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.
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.
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.
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)
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
AND IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
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
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.
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.
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