Hallucinogens and Religion: Historical to Scientific Perspectives
R.R. Griffiths and H. de Wit, Chairpersons
Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Scientific Meeting
of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence
NIDA Research Monograph 182
Editor: Louis S. Harris, Ph.D. (Virginia Commonwealth University)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Drug Abuse
6001 Executive Boulevard
Bethesda, MD 20892
R.R. Griffiths (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) and
H. de Wit (University of Chicago)
Preclinical and Clinical Pharmacology of Psychoactive Drugs Used in Spiritual Practices
C.R. Schuster (Wayne State University School of Medicine)
Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives on the Use of Hallucinogens in Spiritual Practice
M. Dobkin de Rios (University of California, Irvine)
Contemporary Perspectives on the Use of Hallucinogens in Spiritual Practices
R. Jesse (Council on Spiritual Practices)
Application of Scientific Methods to the Study of Spiritual Experience
R.W. Hood (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga)
H.D. Kleber (Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons)
HALLUCINOGENS AND RELIGION: HISTORICAL TO SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES
R.R. Griffiths* and H. deWit**, Chairpersons
*Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
**University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
In the United States, hallucinogens are classified as Schedule I
substances under the Controlled Substances Act because they are considered
to have high abuse liability and to be of no therapeutic value. The Schedule
I classification gives rise to the common assumption that the hallucinogens
have no value of any type, or no net value relative to their risks. Yet
psychoactive plants having hallucinogenic effects have been valued for thousands
of years in many cultures, in structured contexts, for their ability to facilitate
spiritual (i.e., mystical/transcendent) experiences (Schultes and Hofmann
1992). The phenomenology of such mystical experiences has been well-described
and, as discussed below by Dr. Hood, can be reliably measured. Many scholars
of religion believe that "naturally-occurring" mystical experiences, often
occasioned by prayer, fasting, solitude or other austerities, have provided
the bedrock phenomenological foundation for most of the world's religions
(Smith 2000). That is, the founders of many religions had profound mystical
experiences on which they based their teachings.
Of relevance to this symposium is the observation/hypothesis that,
under appropriate conditions, hallucinogens can occasion profound mystical
experiences that are indistinguishable in description and impact from the
"naturally-occurring" mystical experiences. The striking similarity between
the drug-occasioned and austerity-occasioned mystical states suggests the
intriguing possibility that the two may be mediated by common biological
mechanisms. In fact, the last several years have witnessed increasing interest
in the neurobiology of mystical experiences (Austin 1999; Newberg et al.
2001). A basic premise of this growing field of "neurotheology" is that
the compelling commonalties among mystical experiences reported across time
and across different cultures and faiths suggest a common neurobiology reflecting
the structures and function of the human brain.
As discussed in this symposium on hallucinogens and religion, use
of these drugs in natural settings has been studied from the perspective
of anthropologists and historians. The preclinical and clinical behavioral
pharmacology of these drugs have also been studied in laboratory contexts
quite different from the religious contexts in which these drugs are known
to be used. However, a vast gap exists between our knowledge of these drugs
obtained using the descriptive methods of anthropology and the knowledge
obtained using modern clinical pharmacology methods. The gap is even larger
than it would be otherwise because, largely in reaction to the excesses of
the 1960s "psychedelic movement," there has been virtually no human research
with hallucinogens for the last thirty years.
The papers in this symposium discuss the use of hallucinogens in
spiritual practices from several different perspectives. Dr. Charles Schuster,
a behavioral pharmacologist, discusses the neurochemistry and preclinical
and clinical pharmacology of hallucinogens, and makes the point that the
classic seretonergically-mediated hallucinogens such as LSD, mescaline and
psilocybin do not show classic abuse liability as evidenced by self-administration
in animals and euphoria in humans. Dr. Marlene de Rios, a medical anthropologist
with particular expertise on the use of ayahuasca in South America, considers
hallucinogens from historical and cross-cultural perspectives, commenting
on the socially important roles that hallucinogens have had in some cultures
and the apparent lack of abuse potential when used under careful ritual circumstances.
