Scientists at John Hopkins University are enlisting two dozen religious leaders from a wide range of beliefs to participate in a study on the effects of mushrooms on mystical experiences.
The participants consist of Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, a Zen Buddhist and several rabbis, each to be given two powerful doses of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. The study will gauge the effects of a drug said to induce powerful visions of one’s consciousness on spiritual, mystical, and religious individuals.
Dr. William Richards, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said: “With psilocybin these profound mystical experiences are quite common. It seemed like a no-brainer that they might be of interest, if not valuable, to clergy.”
The team has yet to persuade a Muslim imam or Hindu priest to take part, but “just about all the other bases are covered,” according to Richards.
Participants will receive one dose at a time, one month apart. They will receive the drug in a living room setting with two guides monitoring them. After ingesting the psilocybin, all the subjects must do is lay on a couch with an eyeshade on, religious music softly playing, and report back what they experienced.
“Their instruction is to go within and collect experiences,” Richards said, after presenting his work at the Breaking Convention conference in London this month. “So far everyone incredibly values their experience. No one has been confused or upset or regrets doing it.”
While the study is still ongoing, preliminary analysis suggests that under the influence of Psilocybin religious leaders gain more confidence in their own but are also more receptive to alternate belief systems.
“It is too early to talk about results, but generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage,” he said. “The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way. They discover they really believe this stuff they’re talking about. They get a greater appreciation for other world religions. Other ways up the mountain, if you will.”
The drug induces a mental feeling of universality, that you are the same and different from everyone else simultaneously.
“In these transcendental states of consciousness, people seem to get to levels of consciousness that seem universal,” he added. “So a good rabbi can encounter the Buddha within him.”
While the study of psychedelic drugs as medicine is only slowly becoming mainstream, researchers commenting on this project absolutely believe the drugs have scientific and medicinal value.
Ben Sessa, a clinical psychiatrist and researcher at Imperial College London, has urged journalists to focus on the “rigorous science.”
“Are you going to focus on the tie-dye and the dreads … or are you going to look at the cutting-edge neuroscience here?” he asked. “I can’t tell you how to do your job, but if I was you, I’d not look back to the past, I’d look to the future.”
Dr. Richards agrees, and has made his life researching the drugs.
“My wild fantasy is that, probably some time after I’m long dead, these drugs are used in seminary training, rabbinical training,” said Richards, who began research into psychedelics in the 1960s. “Why shouldn’t the opportunity be there to explore deeply spiritual states of consciousness in a legal way?”
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