Psychedelic Drugs Produce Experiences Like Spontaneous “God experiences”.

Psychedelic Drugs Produce Experiences Like Spontaneous “God experiences”.

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“I had the craziest experiences during meditation on psychedelics that have been the most convincing in my path to God,” – Gemma

 

Psychedelic substances such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, Bufotoxin, ayahuasca and psilocybin 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 and “God experiences”. They report a loss of the personal self, a decentering. 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. It is important to investigate whether these experiences are the same or different from spontaneous awakening or “God experiences”.

 

In today’s Research News article “Survey of subjective “God encounter experiences”: Comparisons among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0214377 ) Griffiths and colleagues recruited online a group of participants who reported having “encounters with something that someone might call: God (e.g., the God of your understanding), Higher Power, Ultimate Reality, or an Aspect or Emissary of God (e.g., an angel)” and participants who reported “encountering something that occurred after taking a classic hallucinogen (e.g., psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, DMT, etc.). The participants complete an online survey measuring demographics, types of drugs used, their encounter experience, interpretation of their experience, persisting changes resulting from the experience, and mystical experiences. The drug group was further subdivided into psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, and DMT groups.

 

They found that all four drug groups in comparison to the non-drug group reported having significantly more sensory experiences, were more likely to be alone, were more likely to engage in a communication, had greater mystical experiences, but lower vividness. Despite these quantitative differences the groups endorsed remarkably similar characteristics of their experiences. All groups found the experiences to be emotional and having a message, mission, or insight, were similar in mystical experiences, appeared very real, and endorsed the experiences as having the qualities of benevolent, intelligent, sacred, conscious, eternal and all knowing, and existing in some other reality. All groups endorsed that they were changed and these were desirable changes in life satisfaction, purpose, meaning, spiritual awareness in everyday life, attitudes about life and self. In all groups those who described themselves as atheist before the experience no longer identified themselves as atheist after the experience.

 

Although there were some quantitative differences between drug and non-drug groups, the experiences were in general very similar. Psychedelic drugs have their effects by altering the brain. Similarly, contemplative practices that often produce mystical experiences also alter the brain. It remains to be seen if the changes in the nervous systems produced by these experiences are also similar. Nevertheless, the results suggest that spontaneous “God experiences” and experiences as a result of psychedelic drugs are quite similar and maybe representative of similar physiological changes.

 

So, psychedelic drugs produce experiences like spontaneous “God experiences”.

 

Majority of survey respondents attributed lasting positive changes in their psychological health—including life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning—even decades after initially experiencing ‘God’ or ‘ultimate reality,’ whether that experience was spontaneous or associated with the consumption of psychedelic substances. – Vanessa McMains

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Griffiths RR, Hurwitz ES, Davis AK, Johnson MW, Jesse R (2019) Survey of subjective “God encounter experiences”: Comparisons among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0214377. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214377

 

Abstract

Naturally occurring and psychedelic drug–occasioned experiences interpreted as personal encounters with God are well described but have not been systematically compared. In this study, five groups of individuals participated in an online survey with detailed questions characterizing the subjective phenomena, interpretation, and persisting changes attributed to their single most memorable God encounter experience (n = 809 Non-Drug, 1184 psilocybin, 1251 lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 435 ayahuasca, and 606 N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)). Analyses of differences in experiences were adjusted statistically for demographic differences between groups. The Non-Drug Group was most likely to choose “God” as the best descriptor of that which was encountered while the psychedelic groups were most likely to choose “Ultimate Reality.” Although there were some other differences between non-drug and the combined psychedelic group, as well as between the four psychedelic groups, the similarities among these groups were most striking. Most participants reported vivid memories of the encounter experience, which frequently involved communication with something having the attributes of being conscious, benevolent, intelligent, sacred, eternal, and all-knowing. The encounter experience fulfilled a priori criteria for being a complete mystical experience in approximately half of the participants. More than two-thirds of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer identified as atheist afterwards. These experiences were rated as among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant lifetime experiences, with moderate to strong persisting positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning attributed to these experiences. Among the four groups of psychedelic users, the psilocybin and LSD groups were most similar and the ayahuasca group tended to have the highest rates of endorsing positive features and enduring consequences of the experience. Future exploration of predisposing factors and phenomenological and neural correlates of such experiences may provide new insights into religious and spiritual beliefs that have been integral to shaping human culture since time immemorial.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0214377

 

Increase Psychological Flexibility and Thereby Relieve Anxiety and Depression with Psychedelic Drugs

Increase Psychological Flexibility and Thereby Relieve Anxiety and Depression with Psychedelic Drugs

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“psilocybin may be effective in the much wider population of patients who suffer from major depression than previously appreciated. The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” – Alan Davis

 

Psychedelic substances have been used almost since the beginning of recorded history to alter consciousness and produce spiritually meaningful experiences. People find these experiences very pleasant and eye opening. They often report that the experiences changed them forever. But only very recently have these effects of psychedelic substances come under rigorous scientific scrutiny.