Bob Jesse, president of the Council on Spiritual Practices, which is sponsoring
research on primary religious experience, then considers contemporary perspectives
on hallucinogens in spiritual practices, discussing nomenclature, pivotal
observations of several modern scholars, and a rationale for further exploration
in this area. Dr. Ralph Hood, an expert in the measurement of the mystical
experience, discusses the development of the contemporary science of religion,
describing the development of reliable and valid measures of the mystical
experience which are essential for advancing the scientific analysis of hallucinogen-occasioned
mystical states and their impact on spiritual practices. The symposium concludes
with discussion comments from Dr. Herbert Kleber, a psychopharmacologist
with expertise in drug abuse policy and who has conducted human clinical
research with hallucinogens. This multidisciplinary symposium represents
a renewed integration of human religious and spiritual experiences into the
domain of scientific investigation.
Austin, J. H. (1999) Zen and the brain: Toward an understanding of meditation and consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Newberg, A.; Alavi, A.; Baime, M.; Pourdehnad, M.; Santanna, J.; and d'Aquili,
E. (2001) The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during the complex
cognitive task of meditation: a preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatry Research:
Neuroimaging Section, 106, 113-122.
Schultes, R. E. and Hofmann, A. (1992) Plants of the gods: Their sacred,
healing, and hallucinogenic powers. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press,
Smith, H. (2000) Do drugs have religious import? In: Cleansing the doors
of perception: the religious significance of entheogenic plants and chemicals.
New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.
PRECLINICAL AND CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY OF PSYCHOACTIVE DRUGS USED IN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI
The psychoactive drugs that are used in conjunction with religious
ceremonies and for other self-actualizing purposes have been studied, revered,
and vilified by individuals with different perspectives and values. Chemically
these agents fall into three general classes: the phenylalkylamines (phenethylamines);
the indolealkylamines (tryptamines); and the beta-carbolines. They are generally
termed by pharmacologists "classical hallucinogens" because they share a
similar profile of pharmacological actions in both laboratory animals and
humans. It should be noted, however, that the psychoactive effects of these
agents are modified by the set of the individual who ingests the drug and
the setting in which it takes place. With repeated administration at short
intervals tolerance develops to many of their psychoactive and physiological
effects. Tolerance to one of these drugs generally conveys cross-tolerance
to other members of this group, evidence of their pharmacological similarity
(e.g., Wolbach et al. 1962). Further evidence of pharmacological similarity
is the recent neurochemical studies indicating that the same serotonergic
receptor sub-type (5-HT2a) in the brain (Glennon et al. 1984; Ismaiel, et
al. 1993; Winter et al. 1999) mediates their psychoactive effects.
Since none of the classical hallucinogens have accepted medical
use in the United States and are considered to have "abuse potential," they
have been placed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Other widely
abused drugs such as heroin and phencyclidine are also in Schedule 1. However,
there is considerable evidence demonstrating that the "classical hallucinogens"
can be differentiated from these other commonly abused drugs in several important
ways. It is well established that drugs that are commonly abused by humans
will serve as positive reinforcers in a wide variety of animal models of
drug abuse (Johanson and Balster 1978; Griffiths et al. 1979). In contrast,
none of the "classical hallucinogenic" agents have been shown to be self-administered
by animals (Deneau et al. 1969). This is due to the fact that the classical
hallucinogens have a different profile of pharmacologic effects on the monoamine
systems of the brain compared to drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.
In fact, the limited evidence that exists suggests that the classical hallucinogens
are aversive in animals and will serve as negative reinforcers (Hoffmeister
1975). This is in accord with the observations of humans ingesting drugs
such as mescaline, psilocybin, or the ayahuasca tea (containing DMT and the
beta-carbolines) who frequently show nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea and rarely
the type of euphoria associated with drugs of abuse (e.g., Grob et al. 1996).
