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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.

The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy and Alcoholism

Abramson, Harold A. (1967).
Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xxvi + 697 pages

Contents: Introduction, Address: "The Second International Conference on the Use of LSD in Psychotherapy and Alcoholism" by Andre Rolo, preface by Frank Fremont-Smith, registered participants, 8 parts: 1. Cultural Pharmacology, 2. Psychopharmacology, 3. Psycholytic Therapy, 4. Psychedelic Therapy, with Special Reference to Alcoholism, 5. Probation Case Work, 6. Childhood Schizophrenia, 7. Effect on Religious Experience, 8. Mechanisms of Action in Man, references listed by section and presentation.

Contributors (registered participants): Harold Abramson, Arendsen Hein, Edward F. W. Baker, Antonio Balestrieri, Donald Blair, John Buckman, John Chiasson, Sidney Cohen, Charles Clay Dahlberg, Betty Grover Eisner, Ruth Fox, Daniel X. Freedman, Frank Fremont-Smith, Kenneth Godfrey, Stanislav Grof, William Hausman, Mogens Hertz, Abram Hoffer, Gordon H. Johnsen, James S. Ketchum, Sol Kramer, Leonard W. Krinsky, Albert A. Kurland, Hanscarl Leuner, Jerome Levine, John C. Lilly, Thomas M. Ling, Arnold M. Ludwig, Donald C. MacDonald, J. Ross MacLean, Pauline McCricick, William H. McGlothlin, A. Joyce Martin, Robert E. Mogar, Robert C. Murphy, Humphry Osmond, Walter Pahnke, Andre Rolo, Max Rinkel, Charles Savage, Emilio Servadio, Sanford Unger, Cornelius H. Van Rhijn, Jack L. Ward, E. S. Weber, Mary S. Wicks.


In May 1965, a group of investigators in the field of psychiatry met at South Oaks Hospital, in Amityville, New York. The purpose of the meeting was to exchange information and discuss problems regarding the use of a remarkable drug that has been a focus of research in psychiatry for more than twenty years. Thus drug, LSD-25, commonly called LSD, is a derivative of d-lysergic acid. Lysergic acid itself is the basis of many ergot compounds used in daily medicine. ...

Contrary to assertions in the popular press, when LSD is administered as part of a therapeutic medical program, "irreversible psychotic changes" and "brain damage" do not occur. Certain irresponsible statements that it does produce such adverse effects have not been supported by valid scientific evidence. (page vii)

The Psychedelic Procedure in the Treatment of the Alcoholic Patient
by Albert Kurland, Sanford Unger, and John W. Shaffer

Out of the body of information that has accumulated over the past decade on the psychedelic procedure (or psychedelic psychotherapy), certain issues have at least become somewhat more clearly delineated. Let us begin by identifying some of these in order to set the framework for outlining our own experience and experimental program at Spring Grove State Hospital.

Our program began with an attempt to replicate the favorable findings reported by a series of Canadian investigators. However, it became quickly apparent, as a first issue, that there were great variations in the intensity and nature of the reactions achieved. We have come to the position of classifying LSD exposure as having been "successful" if at least one "psychedelic peak" has been achieved (or what has otherwise been described as a transcendental, mystical, visionary or conversion-like experience), from which therapeutic effects might evolve in a relatively brief period of time. (page 496)

The significant and dramatic development is that the patient often discovers and accepts, at least temporarily, that within himself there are value, meaning, basic worth, and goodness. This provides leverage towards the reconstruction of his self-image in such a way that it may lead to more personally rewarding and socially productive behavior patterns. The creation and development of this attitude incorporates a considerable amount of conventional and verbal psychotherapy as well as conventional LSD or psycholytic therapy of the kind exemplified by Sandison, Leuner, Whittaker, and others. (page 498)

Dr. Unger: Let me make it clear that psychedelic reactions are not abreactive in any sense in which that term is generally used. We routinely encounter abreactive episodes in an LSD session, and often they are psychodynamically significant and resolving. But psychedelic reactions are a different breed of fish. They are extraordinary occurrences, or at least they were before the development of techniques which make it possible to repeat them fairly reliably. Characteristically, episodes of psychedelic reactivity incorporate a core of overwhelmingly positive affective content. Perhaps I had best illustrate concretely. All our patients write retrospective reports of their sessions. Let me read an excerpt of two. We have literally dozens of similar accounts.