 

When studied in the laboratory under double blind conditions psychedelic substances have been shown to “reliably occasion deeply personally meaningful and often spiritually significant experiences (e.g. mystical-type experiences).” Psychedelic substances have also been shown to improve clinical depression. The case seems clear, but it’s important to look at the mechanism by which psychedelic substances improve depression.

 

In today’s Research News article “Psychological flexibility mediates the relations between acute psychedelic effects and subjective decreases in depression and anxiety.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7451132/ )  Davis and colleagues recruited adults who have had an experience with a single psychedelic drug. LSD was used by 42% of the respondents and psilocybin was used by 38%. The respondents completed a questionnaire measuring the drug used, when and how much; mystical experiences, acute insight, anxiety, depression, stress, and psychological flexibility.

 

They found that the greater the level of mystical experiences the greater the levels of acute insights and psychological flexibility. They also found that the greater the level of levels of acute insights and psychological flexibility the greater the decrease in anxiety and depression. A path analysis revealed that the effects of mystical experiences and acute insights on anxiety and depression were indirect by way of psychological flexibility. They increased psychological flexibility which reduced anxiety and depression.

 

These are interesting results but caution must be exercised in reaching conclusions as there was no control condition and the results are completely correlational and based upon subjective recall by the individuals. In addition, the participants volunteered by responding to recruitment materials and those who respond are likely those that benefited from the psychedelic experiences.

 

Regardless, the results replicate previous findings that psychedelic drugs increase mystical experiences and acute insights and these are associated with improved mental health. But the results suggest that these effects are completely mediated by increased psychological flexibility. In other words, mystical experiences and acute insights increase flexibility which improves anxiety and depression. “Psychological flexibility is described as an essential set of processes that help people manage stressors and engage in adaptive behaviors that promote values-driven action.”  Hence, this flexibility allows the individual to adaptively respond to events in the environment rather than internalizing them producing anxiety and depression. Psychedelic drugs appear to enhance this flexibility and thereby improve mental health.

 

So, increase psychological flexibility and thereby relieve anxiety and depression with psychedelic drugs.

 

The idea behind psychedelic therapy is that the receptive state that the drug confers opens the door to fresh ideas about how to think about the past and future, which the therapist can reinforce.” – Paul Tullis

 

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., & Griffiths, R. R. (2020). Psychological flexibility mediates the relations between acute psychedelic effects and subjective decreases in depression and anxiety. Journal of contextual behavioral science, 15, 39–45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcbs.2019.11.004

 

Abstract

Prior research has shown that acute subjective psychedelic effects are associated with both spontaneous and intended changes in depression and anxiety. Psychedelics are also theorized to produce increases in psychological flexibility, which could explain decreases in depression and anxiety following a psychedelic experience. Therefore, the present cross-sectional survey study sought to examine whether psychological flexibility mediated the relationship between acute psychedelic experiences and spontaneous or intended changes in depression and anxiety among a large international sample of people who reported having used a psychedelic (n=985; male=71.6%; Caucasian/white=84.1%; Mage=32.2, SD=12.6). A regression analysis showed that acute effects (i.e., mystical and insightful effects) were significantly associated with decreases in depression/anxiety following a psychedelic experience. A path analysis revealed that, while controlling for age and sex, increases in psychological flexibility fully mediated the effect of mystical and insightful experiences on decreases in depression and anxiety following a psychedelic experience. This suggests that psychological flexibility may be an important mediator of the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs. Future prospective experimental studies should examine the effect of psychedelic drug administration on psychological flexibility in order to gain a better understanding of the psychological processes that predict therapeutic effects of psychedelics.

