Psychedelic Drug Research Heralds the Future Science of Divinity

Originally appearing here. The late comedian George Carlin once said, “When God does acid, he sees people.” For those who get the joke, it’s funny because so many people have said that they’ve seen God while they were tripping. Perhaps the most vital function of psychedelic drugs and plants is their ability to reliably produce spiritual or mystical experiences. These transpersonal experiences of “oneness,” or inseparability, often result in an increased sense of ecological awareness, a greater sense of interconnection, a transcendence of the fear of death, a sense of the sacred or divine, a desire to help humanity, and an identification with something much larger than one’s body or personal life. Many people suspect that this experience lies at the heart of the therapeutic healing potential of psychedelics–and that making this experience available to more people is not only important for our personal health, it is essential for the survival of our species. I agree that we need a compassionate vision of our interconnection with the biosphere to guide our technological evolution, or we appear doomed to destroy ourselves out of blindness, fear, and greed. In his book The Physics of Immortality, physicist Frank Tipler introduces the idea that if a conscious designing intelligence, or a universal mind, is genuinely a part of this universe, then ultimately religion–or the study of this designer intelligence–will become a branch of physics. Psychedelic drug research may offer one pathway toward establishing this future science of studying divine intelligence. Recent studies by Roland Griffiths and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University have confirmed that psilocybin can cause religious experiences–which are in every way indistinguishable from religious experiences reported by mystics throughout history–and that substantial health benefits can result from these experiences. The results of a six-year project on the effects of psilocybin revealed that more than 60 percent of the participants reported having had “complete” mystical-type experiences which were rated as among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives. Volunteers in that study also reported persisting positive changes in their attitude and behavior after taking the drug, a benefit that lasted for at least several months. These new studies echo the findings of an earlier study known as “The Good Friday Experiment,” done in 1962 by Walter Pahnke of the Harvard Divinity School, and it’s certainly not news to many people who have had a full-blown psychedelic experience. For many people who have had experience with psychedelics, these research results don’t seem terribly surprising. Transhumanist writer R.U. Sirius responded to this seemingly redundant research by saying, “Wow! Scientists Discover Ass Not Elbow!” However, it’s important to note that not everyone who trips on psychedelic drugs has a religious experience. In both of the above psilocybin studies, researchers examined this effect in subjects with at least some preexisting spiritual practice, and Pahnke’s study enrolled divinity students. However, in a study conducted by Oscar Janiger in 1959 with LSD, when attempts were made to not provide any religious or spiritual associations, a full 24 percent of the subjects reported spiritual experiences. Medical anthropologist Marlene Dobkin De Rios, said, “Given the particular effort that Janiger made to avoid any religious prompts in his study setting, he was surprised to find that some 24 percent of his LSD volunteers nonetheless experienced a mystical or spiritual encounter.” Dobkins said that she thought that 24 percent seemed quite high for participants who were in a neutral setting and not prepared for a spiritual experience. Six additional follow-up studies by Griffiths and colleagues at Johns Hopkins demonstrate a myriad of benefits from having a mystical-type experience with psilocybin. In a follow-up study, done 14 months after the subjects had an experience with psilocybin, the researchers concluded that,“When administered under supportive conditions, psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences that, at 14-month follow-up, were considered by volunteers to be among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives.” This research may represent the beginning of a whole new field of academic inquiry, which explores forbidden realms that have been previously declared off-limits to science, since Descarte separated science from religion in 1619. It appears that the integration of science and spirituality lies on the horizon of our adventure as a species, and that our future evolution depends on this. Without a transpersonal perspective of interconnection to guide our evolutionary direction, we seem to be firmly set on a path toward inevitable self-destruction. I think that psychedelics can help us to get spiritually back on track, and help us heal the damage that we’ve done to ourselves and to the Earth. This is why I believe so strongly in psychedelic drug research. There isn’t much time left before our biosphere starts to unravel, and we may only have a small window of opportunity to save our fragile world. I think that organizations like the Santa Cruz Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)–and sister organizations, like the Beckley Foundation and the Heffter Research Institute–are industrialized society’s best hope for transforming the planet’s ancient shamanic plants into the respectable scientific medicines of tomorrow, and, in so doing, bring psychedelic therapy to all who need it. This may not only help to heal a number of difficult-to-treat medical disorders, and increase ecological harmony on the planet, but it may also open up a doorway to untold and unimagined new worlds of possibility. Writer David Jay Brown explores the connection between psychedelic drugs and religion, citing multiple psychedelic research studies. Brown expresses the idea that drugs such as LSD and psilocybin can create spiritual experiences that positively affect users of the drugs.