The substituted amphetamines, MDMA and its relatives such as MDA
and MDE (a sub-class of the phenethylamines) have a unique pharmacology.
They not only share certain actions with the stimulant amphetamines but
also with the "classical hallucinogens." In humans, MDMA and its relatives
are purported to have an "empathogenic" effect, which has been claimed to
facilitate psychotherapy. There have been no well-designed clinical trials
conducted to demonstrate the efficacy of MDMA in facilitating the effects
of psychotherapy. Nevertheless, the reports of its empathogenic effects
have led to its use by people striving to gain a feeling of greater connectedness
and brotherhood with fellow humans. However, in contrast to the classical
hallucinogens, the substituted amphetamines are self-administered by laboratory
animals (e.g., Beardsley et al. 1986; Griffiths et al. 1979; Sannerud et
al. 1996). In drug discrimination studies these drugs have been shown by
some investigators to substitute for amphetamine but in other studies they
fail to do so. Further, in some studies, they substitute for one of the
classical hallucinogens and in others they do not. These results are most
likely attributable to differences in the training doses of the drugs used,
as well as the training procedures. Nonetheless, they illustrate that these
agents have mixed effects. Recent drug discrimination studies, in which animals
are trained to discriminate between amphetamine, MDMA, and placebo, have
shown that these drugs are readily discriminable to animals (Goodwin and
Baker 2000). Further, when classical hallucinogens (LSD and DMT) are tested
in animals trained in this three-way discrimination procedure, only partial
substitution for MDMA is observed. Most recently, Tancer and Johanson (CPDD
2001) have conducted drug discrimination studies in humans trained to discriminate
between placebo, amphetamine, and mCPP (a serotonin agonist). When MDMA
is tested in these people mixed results are again obtained. Some participants
respond to MDMA as if it is amphetamine, while others respond as if it is
mCPP. These results further illustrate the mixed actions of MDMA.
The widespread abuse of MDMA with case reports of lethal consequences
at the so-called "raves," in conjunction with laboratory evidence for neurotoxic
effects has received widespread media attention and alarmed the general public
(McCann et al. 2000; Ricaurte et al. 2000). Any potential beneficial effects
MDMA and related drugs may have must be weighed against their possible permanent
neurotoxic effects. Similarly, in the 1960s, LSD and other classical hallucinogens
were widely used by young people, many of whom were ill prepared for the
psychological effects these drugs produce, often with adverse consequences.
It is important to distinguish this kind of drug abuse from the use of psychoactive
substances within the context of a religious ceremony. As has been shown
many times in laboratory studies, set and setting are extremely important
determinants of whether a drug experience results in a spiritual epiphany
or a "bad trip." As is the case when considering the value of psychoactive
drugs for therapeutic purposes, one must look at the risk benefit ratio.
This should also be done when considering the use of psychoactive drugs
for their effects on spirituality.
Beardsley, P. M.; Balster, R. L.; and Harris, L. S. (1986) Self-administration
of methylenedioxy-methmethamphetamine (MDMA) by rhesus monkeys. Drug and
Alcohol Dependence, 18: 149-157.
Deneau, G.; Yanagita, T.; and Seevers, M. H. (1969) Self-administration of
psychoactive substances by the monkey. Psychopharmacologia, 16: 30-48.
Glennon, R. A.; Titeler, M.; and McKenney, J. D. (1984) Evidence for 5-HT2
involvement in the mechanism of action of hallucinogenic agents. Life Sciences,
Goodwin, A. K. and Baker, L. E. (2000) A three-choice discrimination procedure
dissociates the discriminative stimulus effects of d-amphetamine and (+)-
MDMA in rats. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 8: 415-423.
