Huperzine A is one of the supplements most lucid dreaming enthusiasts swear by. It is available without a prescription, it is relatively cheap and by all accounts – including my own – it does indeed work when it comes to LD induction and enhancement.
To really understand how and why Huperzine A works (and the possible risks it entails), you really need to take a close look at acetylcholine.
Before we venture that far into the mechanism of action used by Huperzine A though, let us get a few essential definitions out of the way.
What exactly is Huperzine A?
Huperzine A is a sesquiterpene alkaloid, which occurs naturally. It can essentially be extracted from a number of plants, such as Huperzia serrata, Huperzia elmeri, H. carinat, etc.
The main source for the currently available Huperzine A supplements is Huperzia serrata.
Due to its effects on neurotransmitter acetylcholine, Huperzine A has been considered as a treatment for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. While there is data available in this regard, the studies which produced it have been found lacking in methodological quality, and therefore are treated with caution by the science community.
What you really need to know about Huperzine A though – as a LD enthusiast – is that it acts upon acetylcholine, effectively preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter in the brain, by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase. This way, Huperzine A is claimed to improve memory, as well as mental function.
Through the preservation and promotion of acetylcholine though, its effects on dreaming in general and on lucid dreaming in particular, are much further reaching.
Like most medications and supplements, Huperzine A does not come without side effects. In its case, these side effects are relatively mild, and they are limited to diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.
How does Huperzine A work for lucid dream induction?
If I told you that I knew exactly how Huperzine A affects lucid dreaming, or even that there is a scientific consensus in this regard, I’d be lying.
To understand how and why Huperzine A accomplishes the effects that it does, a thorough understanding of acetylcholine is required.
As a matter of fact, considering what we now know, the whole Huperzine A equation can be reduced to acetylcholine only.
So what makes acetylcholine (ACh) so special?
The very first neurotransmitter discovered in the early 1900s, the role of acetylcholine in the organism is extensive and science is probably only just scratching the surface in this regard.
ACh is involved in the regulation of the sleep/wake cycle, that of emotions, as well as in the stimulation of learning, cognitive processes, thinking and memory. ACh stimulates muscles as well.
Besides being an ever-present necessity, ACh is something of an Achilles’ heel of the body too. The blocking of ACh receptors leads to muscle paralysis, while the overabundance of ACh, attained via the inhibition of its breakdown, can lead to muscle spasms.
It is worth noting that while this is more or less the effect Huperzine A produces, it happens on a much smaller scale and it is temporary.
Slightly elevated ACh levels have always been associated with positive effects: better focus, increased learning ability and better memory, not to mention increased REM sleep.
On the flipside, lower-than-normal ACh levels are associated with bad sleep quality, poor memory and even Alzheimer’s disease. Those who suffer from this disease have been registered with ACh levels some 90% below those of healthy individuals.
How exactly does this Huperzine A-supported ACh affect dreaming and the likelihood of lucid dreams?
There are several theories floated in this regard, but the fact that ACh does indeed seem to increase and deepen the REM stage of sleep, is a clear lead.
This fact alone clearly promotes dreaming and dream recall, though according to some, the boosting of the memory may in fact be what’s solely responsible for all these effects.
As far as the regulation of the sleep cycle is concerned, acetylcholine has a major role, together with serotonin. While the latter promotes deep-sleep, and spikes during periods of deep sleep, the former sees its levels increase with the onset of REM sleep. The two neurotransmitters seem to work against one-another, together balancing out the sleep cycle.
While Huperzine A (through its effects on ACh) is used for the boosting of the REM sleep stage, serotonin can be used for the boosting of the deep-sleep stages (3 and 4 of the cycle).
The conclusion here is though that the boosting of the deep-sleep stage isn’t just about the boosting of serotonin levels: it also needs the lowering of ACh levels. Likewise, the promotion of REM sleep doesn’t just need the raising of ACh levels, it needs to see a corresponding decrease in serotonin levels.
What the above tells us in regards to the use of Huperzine A for lucid dreaming, is that timing is of the essence when using it.
If you take the supplement when going to bed, you will mess with your natural sleep cycle: boosting your ACh levels during the first part of sleep, when deep-sleep stages dominate, is a mistake, and it may easily result in a REM rebound-like effect, which will see your body try to recover the lost deep-sleep periods by cutting back on REM.
That said, the boosting of ACh levels shouldn’t happen until after you’ve put in 4-5 hours of quality sleep. That’s the approximate point when REM sleep takes over, and serotonin levels naturally decrease, as ACh takes over.
