So A Minister, A Rabbi And A Buddhist Took Drugs For Science …

On April 20, 1962, a group of theology students and professors met outside Boston Universitys March Chapel, waiting for Good Friday services to begin. These particular services were to be unlike any other: On their route into the chapel, Harvard psychiatrist Walter Pahnke administered the group a dose of psychedelic mushrooms.

Those services would go down in history as the Good Friday experiment. As part of his Ph.D. thesis under Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert( aka Ram Dass ), Pahnke sought to test his hypothesis that psychedelic drugs, taken in a religion define, could provoke a genuine spiritual experience.

He was right. Nine out of the 10 students who took the mushrooms reported having a mystical experience.One of those students was the historian Huston Smith, who went on to write Cleansing the Doors of Perception , a classic philosophical run exploring the potential of psychedelic drugs as entheogens, or God-revealing chemicals.

The experience was powerful for me, and it left a permanent mark on my experienced worldview, Smith, who passed away in December, reflected. I had believed in God … but until the Good Friday experiment, I had no personal encounter with God of the kind that bhakti yogis, Pentecostals and born-again Christians describe.

Today, another research project is taking up where the Good Friday experiment left off this time, with modern research tools and leaders from not only the Christian religion but an array of world religions.

As part of a small pilot survey, psychologists at Johns Hopkins and New York University are dedicating psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to spiritual leaders. Their objective is to demystify the transcendent and deeply meaningful experiences that people often report having under the influence of psychedelic drugs.

A Zen Buddhist roshi and an Orthodox Jewish rabbi have embarked on consciousness-expanding journeys in the name of science, along with Episcopal, Presbyterian and Eastern Orthodox Christian clergy. The research squad is about halfway done with such studies, which will include a total of 24 participants.( Theyre still looking for Muslim imams and Catholic and Hindu priests .)

Theyre helping us map out this scenery of mystical experience with their unbelievable training and experience, Dr. Anthony Bossis, project director of the NYU Psilocybin Religious Leaders Project, told The Huffington Post.

By working with leaders of different faiths, the researchers hope to learn something about the shared mystic core of all the worlds major religions what the author Aldous Huxley called the perennial philosophy. Understanding these mystic experiences might also shed light on the therapeutic benefitsof psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs, which researchers are exploring as treatment options for post-traumatic stress ailment, end-of-life anxiety and depression, addiction and other psychological conditions.

If you devote psilocybin psychedelics to 20 different people, you get 20 different experiences, Bossis said. But there is a common mystic experience … It seems that the efficacy of these medicines is in their ability, pretty reliably in the right situate and decided, to activate or trigger this mystical experience.

This experience of deep connection with the sacred can have long-lasting effects. Mushroom-triggered mystic experiences have been linked with positive changes in behaviour and values, and with lasting increases in the personality domain of openness to experience, which encompasses intellectual curiosity, imagination, adventure-seeking and engagement with music and art. People commonly reportthat the experience is one of the most personally and spiritually meaningful of their lives.

“Theyre helping us map out this scenery of mystical experience with their incredible training and experience.” Dr. Anthony Bossis, clinical assistant prof, NYU School of Medicine

Finding Words for the Indescribable

The term mystic experience might not sound especially rigorous, but its something that has actually been studied in depth. Psychologists define the experience based on its major components, including a sense of sacredness, impressions of unity, ineffability, peace and pleasure, transcendence of day and space and impressions of being confronted with some objective truth about reality.

The experiences are often said to be impossible to put into terms. But Bossis and his colleagues hope that the unique expertise of these spiritual leader will provide greater insight into their workings.

One of things I was struck by, doing this research, was the experience of love that they spoke of, he told. Its quite striking to witness … people speak about this overwhelming experience of love loving-kindness to self, love towards others, and what the Greeks called agape , this kind of universal, cosmic love that they say imbues everything, and which recalibrates how they live.

You may feel tempted to brush off this sort of talk as mere drug-induced daydream.( One guesses of the Onion articleUniverse Feels Zero Connection To Guy Tripping On Mushrooms .) But early the investigations and anecdotal reports suggest that chemically induced mystic experiences may not be so different from those that occur as a result of years of meditation and prayer.

Mystical experiences, whether drug-induced or spontaneously resulting, seem to connect the individual with the mystic core of all the worlds major religions a sense of unity, oneness and interconnection with all beings.

I think to understand the depth of religion, one needs to have firsthand experience, saidJewish Renewal motion leader Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomiin an interview published in 2005. It can be does so with meditation. It can be done with sensory deprivation. It can be done a number of ways. But I think the psychedelic route is sometimes the easiest style, and it doesnt require the long time that other approaches usually require.

The Psychedelic Renaissance

The psychedelic route has led many people, including the American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, to take up more traditional spiritual practices as a style to bide connected in their daily lives to the sorts of insights and sensations they first experienced with psychedelics.

In spiritual communities, we need an honest exploration of this delicate and sometimes taboo topic, Kornfield wrote in 2015. Let us approach the use of these drugs consciously.

While psychedelics may have a stigma attached in todays culture, altered countries of consciousness have long been an aspect of human spirituality, and theyve featured in religion rituals around the world for thousands of years.

For the past several years, entheogens have been quietly making their style into modern medicine.A landmark examine from NYU and Hopkins, published last month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, presented a single dosage of psilocybin to be effective in relieving death-related nervousnes in cancer patients.

A return to entheogens for the treatment of psycho-existential agony may signal that medicine has come full circle to embrace a very early known approach to mending our deepest of human agonies.” Dr. Craig Blinderman, director of adult palliative care services at Columbia University Medical Center/ New York-Presbyterian Hospital

In a majority of the patients, the psilocybin triggered a mystic experience, which may be largely responsible for the renewed sense of meaning and relief from existential distress described by the patients. In fact, the extent to which the patients experienced reductions in depression, nervousnes and fear of death correlated directly with the intensity of the mystical experience.

Increasingly, it appears that the mystical-type experiences measured immediately after a session is predictive of suffering positive impacts, Dr. Roland Griffiths, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins and one of the studys lead authors, told HuffPost. Thats consistent across analyzes of healthy volunteers, addicted cigarette smokers, and in psychologically distressed cancer patients. Theres something about the nature of those experiences that is predictive of subsequent positive effects.

Dr. Craig Blinderman, director of adult palliative care services at Columbia University Medical Center/ New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said the research presents an exciting session of the minds between modern medicine and ancient mending modalities.

A return to entheogens for the therapy of psycho-existential agony may signal that medicine has come full circle, Blindermanwrote in a commentary published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, to embracing the earliest known approach to mending our deepest of human agonies, by generating the divine within.

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