Council on Spiritual Practices About CSP | Site Map | ©
Search CSP:   

Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Drugs and Mysticism: An Analysis of the Relationship

between Psychedelic Drugs and the Mystical Consciousness.

Pahnke, Walter N. (1963).
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

ISBN: None

Contents: Acknowledgments, list of tables, 8 chapters, 7 appendices: A. Medical History Form for Volunteer Subjects for Psilocybin Research, B. Pre-Drug Experience Questionnaire, C. Post-Drug Questionnaire with Significance Levels of the Difference Between Scores of Experimentals and Controls, D. Follow-up Questionnaire with Significance Levels of the Difference between Scores of Experimentals and Controls, E. Content Analysis, F. Explanation of the Columns and Symbols Used in the Category Tables, G. Data Not Directly Relevant to Categories of the Typology of Mysticism, bibliography.

Description: Unpublished dissertation, viii + 315 pages.

Note: This experiment is popularly known as "The Good Friday Experiment." A little-known replication is reported in Pattison, E. Mansell (1969) In a 25-year follow-up Rick Doblin (1991) reports "In the long-term follow-up even more than in the six-month follow-up, the experimental group has higher scores than the control group in every category" (page 11). "A relatively high degree of persisting positive changes were reported by the experimental group while virtually no persisting positive changes were reported by the control group" (page 120). "All psilocybin subjects participating in the long-term follow-up, but none of the controls, still considered their original experience to have had genuinely mystical elements and to have made a uniquely valuable contribution to their spiritual lives" (page 23). "Pahnke failed to report the administration of the tranquilizer thorazine to one of the subjects who received psilocybin ... [and] underemphasized the difficult psychological struggles experienced by most of the psilocybin subjects" (page 24). (Doblin, Rick. Pahnke's "Good Friday Experiment": A Long-term Follow-up and Methodological Critique, The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 1, pages 1-28)

Excerpt(s): With increasing frequency, books and articles have been appearing which make the claim that certain chemical substances (most notably mescaline, lysergic acid diethylamide, and psilocybin) are capable of inducing under appropriate conditions "mystical" or "religious" experience. Such claims have met with skepticism from many religious people, and rightly so. The evidence has been, in most cases, a series of very subjective personal accounts which, while interesting, does not systematically attack the problem or prove the point. (page 1)

This investigation was undertaken, therefore, to study in an empirical way the similarities and differences between experiences described by mystics and those induced by these drugs. ...

(1) A phenomenological typology of the mystical state of consciousness was carefully defined after a study of the writings of the mystics themselves and of scholars who have tried to characterize mystical experience.

(2) Some drug experiences were empirically studied not by collecting such experiences wherever an interesting or striking one might have been found and analyzed after the fact, but by conducting a double-blind, controlled experiment with subjects whose religious background and experience as well as personality were evaluated before their drug experience. ...

(3) The experimenter himself conducted the experiment, collected the data, and wrote up the results without ever having had an experience with any of these drugs. (pages 2-3)

Conclusions \ In terms of our typology of mysticism, a "complete" mystical experience as a whole should have demonstrated the phenomena of all the categories in a complete way. The evidence from the content analysis (also supported by impressions from the interviews) showed that such perfect completeness of all categories was not experienced by the experimental subjects in contrast to the controls. The phenomena of internal unity, however, were experienced to a rather complete degree. Because unity is the heart of the mystical experience we might expect that phenomena of the other categories also should have been experienced to a complete degree as "by products." In our data such a prediction was unquestionably correct for transcendence of time and space, transiency, paradoxicality, and persisting positive changes toward self and life. The evidence indicated a lesser degree of completeness in objectivity and reality, joy, and alleged ineffability; and a relatively greater lack in sense of sacredness, love, and persisting positive changes toward others and toward the experience. The experience of each of these last six subcategories could be termed incomplete to a more or less degree, but definitely present to some extent when compared to the controls. The experience as a whole, therefore, must be termed incomplete, in the strictest sense. It was remarkable, however, that so many phenomena of the mystical typology were experienced by our group of ten experimental subjects, none of whom were especially chosen other than by their own volunteering or had previous experience with psilocybin. While it is true that they were already committed to an interest in religion by the fact that they were all in a graduate school of theology, their middle-class, protestant backgrounds were rather non-mystical. Pre-drug testing indicated that there was no special tendency toward mysticism in personal experience or inclination except in the case of one or two.

