How does spirituality influence the psychedelic experience?


Spiritual practice, quality of the experience and long-term outcomes

Researchers at Johns Hopkins gave psilocybin to healthy participants after they had undergone a 1–2 month preparatory training in meditation and spiritual practice (Griffiths et al. 2018). The results provided evidence that high support for spiritual practices increased both the acute and enduring effects of psilocybin.

In another recent study aimed at evaluating the synergistic effects of meditation and psychedelics, psilocybin was given to expert meditators during a meditation retreat (Smigielski et al. 2019). Remarkably, during acute drug effects, experienced meditators were able to remain engaged in their usual meditation practice and psilocybin was perceived as deepening the meditative state, without anxiety.

Interestingly, dispositional mindfulness measured 6 days after the completion of the retreat was higher among participants who had received psilocybin than among those who had received placebo.

Spiritual beliefs and mystical experience

A study based on an online survey assessed the relationship between religion and mystical experiences (Neitzke-Spruill et al. 2018). The findings indicated that respondents who used psychedelics for specifically religious purposes, as well as those who identified with a religion, were more likely to score higher on the Mysticism Scale than those who did not.

A survey conducted by our collaborators at Imperial College aimed to evaluate the possibility of predicting acute and longer-term responses to psychedelics based on personality traits or other prior factors (Haijen et al 2018). The authors reported that having “clear intentions” for the experience as well as the ‘absorption’ personality trait was more conducive to mystical-type experiences.

Future Work

The synergistic relation between meditation and psychedelics is an area of great interest to the Beckley Foundation, and we are currently developing a range of studies and surveys aiming to address the nature of this relation and how it might be harvested to benefit psychedelic-assisted therapy and self exploration with psychedelics

References


Griffiths et al. 2018, Psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience in combination with meditation and other spiritual practices produces enduring positive changes in psychological functioning and in trait measures of prosocial attitudes and behaviors

Smigielski et al. 2019, Characterization and prediction of acute and sustained response to psychedelic psilocybin in a mindfulness group retreat

Neitzke-Spruill et al. 2018, A Gratuitous Grace: The Influence of Religious Set and Intent on the Psychedelic Experience