["]A tremendous feeling of exaltation came over me. It kept growing in intensity. I felt rapture and ecstasy. Each moment I thought I had reached the zenith of rapture and joy; then the intensity and ecstasy would increase. It was overwhelming! There are no words to describe my feelings. Then, when I was in this state, I found myself on top of the highest mountain in the world. All was still and quiet. A sense of cleanliness and purity swept over me. I was alone and at peace. Then, in a very dramatic fashion, God reached me. I heard no words, but I knew God was there. All was holy and pure. I felt humble and insignificant. I was completely awed! It was the greatest, the most magnificent experience of my life. I can't put my feelings into words, but I knew ( and still know) that I had been reached. My problems seemed nothing. I realized that I was merely an insignificant speck in the universe. I knew then that life has meaning and riches and rewards. I felt as though I had been reborn. No experience has ever been more satisfying. probably never again will I undergo such an experience. But I don't care — once in a lifetime is more than any mortal can hope for. I have had my moment of truth and glory.["] (Patient 15)

Episodes of this kind occupy perhaps only a few minutes of a twelve-hour session, and the road to their attainment may have been arduous. They are definitely not "automatic" or in any simple sense a direct function or consequence of administering LSD. Let me read another excerpt or two.

["] A bright white light appeared before me and grew bigger and bigger. My feelings were of triumph and joy. The great white light took on the form of a beautiful lily and each petal stretched out to me. Suddenly the lily swept away and I found myself in the very presence of Jesus. I was in awe, humble, and very much in love, Here, there are no words to describe the beauty, nor my deep, deep feelings. They will remain with me for the rest of my life. (Patient 44)

["] I felt myself being elevated higher and higher and ever nearer to pure white light whose source seemed encased in translucent, illuminated crystals. Each moment the light was revealed in more glory until ultimately there was an explosion of beauty, light, and unity. This indescribable beauty and harmony that I beheld so struck me with awe that I could only utter silently, "Hail God! Hail God! Hail God!" I was enthralled with the immanence of God in all creation and with the harmony and symmetry of all nature.["] (Patient 49) (pages 501-502)

Process and Outcome Variables in Psychedelic (LSD) Therapy
by Charles Savage, James Fadiman, Robert Mogar, Mary Hughes Allen

1. The Value-Belief Q-Sort. With regard to the present sample, a consistent and reliable change in values and beliefs was found in the total group which cut across such variables as age, sex, religious orientation and personality type. Three days following the LSD session, all subgroups revealed a significant increase in the extent to which they endorsed test items reflecting a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life, open-mindedness, and a sense of unity or oneness with nature and humanity. Lower value was assigned to material gain and possessiveness, dogmatic beliefs, and social status. Also significant was the finding that these changes in personal beliefs either remained constant or were further increased at the two-month follow-up testing. These results support the hypothesis that a rapid and extensive change in values does tend to occur in most subjects and is maintained over a period of time. (page 515)

The clinical findings of the BCI [Behavior Change Interview] are described below. ...

1. Over 75 percent of the sample were rated as improved on the following subscales: ... c. Material values. Shifts from interests in income and fringe benefits to interest in work itself and lessened needs for status and recognition were viewed as improvement. ...

2. Between 60 and 75 percent of the sample were rated as improved on the following subscales: ... c. Religious activities. Items covered church attendance, religious concerns, prayer, belief, speaking about religious subjects. Increased religious activity was not rated as improvement unless it seemed to be part of a more mature religious framework (which may or may not have been more devout). (pages 519-520)


The following case history is included because it highlights many of the points considered above. ...

