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
Roland R. Griffiths, Matthew W. Johnson, William A. Richards, Brian D. Richards3, Robert Jesse, Katherine A. MacLean, Frederick S. Barrett, Mary P. Cosimano and Maggie A. Klinedinst
Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2018, 32, 1, 49-69.
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.
Trial Registration : ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier NCT00802282
Keywords : Psilocybin, psychedelic, entheogen, meditation, mystical experience,
Quantum change experiences refer to sudden, distinctive, benevolent, and often profoundly meaningful experiences that are said to result in personal transformations that affect a broad range of personal emotions, cognitions and behaviors (Miller, 2004; Miller and C’de Baca, 2001). The phenomenon of quantum change is differentiated from the usual process of behavioral change, which occurs in small incremental steps (James, 1902). Such experiences, which have been described in anecdotal reports dating back centuries, have been variously labeled as mystical experiences, conversion experiences, religious experiences, peak experiences, transcendental experiences, transforming moments, or epiphanies (e.g. James, 1902; Maslow, 1968; Miller and C’de Baca, 2001; Stace, 1960). Although numerous cases of such quantum change experiences have been described, they have generally not been examined in prospective experimental studies because such experiences occur at low rates and usually
unpredictably (Paloutzian and Park, 2013).
Administration of psilocybin, a classic psychedelic, provides a model for experimental investigation of quantum change experiences. Controlled, double-blind clinical trials in healthy volunteers show that under supportive conditions psilocybin can reliably occasion deeply personally meaningful and often spiritually significant experiences (e.g. mystical-type experiences) (Griffiths et al., 2006, 2011; Pahnke, 1963) having many characteristics similar to those described for quantum change experiences (Miller and C’de Baca, 2001). Such psilocybin effects are dose dependent (Griffiths et al., 2011) and have been demonstrated under conditions that provide substantial controls for expectancy bias (Griffiths et al., 2006, 2016). Although participants often attribute enduring positive changes in well-being and worldview to such experiences, there is little evidence from studies in healthy volunteers that psilocybin produces enduring changes on well-validated trait measures of disposition or personality (Darling et al., 2004; Doblin, 1991; Griffiths et al., 2008; 2011; Leary et al., 1963; Pahnke, 1963; Studerus et al., 2011). For example, a previous study in 36 participants who received a high dose of psilocybin showed enduring positive changes in moods, attitudes, and behavior attributed to the psilocybin experience, but no significant changes from screening to 14-month follow-up on various measures of personality, quality of life, faith maturity, and spiritual well-being (Griffiths et al., 2008). A later post-hoc analysis which combined data from that study with data from a similar subsequent study with 18 participants (Griffiths et al., 2011) showed that psilocybin-occasioned mystical- type experiences were associated with increases in the personality trait of openness (MacLean et al., 2011).
Although an older literature on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in psychiatric patient populations suggests that administration of psilocybin in a psychotherapeutic context may produce enduring decreases in psychopathology and increases in positive worldview and dispositional characteristics, methodological limitations render those reports inconclusive (Passie, 2004, 2007). However, recent placebo-controlled trials in psychologically distressed cancer patients showed that psilocybin produced decreases in anxiety and depression and increases in quality of life that persisted for at least a month and possibly 6 months or more (Griffiths et al., 2016; Grob et al., 2011; Ross et al., 2016).
The present study in healthy participants sought to extend understanding of possible enduring effects of quantum change experiences generally and psilocybin-occasioned experiences specifically by manipulating psilocybin dose and the intensity with which participants were encouraged to engage in meditation and other spiritual practices. Acute psilocybin effects, retrospective attributions to the experience, and enduring changes in prosocial attitudes and behaviors, and psychological functioning were assessed. More specifically, the present study used an across-group design to compare these outcomes in three groups of 25 healthy participants: (1) low-dose (active placebo) psilocybin with moderate-level (“standard”) support for spiritual practice; (2) high-dose psilocybin with standard support; and (3) high-dose psilocybin with high support.