Highlights

  • Acute psychedelic effects are related to changes in depression/anxiety
  • Changes in psychological flexibility fully mediate this relationship
  • Psychological flexibility should be examined in clinical trials with psychedelics

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7451132/

 

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

 

People begin meditation with the misconception that meditation will help them escape from their problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, meditation does the exact opposite, forcing the meditator to confront their issues. In meditation, the practitioner tries to quiet the mind. But, in that relaxed quiet state, powerful, highly emotionally charged thoughts and memories are likely to emerge. The strength here is that meditation is a wonderful occasion to begin to deal with these issues. But often the thoughts or memories are overwhelming. At times, professional therapeutic intervention may be needed.

 

Many practitioners never experience these negative experiences or only experience very mild states. There are, however, few systematic studies of the extent of negative experiences. In general, the research has reported that unwanted (negative) experiences are quite common with meditators, but for the most part, are short-lived and mild. There is, however, a great need for more research into the nature of the experiences that occur during meditation.

 

Summaries of recent studies on negative experiences with mindfulness can be found at the Negative Experiences link http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/negative-experiences/  on the Contemplative Studies blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/ .

 

Links to the Research on Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

 

Mindfulness Training can Produce Harm but Much can be Avoided

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2019/10/08/mindfulness-training-can-produce-harm-but-much-can-be-avoided/

 

Yoga Injuries are Common but Most Can Be Avoided

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2019/10/01/yoga-injuries-are-common-but-most-can-be-avoided/

 

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2018/01/26/the-variety-of-meditation-experiences/

 

Meditation Can Produce Uncomfortable Effects

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2017/11/03/meditation-can-produce-uncomfortable-effects/

 

What’s Wrong with Meditation II – Improper Instruction

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2017/03/05/whats-wrong-with-meditation-ii-improper-instruction/

 

 

Augment Mystical Experiences in Meditation and Long-Term Well-Being with Psilocybin

Augment Mystical Experiences in Meditation and Long-Term Well-Being with Psilocybin

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Trying to harness the mind in meditation is a bit like holding a water wiggly—those tubular, slippery, jelly-filled toys that leap out of your hand whenever you try to hold onto them. With the addition of a psychedelic state of mind, it could be like grasping with a greased hand.” – Paul Austin

 

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).” Since the effects of meditation and psilocybin appear similar, it’s important to look at the effects of the combination of meditation with psilocybin.

 

In today’s Research News article “.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6813317/ ), Smigielski and colleagues recruited experienced adult meditators participating in a 5-day meditation retreat and randomly assigned them to receive either a high dose of psilocybin or a placebo. The participants were matched for age, gender, mindfulness level, and meditation experience. They were administered psilocybin or placebo on the fourth day of the retreat. Before and after and on each day of the retreat they were measured for mindfulness and meditation depth. Six hours after psilocybin or placebo administration they were measured for altered states of consciousness and mystical experiences. Four months after the retreat they were evaluated for changes in behavior by self-report and that of a significant other. They did not observe any adverse events associated with psilocybin administration.

 

They found that on the day of administration the psilocybin group had significantly greater depth of meditation and after the retreat significantly higher mindfulness. While the drugs were in effect the psilocybin group had large significant increases in altered states of consciousness, including unity, spiritual experience, blissfulness, insightfulness, and disembodiment and large significant increases in mystical experiences, including complex imagery, elementary imagery, audiovisual synesthesia, and changed meaning of percepts. Four months after the retreat the participants who were administered psilocybin had significant changes in behavior documented by themselves and a significant other including significantly greater appreciation for life, self-acceptance, quest for meaning/sense of purpose, and appreciation of death.

 

Meditation retreats have been shown to increase meditation depth, mindfulness, mystical experiences, and to produce changes in consciousness. The present results suggest that psilocybin administration produces large and significant amplifications of these effects. In fact, the participants who received psilocybin reported that the experience was equivalent to the greatest mystical experiences that they have ever had. Remarkably, the effects of the single administration were enduring, altering and deepening their acceptance of themselves as they are, their appreciation of life and death, and their sense of meaning and purpose. These results suggest that the combination of meditation with psilocybin may be a safe and effective means to improve psychological and spiritual health and well-being.

 

So, augment mystical experiences in meditation and long-term well-being with psilocybin.

