In a follow-up to the groundbreaking study of psilocybin by Johns Hopkins University in 2006, researchers have found that the active chemical in psychedelic mushrooms produces a prolonged and powerful spiritual experience in most people who try it.
In the original research study, Roland Griffiths and his colleagues gave 36 volunteers the active chemical in sacred mushrooms, psilocybin, and asked them to describe how they felt about their experience. The volunteers were all people who had an active spiritual practice, which the researchers believed would make them more able to relate details of any possible mystical experiences. The researchers found that “more than 60 percent of subjects described the effects of psilocybin in ways that met criteria for a 'full mystical experience' as measured by established psychological scales. One third said the experience was the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes; and more than two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful and spiritually significant.". A two month follow up found that 79 percent of subjects experienced a “greatly increased well-being or life satisfaction” compared to the placebo group.
The recent follow-up to the 2006 study, published by Griffiths in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, analyzed the long-term effects of psilocybin with these volunteers over more than a year. The long-term fourteen month study found that no one reported any lasting negative effects from the experience, psychologically or physically. Fifty-eight percent of the volunteers were still certain that the psilocybin experience was among the five most personally meaningful experiences of their lives, and 67% believed that it was among the five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives.
Griffiths' study was the first major clinical study of psilocybin in America since Dr. Timothy Leary's landmark experiments giving psilocybin to prison inmates in 1965. In that study Leary, Ralph Metzner, and others gave inmates at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution doses of psilocybin. The results of this study included personality test scores which indicated a measurable positive change in behavior after the psilocybin experience. Also the recidivism rate for the prisoners who were given psilocybin and then released on parole was reduced by more than half. This is significant because most rehabilitation strategies currently used by prisons do not dramatically reduce the chances for an inmate to return to jail after being paroled.
With rigorous scientific research of psychedelic compounds like the Johns Hopkins study emerging more frequently, many questions should arise from these results. Often the findings of these studies contradict public notions about drug use. In many cases these type of psychoactive chemicals, even when administered in a clinical setting, cause people to feel more happy, aware, and spiritually connected. If it is true that roughly 60% of people are able to have a genuine, mystical experience from the ingestion of a plant or psychoactive chemical, shouldn't those people be able to have that experience under the legal protection First amendment, regardless of their cultural heritage or religious tradition? And if we are to genuinely explore the frontiers of the psychology and spirituality of the human mind with the tools of science, these types of experiences need to be taken into account -- studied, documented, and analyzed to discover a more comprehensive understanding of the human psyche.
Tristan Gulliford is a writer, dreamer, and aspiring myth-keeper who makes electronic music under the name "Dreamcode". He is currently attending the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Image by mosaicbychris, courtesy of Creative Commons license.