Past research has linked the use of
psychedelic substances to profound spiri-
tual change (Pahnke 1966; Doblin 1991).
In a high-dose psychedelic experience, users
may claim to encounter God, to merge with
the cosmos or undergo death and rebirth.
Reports from many users resemble Buddhist
or Hindu descriptions of self-realization,
satori or enlightenment. This mystical
experience is said to have a universal aspect
that transcends cultural context. If psyche-
delic drugs can produce mystical experi-
ences, then the values and beliefs of psyche-
delic users should differ in crucial respects
from those expressed by users of other illicit
drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Further, the
values and beliefs of psychedelic users
should be similar across different cultures.
The present study tested these hypotheses
by examining different types of drug users
in Israel and Australia, specifically compar-
ing the values, beliefs and sense of coher-
ence (an index of physical and mental well-
being) of users of psychedelic drugs with
users of non-psychedelic illicit drugs
(marijuana, heroin, cocaine, etc.), and with
non-users of illegal drugs.
Method & Subjects
Participants were considered to have
had a psychedelic experience if they reported at least one
high-dose "trip" or "overwhelming experience" on a
psychedelic drug. A total of 183 subjects participated in
the study. Participants included 41 Israeli psychedelic
users and 47 Australian psychedelic users (a total of 88).
Other illegal drug users included 18 Israelis and 11
Australians (a total of 29). The non-users of illegal drugs
were 51 Israelis and 15 Australians (a total of 66). Groups
were divided on the basis of the Drug Use Questionnaire
(DUQ) responses indicating history of substance use.
Life Values Inventory (LVI; Crace &
Brown 1996): measures 14 core life values,
or global orientations that influence
behavior and decision making.
Sense of Coherence Scale (SOCS;
Antonovsky 1987): measures the health-
related ability to cope with life stress in
terms of the cognitive dimensions of
comprehensibility, manageability, and
Mystical Beliefs Questionnaire (MBQ;
derived from Pahnke 1966): uses 4-point
Likert scales (a measurement method that
allows answers ranging from "strongly
disagree" to "strongly agree") to rate
mystical beliefs such as a universal soul, a
spiritual or transcendental dimension to
existence, and oneness with God, nature,
and the universe.
Emotional Empathic Tendency Scale
(EETS; Mehrabian 1994): measures one's
ability to feel and identify another's emo-
tions.Drug Use Questionnaire: assesses use of
illegal drugs such as marijuana, MDMA,
cocaine, amphetamine, heroin/opiates, and
psychedelics (LSD, mushrooms/psilocybin,
peyote/mescaline, etc.) as well as demo-
Participants were recruited by notices posted in areas
frequented by drug users, and by word of mouth (snow-
ball method), in Israel (Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem) and
Australia (Nimbin, Byron Bay, Melbourne, Gold Coast).
Interested drug users contacted the researchers, who sent
them a questionnaire packet and a self-addressed stamped
envelope for return of the completed forms. Any incom-
plete forms that were received were discarded.
If psychedelic drugs can produce
Findings were largely consistent with predictions.
The main finding was that regardless of culture of origin,
users of psychedelic drugs had higher scores than users of
other illegal drugs and non-users of illegal drugs on the
MBQ, a measure of mystical beliefs such as "oneness with
the cosmos" and a belief in the "divine within." Effect size
in this analysis was high (.46) suggesting a strong degree
of association between psychedelic use and MBQ scores.
These results are consistent with the findings of Pahnke
(1966) and Doblin (1991) of a profound
and lasting spiritual influence of the
psychedelic experience. Users of psychedel-
ics also scored higher than other illegal drug
users on life values thought to be associated
with spiritual or mystical beliefs, such as
concern for environment, concern for
others, creativity, and spirituality. In
addition, psychedelic drug users scored
significantly lower on financial prosperity
than both control groups. Surprisingly,
none of the measures differentiated Israelis
mystical experiences, then the
of psychedelic users should differ
in crucial respects from those expressed
by users of other illicit drugs
such as cocaine or heroin.
Additional support was reflected in the
empathy questionnaire (EETS) findings
that psychedelic drug users reported
significantly higher levels of empathetic
tendencies than both other illegal drug
users and non-users of illegal drugs. Inter-
estingly, data analysis revealed that both
illegal drug user groups were more
empathetic than non-users of illegal drugs.
The present results suggest that the effects
of psychedelic drugs may be more impor-
tant than the cultural differences between
Israel and Australia in influencing the life values and
spiritual beliefs of drug users in these two countries.
Contemporary research has suggested that psychedelic
experiences can modify one's worldview, produce long-
lasting changes in personal beliefs, and can be responsible
for personal transformations that alter the future conduct
of one's life (Shanon 2003).
The effects of psychedelic drugs
If the psychedelic mystical experience does induce
lasting positive changes in attitude and behavior, it was
hypothesized that differences would be evident in the
psychedelic drug user's subjective sense of health and
well-being. Evidence of such differences was obtained in
the present study. A score on the SOC scale is assumed by
Antonovsky (1987) to reflect one's position on the
health-illness continuum in terms of both physical and
mental health. The higher a subjects' SOC score, the more
available are resources to deal with life stressors that can
affect our physical and mental health (Antonovsky 1987).
Psychedelic users were characterized by significantly
higher levels of meaningfulness (one of the three SOC
sub-scales) than both the other illegal drug user group and
the non-user group. In addition, psychedelic drug users
exhibited significantly higher scores on manageability and
on the total scale than the other illegal drug user group.
The findings suggest that psychedelic users perceive life as
more meaningful than other illegal drug users and non-
users of illegal drugs, consistent with the assumption of a
profound mystical experience.
may be more important than the cultural
differences between Israel and Australia
in influencing the life values and spiritual
beliefs of drug users in these two countries.
There are two competing explanations for such
profound differences in life values and beliefs between
groups in the present study. It is possible that the higher
levels of spirituality and associated values in psychedelic
users were due to inherent pre-drug
spiritual tendencies. If psychedelic users
were more spiritually inclined to begin with
(that is, pre-drug), then psychedelic drug
use may be seen as a by-product of such an
orientation rather than the cause of a
change in values. Alternatively, previous
experimental findings suggest that the
psychedelic experience itself can reshape
values and beliefs (Doblin 1991; Pahnke
1966; Shanon 2003). According to this
view, such changes in values and beliefs
stem from a subjectively real, vivid, and
transformative experience. The "God
within," cosmic unity, and other concepts
associated with such states of mind are
often dismissed as sub-cultural slogans that
have nothing to do with reality. Yet the
similarity in values and understanding
between people from vastly different
backgrounds who have entered extreme
altered states of consciousness is often
striking, whether they are yogis, psyche-
delic drug users, Zen Buddhists, or mystics
from different religions. Different metaphors are used to
describe what may be the same inner journey of the soul.
Accordingly, many religious figures and psychedelic
seekers who experienced those realms of consciousness
may speak the same inner truth. *
Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unraveling the mystery of health: How people
manage stress and stay well. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Crace, R.K. & D. Brown (1996). Life values inventory. Ann Arbor, MI:
Doblin, R. (1991). Pahnke's "Good Friday Experiment": A long-term
follow-up and methodological critique. Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology 23(1): 1-28.
Mehrabian, A. (1994). Manual for Emotional Empathic Tendency Scale (EETS).
Pahnke, W. (1966). "The contribution of the psychology of religion to
the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances." In H. Abramson (ed.),
The use of LSD in psychotherapy and alcoholism (pp. 629-649). New York:
Shanon, B. (2003). Hallucinations. Journal of Consciousness Studies 10(2): 3-31.