A priest, a rabbi, a nun, a Buddhist monk, and some magic mushrooms. Nope, it’s not the start of a joke, or the guest list to the weirdest party ever, it’s a new scientific study taking place in the US.
The study, taking place at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has gathered dozens of religious leaders to investigate the effect of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, on spiritual experience.
Over 20 leaders from numerous faiths and traditions will receive a strong dose of psilocybin on two occasions in “living room-like setting” day-long contemplative sessions. A series of follow-up sessions and questionnaires will then be used to see whether their psychedelic experience altered their spiritual thinking and whether this changes the way they perceive their life and work as a religious leader.
They started looking for participants in early 2016 and now the study is underway, the Guardian reports. Unfortunately, they are yet to find a Muslim or Hindu spiritual leader who’s up for taking part.
“With psilocybin, these profound mystical experiences are quite common. It seemed like a no-brainer that they might be of interest, if not valuable, to clergy,” Dr William Richards, a psychologist involved in the study, told the Guardian.
“It's too early to talk about results, but generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage,” he added. “The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way. They discover they really believe this stuff they’re talking about.”
Previous scientific studies have looked into spirituality and magic mushrooms, however this is the first one to involve individuals of different religious faiths. Over the past few years, there have been increasingly more clinical trials investigating the effects of this drug, including a study last year that tested whether psilocybin could be used to treat depression.
One of the most famous experiments involved magic mushrooms' active psychedelic ingredient initiating "mystical experiences", known as the “Marsh Chapel Experiment” or "Good Friday Experiment", which took place in 1962. Under the supervision of counterculture icon and psychologist Timothy Leary, half of the participants received psilocybin, while a control group received a placebo-like drug. The results were the first empirical evidence to show that psilocybin generated experiences most people would define as “spiritually" significant.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced in more than 200 species of mushrooms. Reported effects of taking the drug include euphoria, vivid hallucinations, altered perception, psychological changes, and spiritual experiences. Despite its potent effects, it has a relatively low toxicity and is not associated with physical dependence.
Although it’s still relatively early days for the scientific research, it’s already been suggested as a possible treatment for a range of anxiety disorders and even cluster headaches.