 

“After the retreat, mushroom-assisted meditators reported less self-consciousness and more illusions and hallucinations than the control group. What’s more, their brains showed alterations in the functioning of the default mode network—a group of interacting brain regions linked to self-awareness and rumination—during open awareness meditation. . . . What is even more remarkable is that experienced meditators in the psilocybin group reported better social functioning four months later.” – Grace Bullock

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Smigielski, L., Kometer, M., Scheidegger, M., Krähenmann, R., Huber, T., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2019). Characterization and prediction of acute and sustained response to psychedelic psilocybin in a mindfulness group retreat. Scientific reports, 9(1), 14914. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-50612-3

 

Abstract

Meditation and psychedelics have played key roles in humankind’s search for self-transcendence and personal change. However, neither their possible synergistic effects, nor related state and trait predictors have been experimentally studied. To elucidate these issues, we administered double-blind the model psychedelic drug psilocybin (315 μg/kg PO) or placebo to meditators (n = 39) during a 5-day mindfulness group retreat. Psilocybin increased meditation depth and incidence of positively experienced self-dissolution along the perception-hallucination continuum, without concomitant anxiety. Openness, optimism, and emotional reappraisal were predictors of the acute response. Compared with placebo, psilocybin enhanced post-intervention mindfulness and produced larger positive changes in psychosocial functioning at a 4-month follow-up, which were corroborated by external ratings, and associated with magnitude of acute self-dissolution experience. Meditation seems to enhance psilocybin’s positive effects while counteracting possible dysphoric responses. These findings highlight the interactions between non-pharmacological and pharmacological factors, and the role of emotion/attention regulation in shaping the experiential quality of psychedelic states, as well as the experience of selflessness as a modulator of behavior and attitudes. A better comprehension of mechanisms underlying most beneficial psychedelic experiences may guide therapeutic interventions across numerous mental conditions in the form of psychedelic-assisted applications.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6813317/

 

Psychedelic Drugs Produce Mystical Spiritual Experiences

Psychedelic Drugs Produce Mystical Spiritual Experiences

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mystical experiences can be deeply transforming and powerful tools of spiritual evolution. Traditionally considered to be restricted to religious-based epiphanies and available only to a small few who were deserving enough to be addressed by their god or gods, in these times of mass awakening, they are but a wholesome, intentional psychedelic experience away.” – Xavier Francuski

 

Psychedelic substances such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, Bufotoxin, ayahuasca and psilocybin 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, a decentering. 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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Intensity of Mystical Experiences Occasioned by 5-MeO-DMT and Comparison With a Prior Psilocybin Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02459/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_847629_69_Psycho_20181211_arts_A ), Barsuglia and colleagues compare the investigate the ability of Bufotoxin (5-MeO-DMT) to produce spiritual experiences. They recruited participants in a psychospiritual retreat in Baha Mexico. The participants were administered 50 mg of vaporized bufotoxin, estimated to contain 5–7 mg of 5-MeO-DMT “The bufotoxin was obtained from wild toads in the Sonoran Desert, Mexico.” Four to six hours after the experience they were administered a questionnaire on mystical experiences.

 

They found that the 5-MeO-DMT produced mystical experience equivalent to those produced by high, but not moderate or low, doses of Psilocybin including unitive experiences, noetic quality, and sacredness, positive mood, transcendence of time/space, and ineffability. Hence, Bufotoxin containing 5-MeO-DMT appears to have the same psychospiritual benefits as Psilocybin but at lower doses. It also appears to have very low addictive qualities, suggesting that it may be an excellent agent when therapy with psychedelic substances is called for.

 

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 effects on the individual and their spirituality. It is interesting that these substances produce experiences that are very similar to those reported in awakening (enlightenment) experiences. This raises the possibility that these experiences are triggered by changes produced in the brain’s chemistry induced by spiritual practices. Much more research is needed to examine this speculation.

 

“It is fairly common for people who were initially skeptical of religions and spirituality prior to working with psychedelics to report that psychedelic experiences have increased their openness toward spirituality, sometimes even leading them to a specific spiritual path or religion.” – David Wilder

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Barsuglia J, Davis AK, Palmer R, Lancelotta R, Windham-Herman A-M, Peterson K, Polanco M, Grant R and Griffiths RR (2018) Intensity of Mystical Experiences Occasioned by 5-MeO-DMT and Comparison With a Prior Psilocybin Study. Front. Psychol. 9:2459. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02459

 