Griffiths, R. R.; Brady, J. V.; and Bradford, D. L. (1979) Predicting the
abuse liability of drugs within animal drug self-administration procedures:
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Vol 2. T. Thompson and P.B. Dews (Eds). New York: Academic Press, Inc. pp
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Oberlaender, G.; Saide, O. L.; Labigalini, E.; Tacla, C.; Miranda, C. T.;
Strassman, R. J.; and Boone, K. B. (1996) Human psychopharmacology of Hoasca,
a plant hallucinogen used in ritual context in Brazil. The Journal of Nervous
and Mental Disease, 184: 86-94.
Hoffmeister, F (1975) Negative reinforcing properties of some psychotropic
drugs in drug-naive rhesus monkeys. J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther., 192: 468-477.
Johanson, C. E. and Balster, R. L. (1978) A summary of the results of a drug
self-administration study using substitution procedures in rhesus monkeys.
Bull. Narc., 30: 43-54.
McCann, U. D.; Eligulashvili, V.; and Ricaurte, G. A. (2000) (+/-)3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine
('Ecstasy')-induced serotonin neurotoxicity: clinical studies. Neuropsychobiology,
Ricaurte, G. A.; Yuan, J.; and McCann, U. D. (2000) (+/-)3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine
('Ecstasy')-induced serotonin neurotoxicity: studies in animals. Neuropsychobiology,
Sannerud, C. A.; Kaminski, B. J.; and Griffiths, R. R. (1996)
Intravenous self-injection of four novel phenethylamines in baboons. Behavioural
Pharmacology, 7, 315-323.
Winter, J. C.; Fiorella, D. J.; Timineri, D. M.; Filipink, R. A.; Helsley
S. E.; and Rabin, R. A. (1999) Serotonergic receptor subtypes and hallucinogen-induced
stimulus control. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 64: 283-293.
Wolbach, A. B., Jr.; Isbell, H.; and Miner, E. J. (1962) Cross tolerance
between mescaline and LSD-25 with a comparison of the mescaline and LSD reactions.
Psychopharmacologia (Berl.), 3: 1-14.
HISTORICAL AND CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE USE OF HALLUCINOGENS IN SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
M. Dobkin de Rios
University of California, Irvine, CA
The author, a medical anthropologist, examines the use of hallucinogenic
substances derived from plants as facilitators of religious ecstasy and to
permit individuals to come into first-hand contact with spirit or divinity.
These substances are seen to be psychotechnologies to allow tribal elders
to manage altered states of consciousness of adolescents and to utilize the
properties of the plant hallucinogens as agents of deconditioning of youth
and to heighten religious experiences deemed important for social survival.
There is a movement historically from exoteric rituals of hallucinogenic
drug use, open and accessible to all adolescents and adults, to esoteric
rituals, shrouded in secrecy and limited to elite groups of society, much
like the Eleusinian mysteries described in ancient Greece. These patterns
are illustrated by several cultural examples: the Australian Aborigines'
use of pituri in ritual context (Duboisia spp); the Fang of Equatorial African
and the use of Tabernanthe iboga; the ancient Maya and the ritual use of
Nymphae ampla; the Brazilian church, Unaoi do Vegetal use of ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis
Findings show that access to supernatural power and the unitive
experience were highly valued among hunter/gatherers, incipient and intensive
agriculturists, and in pristine state societies of antiquity. Little, if
any, abuse potential was found. Most of the plants in traditional societies
were of limited availability, were given in religious ritual settings in
natural environments with all the senses engaged, with elders and religious
leaders present to ensure a smooth interior voyage and were laden with educational
and didactic contact to reassure the individual. In traditional societies
of the world, stereotypic visions were eagerly sought after to indicate that
contact with the realm of the sacred had occurred.
