Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Scientifically-Proven Religious Experiences?"

by Keith Edley [https://web.archive.org/web/20131217081829/http://entheology.com/features/scientifically-proven-religious-experiences//]:
“Using unusually rigorous scientific conditions and measures, Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that the active agent in ‘sacred mushrooms’ can induce mystical/spiritual experiences descriptively identical to spontaneous ones people have reported for centuries.” – John Hopkins Press Release

INTRODUCTION
Practically blasphemy to mainstream religions, world governments, and the mainstream population is the idea that psychedelics could have the undeniably and scientifically-measurable effect of inducing religious experiences. This revelation is undoubtedly many people’s worst nightmare: How can such “dangerous” and “demonic” hallucinogens that countless people have literally been killed or put into prison for growing, exploring, or ingesting be capable of providing any one of us with what could amount to a direct and very personal pathway to God?
According to a rigorous scientific study at John Hopkins University and carefully-controlled follow-ups, the proverbial hallucinogenic cat is out of the bag.
These are the same hallucinogens that have systematically been demonized in world culture, that world governments have poured untold billions of our tax dollars into a flawed and failed Drug War to fight against. The opening line of the 2011 report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy says it all: “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world” (Global Commission on Drug Policy 2011).
Please, take a moment to read the opening quote again and let it really sink in; it’s still sinking in for me. Do I mean to say that, according to this study, none of us need middlemen like priests and deacons and rabbis, and that we don’t actually need to step into or pour our hard-earned money into places such as churches, temples, or synagogues to find or commune with God?
As loudly as I’ve ever been able to scream something out; “Yes!”
This study unquestionably and undeniably validates what shamans and spiritual explorers throughout history have known, what they’ve often shared at the risk of incarceration or death, but have painstakingly documented throughout history: The Psilocybe mushroom, a hallucinogen, can provide any one of us with an extraordinary, life-changing mystical experience that is indistinguishable from any other religious experience reported in our mutual human history.  What is perhaps more extraordinary is that the participants in this study didn’t just have a spiritual experience; the ingestion of these hallucinogenic mushrooms “produced substantial spiritual effects” and “those beneficial effects appear to last more than a year” (Griffiths et. al., 2008). In other words, here we have an example of scientifically proven religion, a spirituality that, rather than being in conflict with the rational, is supported by it.
To me, that’s where this changes from an interesting and validating experiment, to something that has far-reaching ramifications for the health and well-being of the world population. Those therapeutic possibilities are now, once again being explored and curiously enough; funded by the United States government as we speak. Look to M.A.P.S. for information on Psychedelic Research Around the World [http://www.maps.org/research/]. The results of their research have been nothing short of incredible, yet I rarely meet anyone “on the street” who has heard of any of these studies or their results.

