From prehistoric shamans to New Age hippies, psychedelic drugs have long been used to explore spirituality. However, just as people’s religious perspectives can be informed by psychedelic experiences, your psychedelic experiences can also be shaped by your religious beliefs, according to new research.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, asked almost 120 participants to fill out an online questionnaire about their experience with psychedelics, as well as their personal belief systems. All of the participants had experimented with either LSD or psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, as they were “drawn from psychedelic-related websites".
The findings suggested that most people experience some sense of "mysticism" after taking psychedelic drugs, such as exploring the interconnectedness of life or being aware of something that's otherwise ineffable and "beyond words".
However, people with strong religious beliefs are more likely to perceive their psychedelic trip as an intensely mystical and spiritual experience. More specifically, if people took the psychedelics for primarily religious purposes, their trip was more likely to be characterized by deeply religious and mystical themes.
This might sound slightly "airy" at first, but the researchers explain that it’s simply a result of the person’s mindset as they enter the trip. As people often remark, the set (your mindset) and setting (your environment) during a psychedelic trip can massively color and shape its contents.
“Specifically, our study shows that using psychedelics for spiritual or religious purposes positively influences scores on the mysticism scale, which illustrates how motivations for using psychedelics can impact the experience," study author Logan Neitzke-Spruill of Minnesota State University, Mankato, told PsyPost.
Although the study provides some interesting insights into a deeply understudied field, there are a few things to take into account when interpreting the findings. First of all, the participants were all regular psychedelics users, the vast majority of whom were white males with college degrees, meaning they're not necessarily representative of the whole population.
Equally, the respondents all self-reported their experiences via the Internet – not the most objective means of measuring a phenomenon. For example, people that responded to the questionnaire perhaps hold a more positive view of these drugs.
This isn’t the first time researchers have turned their attention to a link between religiosity, spirituality, and psychedelic drugs. Last year, scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore announced they were looking for at least 20 religious leaders from different faiths to take a potent dose of psilocybin. If this study's results are anything to go by, they are in for some deep, religiously-tinted experiences.