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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

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

An Empirical Investigation Of The Effects Of Chemically (LSD-25)-Induced "Psychedelic Experiences" On Selected Measures Of Personality, And Their Implications For Therapeutic Counseling Theory and Practice.

McCabe, Oliver LeRoy. (1968).
Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America.

ISBN: none

Description: Unpublished doctoral dissertation, x + 183 pages. Dissertation Abstracts number: 69-881.

Contents: Nine chapters divided into 3 parts: 1. Introductory Section, 2. Methods and Procedures, 3. Results and conclusions, appendices, bibliography.

Note: available from UMI, Ann Arbor, MI.

Excerpt(s): Summarily, the rationale for the present study is as follows: (1) Behavioral pathology is one of the gravest problems facing American society; (2) To alleviate the problem, existing treatment methods must be complemented by effective short-term methods of therapeutic counseling and prevention techniques; (3) The bulk of prevention must be the responsibility of the school; (4) Ideally, therapy and/or prevention programs should effect self-knowledge in-depth without the use of time-consuming techniques (such as psychoanalysis); (5) Several hundred published reports underscore the potential for rapid behavior modification inherent in the period of altered consciousness occasioned by the use of LSD-type drugs in the context of brief therapeutic counseling.

As a logical consequence of the foregoing, the present study attempted systematically: to explore and assess the proposed therapeutic efficacy of the psychedelic procedure, and to determine what relevance the findings (and theory of psychedelic therapy) have for the fields of guidance, counseling, and psychotherapy. In addition, much needed data regarding the safety of this approach has been compiled, and promises to reduce some of the abundant confusion in this area. (Pages 12-13).

This whole structure sensations, images, concepts and the resultant emotions, desires and volitions comprise our ordinary sensory-intellectual consciousness.

Now, the level of consciousness induced by psychedelic drugs is quite different from this. When a sufficient amount of psychoactive chemical such as LSD enters the human system (or after arduous dedication to Eastern methods of meditation), subjective consciousness or awareness, "our normal waking consciousness" as James called it, is suspended. What then supervenes is not unconsciousness or sleep, as one might expect, but a totally unique (to most) kind of non-sensory, non-conceptual consciousness. The entire contents of one's sensory-intellectual consciousness is gone; what remains is "pure" consciousness. It is not an experience of anything. This consciousness has no objects. This characteristic is underscored by Stace: "This consciousness is...pure Emptiness, or nothingness. Nevertheless, it is a fullness of effulgent beatitude."

Related (Non-Drug) Experiences

There is a central human experience which alters all other experiences...not just an experience among, but...rather the very heart of human experience. It is the center that gives understanding to the whole.... Once found life is altered because the very root of human identity has been deepened.... [Wilson Van Dusen, "LSD and the Enlightenment of Zen."] Consciousness-expanding drugs, such as LSD, appear to facilitate the discovery of this apparently ancient and universal experience. The mental states elicited by these compounds, descriptively, are indistinguishable from those reported throughout history and across cultures under various labels such as samadhi (Hinduism) and Nirvana (Zen Buddhism) in the East, and spiritual awakening or enlightenment in the West. The yogi's experience of cosmic consciousness, the Zen student's goal-state of satori, visionary or conversion experiences, Freud's oceanic feelings, existential "encounters," Maslow's peak experiences, all touch upon or are identical with the level of consciousness which in the present context is referred to as the psychedelic experience. Perhaps, most of what heretofore has been said or written of this experience-state has been subsumed under the rubric mystical consciousness. To attempt to describe the psychedelic experience of mystical consciousness is to be confronted squarely with the first characteristic that William James and most scholars of mysticism have proffered as the keynote of this experience its alleged ineffability, which refers to the difficulty one has in describing and therefore communicating this experience. One who undergoes this experience feels that he has had a perfectly definite experience but that he can not explain it by any words he has at his disposal. A traditional analogy is that he feels like a person trying to explain the experience of sight to one born blind. He has no trouble making himself clear to others who have had the experience, but to the uninitiated he is often simply puzzling. (pages 52-54).

If anyone thinks that a kind of consciousness without either sensations, images, or thought, because it is totally unimaginable and inconceivable to most of us, cannot exist, he is surely being very stupid. He supposes that the possibilities of this vast universe are confined to what can be imagined and understood by the brains of average human insects who crawl on a minute speck of dust floating in illimitable space.[ W. T. Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics] The above remark, by its defensiveness, cogently reveals one important fact: that there are people to whom the experience of "cosmic" consciousness, or whatever label one cares to attach to the experience, is inconceivable. Perhaps most people fall into this class, perhaps most interpretations of these experiences are pejorative.

However, the issue of which "side" is correct, whether the psychedelic experience is reality or illusion, is beyond the scope of this paper. We have simply attempted to describe these seemingly universal experiences-states as the subject sees them, not, as has been pointed out, to discuss the metaphysical significance of his experiences.

