Psilocybin in Combination with Meditation Practice Improves Psychological Functioning
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
Psychedelic substances have been used almost since the beginning of recorded history to alter consciousness and produce spiritually meaningful experiences. Psychedelics produce effects that are similar to those that are reported in spiritual awakenings. They report a loss of the personal self. They experience what they used to refer to as the self as just a part of an integrated whole. They report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. They experience a feeling of timelessness where time seems to stop and everything is taking place in a single present moment. They experience ineffability, being unable to express in words what they are experiencing and as a result sometimes producing paradoxical statements. And they experience a positive mood, with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
It is easy to see why people find these experiences so pleasant and eye opening. They often report that the experiences changed them forever. Even though the effects of psychedelic substances have been experienced and reported on for centuries, only very recently have these effects come under rigorous scientific scrutiny.
Psilocybin is a psychedelic substance that is found naturally in a number of varieties of mushrooms. It has been used for centuries particularly by Native Americans for their spiritual practices. When studied in the laboratory under double blind conditions, Psilocybin has been shown to “reliably occasion deeply personally meaningful and often spiritually significant experiences (e.g. mystical-type experiences).” How lasting the changes are has not been systematically studied in controlled research studies.
In today’s Research News article “Psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience in combination with meditation and other spiritual practices produces enduring positive changes in psychological functioning and in trait measures of prosocial attitudes and behaviors.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772431/ ), Griffiths and colleagues examine the duration of Psilocybin effects when administered under laboratory conditions. They recruited participants from the community who were not experienced with either psychedelics or meditation and randomly assigned to one of three groups; very low Psilocybin dose – standard spiritual support, high Psilocybin dose – standard spiritual support, or high Psilocybin dose – high spiritual support. Participants and researchers who interacted with them were not informed as to the dosing conditions.
Psilocybin was administered in capsule form in the morning and the participants remained in the laboratory and were measured until Psilocybin immediate effects were gone 7 hours later. One month later the participants returned for a second similar Psilocybin session. For the standard support conditions, the participants met with “guides” for five 1 to 2-hour sessions and a couple of days after Psilocybin administration for another 1-hour session, followed up later with a 10-minute teleconference. Sessions consisted of instruction and support for their usual spiritual practices. For the high support conditions, participants met on a similar schedule and dad additional sessions approximately monthly thereafter. The “spiritual practice suggestions had three primary elements: meditation (10 to 30 minutes of sitting meditation daily); daily awareness practice (use of mantra and one-pointed attention in daily activities); and daily self-reflective journaling of insights, benefits, and challenges of spiritual practice in daily life.”
They found that the high Psilocybin dose administration during the 7-hour post-administration period produced hallucinations and illusions, feelings of transcendence, grief, joy, and/or anxiety, and a sense of meaning and insight. These effects were significantly greater in the high spiritual support group. At the 6-month follow up they found that the high Psilocybin dose group in comparison the very low dose group had significantly improves attitudes about life and self, improved mood, increased altruism and spirituality, and significantly greater personal meaning, spiritual significance, and change in well-being. Again, in the high spiritual support group had significantly greater effects. Virtually all of the participants in the high Psilocybin dose conditions reported that this was among the greatest spiritual experiences of their lives.
These results are striking and important. Administration of the psychedelic substance, Psilocybin, produced consistently positive personal and spiritual effects immediately and the effects appeared to be relatively permanent, still present after 6 months. In addition, engaging in spiritual meditative practices appeared to heighten these effects. The use of psychedelic substances is extremely controversial and for the most part illegal. But, the present findings suggest that at least under controlled circumstances, they may have positive and lasting, effects on the individual and their spirituality. Further research should explore the use of Psilocybin for the treatment of mental illness and the promotion of human well-being.
So, psilocybin in combination with meditation practice improves psychological functioning.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Roland R Griffiths, Matthew W Johnson, William A Richards, Brian D Richards, Robert Jesse, Katherine A MacLean, Frederick S Barrett, Mary P Cosimano, Maggie A Klinedinst. Psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience in combination with meditation and other spiritual practices produces enduring positive changes in psychological functioning and in trait measures of prosocial attitudes and behaviors. J Psychopharmacol. 2018 Jan; 32(1): 49–69. Published online 2017 Oct 11. doi: 10.1177/0269881117731279
Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences with participant-attributed increases in well-being. However, little research has examined enduring changes in traits. This study administered psilocybin to participants who undertook a program of meditation/spiritual practices. Healthy participants were randomized to three groups (25 each): (1) very low-dose (1 mg/70 kg on sessions 1 and 2) with moderate-level (“standard”) support for spiritual-practice (LD-SS); (2) high-dose (20 and 30 mg/70 kg on sessions 1 and 2, respectively) with standard support (HD-SS); and (3) high-dose (20 and 30 mg/70kg on sessions 1 and 2, respectively) with high support for spiritual practice (HD-HS). Psilocybin was administered double-blind and instructions to participants/staff minimized expectancy confounds. Psilocybin was administered 1 and 2 months after spiritual-practice initiation. Outcomes at 6 months included rates of spiritual practice and persisting effects of psilocybin. Compared with low-dose, high-dose psilocybin produced greater acute and persisting effects. At 6 months, compared with LD-SS, both high-dose groups showed large significant positive changes on longitudinal measures of interpersonal closeness, gratitude, life meaning/purpose, forgiveness, death transcendence, daily spiritual experiences, religious faith and coping, and community observer ratings. Determinants of enduring effects were psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience and rates of meditation/spiritual practices. Psilocybin can occasion enduring trait-level increases in prosocial attitudes/behaviors and in healthy psychological functioning.