This patient was a forty-year old married physics professor with no practicing religion. Though he had been brought up as a reformed Jew, he had estranged his parents by marrying a gentile. He complained of uncontrollable hostility over minor infringements of his rights, inability to relate to his wife and children, and job dissatisfaction. He was fearful of killing people. He had scant sense of personal worth. His hostility was usually triggered by driving on the highway and was often directed at the highway police. This was only part of his repressed resentment against all authority. He also complained of a thought disorder. "My mind always seems to be going a mile a minute in every direction except the one I command." On psychiatric examination he seemed quite narcissistic and infantile. He was so oblivious of the needs and feelings of other people as to appear almost solipsistic. Symptoms included mild anxiety, moderate emotional withdrawal, moderate guilt feelings, and moderate tension. His diagnosis was compulsive personality. He interpreted his LSD experience as follows:

["] I interpret the dream as an enlightenment to me of God and all creation, and of my place within the Universe. I see the Cosmic countdown being presented as a time sequence only so I could comprehend the "All in One" aspect of the Universe. (Here he refers to Gamow's theory of creation known as "the big bang.") One could stop the dream sequence at any point and still call it a presentation of all Creation. When I see myself on the surface of the bubble, along with all the others like me, this tells me that all that is made up of elements like me. In the final scene when I see God, I interpret this to mean that I am an integral, although infinitesimal part, of God.["]

The day after this session, it was noted, "He is staggered by the quality of his 'universal encounter.' States that so much was revealed! He went back to the 'big bang' (beginning of creation). Found its explanation and meaning all around in shapes and music. Appeared relaxed and freer. Seems to have by-passed the personal, yet shows signs of latent integration on that level."

Two months later he requested a second LSD session. ...

Two years after his first session he felt he had no serious personal problems left, although he still expressed some concern about the meaning of life and his personal worth. ...

The psychiatrist's final judgment was best stated nonpsychiatrically. "This man has come alive. he is fun to be with." This judgment still seems valid two years and six months after his first LSD session.

This patient was a model of someone who does well with LSD. The change seems directly related to the transcendental experience. Chandler and Hartman have suggested that the transcendental experience is a defense against the person's hostility. The available data neither support nor deny this view. But if true, it was a good defense and more ego-syntonic than his previous defense structure.

The transcendental experience, so common in psychedelic therapy, while most easily described in religious metaphors, has not in our sample occasioned any substantial change in religious practices. in the case above the subject did not look upon his experience as a conversion and he is no more religious than before. Often, however, the transcendental experience is viewed by the subject and the therapist as pivotal to his subsequent behavior and attitude changes. The experience seems to give subjects a different view of themselves rather than a different view of their religious system. (pages 523-524)

In the present study, differences in thematic content of the experience were found among subjects with diverse cultural backgrounds. As a case in point, wide individual differences were demonstrated with respect to content in the frequent experience of unity. However, the fact that the majority of subjects experienced a sense of unity, or oneness, seems far more significant than whether the unity was felt with self, nature, the universe, God, or some combination of these. With regard to variations in content, it must be added that content was inferred primarily from observation and the verbal report of the subject. Needless to say, to the degree that he can verbalize the experience, the subject drew on his own particular semantic framework and belief system. One can only speculate on the discrepancy between this communicated account of the experience and the experience itself. (page 526)

Therapeutic Application of the Change in Consciousness Produced by Psycholytica (LSD, Psilocybin, etc.)
by Randolf Alnaes

Contrasted with the cosmic experiences and the understanding of a deeper reality and meaning of life, many analytic problems seem a trifle. Patients who have gone through analysis come face to face with the universe and the higher "powers" and manage to look at their own problems from a greater distance after a psychedelic experience. It gives them a greater survey and perspective on life. The treatment seems to be most effective with patients between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five, which corresponds with the best time for a Jung analysis. This is particularly noticeable in patients who have lost their style of life, or are in a vacuum-situation. Frankl describes so-called neurosis of emptiness, where symptoms are in the form of depression, anxiety, compulsion, abuse of alcohol, etc. are direct presentation symptoms. Patients of this type, for whom old ideals have lost their value, seem to offer good opportunities for rational use of the therapeutic potentials which psycholytic drugs provide. (page 568)