THE 2006 STUDY -
A groundbreaking, world-changing experiment was undertaken by a research team John Hopkins University and was published in Psychopharmacology in July of 2006 with the headline; “Hopkins Scientists Show Hallucinogen in Mushrooms Creates Universal Mystical Experience" [http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/press_releases/2006/07_11_06.html]. Psychopharmacology is a highly-respected, peer-reviewed journal. Peer-reviewed means that experts in the field of Psychopharmacology get to decide whether or not the article, its methods, and the findings are worthy of being published, which means rarely, if ever, do poorly-conducted or false studies ever appear in such a publication.
The participants in the study were screened by several mental health professionals and were “naive” to hallucinogens. (That simply means that none of the participants were familiar with the classification of substances known as hallucinogens, nor had they ever used them.) Then, to satisfy the harshest critics, the administration of the psilocybin-containing capsules was conducted under triple-blind clinical conditions. This means is that no one present for a session knew whether or not the participant was receiving a placebo (as required by clinical trials) or the actual hallucinogen. This ensured a completely unbiased outcome, with the anticipation of the participants being the only possible slight biasing factor (Griffiths et. al., 2006).
The results were so astonishing that they may re-define our mutual human history as it’s been indoctrinated into billions of humans across the planet. Not just one or two participants spoke of having an ineffable mystical experience; it was 79% of the 36 participants who underwent the study (Griffiths et. al., 2006). That’s truly an astounding and inarguable number. To me, just a couple of people having a religious experience from a hallucinogenic fungi would have been extraordinary. But it was far more than that. Something so groundbreaking, so universally applicable to re-defining our mutual human history and evolution as well as our understanding of religion and the spiritual experience itself would have been the headline of every newspaper in the world, right?
Nope. (A list of coverage has been nicely documented at an inconspicuous website called Yoism.) How can this be? This wasn’t a study conducted by amateur random spiritual explorers sitting around a campfire casually ingesting magic mushrooms they had gathered earlier that day; this was a study conducted in clinical conditions at John Hopkins University. The was a rigorous study with clearly explicated methods that were, as stated in the opening quote; “unusually rigorous” (Griffiths et. al., 2006)
Were people simply unable to wrap their heads around what an extraordinary discovery this was?  Or, is there something else at work here.
Not enough people noticed, and worse; few seemed to care beyond a passing news headline. If denial is the cause, I can certainly understand that. Born and raised a strict Catholic, I know the feeling of having my entire belief system crumble from underneath me. It happened the moment I started to research the history of my own religion. I made the decision to read the entire Bible (unlike 90% of the 2 billion Christians that exist in the world according to independent statistics). I was shocked at what I found, and briefly wrote about it in “Be a Good Christian: Kill Your Children?” on my personal blog [https://web.archive.org/web/20120801123810/http://www.cleversley.com/religion-delusions/be-a-good-christian-kill-your-children]. All those years spent in Catholic Schools, as an altar boy, going through to “Confirmation” when I was 16 years old…all seemingly for nothing?
I, too, might need to sink into denial in order to prevent the spiritual aspect of my life from becoming a meaningless lie; a sham that began before I was able to speak when I was cleansed of my “original sin” during my baptism as a baby. If I had devoted my life to a church, if I had believed that we need the Bible to dictate our morality, if I had believed that my only pathway to mystical experience and connection to the Divine was through someone else…I might not be able to hear the results of this study either. But when I realized that I have the power to speak with the Divine within myself, it was perhaps the most meaningful and liberating experience of my life. And, to this day, I’ve devoted my life to helping, in some small way, to spread the word about the ancient and sacred plants known as entheogens.
Politically, there certainly wasn’t any evidence that ANY consideration whatsoever was given to changing obviously flawed laws that have made the ingestion of this sacred fungi (and most other hallucinogens) highly illegal, often carrying mandatory jail terms for the simple possession of them. To me, this is a continuing and conscious travesty that began long ago.  Truly, the last thing any of those in power want is to see us empower ourselves, especially en masse.  We might realize that God truly does live inside each one of us and that we actually do have the power to change the world.

HALLUCINOGENS 101 -
The “active agent” in the Psilocybe mushroom is psilocybin; a powerful hallucinogen that is as old as human history (Akers & Ruck 2011). So, before I proceed, I’d like to offer a loose definition for clarity:
Hallucinogens such as “magic” mushrooms fit into a category of substances that are commonly referred to as “entheogens.” The term entheogens means to “reveal the Divine within,” and this can apply to any psychedelic, hallucinogen, or psychoactive substance that has been used for Divinatory purposes. Entheogens include things such as Psilocybe mushrooms (which were used for the John Hopkins study), LSD, Cannabis, and even those “poisonous” plants that grow all around us such as Morning Glory, Datura and Brugmansia, the San Pedro cactus at Home Depot, the Phalaris Grass growing in Mid-Western yards, the Wormwood anyone can buy just about anywhere herbal products are sold, or even the FDA-protected Kava Kava Root.
In fact, according to researchers such as Chris Bennet, David Hillman, Jean Clottes, and a growing chorus of others, the use of entheogens used to be so widespread, and such an accepted form of divination, that Christianity, Hinduism, and other major religious systems may have been founded on, guided by, and further shaped by them. Chris Bennet, author of “Cannabis and the Soma Solution” and “Sex, Drugs, and Violence” within the Bible is becoming a well-known and well-respected researcher who has provided more than ample evidence that proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that entheogen use exists within the pages of the Bible itself (Read his books or see my “Revelations: A Psychedelic Vision?” for more on this [https://web.archive.org/web/20101222101143/http://www.cleversley.com/religion-delusions/revelation-a-psychedelic-vision/]).
Undeniably, there are ‘hard’ drugs such as cocaine and heroin that I’ve found no reports of mystical experiences with. Entheogens have conveniently been placed into the same category as these highly addictive and dangerous manufactured drugs that truly have ruined countless peoples lives and have been responsible for intense violence. Psychedelics and hallucinogens truly are in a separate category, and are at the core of our mutual human evolution, as briefly discussed in my “Shamanism: Spirituality’s True Roots” article [https://web.archive.org/web/20101222075741/http://www.cleversley.com/on-being-human/shamanism-humanitys-true-roots/].
Also, if you only follow one link from this article, let me suggest this one:  it’s my “Entheogens Are NOT Drugs” article which explains the stark difference between dangerous drugs and entheogens, which, unlike, say, cocaine and heroin, have never been linked directly to a single death [https://web.archive.org/web/20120325145356/http://www.cleversley.com/on-being-human/entheogens-are-not-drugs/].
In a interesting side note, in a talk given by Dennis McKenna at the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference in 2011, he stated that DMT (another potent hallucinogen) not only exists within our own bodies, but may be found in trace amounts within every living thing in nature! Surely denial can only last so long in a culture where information overload reigns supreme, where world libraries are accessible to children before they even learn to read…right?

