Religion and Psychedelics: Sacred states stained by ideology.

Religion and Psychedelics: Sacred states stained by ideology.

October 01, 2016

Art: Axis-Mundi-(2014)-by-Hakan-HISIM

Can a psilocybin experience be religious?

If you asked this question to someone who has never ingested a psychedelic, they would scoff at the question and would be baffled at the absurdity of the question. If you ask someone who has partook in this cosmic surrendering of ideals, values, and self, they will almost unanimously say, that of course mushrooms can provide a spiritual or religious experience.  

Can one have a psychedelic experience from religion?
Just as one can have a religious experience with magic mushrooms, where the major theme is surrendering to an awe inspiring moment that humbles our saturated egos. If one lets go during a sermon from a priest, they may receive low level psychedelic visuals like tracers, witness auras and sense what others are feeling. Psychedelics can be abused where the tripper uses them to just get messed up, and with religion, people can use scriptures to just justify their bullshit. There is supposed to be a surrendering in each case. 

Just like some religious people, some psychonauts are more materialistic than they are mystic.  They are reguritating scriptures and trippy visuals in the same automatic autopilot mode. Both avenues can leave the surrendered initiates mystified and perplexed by the enormity of existence and the universe.  If you are open to the experience, when you consume a psychedelic, you are engulfed by questions that have no concrete answer. This is the real religious experience. A humbling surrendering to the unknown. 

Magic mushrooms has been found to invoke mystical experiences with the majority of users that experience them. Naturally, it would be interesting to see what mystical and religious figures would experience. Would the mushroom shake their faith? Would it increase their belief in God? Would the experience be similar to their experiences with praying and meditation? 

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and New York University recently put out this unusual call, looking for religious and spiritual leaders to take the psychoactive drug psilocybin in a controlled setting, so they can study what people in this group experience while taking the drug. 

Johns Hopkins invitation reads:
Leaders from all traditions are invited to volunteer. Participants will receive psilocybin in day-long contemplative sessions conducted by trained, supportive staff in a comfortable, living-room-like setting. Volunteers must be between 25 and 80, have no personal or family history of severe psychiatric illness, and have no recent history of alcoholism or other drug addictions. Johns Hopkins maintains confidentiality for all human research.

"The question for us is: What are these experiences like for people in the clergy who have taken, in some cases, religious vows, and whose professions are focused on supporting others in their own spiritual quest?" said the study's lead author, Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

A study like this would give us insight into the nature of spirituality and could suggest that there are common spiritual experiences that underlie every mystical experience. The scientists hope that their study will reveal insights into the nature of spirituality.  Spirituality seems to be triggered chemically and this line between what is natural or unnatural seems to blur. A natural growing fungus or a mantra need not be separated and juxtaposed against each other in the name of ego. This study will look at if a monk's psychedelic experience is different from lay person and the important findings will be why this is or not the case.  It is possible that spiritual advanced leaders might already show that they are experiencing a altered state of consciousness naturally.  state naturally. 

Mystical encounters

In past work, Griffiths and his team found that people taking psilocybin in a controlled setting had deeply meaningful, spiritually significant experiences that had an impact on them long after the trippy effects wore off. For instance, his team found that people on even a single psilocybin trip could induce permanent personality changes, making people more open to new experiences.  

Personality was measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, which covers openness and the other four broad domains that psychologists consider the makeup of personality: neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Only openness changed during the course of the study.

Other research has found that psilocybin could alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Five weeks after taking the psilocybin, the higher dosage group reported significantly reduced levels of anxiety and depression compared to the patients who received a low dose. These positive effects also proved to be long-lasting, as the enhanced mood persisted in the patients at a 6-month follow-up. 

These results are consistent with previous research on the positive and therapeutic effects of psilocybin. In fact, Roland Griffiths has been somewhat of a pioneer in the field, and he published a landmark article in 2006 titled, “Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance.”

“I don’t want to use the word ‘mind-blowing,’” Griffiths said in an interview with The New Yorker’s Michael Pollan, “but, as a scientific phenomenon, if you can create conditions in which seventy percent of people will say they have had one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives? To a scientist, that’s just incredible.” (science explorer)

The psychedelic experiences of some people in these studies met some of the criteria that researchers use to define mystical experiences, which involve a sense of interconnectedness between all people and things, and which are typically accompanied by a sense of sacredness and authority, Griffiths said. 

"There's often a sense of love, open-heartedness and sometimes a collapse or a transcendence of time and space," Griffiths told Live Science. "They're very hard to put into words."

Examples of mystical experiences are foundational for many world religions, from the visions of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, to the enlightenment reached by the Buddha under the Banyan tree. So Griffiths and his team wondered how religious leaders, who are often called to their professions by their own mystical encounters, would feel during the transcendent experiences induced by magic mushrooms.

Religious differences

To sum up, the main questions to look at here is how these mystical experiences differ from those experienced by laypeople in their past studies. Psychedelics (entheogens) are mind manifesting tools so it is possible that based on their religion, their experience will tailor towards their belief of heaven, god, life after death. Would a buddhist monk encounter a Jesus like figure and if he does what does that say about the Jesus figure and what does that say about the psychedelic experience?

"What we do know is that these experiences are biologically normal and that most people under these conditions will have experiences that are profoundly moving and sacred," Griffiths said. "And so it may be that the interpretive frame that people put on is just that, an interpretive frame, and the underlying experience is the same across these traditions."

It's also not clear whether the hallucinogenic mystical encounters caused by psilocybin mirror those that religious leaders have experienced in the past, without the aid of chemical helpers, Griffiths said.

If we discover that psychedelics are as much a spiritual tool as meditation, reading scripture and praying, will that propel them to religious status? 

My underlying argument in this piece has been there should be no distinction from religion and psychedelics. Psychedelics are spiritual catalysts and one doesn't have to believe in a God to have a spiritual experience. I hope that the religious leaders that undergo a mushroom experience surrender just as they would when they are in prayer. The problem with some religious people is that they are married to their dogma, and this does not allow them the opportunity to experience anything that might contradict their prior beliefs. This is the irony that runs prevalent in religion and in the psychonaut community. One enters a ego dissolution state and becomes more ignorant to the unknown than before. 



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