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Scientific Study of Magic Mushrooms and Mystical Experience:

Mark Kleiman -- one of the nation's top drug policy experts, and a colleague of mine here at UCLA -- chimes in on the study I noted last month. Mark's post is much worth reading.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Scientific Study of Magic Mushrooms and Mystical Experience:
  2. "Magic Mushrooms" Supposedly Good for You -- No, Seriously:
PersonFromPorlock:
Suppose there was a drug that, when you took it, resulted in your being convinced that advertising art was the finest thing you'd ever seen. Would this increase your sense of beauty, or undermine it completely? I suspect the long-term effect of being able to induce a mystical experience chemically will be to destroy even the idea of mysticism.
1.29.2007 6:26pm
Adeez (mail):
"I suspect the long-term effect of being able to induce a mystical experience chemically will be to destroy even the idea of mysticism."

I respectfully, but strongly, disagree.
All major religions stem from mystisicm. All that's wrong with the three major monotheistic religions now relate to their separation from their mystical roots, which ultimately perverted them.
One can induce a mystical experience many ways: staring into a strobelight or mirror are two. Ingesting a chemical is another, and psylocibin is just one of the many that can do it. Ya know: manna from heaven. These plants grow for a reason.
1.29.2007 7:03pm
Fearmonger (mail):
Uh, maybe shrooms are good for you because they're fun.
1.29.2007 7:28pm
Fearmonger (mail):
PersonfromPorlock,

one time in Amsterdam I was convinced that a holographic billboard advertisement was the finest art I had ever seen, until I ingested more of the good fungi and stumbled into the Van Gogh museum.
1.29.2007 7:42pm
JK:
It's always interesting to see how broad the readership of the blog is.
1.29.2007 8:21pm
Colin (mail):
Well, you never know who stumbled by looking for jesus conspiracy christianity.
1.29.2007 8:40pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
PersonFromPorlock,

I agree with Adexec this would (unfortunately) not destroy the idea of mysticism. It SHOULD destroy the idea of mysticism as anything more than a particular sort of intense experience, in particular undermining the idea that this experience has any connection to truth or a spiritual world but as a matter of fact this isn't what taking psychedelics tends to do.

In fact this is exactly why I don't think psychedelics are for everyone. Many people who aren't strongly grounded in reason, evidence and of a strong skeptical bent are so impressed with the experiences on psychedelics that they first decide that these experiences are 'true' and then look for a way to justify them. This, unfortunately, characterizes a large part of the hippie subculture who has come up with all sorts of interesting explanations (it's like facilitated meditation, it opens one up to ...) as to why psychedelic experience provides an epistemically reliable window into the spiritual world.

I mean heck the situation with psychedelic induced mysticism is not really any different than 'natural' mysticism. It should be apparent from the mystical experiences that apparently support the various incompatible world faiths that these experiences are not epistemically reliable yet this does nothing to stop people from citing these experiences as their reason to believe in God and even particular aspects of God (feeling the ecstasy of the crucifiction).

Also I can't think of what it could possibly mean for something to be good art except that it is likely to produce a profound aesthetic experience. Well you could ask that your art be educational or have a message as well but as far as its pure aesthetic value it is all contained in how we react to it. If no one could see the Mona Lisa it wouldn't be any more valuable than any other chunk of matter.

--

Fearmonger,

I wholeheartedly second that sentiment. This attitude that somehow we need to prove something is good for you before approving of people doing it is really bothersome. It's actually kinda scary that rephrasing the fact that shrooms give you crazy experiences in terms of the mystical/spiritual seems to make some people more inclined to accept their usage.

The point of living is ultimately to enjoy oneself. The right question to ask is not whether something is good for you or not but whether the amount of fun it provides is worth the harm.
1.29.2007 9:29pm
AppSocRes (mail):
I'm a sceptic about the ability of drugs to induce an "authentic" mystical experience: Persons who have experienced both drug-induced mystical states and, e.g., "near-death" experiences, invariably report that the non-drug induced experience seemed far more real and (usually) had far more profound personal impact than the drug-induced experience.

All that aside, why in the early part of this century did it take a consitutional amendment before Congress felt it had the power to regulate only alcohol, while today power-hungry DEA and FDA bureaucrats can regulate any substance they wish with the stroke of a pen and without the legal benefit of anything but a poorly thought out, badly written, and undeniably unconstitutional statute?
1.29.2007 10:33pm
Daniel San:
Mystical traditions tend to demand a high level of discipline and personal sacrifice. Although this is not at all universal, the disciplined and authoritarian nature of the traditions may serve the function of preventing the initiate from treating an individual revelation as the ultimate for the commonity or which severs the initiate from the community.

Discipline and a powerful mythology teaches the initiate that the mystical experience may be a deception. Gods may play tricks, demons may deceive, initiates may stumble. Authority is needed to guide the vision or the understanding of the vision.

If the study had included subjects with no significant religious experience, would the results have been the same? The commonality of the religious experience is interesting. The behavioral changes are more interesting. If it works with people who have no significant ties to a religious community, it is more interesting still.
1.29.2007 11:00pm
Lev:
Judgeing from a lot of the stuff coming out of the Federal Judiciary and the Congress, quite a lot of the people there have had the beatific visions in which they are granted all the answers.
1.30.2007 12:41am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Timothy Leary's revenge.

Art Kleps' justification.

Mr Kleinman hasn't come around all the way to thinking that people take pain relievers to relieve pain. But, I'm trying to work around him.