THE 2008 FOLLOW-UP -
In July of 2008, John Hopkins University released a follow-up report titled; “Spiritual Effects of Hallucinogens Persist [https://web.archive.org/web/20140420063024/http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/spiritual_effects_of_hallucinogens_persist_johns_hopkins_researchers_report]. This report showed that the subjects of the experiment who had reported spiritual experiences while working with psilocybin continued to experience greater spirituality in their lives up to 14 months afterwards!
O.K., surely now there’d be worldwide coverage on this extraordinary, life-changing finding: John Hopkins University not only revealed that we all have the power to universally experience the mystical, to touch perhaps even the hand of God, but that these spiritual experiences can also produce spiritual lives.  Wow! Wait a second. If the initial study wasn’t extraordinary enough in its findings, researchers have now shown that not only can the ingestion of a hallucinogenic mushroom trigger a mystical experience, but the beneficial effects of that experience were found to last as well!
Surely THIS finding would be headline news, right?
Well, actually…no again. There was coverage, but not the kind of coverage that one might expect for a rigorous scientific study that completely redefined our mutual understand of religion and the religious experience itself. This is evidenced in the small wave of articles that has appeared and once again quietly disappeared without any noticeable change in public opinion or policy.

THE 2011 FOLLOW-UP -
Not to worry: Let’s fast forward to John Hopkins University’s most recent seventeen page article that appeared in the June 2011 issue of Psychopharmacology entitled; “Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: immediate and persisting dose-related effects" [http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-011-2358-5]. Personally, I feel it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read.  How often do any of us get to read something that speaks directly to the human psyche in relation of our experience of the mystical in such a scientific and clinical environment, but while recounting it in such personally spiritual terms?
This is a wildly personal opinion, but I can’t help feeling that the results of this and other similar studies (Such as the “Good Friday” experiment by Pahnke in 1962) is simply more evidence that we are all connected, that Mother Nature may even be desperately trying to reach out to us, to find a way to get us to reconnect with our past, with each other, and to remember who we were before the indoctrination of mainstream religion touched billions of our lives, separating us from God, from each other, and from the living, breathing organism of planet Earth. Entheogens have historically been referred to as “Teacher Plants” or “Plant Teachers” by mystics, curanderos, shamans, and medicine men across cultures, and despite efforts to stamp out the very knowledge of these sacred plants, they persist in a significant way within the mass consciousness.
In fact, plant teachers such as Ayahuasca (a South American hallucinogenic drink) have not only hit the mainstream, Ayahuasca is now legal for consumption in the United States for members of the Santo Daime Church [http://www.santodaime.org/] and the Uno de Vegetal Church.  I firmly believe that the more people disconnect from their true nature, the more hungry we become for honest, true, and real experiences that can help give meaning to our lives. This is why I am convinced that studies like the John Hopkins University study will become more relevant to ordinary people like ourselves as time goes on, and that we’ll all eventually become intrinsically aware that entheogens are not drugs in the way most presently think of them.  We may find that some of the spiritual answers we seek may have been inside and around us the whole time.  Researchers have clearly shown that this experience can be just a magic mushroom away.
So, for the third time since 2006, this study is struggling for some air time, reiterating and re-proving itself. The internet has permeated far more households. The sharing of information on places like Facebook and Wikipedia in proportions unheard of in history. Surely, the news of this astounding research that has the potential to drastically alter our views and beliefs in relation to hallucinogens and psychedelics will get out, right? Surely, we all can’t pretend this study wasn’t done or that it’s just some passing news like yet another senseless death in Iraq, right?  Surely, someone of political importance will read the results and be brave enough to effect some change, and we won’t all just put our heads back into the sand and pretend this article was never written.
No, yet again. Although coverage of the 2011 article has been far more plentiful than the other two groundbreaking, history-making articles, as of this writing, coverage has still been quite anemic considering how relevant this finding is to all inhabitants of this wondrous planet of ours. But, I continue to have faith that the truth will eventually win out in the end, and that word of these truths will eventually spread to the mass consciousness.
Either way, the stated rationale of the 2011 study was quite simple: “This dose-effect study extends previous observations showing that psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having persisting positive effects on attitudes, mood, and behavior” (Griffiths 2011). This time around, the study was double-blind and researchers seemed to be trying to “fine-tune” the dosages to see if the mystical experience would occur at specific levels of the hallucinogenic dose. For reference; Princeton University’s definition of double blind is that it’s “an experimental procedure in which neither the subjects of the experiment nor the persons administering the experiment know the critical aspects of the experiment.”

