Did you ever want to trip for the benefit of science? That’s what a lucky group of religious clerics got to do, and researchers are now in the process of evaluating the results.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore signed up more than 20 spiritual leaders from various denominations after issuing a call for volunteers last year. Following an initial screening process, the participants were given strong doses of psilocybin—the psychoactive chemical in magic mushrooms.
An account in the Guardian this month tells us that the participants included several rabbis, as well as some Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, and a Zen Buddhist. The predominance of rabbis in the group won the study coverage in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
The idea is to determine if the psilocybin experience enhances their religious fervor.
Dr. William Richards, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins, told the Guardian: “With psilocybin these profound mystical experiences are quite common. It seemed like a no-brainer that they might be of interest, if not valuable, to clergy.”
The participants were dosed in two sessions, one month apart. The sessions were conducted in living room-like settings at Johns Hopkins and New York University with two “guides” present. Participants were administered the psychedelic and then spent time lying on a couch, wearing eyeshades and listening to religious music on headphones.
A full analysis of the outcomes will be made after a one-year follow-up with the participants, whose identities are being kept anonymous.
“It is too early to talk about results, but generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage,” Richards said. “The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way. They discover they really believe this stuff they’re talking about.”
The link between psychedelics and religious experience was last studied in the 1991 “Good Friday experiment.” In that Harvard study, a group of seminary students were given psilocybin during Easter services to see how it altered their experience of the liturgy.
However, the current study at Johns Hopkins is thought to be the first involving religious leaders from different faiths.