Drug tourism throughout the Third World is a growing phenomenon
in response to the demands of Western individuals seeking drug experiences
abroad. Knowledgeable men and women are toured in small groups by Western
tour guides to distant exotic places where they participate in drug rituals
among so-called native shamans or witchdoctors. This fits the category of
what has been called charlatan psychiatry, a long tradition for example,
in Latin America, of non-authentic folk healers with malicious and fraudulent
intention who provide hallucinogenic plant drugs in ritual settings for their
personal gain. Unscrupulous practitioners exploit their victims and are conscious
of the farce in which they are involved. The hallucinogenic plants in question
have never been used traditionally in the way that the self-styled healers
use them and there are numerous psychological casualties. The drug tourism
is shrouded in special rhetoric and travel literature includes terms like
"advanced shamanic training." The drug tourist is desperate to find the vanishing
primitive. The westerner is not involved in a native ritual of spiritual
dimensions as he has been led to expect but rather in a staged drama to turn
him on and to extract his cash. There is an evil exploitative aspect of this
drug tourism that is impossible to ignore. These so-called native healers
are common drug dealers dressed for deception. They provide the exotic setting
and prepare the tourist to have an authentic personal experience.
Throughout history, societies recognized that the power of the
mind-altering plants was acknowledged to belong to special realms constrained
with taboos and rituals, and a pathway to the spiritual. Anyone who entered
those portals had to be properly prepared for the journey.
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Dobkin de Rios, M. (l984) Visionary vine: Hallucinogenic healing in the Peruvian Amazon. Prospect Hts., IL: Waveland Press.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l973) The non-western use of hallucinogenic agents. In:
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Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. Washington, DC. U.S. Govt. Printing
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l993) Twenty-five years of hallucinogenic studies in
cross-cultural perspective. In: Newsletter, Anthropology of consciousness,
4:l:l-8. American Anthropological Association.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l992) Drug tourism in the Amazon. Omni Magazine. Fall.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l977) The function of drug rituals in human society:
Continuities and changes. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 9:3:269-276.
Grob, C. and M. Dobkin de Rios (l992) Adolescent drug use in cross-cultural perspective. Journal of Drug Issues, 22:l:l2l-l38.
Dobkin de Rios, M., Grob, C. and Baker, J. (submitted for publication). Hallucinogens and redemption.
CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON THE USE OF HALLUCINOGENS IN SPIRITURAL PRACTICES
Council on Spiritual Practices, San Francisco, CA
Hallucinogenic plants and chemicals can sometimes give access to
an unusual set of mental states, variously called transcendent, mystical,
or unitive. The term "entheogen" (literally, "giving rise to divinity within")
has been coined to emphasize this special property, which appears to act
most frequently under conditions ("set and setting") designed for that purpose.
Numerous cultures throughout history have made religious use of
entheogenic plants, giving rise to traditions from which some contemporary
entheogen uses follow directly. Living examples include the use of peyote
in the Native American Church, the religious uses of ayahuasca in South America,
and the ritual use of psilocybin mushrooms in Mesoamerica. Other contemporary
uses have resulted from individuals and groups incorporating entheogens into
religious traditions that do not otherwise use them. Walter Pahnke's 1962
Good Friday Experiment in a Christian chapel stands as the most thoroughly
documented and measured instance of the capacity of certain psychoactives
to greatly increase the probability of profound religious experience.
Probably most contemporary entheogen use takes place with no explicit
religious or ritual context, though distinctly religious experiences have
sometimes occurred, nonetheless, as illustrated by writer Aldous Huxley,
religion scholar Huston Smith, and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W.
The modern psychology of religion has characterized religious experience
in terms such as unity (direct perception of connectedness or oneness), transcendence
of time and space, and sense of sacredness, with emotions ranging from awe
(fascination and terror) to deeply felt positive mood. Valid and reliable
psychological instruments are now available to measure these phenomena.
