“Magic” mushrooms really do have a spiritual effect on people, according to a recent study in Psychopharmacology. Over one-third of volunteers in the carefully controlled new study had a “complete” mystical experience after taking psilocybin, with half of them describing their encounter as the single most spiritually significant experience in their lifetimes.
Roland Griffiths and the rest of his team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, recruited 36 healthy volunteers who had not experimented with the drug before. They were informed that they would receive a hallucinogen but did not know in which of two or three sessions they would receive it. Each session was separated by two months.
They either received a substantial dose – about 30 milligrams – of psilocybin or a similar dose of an "active" placebo, Ritalin. The latter has a stimulating effect but is not known as a hallucinogen. An inactive placebo would be easy to identify by the volunteers when compared to psilocybin, which could bias the experiences they reported.
The researchers used psychological questionnaires and found that 22 of the 36 volunteers had a “complete” mystical experience after taking psilocybin – far more than the four who reported this type of experience after taking Ritalin. WHAT?
I find that fact that four people claimed to have a complete mystical experience after taking ritalin to be much more interesting than the known outcome of taking high doses of psilocybin.
I agree with Ian McGregor, an Australian professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Sydney, who stated that he isn't surprised that the study confirms the ability of psilocybin to induce a spiritual state. "Psilocybin and related hallucinogens have been used since ancient times in religious rituals and this study is really formalizing ... what many people already know," he says.
In an interview with the New Scientist, Griffiths said that in the future psilocybin might have a therapeutic use, perhaps helping people who have just learned they have cancer come to terms with the news. But he is quick to add that “the therapeutic application is very speculative”. “My guess is that there will be people saying ‘You’re looking for a spiritual shortcut’” says Griffiths. He stresses that the drug is no replacement for the mental health benefits of continuous personal reflection: “There’s all the difference in the world between a spiritual experience and a spiritual life.”
For more information on how other researchers are using psychedelics to map our brains, I recommending reading Tom Ray's five part guest series he wrote on Brain Waves regarding his research that is focused on mapping receptor space.