Addiction Is A Genetic Disease

Says the NIDA.
1.30.2007 7:23am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
PersonFromPorlock:
Suppose there was a drug that, when you took it, resulted in your being convinced that advertising art was the finest thing you'd ever seen. Would this increase your sense of beauty, or undermine it completely? I suspect the long-term effect of being able to induce a mystical experience chemically will be to destroy even the idea of mysticism.

Probably not. Because the experience is different from the idea of the experience.

Or as J. Hendrix once asked "Are You Experienced?"

BTW the guy that got a Nobel for PCR (a sort of DNA multiplication), Kerry Mullis had lots of nice things to say about LSD.
1.30.2007 7:32am
Orielbean (mail):
I see Porlock's question in this way - if you have too many mystical experiences, induced by direct application of chemicals (dropping a hit) or indirect (your brain experiences a chemical imbalance without your active participation), then of course your senses are altered in a negative manner.

Just as we get sick of the person who constantly invokes Jesus or God or Allah as their reasoning for every single thing that happens all the time, we see the burnout who took too much acid and views the world as a constant freak-out of one thing or another - things that we normally take for granted and don't need to see again for the first time.

The real question - if everyone understood that the hypothetical chemical would create that conviction every single time, would they simply abuse it for sensation purposes? And what would its long-term affects be? You could turn into a burnout zombie who needs to see a billboard every ten minutes or be filled full of feelings of ugliness (in our media-soaked society, you would not jones for very long).

An interesting side bar - many direct observations of the world indicate that part of what happens to your visual sense is that you get the "feeling" that you are seeing a great many things as if they were brand new and never seen before, so Porlock's comment about advertising art's beauty is well-taken. I remember being transfixed with the reflection of sunlight on a coca-cola can in the gutter for an appreciable amount of time.
1.30.2007 11:49am
Fub:
Hmmm. Here is an almost forty year old California Law Review article addressing many, maybe most, of the issues raised in comments here and in Kleiman's post.

From the first graf:
... We have no satisfactory and definitive name for experiences of this kind. The terms "religious experience," "mystical experience," and "cosmic consciousness" are all too vague and comprehensive to denote that specific mode of consciousness which, to those who have known it, is as real and overwhelming as falling in love. This article describes such states of consciousness induced by psychedelic drugs, although they are virtually indistinguishable from genuine mystical experience. The article then discusses objections to the use of psychedelic drugs that arise mainly from the opposition between mystical values and the traditional religious and secular values of Western society.
1.30.2007 12:39pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
I suspect the long-term effect of being able to induce a mystical experience chemically will be to destroy even the idea of mysticism.

Do you also suspect that being able to induce a sexual experience electromechanically will eventually "destroy even the idea of" sex?
1.30.2007 2:36pm
PersonFromPorlock:

Do you also suspect that being able to induce a sexual experience electromechanically will eventually "destroy even the idea of" sex?

Well, if you could have great sex using a machine, wouldn't it devalue a human partner except as a mechanical aid of another sort? It wouldn't destroy 'the idea of sex' but it would play hell with the idea of love.
1.30.2007 3:39pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
Well, if you could have great sex using a machine,

What do you mean, "if"?

wouldn't it devalue a human partner except as a mechanical aid of another sort?

As a matter of fact, no. It turns out that great sex combined with intimacy, attraction, trust, companionship and love is, for most people, much more appealling than even the best sex in the world without those things. I suspect that the religiously-minded will feel similarly about actually embracing a religion, as opposed to merely having an intense mystical experience.
1.30.2007 5:13pm
jallgor (mail):
I had some issues with the study:
"The research team found thirty-six healthy volunteers, all with some sort of regular religious or spiritual activity (e.g., weekly churchgoing)"

Why did they choose to test only these people? Couldn't you argue that their possible predisposition to religion or spiritual activity threw off the results?


"After swallowing the capsule, the subjects were encouraged to put on eyeshades and earphones (with a set music program) and "go inside.""

I imagine it would be important to control their activiities so they can all have roughly the same sensory input while on the drug but eyeshades and earphones? That's almost cruel to do to someone on Mushrooms. I would have put them is a comfy room with some toys and a stereo and let them pick what music they wanted to listen to.

"The subjects' accounts of their experiences were scored, according to pre-set criteria based on previous work in the psychology of religion, for how closely they corresponded with the accounts of mystical experience from, for example, Hildegard von Bingen or Meister Eckhardt or Julian of Norwich, and their equivalents in other spiritual traditions."

So the subjects didn't describe it as spiritual or mystical they were just scored against some pre-set criteria created from "accounts" of mystical experiences.

Twenty-two of the thirty-six psilocybin sessions, but only four of the 36 Ritalin sessions, led to a "full" mystical experience.

Well actually, they led to what the researchers decied to call a ""full" mystical experience." The set of questions about how meaningful an experince it was is much more useful from my perspective. I don't like the whole spiritual/mystical angle. I don't really buy it. By that I mean I believe in the state of consciousness that these people may have found and that other people have acheived through meditation, etc. I beleive I have acheived it both through chemicals and naturally. I just don't think it's mystical or spritual. It's just an experience that the human brain is capable of giving us.
1.30.2007 6:16pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

Judgeing from a lot of the stuff coming out of the Federal Judiciary and the Congress, quite a lot of the people there have had the beatific visions in which they are granted all the answers.

What I want to know is, what drug induces the bad trips that underlie the "unitary executive" theory and its kin?
1.31.2007 1:10am