5-MeO-DMT is a psychoactive substance found in high concentrations in the bufotoxin of the Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius). Emerging evidence suggests that vaporized 5-MeO-DMT may occasion mystical experiences of comparable intensity to those occasioned by more widely studied psychedelics such as psilocybin, but no empirical study has tested this hypothesis. Data was obtained from 20 individuals (Mage = 38.9, ± 10.7; male = 55%, Caucasian = 85%) who were administered 5-MeO-DMT as part of a psychospiritual retreat program in Mexico. All participants received 50 mg of inhaled vaporized toad bufotoxin which contains 5-MeO-DMT and completed the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ30) approximately 4–6 h after their session. Administration of 5-MeO-DMT occasioned strong mystical experiences (MEQ30 Overall Mintensity = 4.17, ± 0.64, range 0–5) and the majority (n = 15, 75%) had “a complete mystical experience” (≥60% on all MEQ30 subscales). Compared to a prior laboratory-based psilocybin study, there were no differences in the intensity of mystical effects between 5-MeO-DMT and a high dose (30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin, but the intensity of mystical effects was significantly higher in the 5-MeO-DMT sample compared to moderate/high dose (20 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin (MEQ30 Total Score: p = 0.02, d = 0.81). Administration of vaporized 5-MeO-DMT reliably occasioned complete mystical experiences in 75% of individuals and was similar in intensity to high dose psilocybin administered in a laboratory setting. The short duration of action may be advantageous for clinical interventions and for studying mystical-type experiences.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02459/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_847629_69_Psycho_20181211_arts_A

 

Psilocybin in Combination with Meditation Practice Improves Psychological Functioning

Psilocybin in Combination with Meditation Practice Improves Psychological Functioning

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The ingestion of psilocybin, brought on “mystical” experiences that reduced illness-related anxiety and depression in nearly 80 percent of subjects studied in research trials.” – Andrew McCarron

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Abstract

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.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772431/

The Variety of Transcendent States During Meditation

The Variety of Transcendent States During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Ancient masters described intense transcendent states that result from meditation. A true awakening, transformation of consciousness, oneness with the ALL. Many esoterics have glimpsed these levels of consciousness, and for a few it became a persistent state – enlightenment.” – Future Thinkers

 

Millions of people worldwide seek out transcendent experiences by engaging in practices, such as meditation, yoga, and prayer. Others use drugs such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, ayahuasca and psilocybin to induce these experiences. Transcendent experiences have many characteristics which are unique to the experiencer, their religious context, and their present situation. But, the common, central feature of transcendence 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. This includes 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 transcendent experiences can vary widely, they all contain this experience of oneness.

 

I published a summary and review of these characteristics in a paper entitles “A Model of Enlightened/Mystical/Awakened Experience. It can be found on Research Gate at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281807307_A_Model_of_EnlightenedMysticalAwakened_Experience.

 

Because of their relatively rare, ineffable, and completely subjective characteristics, transcendent experiences have received only a small amount of scientific attention. This, however, flies in the face of their importance to humans of spirituality. They are central to the human search for the nature and meaning of existence. Hence, there is a need for greater scientific attention to transcendent experiences.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Systematic Review of Transcendent States Across Meditation and Contemplative Traditions.” Wahbeh and colleagues summarize the published peer-reviewed scientific literature on transcendent experiences occurring during meditation. They identified 25 studies involving a total of 672 participants that measured a variety of physiological, psychological, and experiential variables during or after the experience of transcendence during meditation.

 

They found that “as meditation progresses, a person’s sense of agency, location and boundaries in time and space become weaker and the sense of self dissolves”. This was associated with relaxed wakefulness which included decreased respiration, skin conductivity, and muscle relaxation, increase in the brain’s alpha rhythm power, alpha blocking, and changes in brain area interconnectedness and activity. The meditators report experiencing “a sense of timelessness, spacelessness, unconditional love, peace, profound joy, and loss of boundaries of the self. In Christian contemplative traditions, there is a “transformative presence of God” and religious ecstasy.” The meditators report changes in perception that are reflected in changes in brain activity in the sensory cortices. Phenomenologically these changes are reported to not alter the present sensory environment but transcends it producing a sense on oneness of all things.

 

The studies reported were very heterogenous with different methodologies, measurements, and focus and with great differences in scientific quality and bias. This is unfortunate, as this is such an important area of study. There is a need for more work under similar conditions with standardized measurements and tighter experimental controls. Rather than considering the published research as definitive, it should be viewed as a first step in the investigation of transcendent experiences during meditation. But, the published studies to date produce a tantalizing glimpse into these states, reflecting an altered interpretation of reality and perhaps insight into the nature of being.

 

“during transcendent states, we slip into an altered state of consciousness different from our ordinary waking or rational consciousness. “No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.” – William James

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Wahbeh H, Sagher A, Back W, Pundhir P, Travis F. A Systematic Review of Transcendent States Across Meditation and Contemplative Traditions. Explore (NY). 2018 Jan – Feb;14(1):19-35. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2017.07.007. Epub 2017 Oct 23.