Hence we may say, if we wish, that the Reality that, for example, the mystic feels is nothing more than an illusion. Where the fruits of the experience seem to be beneficial both to the individual and society, however, we are entitled to wonder whether some kind of reality has not been tapped, despite the fact that we may question the literal validity of the mystic's views. St. Teresa, on being accused of receiving her mystical-prompts from Satan, retorted with great common sense, "I could not believe that Satan, if he wished to deceive me, could have recourse to means so adverse to his purpose as this, of rooting out my faults and implanting virtues and spiritual strength, for I saw clearly that I had become another person by means of these visions."

Science, to date, has been reluctant to investigate mysticism and mystical consciousness, seemingly perceiving the entire field as too nebulous to subject to logical, positivistic scrutiny. Some scientists, however, have felt these stages to be an important part of reality. (pages 70-71).

The present study attempts to empirically measure the changes in "man's outlook toward the world" as a consequence of being exposed to this experience. (pages 70-72).

Eastern Techniques of "Liberation"
It is offered that, at the present time, the richest pool of raw information for understanding the nature and consequences of "ego"-loss, "peak"-, "transcendent"; or psychedelic experiences is concealed in Eastern philosophical-religious writings, especially Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Yoga. Actually, these disciplines are more than philosophies or religions (as understood from the Occidental perspective); they more closely resemble psychotherapy. Zen, for example, is particularly germane to this discussion (and to psychology and education) for it involves a variety of training techniques designed to guide the student to a turning point, "satori," which is a change in consciousness and brings about a major alteration in the mode of experiencing oneself and the world. Since the individual having experienced satori is described as living an increasingly effective and satisfying life, Zen has direct relevance for psychotherapy, particularly psychedelic psychotherapy which appears to be capable of eliciting experiences similar to, if not identical with, satori. (page 145).

It would appear that "peak" experiences, whatever manner in which they may be brought about, can contribute something to the development of the healthy personality. In much of the research cited, it has been evident that these experiences certainly are correlated with healthy behavior; the present study indicates that, indeed, they may cause healthy behavior. Behavior which has been shown to be consistent with self-actualized functioning is capable of being elicited by these experiences. Attitudes and values are changed which have immediate effect upon one's behavior effects in the direction of more spontaneous, harmonious, conflict-free, healthy functioning. (Pages 151-152).

Specifically, the short-term treatment effects on three groups of equivalent (randomly assigned) patients, the majority of which carried the diagnostic label, "psychoneurotic disorder," were compared on objective indices of personality (pre- and post-treatment scores on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Eysenck Personality Inventory, and the Personal Orientation Inventory). Group I (the conventional treatment group) received the therapeutic measures (group therapy) routinely administered to this patient category. The function of Group I was to establish and provide baseline data against which LSD-treatment groups could be compared. Groups II and II (respectively, a low-dose LSD control group and a high-dose LSD experimental group) were treated in exactly similar fashion with but one exception: the low-dose group received 50 micrograms of LSD and the high-dose group received 350 micrograms of LSD under strictly double-blind conditions. The assumption was that small doses of the drug would not cause the "deep" or "overwhelming" experiences which occur fairly regularly after high-dose administrations. Since the "overwhelming" reaction occasioned by high-dose administration was hypothesized as the major vehicle of therapeutic effect, it was felt that the low-dose administration would serve as the most effective possible active placebo. Patients in Group II (the low-dose LSD group) and Group III (the high-dose LSD experimental group) existed as separate entities only administratively; from the standpoint of the investigator, they were entirely undifferentiated.

The data indicated that all treatment methods had an impact on some measures of psychopathology and self-actualization, with all results being in favor of the two LSD groups, especially high-dose LSD therapy. Psychedelic therapy shows an unequivocal superiority over conventional methods in its ability to alleviate selected aspects of psychoneurotic symptomatology, viz., anxiety, depression, worry, and social withdrawal and an even more dramatic ability to elicit attitudes and values consonant with self-actualized functioning. The findings were analyzed in such a way as to indicate that the specific contribution of the psychedelic experience to psychedelic therapy is a drastic alleviation of anxiety and the eliciting of spontaneity and self-regard subsequent to the experience.

The conclusion was drawn that psychedelic therapy, as practiced in the present study, is a safe and effective short-term technique to accomplish a variety of goals consistent with general psychotherapeutic practice and warrants inclusion in the therapeutic counseling armamentarium. Any broad scale implementation of psychedelic therapy, however, will necessitate the establishment of centers to train potential therapists in the art of treatment with the psychedelics. The relevance of psychedelic therapy for the guidance-education context was discussed but appears remote because of the existing negative attitudes attending drugs, in general, and psychedelic drugs, in particular, in American society. Were this emotional resistance to be overcome, and the sensible, supervised utilization of these drugs were to become a reality, they would appear to be of greatest worth as an early prophylactic intervention to forestall the development of a plethora of psycho-social maladies generally subsumed under the rubric, "alienation." (pages 159-161).

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