The experience of the experimentals was certainly more like mystical experiences than that of the controls who had the same expectation and suggestion from the preparation and setting. The most striking difference between the experimentals and controls was the ingestion of 30 mg. of psilocybin, which it can be concluded was the facilitating agent responsible for the difference in phenomena experienced. (pages 234-236)



This dissertation has demonstrated the potential of at least psilocybin, if not LSD and mescaline by analogy, as a tool for the study of they mystical state of consciousness. A program of future research with these chemicals in the psychology of religion can be divided into two different kinds, depending on the aim: (1) theoretical understanding and (2) social application in a religious context.

The first kind would be primarily theoretical and would have as its aim a more basic understanding of the psychology and phenomenology of mysticism. The method would be to approach the mystical state of consciousness as closely as possible under experimental conditions and to measure the effect of variables. This thesis has been a start toward this approach, but much work needs to be done in this area for a better understanding of mysticism from a physiological, biochemical, and psychological perspective. (page 244)

Let us turn now to the second kind of research which would involve experimental investigation of possible social application in a religious context. Such experiments would be undertaken only after adequate evidence has been accumulated by means of the first or theoretical approach to substantiate the findings and suggestions of our research. If it were confirmed, for example, that personally and socially useful changes in behavior are produced with a meaningful religious setting and preparation, experiments could be designed to develop the best methods and conditions of administration to provide the maximal chance for beneficial effects to occur without danger.

One such experiment could be to establish a retreat center with a trained, permanent staff consisting of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and ministers. A uniform technique of procedure and testing would have to be devised so that the results over a period of time could be compared. Small groups, preferably already in rapport, of laymen or ministers to whom such a setting would be meaningful would spend from five to seven days at the center. Screening by means of physical examination and history, psychological testing, preparation of an autobiography, and preliminary interviews, would be done before the groups came to the retreat center. Several leaders (staff personnel) would join the group as integral members for the duration of the retreat. At least the first three days would be spent in preparation for the drug session and would include readings of selected materials which had been found helpful to others, group discussions with the staff, worship and meditation alone and with the group, meals and recreation as a group, and individual interviews with the staff. The emphasis would be on building group rapport, a spirit of trust and friendship, and serious expectation of a meaningful experience. The techniques which have proved successful in group dynamics work could be used to facilitate sharing of peak experiences between group members and to build the interpersonal honesty and solidarity of the group. After this period of preparation, one whole day would be set aside for the drug session in an appropriate religious setting. The staff members with whom the groups had been working would be in charge with assistance if needed from other staff members who would be standing by. Group discussion of the experience would be an important part of the retreat and would continue for at least two days after the session while data was gathered by the staff by means of written accounts, questionnaires, and interviews. Follow-up meetings of the group could be arranged, and perhaps a repeat of the retreat could be made after a year.

Another experiment along a similar line would be the formation of small natural groups of 4-6 people who would meet periodically for serious religious and personal discussions in depth, bible study, and worship in the form of prayer and meditation. After a period of several months in which rapport, mutual trust, and a bond of fellowship were being established, a drug session could be planned in collaboration with a psychiatrist and minister who both had been trained in the use of psychedelic substances. Pre-testing could be done at one of the meetings. A whole day would have to be set aside for the session with the psychiatrist and minister in attendance to administer the drugs, run the session, and collect data in such a way as to add to positive set and setting. Post-session discussion, meetings, and collection of follow-up data would also be important here. The effects of multiple drug sessions could also be studied. ...

It must, however, be emphasized that much more research needs to be done at the theoretical level before such pilot research projects for social application should be attempted. Such work must be done carefully and cautiously both because of the social resistance to be overcome and because of potential dangers involved. (pages 253-256)

Although a drug experience might seem "unearned", our evidence has suggested that preparation and expectation play an important part, not only in the type of experience attained, but in later fruits of life. Perhaps the hardest "work" comes after the experience which itself may only provide the motivation for future efforts to integrate and appreciated what has been learned. The best way to overcome social resistance is to demonstrate the value and safety by careful and responsible investigation. (page 257)

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

[Error Creating Counter File -- Click for more info]