 

Background

Across cultures and throughout history, transcendent states achieved through meditative practices have been reported. The practices to attain transcendent states vary from transcendental meditation to yoga to contemplative prayer, to other various forms of sitting meditation. While these transcendent states are ascribed many different terms, those who experience them describe a similar unitive, ineffable state of consciousness. Despite the common description, few studies have systematically examined transcendent states during meditation.

Objectives

The objectives of this systematic review were to: 1) characterize studies evaluating transcendent states associated with meditation in any tradition; 2) qualitatively describe physiological and phenomenological outcomes collected during transcendent states and; 3) evaluate the quality of these studies using the Quality Assessment Tool.

Methods

Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, AltHealthWatch, AMED, and the Institute of Noetic Science Meditation Library were searched for relevant papers in any language. Included studies required adult participants and the collection of outcomes before, during, or after a reported transcendent state associated with meditation.

Results

Twenty-five studies with a total of 672 combined participants were included in the final review. Participants were mostly male (61%; average age 39 ± 11 years) with 12.7 ± 6.6 (median 12.6; range 2–40) average years of meditation practice. A variety of meditation traditions were represented: (Buddhist; Christian; Mixed (practitioners from multiple traditions); Vedic: Transcendental Meditation and Yoga). The mean quality score was 67 ± 13 (100 highest score possible). Subjective phenomenology and the objective outcomes of electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiographyelectromyographyelectrooculogramevent-related potentialsfunctional magnetic resonance imagingmagnetoencephalography, respiration, and skin conductance and response were measured. Transcendent states were most consistently associated with slowed breathing, respiratory suspension, reduced muscle activity and EEG alpha blocking with external stimuli, and increased EEG alpha power, EEG coherence, and functional neural connectivity. The transcendent state is described as being in a state of relaxed wakefulness in a phenomenologically different space-time. Heterogeneity between studies precluded any formal meta-analysis and thus, conclusions about outcomes are qualitative and preliminary.

Conclusions

Future research is warranted into transcendent states during meditation using more refined phenomenological tools and consistent methods and outcome evaluation.

https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.shsu.edu/science/article/pii/S1550830717300460

Drugs Produce Loss of Self Like Spiritual Awakening

Drugs Produce Loss of Self Like Spiritual Awakening

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“People tripping on psilocybin can experience paranoia or a complete loss of subjective self-identity, known as ego dissolution”Annamarya Scaccia

 

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. One deterrent to the research is the legal prohibitions for the possession and use of these substances.

 

The fact that experiences, virtual identical to spiritual awakening experiences, can be induced by drugs and that drugs have their effects by altering the chemistry of the nervous system, has led to the notion that perhaps spiritual experiences are simply an altered state of the brain produced by intense spiritual practices. An important observation in this regard is that alterations of the brain can make it more likely that an individual will have a spiritual experience. Spiritual experiences can occur occasionally with epileptic seizures. This may provide clues as to what neural structures are involved in spiritual experiences.

 

In today’s Research News article “Looking for the Self: Phenomenology, Neurophysiology and Philosophical Significance of Drug-induced Ego Dissolution.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5441112/, Millière reviews and summarizes the published literature on drug effects on the concept of the self. He reports that a number of different psychoactive substances produce similar effects of ego dissolution. This is a dramatic breakdown of a sense of self producing a sense of unity with all things. No boundary between self and other is felt. Instead, there is a feeling of oneness with everything.

 

All psychedelic drugs act on the nervous system. They appear to stimulate the serotonin system in the brain and appear to suppress the activity of a set of neural structures known collectively as the Default Mode Network (DMN). These structures include the cingulate and medial frontal cortices, the thalamus which have been shown to be important for the production of a sense of self.

 

Another class of psychoactive drugs are dissociative anesthetics. These also appear to produce a loss of the sense of self, but act on a different neurochemical system, tending to stimulate the NMDA glutamate receptors. Glutamate receptors are the brain’s primary excitatory receptors and are widespread throughout the nervous system. So, the effects of this class of psychoactive substances on the brain are quite different from those of psychedelic drugs.

 

A final class of psychoactive drugs that produce an ego dissolution are kappa opioid receptor agonists. These appear to act by affecting opioid receptors which in turn affect the dopamine neurochemical system. In addition, it has been shown that drugs that block opioid receptors tend to reverse the feelings of loss of self in psychotic patients.