ANXIETY AND DELUSIONS -
With the varying dosages administered, there was no shortage of “Psilocybin-induced fear/anxiety or delusions” as well as mystical experience. But the researchers freely included every detail of those experiences in their report. In fact, there was one participant’s experience that I found particularly interesting for many reasons:
“The volunteer who had the most sustained anxiety during the 30 mg/70 kg dose session provides an interesting case example. Likely as a consequence of the sustained psychological struggle during the session, this volunteer also had the lowest mystical experience rating immediately after the session of all 18 volunteers studied. Immediately after the session, this volunteer, who for decades had held reincarnation as part of her worldview, reported that it was the worst experience of her life and that she would rather spend three lifetimes on a mountaintop meditating than repeat what she had just experienced during the session. Although she considered dropping out of the study after this first session and she remained hesitant to receive psilocybin again, over the next several weeks she increasingly felt that she had learned something useful from the experience. At 1 month, she rated the experience as having slight spiritual significance and as having slightly increased her sense of well-being or life satisfaction. Because she remained curious about the effects of psilocybin, she decided to continue to participate in the study. She received 20 mg/70 kg psilocybin on the second session. In contrast to her first session, her post- session ratings fulfilled criteria for a “complete” mystical experience and, at 1 month, she retrospectively rated this experience as the single most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of her life” (Griffiths 2011).
Someone who didn’t simply abandon the study and kept to her original commitment went from rating this experience as the worst of her entire lifetime to calling it the “single most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of her life.” This speaks volumes of exactly what shamans and mystics throughout history have described: entheogens are “Teacher Plants” that require our patience, our steadfast determination, and often the building of a personal relationship with them in order for them to reveal all that they have to offer.
But what’s most significant to me is what exists between the lines of this woman’s experience and everyone else’s in the study who reported spiritual experiences: no one had to explain that this was a religious experience to this woman. No one needed to tell her what it might be like, how she should feel, or what she needed to do in order to have this “most personally meaningful and spiritually significant” experience of her life. It simply unfolded before her. There were no Bibles or dogma or churches or priests. It was simply her and the mushroom, engaged in a most intimate experience, where she was in direct connection with the Divine. Wow.
What would happen if none of us needed mainstream religion in order to connect and commune with God? What if the power of connection to perhaps even our Creator exists within each one of us? What if each of us is Divine, if each of us is part of that greater consciousness we refer to as God? What would happen to everything we’ve been taught was true? How would we respond or exist in a world where so much of what we thought was true was suddenly turned upside down and revealed for the lies it truly is? Regardless of our answer to any of those questions, aren’t we almost obligated to find out more for ourselves?
For me, my experience with entheogens has resulted in my devoting myself to shining as brightly as I can, in repeatedly setting out this beacon; this drop in mass consciousness’ bucket, with the hope of helping to start a ripple, to help be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so we can all exist in a world where we realize our own Divinity, where we realize that the power of that Divinity isn’t in some cement and stained glass building, but within each one of us, always.

THE PEER REVIEWS -
There’s no question that those who conducted this study (Roland R. Griffiths, Matthew W. Johnson, William A. Richards, Brian D. Richards, Una McCann, Robert Jesse) wanted to ensure unbiased scientific results. In fact, they seemed so determined to make this as scientific a study as possible, that they opened the results of the 2006 study to commentaries by a highly-respected few, two of whom they may have felt could be the harshest critics of this study. You can read these commentaries for yourself at Griffiths Commentaries, just to be sure that I’m not taking any quotes out of context in order to “spin” the commentaries in a favorable light for my personal, but clearly-stated bias. Until then, I’ll offer a couple quick quotes from that paper that I found of particular importance.
Charles R. Schuster, Ph.D. a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at Wayne State University School of Medicine and was the former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (he was the “drug czar” for the United States government) had this to say:
“The study by Griffiths et al. is noteworthy both for the rigorousness of its design and execution, as well as the clarity of its results. It demonstrates that psilocybin can be safely studied in normal human beings…”
“It is especially notable that participants reported that the drug produced positive changes in attitudes and behaviors well after the sessions, and these self-observations were consistent with ratings by friends and relatives” (Griffiths 2011).
Herbert D. Kleber, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and former Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy had equal praise for the results:
“As far as positive effects were concerned, psilocybin increased measures relating to mystical experiences: 22 of the 36 volunteers had a “complete” mystical experience after psilocybin…”
“At the 2-month follow-up, 67% rated the psilocybin experience to be either ‘The single most meaningful experience” of their lives or among the top five most meaningful experiences” (Griffiths 2011).