Dimensions of Psychotherapy
by G. W. Arendsen Hein

Zen philosophy doubtless has very inspiring ideas to offer to the psychotherapist, regarding the nature of man and the necessity of his ultimate transformation. However, the methods employed to reach the goal (enlightened state of creative relatedness; Satori) seem unworkable for western man. The goal itself does not meet the religious need rooted in the soil of his Christian culture and cannot be adequately expressed in words. Suzuki, a well known authority on Zen, says that it is "an experience which no amount of explanation and argument can make communicable to others, unless the latter themselves had it previously." (page 571)

There is the fourth dimension of human existence, a divine reality beyond time and space, beyond life and death, beyond thou and I, beyond all antagonisms that puzzle the human mind, where man discovers the origin of his true self, his essential being. There he finds joy, faith, love, strength - whatever his needs, independent of the worldly position of his ego. When the claims of the ego are given up, man becomes enlightened and open to his participation in greater life. This kind of experience also provides the patient with a totally different outlook and attitude toward himself and life in general. This experience contributes further to a change in our concept of the human being. Seen sub specie aeternalis, the true self is a spiritual immortal being on his way to fulfillment of a consciously unknown destiny. (page 572)

When man begins to realize, after much suffering, that he is alienated from himself and the common source of all Being, a new phase may start with a centripetal movement, with socially directed goals. These goals promote expansion, more essential self-realization and creative action in the individual. In quest of the meaning of life, he goes on the way of universally directed goals, in which man gradually loses his ego, to rediscover his transcendental origin and recover eventually the spiritual reality from his rationalistic, materialistic pattern of life, so that this reality may manifest itself in his world. To realise this, man has to become open-minded to the essentials of every situation in life. It requires an unobstructed, non-fictitious sense of reality (characterised as trans-egoic, trans-materialistic and trans-idealistic) and the willingness to relate fully and adequately to any thing or any person.

In our capacity of perceiving and experiencing, we are seriously handicapped by our individual, social and cultural determinants. Encrusted as we are with prejudices, perception can only become conscious experience in so far as it can penetrate this crust or fit into our conceptional categories, which work as a selective filter. Only a very strong inner motivation can conquer the inhibitory forces of conformism and convention. Nevertheless, man feels the gap existing between what he outwardly is and what he is meant to be, according to the urge within for meaningful living. Man wants to render an account of the meaning and purpose of life. He is fully alive to the importance of this question, because he has an inner need for religious or cosmic integration. (page 573)

... The aim of psychotherapy and the task of the therapist have to be supplemented accordingly. Apart from the syndromes of instinctual and social deprivation, we recognize the symptoms of spiritual deprivation. Man, craving to grasp the significance in the whole of existence, can only be satisfied when his separateness as creature is resolved and contact with the Creator is reestablished. We see that man only becomes "whole" when, apart from his social integration, he experiences and works out in practice a significant God-relatedness.

Here I think LSD therapists have an important contribution to make in the current practice of our profession, because it now seems clear to me that it is part of our task to enlarge our therapeutic activities as follows:

When examining the patient, to explore not only his personal and social relations, but also his relationship toward God and religion, and to discuss the related pathology that may be present in the patient's concepts (anxiety related to punishing father imago, being lost forever, predestination, hell, unforgivable sin etc.); to help the patient become aware of the fourth dimension of his existence, that is the transformation of the universal part of his unconscious into consciousness.

Of course the transcendental reality cannot be conceptualized; it has to be experienced personally in its concrete presence. This happens in the psychedelic experience. When we regard psychotherapy as a learning process, we seem to be able to learn on four different levels:

1. On the instinctual level: Under certain conditions the formation of a conditioned reflex results by means of repeated stimuli. Here, the process of learning is conditioned by the repeated experience.