 

These findings do not reveal a common set of effects on the nervous system that are associated with the loss of a sense of self that are produced by the three different classes of compounds that elicit an ego dissolution. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a common mechanism, only that none has been identified. But, if there is not a common neural mechanism, then it would appear that the sense of self is fragile and can be disrupted by widespread and different effects on the nervous system. In addition, thinking about the self appears to increase activity in a completely different area of the brain and paying attention to non-self elements of experience changes still another set of structures. Hence, a sense of self appears to be produced by widespread different areas of the nervous system and disruption of widespread different areas and neurochemical systems can disrupt the sense of self.

 

One problem with the research on the neural systems responsible for the notion of self may be that what we call self may actually be a complex set of different processes. What we define as the “self” consists of a set of components including physiology, behaviors, personality, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, memories, etc. It is not a single thing rather it’s a set of things that in their entirety are considered a self. In other words, the self is a concept that summarizes a set of experiences and is not a thing unto itself. If this is the case then it is not surprising that disruption of different process may be responsible for common feelings of a loss of self.

 

All of this suggests that spiritual awakening may be an entirely different process than the effects of psychoactive drugs. They may each disrupt a different aspect of the set of components that we describe as the self. They further suggest that the sense of self is fragile and can be disrupted by disparate activities and psychoactive compounds affecting widespread and differing neural systems. Until there is greater clarity about which exact components of self are affected by each of the activities and drugs that produce an overall sense of loss of self, it will not be possible to answer the question as to whether spiritual awakening is due to organic changes produced by engagement in spiritual activities, or that they are representative of a totally different reality.

 

“There is ‘objective reality’ and then there is ‘our reality. Psychedelic drugs can distort our reality and result in perceptual illusions. But the reality we experience during ordinary wakefulness is also, to a large extent, an illusion.” – Enzo Tagliazucchi

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Millière, R. (2017). Looking for the Self: Phenomenology, Neurophysiology and Philosophical Significance of Drug-induced Ego Dissolution. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 245. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00245

 

Abstract

There is converging evidence that high doses of hallucinogenic drugs can produce significant alterations of self-experience, described as the dissolution of the sense of self and the loss of boundaries between self and world. This article discusses the relevance of this phenomenon, known as “drug-induced ego dissolution (DIED)”, for cognitive neuroscience, psychology and philosophy of mind. Data from self-report questionnaires suggest that three neuropharmacological classes of drugs can induce ego dissolution: classical psychedelics, dissociative anesthetics and agonists of the kappa opioid receptor (KOR). While these substances act on different neurotransmitter receptors, they all produce strong subjective effects that can be compared to the symptoms of acute psychosis, including ego dissolution. It has been suggested that neuroimaging of DIED can indirectly shed light on the neural correlates of the self. While this line of inquiry is promising, its results must be interpreted with caution. First, neural correlates of ego dissolution might reveal the necessary neurophysiological conditions for the maintenance of the sense of self, but it is more doubtful that this method can reveal its minimally sufficient conditions. Second, it is necessary to define the relevant notion of self at play in the phenomenon of DIED. This article suggests that DIED consists in the disruption of subpersonal processes underlying the “minimal” or “embodied” self, i.e., the basic experience of being a self rooted in multimodal integration of self-related stimuli. This hypothesis is consistent with Bayesian models of phenomenal selfhood, according to which the subjective structure of conscious experience ultimately results from the optimization of predictions in perception and action. Finally, it is argued that DIED is also of particular interest for philosophy of mind. On the one hand, it challenges theories according to which consciousness always involves self-awareness. On the other hand, it suggests that ordinary conscious experience might involve a minimal kind of self-awareness rooted in multisensory processing, which is what appears to fade away during DIED.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5441112/

Do Spiritual Experiences Reveal Ultimate Truth or Merely Brain Activity?

Do Spiritual Experiences Reveal Ultimate Truth or Merely Brain Activity?

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Spiritual experiences, be they called awakenings, mystical experiences, or enlightenments, involve a shift in how the individual perceives reality. This could be viewed as a spiritual revelation. But it could also be viewed as a change in the neural systems integrating and interpreting experiences. So, are spiritual awakenings revelations of a reality beyond physical reality or are they simply hallucinatory experience evoked by changes in the nervous system?

