Once again, my plan to post photos of boobies, or to rant about what a total tool Ann Coulter is has been delayed. This time it’s by a wonderful study about how to use mushrooms to induce a mystical experience. One reviewer said of it: “all scientists interested in human psychopharmacology should sit up and take note.”
A group of Johns Hopkins researchers really did an outstanding, classic, double-blind study. They found that the active agent in “sacred mushrooms” can induce spiritual experiences— pretty much like spontaneous ones people have reported for centuries.
The link above has an extended interview with one of the researchers. Intriguingly, the interviewer seems convinced that the study is some sort of key to religiosity, and the scientist is determined to not go there.
Q: Are you trying to find a short cut to the spiritual journey that some people pursue for years?
A. Our focus in this research was to study the effects of psilocybin using the methods of modern psychopharmacology. It’s true that “transformative” changes in values, self-perception, and behaviors have been reported across cultures and eras as a consequence of mystical-type experience. This bears investigation.
Q: Should religions feel threatened by this work?
A: I can’t see why.
This research is very interesting to me, because I have temporal lobe epilepsy. This form is commonly associated with strange visions and experiences, and also a very high incidence of religiosity. A device commonly device used to map the brain often is known to cause mystical visions and experiences, rather like TLE.
(As an interesting aside, one researcher proposed using this magnetic device as a “god helmet” and claimed to be able to cause visions. Richard Dawkins put on the god helmet –while he had “strange experiences” he didn’t become a believer. Quel suprise! )
I am really, really excited that we are on the threshold of beginning to understand what makes people have religious/spiritual experiences at a neurological or pharmacological level. And I really hope that the folks who are condeming the mushroom study as promoting drug use (“think of the children!” ) don’t squelch this new field of research.
For the curious, the full citation is: Psychopharmacology, July 2006. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.Ã¢â‚¬Â You can read full commentaries from the journal here.