Entheogen experiences, in and out of formal religious contexts,
are sometimes credited with providing profound insights. Huxley's claim
is not atypical in its enthusiasm: "The mescaline experience is, without
any question, the most extraordinary and significant experience available
to human beings this side of the Beatific Vision. To be shaken out of the
ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer
and inner worlds, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival
or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended,
directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large - this is an experience of
inestimable value to anyone." In religious language, such experiences are
epiphanies, theophanies, moments of illumination, states of grace, and so
Acting in combination with other individual and social factors,
such episodes have long been linked to positive, and sometimes enduring,
changes in emotional well-being, beliefs, values, and behaviors. Knowledge
of these factors has been accumulated anecdotally, but the area has not much
been studied scientifically. The immediate effects of an entheogen and the
long-term consequences of the experience are likely to vary with characteristics
of the ingestor, preparation and intentions of the ingestor, the substance
and dose, and the social surround. The social surround includes the behavior
of formal or informal "guides," the existence and nature of rituals and communities
of seekers that help contain the experience and form its meaning, ongoing
contact with guide(s) and community, and the nature and intensity of pressures
from the wider society.
Were it not for the legal classification of most entheogens as
Schedule I drugs, it would go without saying that the examples of entheogen
use given earlier bear virtually no resemblance to the patterns of abuse
and addiction frequently seen with drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.
Entheogens do present characteristic risks, including unwise drug-induced
behavior and (rarely) lasting psychological distress. Virtually all of the
documented cases of harm have come from haphazard use, rather than entheogenic
ceremonies such as those of the Native American Church.
More subtle harms can follow when entheogens are put to less than
their "highest and best use" (a term borrowed from land use planning). For
the individual, lesser uses carry an opportunity cost, insofar as the same
investment of time and substance could have yielded greater outcomes. For
the community, trivialization of the substance, its use, or the consequent
experiences lowers collective expectations and hence may work to the detriment
of future use outcomes. Opposite to trivialization, it is also possible
to expect too much of the entheogen itself. In religious language, these
are, respectively, the profaning of a sacrament and idolatry. In addition,
profound religious experiences themselves carry risks of inducing grandiosity
or, in religious terms, spiritual pride.
For some 35 years, there has been a near-embargo on scientific
research using these substances in humans. A few studies are now being mounted,
though the aim of most is to investigate possible applications of the substances
to treat mental disease. Thus, an opportunity remains: to study in healthy
volunteers the states of consciousness that entheogens can bring about, the
determinants of those states, and their short- and long-term consequences,
individual and social.
Walter Houston Clark offered in his book The Psychology of Religion
(1958) a framework for appraising religion. Its first key feature is the
inner experience of an individual when he or she senses a "beyond" - what
is taken to be a more fundamental aspect of the universe than is ordinarily
sensed. The second feature is the effect of such experience on behaviors
as one actively attempts to live one's life in accord with values derived
from that inner experience. The application of Clark's framework to the
use of entheogens constitutes a research program of significant potential
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of entheogenic plants and chemicals. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
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APPLICATION OF SCIENTIFIC METHODS TO THE STUDY OF SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
R. W. Hood Jr.
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, TN
The study of spiritual experience has until recently been the twice
removed step child of psychology. Among the founders of psychology, especially
in America, it was widely assumed that religious experiences could be reductively
explained by neurophysiological processes. Psychological explanations were
offered as reductive interpretations of religious phenomena, including not
only transcendent experiences but persistently related experiences such as
supposed paranormal and spiritual experiences (Coon 1992; Hood 2000). Interest
in religion and religious experience rapidly declined in the face of the
assumption that psychology had adequately explained most religious phenomena
of interest, many which were declared to be pathological.
A re-emergence of interest in the psychology of religion beginning
in the 1960s can be partly attributed to the influence of a few investigators
who insisted that the proper description of religious phenomena defied purely
naturalistic or neurophysiological explanations. Never doubting that neurophysiology
is involved in experience, the investigation of religious experience suggested
that reductive explanations were insufficient and that more sophisticated
scientific studies of religious experience were needed. The necessary advance
came when investigators began not simply to apply measurement paradigms to
the psychology of religion, but to derive and focus their measurements with
phenomenological and other theoretical perspectives (Gorsuch 1984).
