Making the Ego Go Away is a Mystical Experience



By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“When subjected to a scientific experiment, these characteristics proved to be identical for spontaneous and psychedelic mystical experiences.
 Unity is a sense of cosmic oneness achieved through positive ego transcendence. Although the usual sense of identity, or ego, fades away, consciousness and memory are not lost; . . ., so that a person reports that he feels a part of everything that is, or more simply, that “all is One.”  – Walter N. Pahnke


The core experience that has been found to be present in spiritual awakenings is a loss of the personal self. What they used to refer to as the self is experienced as just a part of an integrated whole. People who have had these experiences report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. Although awakening experiences can vary widely, they all contain this experience of oneness.


Millions of people worldwide seek out spiritual awakening by engaging in practices, such as meditation, yoga, and prayer. Others use drugs such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, ayahuasca and

psilocybin to induce spiritual awakenings. The experiences produced by the drugs have many characteristics which are unique to the experiencer, their religious context, and their present situation. But, the common, central feature of these drug experiences is a sense of oneness, that all things are contained in a single thing, a sense of union with the universe and/or God and everything in existence.


Hence, central to both practice induced awakenings and psychedelic drug experiences is a loss of self that is sometimes called an ego death or an ego dissolution. In today’s Research News article “Ego-Dissolution and Psychedelics: Validation of the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI).” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Nour and colleagues attempt to develop a psychometric scale measuring ego dissolution and its opposite ego inflation and compare the results on this scale for people who self-reported use of psychedelic drugs, cocaine, and alcohol. They recruited participants with on-line ads and obtained anonymous responses from 691 people. The ego dissolution inventory (EDI) contained 8 items; “I experienced a dissolution of my “self” or ego,”I experienced a dissolution of my “self” or ego,” “I felt at one with the universe,” “I felt a sense of union with others,” “I experienced a decrease in my sense of self-importance,” “ I experienced a disintegration of my “self” or ego,” “I felt far less absorbed by my own issues and concerns,” “I lost all sense of ego,” “all notion of self and identity dissolved away.” Items were rated 0–100, with zero defined as “No, not more than usually”, and 100 defined as “Yes, entirely or completely.”


They found that the ego dissolution inventory (EDI) had adequate psychometric properties suggesting reliability and validity of the scale. The scores on the EDI were extremely similar to the participant’s responses to unity experiences on the Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ) suggesting that ego-dissolutions were virtually identical to reported senses of oneness. Interestingly, they found that ego dissolution was highly related to well-being suggesting that loss of the self produces a sense of personal well-being. In terms of drugs, it was found that when psychedelic drug dose or intensity of experience was high, ego dissolution was also high. But, there was no such relationship with cocaine or alcohol, while when cocaine dose was high ego-inflation was also high. So, psychedelic use is associated with ego dissolution while cocaine use is associated with a heightened sense of self, ego-inflation.


The results demonstrate that the ego dissolution can be measured and that the EDI is a reliable and valid measure. They further indicate that ego dilution and unity experiences are virtually identical suggesting that they may be measures of the same experience. The results also show that psychedelic drug use, but not cocaine or alcohol are highly associated with ego dilution. All of this adds to the case that awakening experiences and psychedelic drug experiences are either extraordinarily similar or perhaps identical. Since psychedelic drugs alter the brain, the results further suggest that awakening experiences may be due to similar changes in the brain.


This study was strictly correlational and no causal connections can be determined. But, these interesting results strongly suggest that a double-blind clinical trial of drug effects on ego dissolution and inflation should be conducted. It is not possible to manipulate participants into having non-drug induced awakening experiences. But, the similarity between the two suggests that drug induced experiences may be an excellent model for the study of the neural changes that underlie spiritual awakening experiences


“Because the ego never actually exists, those who are most captivated by its illusion are still playing. They take it seriously and do not know that they are playing. By inducing ego-death and evolutionary perspectives, psychedelic drugs can counteract
the fear of death.”
– LSD Experience – Ego


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Nour, M. M., Evans, L., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2016). Ego-Dissolution and Psychedelics: Validation of the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI). Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 269.



Aims: The experience of a compromised sense of “self”, termed ego-dissolution, is a key feature of the psychedelic experience. This study aimed to validate the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI), a new 8-item self-report scale designed to measure ego-dissolution. Additionally, we aimed to investigate the specificity of the relationship between psychedelics and ego-dissolution.

Method: Sixteen items relating to altered ego-consciousness were included in an internet questionnaire; eight relating to the experience of ego-dissolution (comprising the EDI), and eight relating to the antithetical experience of increased self-assuredness, termed ego-inflation. Items were rated using a visual analog scale. Participants answered the questionnaire for experiences with classical psychedelic drugs, cocaine and/or alcohol. They also answered the seven questions from the Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ) relating to the experience of unity with one’s surroundings.

Results: Six hundred and ninety-one participants completed the questionnaire, providing data for 1828 drug experiences (1043 psychedelics, 377 cocaine, 408 alcohol). Exploratory factor analysis demonstrated that the eight EDI items loaded exclusively onto a single common factor, which was orthogonal to a second factor comprised of the items relating to ego-inflation (rho = −0.110), demonstrating discriminant validity. The EDI correlated strongly with the MEQ-derived measure of unitive experience (rho = 0.735), demonstrating convergent validity. EDI internal consistency was excellent (Cronbach’s alpha 0.93). Three analyses confirmed the specificity of ego-dissolution for experiences occasioned by psychedelic drugs. Firstly, EDI score correlated with drug-dose for psychedelic drugs (rho = 0.371), but not for cocaine (rho = 0.115) or alcohol (rho = −0.055). Secondly, the linear regression line relating the subjective intensity of the experience to ego-dissolution was significantly steeper for psychedelics (unstandardized regression coefficient = 0.701) compared with cocaine (0.135) or alcohol (0.144). Ego-inflation, by contrast, was specifically associated with cocaine experiences. Finally, a binary Support Vector Machine classifier identified experiences occasioned by psychedelic drugs vs. cocaine or alcohol with over 85% accuracy using ratings of ego-dissolution and ego-inflation alone.

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate the psychometric structure, internal consistency and construct validity of the EDI. Moreover, we demonstrate the close relationship between ego-dissolution and the psychedelic experience. The EDI will facilitate the study of the neuronal correlates of ego-dissolution, which is relevant for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and our understanding of psychosis.


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