2. On the operational level: learning consists in a process of trial and error as one hits upon certain constellations that produce rewarding results either by chance or by systematic investigation on an empirical basis.

3. On the emotional-interaction level: learning, either by chance or by controlled human interaction, consists here in the corrective experience. A new experience, acquired under the influence of an old emotion, leads to correction.

4. On the inspirational level: learning consists here in revelation and the experience leads to inspiration and transformation.

LSD effects the last two levels and brings the latter source of learning, the psychedelic experience with its overwhelming inspiring power, within therapeutic reach. It has made a new dimension of psychotherapy accessible and facilitates multi-dimensional integration. (pages 573-574)

Van Dusen, quoted by Pahnke, states:

There is a central human experience, which alters all other experiences. ... not just an experience among others, but rather the very heart of human experience. I is the center that gives understanding to the whole. Once found, life is altered because the very root of human identity has been deepened.

Thus experience seems to indicate that one very strong emotional event sometimes succeeds in doing away with conditioned patterns of behavior. ... My personal impression is that the transcendental experience has its greatest value as the climax of a longer development, through which a greater sounding board is acquired. Pastoral and psychotherapeutic after-care to avoid a too presumptuous attitude is required. (page 575)

The Contribution of the Psychology of Religion to the Therapeutic Use of the Psychedelic Substances
by Walter N. Pahnke

There have been two major methods employed in the use of psychedelic or mind-opening drugs (LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline, to name the major ones) in order to obtain the maximal therapeutic effect in psychiatric patients. The first method involves a small dose technique (25 to 100 mcg of LSD) in weekly or bi-weekly sessions to facilitate the release of unconscious material and aid psychotherapy or group therapy. This method is the predominant one used by LSD therapists in Europe. ...

The second method involves a much smaller number of psychedelic sessions or even a single one, but at a higher dosage in order to produce an experience with such an overwhelming impact as to change radically the patient's view of the world and himself in a healthful and therapeutic manner. ... The striking similarity of some of these drug experiences to the reports given by mystics from many varying cultures and epochs has led some investigators to consider the possible use of this kind of drug experience as an aid in psychotherapy. Research in the psychology of religion may be of value in illuminating the second approach. Data from such research will be presented as an example of this possibility. (pages 629-630)

The purpose of the experiment in which psilocybin was administered in a religious context was to gather empirical data about the state of consciousness experienced. In a private chapel on Good Friday, twenty Christian theology students, ten of whom had been given psilocybin one and one-half hours earlier, listened over loud speakers to a two and one half hour religious service which consisted of organ music, four solos, readings, prayers, and personal meditation. The assumption was made that for experiences most likely to be mystical, the atmosphere should be broadly comparable to that achieved by tribes who actually use natural psychedelic substances in religious ceremonies. The particular content and procedure of the ceremony had to be applicable (familiar and meaningful) to the participants. Attitude toward the experience, both before and during, was taken into serious consideration in the experimental design. Preparation was meant to maximize positive expectation, trust, confidence and reduction of fear. Setting was planned to utilize this preparation through group support and rapport, friendship, an open and trusting atmosphere, and prior knowledge of the procedure of the experiment in order to eliminate, if possible, feelings of manipulation which might arise. (page 634)

These three questions — the best way to facilitate the mystical experience; the most effective means by which to aid the therapeutic work of integration; the optimal number and frequency of sessions — all can be tested experimentally. They are all facets of a much more basic question: can the mystical experience be therapeutic? Much research needs to be done in this area and perhaps the place to do it would be at a center where the best insights and trained personal are available from psychiatry, clinical psychology and religion. An in-patient facility would be essential so that patients could be adequately prepared and then observed and helped afterwards as necessary. Screening could be done by medical history, psychiatric interview, and psychological testing; religious background and experience may also be an important variable and should not be ignored. (page 641)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP

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