. I theorized that trepanation could be used to these ends, to enable more mental ability and enjoyment of life. I began to be curious enough to look into just how possible it would be to do this or to find someone to do it for me.
Based on your diary entries, you suddenly came to a change of opinion on the results of your trepanning experience. What caused the seemingly sudden change of opinion?
It was seemingly sudden mostly because I didn't write down much between those last two entries. I started doubting it when I realized that there was nothing happening that couldn't be attributed to either the fact that I was paying extremely close attention to every feeling in my body and process in my head and/or pure placebo effects. It also happened as some of the initial feelings I reported waned and disappeared altogether. Some initial weirdness was very intense. I was experiencing the sensation of thinking multiple things at once, and seeing and hearing what was going on around me, and was being able to pay attention to and focus on all of those things pretty simultaneously. I could talk to someone and both hear & understand all their statements even while I was thinking about something else. That was a new feeling for me. Usually if I don't pay close attention to someone, their 'volume' gets turned down in comparison to my thoughts, or I sometimes miss parts of what they said. I was feeling similar to someone on an acid trip in that all my sensory impressions were more clear. Touching and textures were more intense, I could focus on various parts of sounds more, I was thinking very quickly and not losing track of my thoughts. I was remembering all of my dreams. My moodiness seemed to have gone away completely. I wasn't feeling grumpy every morning until my first coffee. As these sorts of things happened less and less until eventually I was pretty much back to normal, I realized it was all placebo. I feel the need now to speak about this because it's not being mentioned by anyone who's actually experienced it, that it is not a physiological phenomenon. I don't think it is a physiological phenomenon at all.
Do you now believe you've come to regret the trepanation experience, or do you think it has possibly benefited you in a way other than those believed to be the physical result of the procedure?
I wanted to do this, and I was able to do it, and lived through it remaining in full health, so no, I don't regret having done it. I would say however that it was not worth the risks overall nor were the results nearly as pronounced as I had hoped it would be. I do feel that I got in touch with my thought processes and more in touch with all my senses in general, by maintaining such a focus on them all that time. That taught me the level of focus that is possible for me at this time. I'm thankful for that. It also drove home how things that seem impossible to do aren't always as impossible as we are often told, and that my friends were trustworthy and willing enough to help me accomplish just such a feat. As much as I have said that I don't think it caused much physiological change, there have been some lasting effects worth mentioning, both mental and physical. One thing that I have continued to enjoy is the seeming elimination of the bipolar emotional instability I experienced before trepanning. I haven't gone into one of those long unprovoked depressions that I was prone to before. I am also still not walking into rooms wondering what I went in there for, and so believe that by focusing on that for so long right after the trepanning that I have largely improved the ability to keep my line of thought clear till it's end. The strangest things to me have been a few recurring physical happenings. The first sounds silly I know, but I no longer get headaches from eating cold food or drinking cold drink, no matter how much I take in. I can no longer, it seems, get brain freeze headaches. I think this may be because my brain temperature is higher than what it was with less blood. The other and strangest has occasionally been so pronounced and strange that it can kind of scare me sometimes. I smoke marijuana, and when I smoke a lot of it, I feel strange sensations now. Sometimes it feels like my whole head and face are swelling with blood, that my skin can feel it filling up my head, moving through me to my head and filling it up to capacity. If that wasn't strange enough, I swear that I can feel heat in my head now when I drink a lot of coffee. I seem to feel the heat of my blood moving through different parts of my head. It's not at all similar to anything I've ever felt before. I also, and this is the scary one, feel 'flashes' of heat in my head when I smoke a lot of marijuana. I can feel an area quite suddenly get a burst of heat. The first time it happened, I was driving, and what scared me more than the heat was that I even heard a squirt sound accompany it, from inside my head. I still feel these heat flash sensations, but I haven't heard a squirt like that since then. I have not experienced any kind of pain or any impairment of any kind whatsoever.
Would you recommend or warn against an individual undergoing this procedure?
I would, at this time, warn against undergoing this procedure, mostly to anyone who was considering this as a way to alleviate chronic depression. If someone underwent this hoping it would be a panacea for all of their troubles and then it wasn't, that might just push them off the edge. I would also warn against doing this for the most obvious reason that hardly anyone is going to be able to pull it off properly and safely. You don't see interviews with hundreds of self-trepanned people because they don't exist. Because it is not easy and you can certainly cause serious damage by doing it incorrectly, or by doing it without having done a certain amount of research or by knowing those who have some sort of experience in these kind of strange areas. My main concern now is that it would become an underground craze and that a great many people whom I would love to meet or get to know or experience would damage their brains and their lives trying to attain an experience that isn't really there anyway. One that is perhaps not what many speculate it could be. I feel that the Amsterdam clique who started the first wave of interest in trepanning are doing it again and that they believe what they want to. I am trying not to fool myself or anyone else about this.
Return to BME/people