PERSONAL CONCLUSIONS -
It seems that just as responsible consumption of alcohol doesn’t result in deaths out on the road, the responsible consumption of psychedelics doesn’t result in people leaping from the tops of tall buildings (this was never the case and is a prime example of blatant propaganda, fear-mongering, and media hype). What’s even more amazing to me, is that the gaping hole many of us feel in our lives; that unnameable disconnect with Mother Nature as we get shoved into cement boxes masquerading as houses in our cliché concrete jungles…we can not only reconnect with Mother Nature and the living, breathing planet Earth itself; we can connect ourselves with a mystical experience as well, anytime, anywhere, and all on our own.
The religious rapture many of of spend our entire lives looking for is within reach. Well, at least it would be if virtually every major government in the world hadn’t made most entheogens so illegal that the simple possession of some of these sacred plants or fungi can carry mandatory jail time. Think about it for a second: A world with no indoctrination, false hopes or hypocritical dogma. Just a simple, personal experience with the Divine from using a gift from Mother Nature herself provides. What could be more simple, beautiful, and pure than that?
So, let’s recap, at the risk of repeatedly repeating myself: all of the rigorous John Hopkins Medical University studies reveal that we all possess the power to experience first-hand a classic mystical experience which, for many, includes a personal connection and interaction with God. This experience transcends ANY religious dogma or boundary, and provided a “full-blown” and uniformly religious experience for 72% of those who ingested psilocybin mushrooms in this study. The present study extends previous observations showing that psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences which have sustained personal and spiritual significance (Pahnke 1963; Doblin 1991; Griffiths et al. 2006, 2008).
These scientific studies corroborate millennia of experiences that have been documented, charted out, and reported throughout history, preserved in writing and art by mystics, shaman, medicine men, and even “amateur” spiritual explorers throughout history and through to the present day. Warriors of Christianity fought to obliterate all evidence of entheogen use from the planet as best they could (See my “Early Christian Crimes Against the Mayans” article for just one explicit example of hundreds), but evidence not only survived; it’s now been repeatedly revealed and re-tested via rigorous scientific study by some of the world’s top researchers and corroborated by some of the world’s harshest critics.
Those in power are grateful that we’ve been so quietly removed from our own spirituality, that we’ve been so indoctrinated that we believe that we need the eternal “them” in order to have a conversation with God. This simply isn’t true, and the evidence to support that fact is beyond overwhelming even in this present moment. I suggest that we all take back our own spiritual lives and investigate the real truth instead of simply accepting what we’ve been told is the truth. It really is up to every one of us to do the research, to not allow those in power to dictate our history from the narrow and biased perspective it’s typically been offered to us. We can read the books, visit the sites, engage in the discussions that empower us all to see our true history, to find the true roots of who we are in relation to planet Earth, and to reclaim our own mutual history, especially in relation to our own spirituality and connection with God.

REFERENCES -
** Brian P. Akers, Carl A. P. Ruck. 2011. A Prehistoric Mural in Spain Depicting Neurotropic Psilocybe Mushrooms? Economic Botany (June 2011)
** Global Commission on Drug Policy. 2011. REPORT OF THE GLOBAL COMMISSION ON DRUG POLICY. (June 2011).
** Griffiths, B.D. 2008. Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later. Journal of Psychopharmacology: 621-632. (June 2008).
** Griffiths, R. 2006. Psilocybin can occasion mystical experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology (June 2006).
Griffiths, Robert Jesse. 2011. Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: immediate and persisting dose-related effects. Psychopharmacology (June 2011).
** Griffiths, Roland R. 2006. Griffiths Commentary. Psychopharmacology (June 2011).
Johnson, R.R. 2008. Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety. Journal of Psychopharmacology: 603-620.
** Pahnke, Walter N. 1963. Drugs and Mysticism: An Analysis of the Relationship between Psychedelic Drugs and the Mystical Consciousness. Unpublished Dissertation.
** R. Doblin. 1991. Pahnkeʼs “Good Friday experiment”: a long-term follow-up and methodological critique. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 23: 1-28.
** Additional Info: The God Chemical: Brain Chemistry And Mysticism [https://web.archive.org/web/20140808034621/http://entheology.com/research/the-god-chemical-brain-chemistry-and-mysticism/]

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