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