This way, you won’t just end up with increased ACh and deeper/longer REM sleep, you’ll have kept your sleep quality intact as well.
Why is it important to pay attention to the quality of your sleep? An advanced lucid dreamer will want to bring about an LD experience 2-3 times per week on average. It is easy to see how such an exercise could have a massive negative impact on one’s life, provided sleep quality wasn’t properly maintained.
Due to the nature of acetylcholine, the impact of supplements like Huperzine A is two-pronged. On one hand, they extend the length and enhance the vividness of lucid dreams; on the other, they make it easier for the dreamer to remember the LDs.
As already stated above, ACh’s effect on dream recall – though often overlooked – should not be underestimated. It may in fact be the predominant effect of the neurotransmitter on dreams. Increased vividness may indeed result from better dream recall.
The benefic effects of ACh on lucid dreaming are undeniable. What’s more is that it helps with MILD as well as WILD lucid dreams. Elevated ACh levels can indeed greatly help with the WILD variety of LDs, which is quite a leap forward, given how this type of LD can be induced at will.
For a beginner lucid dreamer, 90% of LDs happen in the MILD mode (lucidity realized in an actual dream) and 10% in the wake-induced mode (WILD). The use of supplements such as Huperzine A, can turn that ratio upside down: triggering 90% of LDs in the WILD mode and 10% of them in the MILD one.
ACh can be manipulated in three different ways through supplements.
- ACh precursors use compounds which are then broken down into ACh in the brain.
- ACh agonists mimic the effects of ACh on the brain,
- and AChE inhibitors delay the breakdown of ACh.
Huperzine A obviously belongs in that latter category. Of the three supplement categories, inhibitors and agonists have been shown to be the more potent.
Does Huperzine A work for Astral Projection?
The short answer to that is: yes. Since astral projection is achieved through the same WILD techniques, it makes perfect sense that Huperzine A lends itself well to AP too.
The boundaries between AP and lucid dreaming are often quite ambiguous, as indeed, some lucid dreams can turn into astral projection. Astral projection is essentially a lucid dream by definition too, albeit a more advanced sort of version of the latter.
The difference between a lucid dream and an OBE (Out of Body Experience) is that the latter requires the dreamer to leave his/her physical body behind, moving his/her consciousness into his/her spiritual body, which remains linked to the physical shell through a silver cord.
With that in mind, it is obvious that astral projection is a lucid dream on an entirely different level. Still, its basics are the same, and the supplements that stimulate LD aid in achieving astral projection too.
How good/potent a lucid dreaming supplement is Huperzine A?
Some say that Huperzine A is the best available LD supplement in existence. Indeed, my personal experience backs that statement. The results one can attain with Huperzine A, especially in the realm of WILDs, are nothing short of spectacular. When properly used, the compound barely has any side effects. What’s more, its “brain food” status makes it generally useful.
The only other supplement that comes close to Huperzine A, LD-related effects-wise is galantamine, which acts in a manner similar to Huperzine A: it inhibits AChE, to thus prevent the breakdown of ACh in the brain. Still, Huperzine A is the clear winner for me and for many others out there.
Before I begin comparing the two supplements, let us set one thing straight: they both work for LDs, and efficiency-wise, there’s really not much of a difference from one to the other. They’re both at their best when combined with other supplements and – as said above – they both act by the same mechanism.
What I have personally found though it that galantamine packs quite an additional punch – and not in a good way. Whenever I wake up in the morning following a galantamine-aided LD experience, I feel like I had a few drinks too many the previous night.
With Huperzine A, I’m always refreshed, a good nights’ sleep behind me. For someone who engages in lucid dreaming as much as I do, this is quite a deal-breaker as far as galantamine is concerned.
I simply cannot afford to wake up feeling like I’ve been through a thorough beat-down 2-3 days a week.
This fact alone makes Huperzine A vastly superior to galantamine.
Price-wise, I can’t really pick a winner. Galantamine is rather expensive, though quality Huperzine A can be just as expensive. There are cheaper sources of Huperzine A available out there too, though when it comes to the quality of the LD supplements I take, I know no compromise.
What else is Huperzine A used for?
As said above, Huperzine A has been studied in regards to its effects on Alzheimer’s disease. As a brain food, it is generally considered benefic for all sorts of memory- and learning-related problems. It is also used for the treatment of myasthenia gravis, a condition affecting the muscles.