The contemporary psychology of religion has developed reliable
and valid measures of religious phenomena on par with constructs in any mainstream
area of modern psychology (Hill and Hood 1999). It is widely accepted that
religious experience is neither necessarily pathological nor inherently immune
to scientific study. While correlational methods dominate the field, experimental
and quasi-experimental methods are not uncommon (Hood et al. l996). Among
the religiously devout, the report of religious experience is associated
with an intrinsic religious orientation; among the non-religious, similar
experiences occur but without a religious interpretation. Generally the
report of religious experience is related to openness to experience, and
to a variety of indices of well-being. Religious experience can be facilitated
by a variety of practices and situations, including prayer or meditation,
solitude, and entheogens (Hood 1995). Set and setting factors are especially
relevant in determining whether or not experiences are given a religious
While the psychology of religion is still fairly described as mainstream
psychology's stepchild, recent research in psychology has shown a demonstrative
movement to focus upon the study of spirituality as opposed to religion making
spirituality a stepchild of the modern scientific study of the psychology
of religion (Pargament l999). The well-documented emergence of a significant
group of persons who identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious"
has turned attention to the nature of experiences that often have been interpreted
or even reified in religious traditions but need not be. While those who
identify themselves as "equally spiritual and religious" can be documented
to have spiritual and religious experiences for which their religious beliefs
provided them adequate expression and even explanation, those who reject
religion can be shown to have similar experiences for which they reject the
religious interpretations. Thus, a dominant paradigm in the study of religious
and spiritual experience assumes that experience can be distinguished from
interpretation, allowing for a common core of identical experiences to be
differentially interpreted. Among those who support this common-core position
are researchers who have sought to identify a limited range of experiences
that can be scientifically identified as uniquely spiritual, but not necessarily
religious. Among the major contenders are mysticism (typically identified
as an experience of union) and perhaps more generally, transcendence (in
which the individual directly experiences an interconnectedness with all
of reality). Both mysticism and transcendence are best understood as multidimensional
constructs and have been reliably measured as such (MacDonald et al. 1999a,b).
This approach allows for experience to be separated from interpretation,
implying that, whatever the role of language and culture in shaping experience,
there is enough commonality in the underlying determinants of mystical and
transcendent experience to suggest both a universal neurophysiological basis
for such experiences. Perhaps more controversially, it suggests an ontological
basis that is transcendent to a purely neurophysiological explanation (Austin
1999, d'Aquil and Newberg 1999).
Thus, whether the psychology of religious experience or spirituality
is the focus, the application of scientific methods has shown that the experiences
can be both measured and scientifically manipulated. Whatever their final
explanation might be, they are a proper focus of scientific investigation.
That suggests that these experiences are not forever fated to be stepchildren
but shall find their proper home. If this home is not in psychology, it
surely will be under a multidisciplinary canopy of investigators whose common
commitment is to the rigorous application of scientific methods to reality
not simply as it is, but as it appears to be for those who have these experiences.
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HALLUCINOGENS AND RELIGION: HISTORICAL TO SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES - DISCUSSANT
Herbert D. Kleber
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY
Research into hallucinogens was prematurely terminated in the 1960s,
when some of the drugs became street drugs of abuse. Research into these
agents can be described as high risk with potential high gain. While these
agents can produce substantial behavioral toxicity, they also have the potential
to lead to useful insights, positive behavioral change, and increased knowledge
of the brain. Research could include studies on the nature of the hallucinogen-induced
experience itself, the role of set and setting, behavioral changes that ensue
and the neuroscience aspects involved, e.g. neuroendocrine and imaging studies.
The key question from a policy point of view is: How should the conflict
between the country's compelling need not to interfere with religious practice
and the equally compelling need to protect our people, especially the vulnerable
young, be resolved? This is a difficult and cloudy issue. However, the
current position that permits bonafide members of the Native American Church
to use peyote in a controlled communitarian setting may serve as a useful
model and could be expanded. The use by individuals in a non-communitarian
setting creates too much risk at this time as does permitting use by pseudo-religious
groups whose only purpose is the drug use.
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