Shrooming For Science: Johns Hopkins Scientists Study Effects Of Psychedelic Mushrooms On Religious Leaders

Most people associate the use of psychedelic mushrooms with hippies at music festivals. What many may not realize is that psychedelic mushrooms, which contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin, have long been used as a conduit for spiritual exploration. According to Vice, the late psychedelic researcher, Terence McKenna, advanced the theory in his book, Food of the Gods, that psilocybin mushrooms played a central role in the evolution of the human brain.

“Our language-forming ability,” McKenna wrote, “may have become active through the mutagenic influence of hallucinogens working directly on organelles that are concerned with the processing and generation of signals.”

There is plenty of evidence that humans throughout recorded history have used psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic plants as spiritual aids. Algerian frescoes dated to 3500 B.C.E. depict shamans dancing with mushrooms in their hands. The Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece involved the use of psilocybin mushrooms and rye infected with ergot fungus to produce hallucinations and mystical experiences in participants. Psilocybin mushrooms are believed to have been served at the coronation feast of Aztec ruler Moctezuma II around the year 1500 C.E.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland are now conducting a study on the effects of high doses of psilocybin on religious leaders from multiple faiths. According to the Guardian, the participants of the psychedelic study include Rabbis, a Zen Buddhist, and Catholic, Orthodox, and Presbyterian priests. They are still looking for a Muslim Imam and a Hindu leader to expand the study to as many faiths as possible.

Johns Hopkins researchers are studying the effects of psychedelic mushrooms on a Zen Buddhist and other religious leaders. [Image by Gorbash Varvara/Shutterstock]

The method employed in the study involves giving participants a high dose of psilocybin on two occasions, with a month between sessions, and having them lie on a couch wearing eyeshades and listening to religious music, with instructions to just lie there and allow their minds to wander.

“Their instruction is to go within and collect experiences,” said Dr. William Richards, a Johns Hopkins psychologist involved in the study. “So far everyone incredibly values their experience. No one has been confused or upset or regrets doing it.”

A year after the second session, researchers will again interview the participants to analyze and determine changes in their beliefs that could have resulted from the psychedelic sessions.

“It is too early to talk about results,” Richards said. “But generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage. The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way. They discover they really believe this stuff they’re talking about.”

The use of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic drugs has been vilified in society due to their connection to the counterculture. Increasingly, the scientific community is eschewing these notions and focusing on ways these maligned substances can benefit humankind. Studies such as this one at Johns Hopkins, along with a recent study on the benefits of MDMA as a treatment for alcoholism, reported by the Inquisitr, are helping to change public perceptions about these mind-altering substances.

science psychedelic muushrooms
Dried psychedelic mushrooms containing the powerful hallucinogen psilocybin. [Image by Atomazul/Shutterstock]

Dr. Richards, who has been researching psychedelics since the 1960’s, hopes his efforts contribute to such changes in public perception of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic substances.

“My wild fantasy is that, probably sometime after I’m long dead, these drugs are used in seminary training, rabbinical training,” Richards said. “Why shouldn’t the opportunity be there to explore deeply spiritual states of consciousness in a legal way?”

At the very least, the scientific study of mushrooms and other psychedelics can have an impact on our understanding of what these drugs are and how they work on the human mind. As an area of scientific inquiry, we still know relatively little in that regard.

[Featured Image by Kichigin/Shutterstock]