 

One way of investigating this question is to study the brain-spirituality connection. Research along these lines has revealed that there is a clear association between spirituality and the brain. Modern neuroscience has developed methods, such as neuroimaging, to investigate the relationship. Applying these techniques it has been demonstrated that spirituality is associated with changes in the size, activity, and connectivity of the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/19/spirituality-mindfulness-and-the-brain/). So spirituality and changes in neural systems co-occur. But, this does not demonstrate a causal connection, whether spirituality alters the brain or brain alteration causes spirituality, or some third factor is responsible for both.

 

A better way to demonstrate if brain activity cause spiritual experiences is to investigate what happens to spirituality when the brain changes. One place to look at this is with accidental brain injuries incurred by humans that afford an opportunity to glimpses associations between brain change and spirituality. In general people who have incurred damage to the right inferior parietal area show an increase in spirituality. So, brain alteration affects spirituality. But, increased spiritual beliefs and spiritual seeking is not the same thing as spiritual experiences. So, we cannot conclude that these changes in the brain are responsible for awakening experiences.

 

Another manipulation of the brain occurs with drugs. Indeed, various hallucinogenic drugs such as mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, etc. have been shown to produce experiences that are extremely similar to spiritual experiences. These drugs have been shown to alter the activity in specific neurochemical systems in the brain and when that happens, experiences that are very similar to spiritual awakenings are evoked. Many people who have used these drugs are altered spiritually but vast numbers of people find hallucinatory drugs as fun recreation but are not affected spiritually.

 

Spiritual seekers who have used psychedelic substances report that they experience something like but not the same as spiritual awakening experiences. The following quote from Alan Watts is illustrative.

“Psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse         which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs           are no longer necessary or useful. If you get the message, hang up the phone. For         psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones.       The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away      and works on what he has seen…”

Also a quote from Ralph Metzner

            “While psychedelic use is all about altered states, Buddhism is all about altered traits,     and one does not necessarily lead to the other.”

Hence, it appears that although there are great similarities between manipulation of brain chemistry with drugs and the experiences occurring with spiritual awakenings, they are in fact quite different.

 

So, what should we conclude regarding the clear relationship between the brain and spiritual experiences? It has been established that spirituality changes the brain and that changes in the brain are associated with spiritual experiences. Does this indicate that spirituality is nothing but a brain function? This would suggest that spirituality and spiritual experiences are nothing but physical events and don’t represent experience of true transcendence or an indication of a god. If this were true then it would suggest that there is nothing beyond the physical, that spiritual awakenings are nothing other than evoked changes in the nervous system.

 

It should be noted that reported spiritual experiences most frequently involve changes in sensory experiences. We know that sensory experiences are produced by the nervous system. So, it would be expected that if a spiritual experience occurs then there would be changes in the nervous system. As a result it is not surprising that nervous system changes would accompany spiritual experiences.

 

Neural changes may represent the effects of spiritual experiences on the physical body. After all, when we become aware of any kind of remarkable occurrence we react emotionally, physically, and thoughtfully. This would imply that the neural changes occur after the spiritual experience and not before it as a causal relationship would demand. In addition, changing the brain with drugs may simply induce the same effects as the sequela of spiritual experience and not the spiritual experiences themselves.

 

The most common report of spiritual experience is that everything is perceived as one. This oneness experience is not reported to be a change in the actual sensory information, but rather as a perception of the interconnectedness of all things such that they are seen as all a part of a singular entity, like seeing individual waves as all being part of one ocean. The more modern science studies events and their interconnections the more that the truth of oneness is revealed. The entire science of ecology has developed to study the interconnectedness among biological entities, meteorology has determined that atmospheric conditions over the entire planet are interconnected, and geology has revealed the interconnectedness of all movement of the planet’s surface and interior. Just think how interconnected everything is with sunlight. Without this energy, life could not exist and even the weather would not be changing. Everything about us and our planet is interconnected to the sun’s energy.

 

So, perhaps the oneness revealed in spiritual experiences may actually be a more accurate glimpse of the truth of existence. Perhaps, the changes observed in the brain may simply be the effect of this revelation rather than the cause. At this point we cannot reach a clear conclusion as to whether spiritual experiences are material and physical or true revelation of a non-physical reality. But the research is exciting and will continue to explore these ultimate questions regarding existence.

 

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

Making the Ego Go Away is a Mystical Experience

 

psychodelics-ego-dissolution2-nour

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.
1.
 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:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1358413174182605/?type=3&theater

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

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906025/

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+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

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. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00269

 

Abstract

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.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906025/