, Volume 187, Issue 3, pp 268–283 | Cite as

Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance

  • R. R. GriffithsEmail author
  • W. A. Richards
  • U. McCann
  • R. Jesse
Original Investigation



Although psilocybin has been used for centuries for religious purposes, little is known scientifically about its acute and persisting effects.


This double-blind study evaluated the acute and longer-term psychological effects of a high dose of psilocybin relative to a comparison compound administered under comfortable, supportive conditions.

Materials and methods

The participants were hallucinogen-naïve adults reporting regular participation in religious or spiritual activities. Two or three sessions were conducted at 2-month intervals. Thirty volunteers received orally administered psilocybin (30 mg/70 kg) and methylphenidate hydrochloride (40 mg/70 kg) in counterbalanced order. To obscure the study design, six additional volunteers received methylphenidate in the first two sessions and unblinded psilocybin in a third session. The 8-h sessions were conducted individually. Volunteers were encouraged to close their eyes and direct their attention inward. Study monitors rated volunteers’ behavior during sessions. Volunteers completed questionnaires assessing drug effects and mystical experience immediately after and 2 months after sessions. Community observers rated changes in the volunteer’s attitudes and behavior.


Psilocybin produced a range of acute perceptual changes, subjective experiences, and labile moods including anxiety. Psilocybin also increased measures of mystical experience. At 2 months, the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as having substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance and attributed to the experience sustained positive changes in attitudes and behavior consistent with changes rated by community observers.


When administered under supportive conditions, psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences. The ability to occasion such experiences prospectively will allow rigorous scientific investigations of their causes and consequences.


Psilocybin Methylphenidate Hallucinogen Entheogen Mystical experience Spiritual Religion Anxiety Humans 



This research was supported by grants from NIDA (R01 DA03889) and the Council on Spiritual Practices. We thank Dave Nichols, Ph.D., for synthesizing the psilocybin, Mary Cosimano, M.A., for her role as assistant monitor, Brian Richards, Psy.D. and Kori Kindbom, M.A., for psychiatric screening, Heather Cronin for data management, Paul Nuzzo, M.A., for statistical analysis, Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., for discussions about the data, and Dr. George Bigelow, Dr. Eric Strain, Dr. Maxine Stitizer, and Dr. Larry Carter for comments on the manuscript. The study was conducted in compliance with US laws.

Supplementary material

213_2006_457_MOESM1_ESM.doc (6 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 States of Consciousness Questionnaire and Pahnke–Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire (DOC 5 kb)
213_2006_457_MOESM2_ESM.doc (5 kb)
Supplementary Table 2 Items in the Persisting Effects Questionnaire used to assess eight categories of possible change in attitudes, mood, social effects, and behavior: I, positive attitudes about life and/or self (17 items); II, negative attitudes about life and/or self (17 items); III, positive mood changes (four items); IV, negative mood changes (four items); V, altruistic/positive social effects (eight items); VI, antisocial/negative social effects (eight items); VII, positive behavior changes (one item); and VIII, negative behavior changes (one item). Numerals associated with each item indicate the numerical sequence of the items. (DOC 5 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. R. Griffiths
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • W. A. Richards
    • 3
    • 4
  • U. McCann
    • 1
  • R. Jesse
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeuroscienceJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical CenterBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Council on Spiritual PracticesSan FranciscoUSA

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