How Psychedelics and Other Drugs Are Used in Religious Rituals

By Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States (magic mushroomsUploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States (magic mushroomsUploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Psilocybin has been shown To alleviate depression.

Mushrooms and hallucinogenic drugs are about to make a comeback onto the global stage, after two reputable studies at New York University (NYU) and Johns Hopkins University revealed that psychedelics such as psilocybin can reduce anxiety and depression in cancer patients. These psychedelics were also noted to produce spiritual experiences in the people taking them.

How Psychedelics and Other Drugs Are Used in Religious Rituals[/tweetthis]

It is estimated that about 40-50 percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients battle with depression and anxiety. These two emotions are so pronounced that ordinary treatment for depression using antidepressants has no effect on the wellbeing of such patients. There are many who consider ending their lives before the cancer kicks in and does its terrible work.

It is in these cancer patients that the two studies were conducted to see the effect of psychedelics such as psilocybin. At NYU, 29 patients were involved while Johns Hopkins 51 patients were involved in the study whose results were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, accompanied by at least ten commentaries from leading scientists in palliative care and psychiatry. It was found that a single dose of the psychedelics medication was effective in immediately reducing depression and anxiety caused by cancer, and maintaining this effect for up to eight months.

80 percent of the patients in the two studies reported that the single dose of medication had moderately or improved their overall wellbeing and satisfaction. Professor Roland Griffiths led the study at Johns Hopkins. He remarked, “I am bred as a skeptic. I was skeptical at the outset that this drug could produce long-lasting changes. In spite of their unique vulnerability and the mood disruption that the illness and contemplation of their death has prompted, these participants have the same kind of experiences, that are deeply meaningful, spiritually significant and producing enduring positive changes in life and mood and behavior.”

Some people in the field of neuroscience and psychiatry have termed the experiences reported by the study participants as ‘mystical.’ Griffiths noted, “It sounds unscientific. It sounds like we’re postulating mechanisms other than neuroscience and I’m certainly not making that claim.”

In describing the spiritual experience of the patients in the study, he stated, “They are defined by a sense of oneness – people feel that their separation between the personal ego and the outside world is sort of dissolved and they feel that they are part of some continuous energy or consciousness in the universe. Patients can feel sort of transported to a different dimension of reality, sort of like a waking dream.”

There are many religions that have used mind altering substances as a form of worship and as a way of deepening their spiritual connection to their deity. Some of these practices have been well documented throughout history. Perhaps the most prominent example of this would be the Rastafarians, a group that is heavily concentrated in Jamaica and in U.S. immigrants from the country. Rastafarianism is the offspring of Marcus Garvey’s movement, who taught that Jamaicans were the true Israelites in exile. Rastafarians smoke ’ganja’ as a form of worship, though they prohibit the consumption of alcohol and coffee.

Ancient Mexicans used peyote and psychedelic mushrooms when worshipping to enhance their spiritual experience. South Pacific islanders are prolific users of Kava, a mind altering substance known scientifically as piper methysticum. Hindu devotees of the goddess Kali also used mind altering substances in their worship. Assassins in Arabia were potent users of hashish, a form of marijuana. The word assassin is derived from the group’s use of hashish, a mind altering substance.

The Bible is not clear on the use of mind altering substances, though religious critics note that that the emphasis placed on God cherishing mental clarity and physical wellbeing is a definitive answer to the question on the use of these substances in worship.


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