Psilocybin induces mystical and spiritual experiences: study

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A study published by researchers at John Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland) concluded that psilocybin, a hallucinogenic drug, causes experiences of “substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance” in users. A majority of the participants felt a better sense of well-being, even months after consuming the drug. Researchers expect that the results can be used for further investigation of psychoactive substances and cognition.

The experiment, led by Roland R Griffiths, assessed the degree of mystical experience and attitudinal effects of the psilocybin experience; this report was published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

Thirty volunteers without prior experience with hallucinogens were given psilocybin and methylphenidate (Ritalin) in separate sessions. The Ritalin sessions served as the control group who used that drug as a placebo. The tests were double-blind, with neither the subject nor the administrator knowing which drug was being administered.

The degree of mystical experience was measured using a questionnaire on mystical experience developed by Ralph W Hood; 61% of subjects reported a "complete mystical experience" after their psilocybin session, while only 13% reported such an outcome after their experience with Ritalin. Two months after taking psilocybin, 79% of the participants reported moderately to greatly increased life satisfaction and sense of well-being.

About 36% of participants also had a strong to extreme “experience of fear” or dysphoria (eg, a “bad trip”) at some point during the psilocybin session (which was not reported by any subject during the methylphenidate session), with about one-third of these (13% of the total) reporting that this dysphoria dominated the entire session. These negative effects were reported to be easily managed by the researchers and did not have a lasting negative effect on the subject’s sense of well-being.

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