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I’ve heard Joe Rogan rave on his podcast about sensory deprivation tanks having relaxing and even hallucinogenic effects. He even bought one for his personal use. When I saw a link on Drudge Report entitled “Suffer from anxiety? Try a sensory deprivation tank” I decided to click through to an article on The Guardian and give it a read. The author goes into a history of the origin and development of the tank which you can pretty much pick up from a Wikipedia article:
The isolation tank was developed in 1954 by John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuropsychiatrist.During his training in psychoanalysis at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly experimented with sensory deprivation in combination with a psychedelic agent, mostly LSD. In neurophysiology, there had been an open question about what keeps the brain going and the origin of its energy sources. One hypothesis was that the energy sources are biological and internal and do not depend upon the outside environment. It was argued that if all stimuli are cut off to the brain then the brain would go to sleep. Lilly decided to test this hypothesis and, with this in mind, created an environment which isolated an individual from external stimulation. From here, he studied the origin of consciousness and its relation to the brain.
Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie of the University of British Columbia began experimenting on the therapeutic benefits of isolation tanks in the late 1970s. They named their technique “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST).
The author payed $100-US for a one hour session which, while no great stresser for someone like Joe Rogan, would create a little anxiety in the average person. While the author claimed she felt euphoric during the one hour session, she wrote the following:
By the time I was going through the acrobatics of trying to put my jeans back on without stepping into a puddle of water on the floor, I was more or less back to my normal self.
That quote combined with the $100 expense would leave the average reader with a negative impression of sensory deprivation. According to the article, its expensive and the effects are short lasting.
However, there is research stating that the effects are felt over a series of treatments, which the author failed to mention. The study referenced below involved 12 treatments. However(again), that would be a $1200 expense based on $100 per treatment. Would the potential positive effects justify parting with $1200?
Research undertaken at the Human Performance Laboratory at Karlstad University Sven-Åke Bood concludes that regular flotation tank sessions can provide significant relief for chronic stress-related ailments. Studies involving 140 people with long-term conditions such as anxiety, stress, depression and fibromyalgia found that more than three quarters experienced noticeable improvements.
Dr. Bood commented: “Through relaxing in floating tanks, people with long-term fibromyalgia, for instance, or depression and anxiety felt substantially better after only 12 treatments”. Research targeted the effectiveness of floatation treatment with regard to stress related pain and anxiety over the period of seven weeks. 23 percent of the participants became entirely free of pain and 56 percent experienced clear improvement.
There is clearly a rise in the number of isolation tank centers in the US. According to the article, since 2009 the number of centers has gone up 1500% to the current 300 isolation tank centers in the United States.
Studies are ongoing and perhaps the treatments may be tweaked in some fashion to increase effectiveness but, for now and the foreseeable future, the cost is prohibitive for most.
For a better sense of isolation tanks watch the Vice documentary below. Its a playlist, so you can let it play through.
Click here to watch the trailer for the 1980 movie Altered States which was based John C. Lilly’s sensory deprivation research conducted in isolation tanks under the influence of psychoactive drugs including mescaline, ketamine, and LSD.