Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pharmaceutical Spirituality

Psilocybin, the active ingredient of "magic mushrooms," expands the mind. After a thousand years of use, that's now scientifically official.

The chemical promoted a mystical experience in two-thirds of people who took it for the first time, according to a new study. One-third rated a session with psilocybin as the "single most spiritually significant" experience of their lives. Another third put it in the top five.

The single most spiritually significant experience of their lives? That may be the saddest thing I’ve ever read in my life. These are supposed to be “spiritually aware” people who participated in the study – see below. What about your baptism? I would think that every participation in the Eucharist would contain infinitely more “spiritually significance” than slurping up a hunk of magic mushroom. In each communion, we really do participate in the divine Life of God, no matter whether we feel mystical union or just feel like we have the flu. If there were ever a perfect example of how we’ve elevated of personal experience over objective reality, this would have to be it. It’s okay to do as you please, as long as it feels right to you. I can’t help suspecting that hell will be busting at the seams with very nice people who felt comfortable with their spirituality.

The study, published today in the journal Psychopharmacology, is the first randomized, controlled trial of a substance used for centuries by natives of Mexico and Central America to produce mystical insights. It is also nearly the first research on a psychedelic drug in human subjects in this country since the 1960s. It confirms what both shamans and hippies have long said: Taking psilocybin is a scary, reality-bending and occasionally life-changing experience.

[…] The study, which involved 36 middle-aged adults from the Baltimore-Washington area, was conducted over five years. The subjects were chosen from 135 people who answered newspaper ads. All said they were members of a religious organization, practiced meditation or took part in other spiritual activity.

Of the 36 people, 22 had a "complete" mystical experience as judged by several question-based scales used for rating such experiences. Many reported feelings of joy and peace, and a sense of transcending time and space. Two-thirds judged it to be among their top-five life experiences, equal to the birth of a first child or death of a parent.

Only in modern America could one write a sentence like that. The intensity of the experience has far more significance than the actual nature of the event itself. It’s not just the Culture of Death; it’s the Therapeutic Culture of Death.

[…] "I think these drugs are potentially very dangerous," he said. "I would be very disappointed if in any sense these results were used to encourage recreational use of these compounds."

And that danger involves a great deal more than just an overnight trip to the ER.

Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2Th 2:11-12, RSV) - one of the scarier verses in scripture.

(You can read the whole article at The Seattle Times.)