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Mystical experiences

Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences

Abstract

Objective: Research into psychedelic therapy models has shown promise for the treatment of specific psychiatric conditions. Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin have been correlated with therapeutic benefits and long-term improvements in positive mental outlook and attitudes. This article aims to provide an overview of the topic, highlight strengths and weaknesses in current research, generate novel perspectives and discussion, and consider future avenues for research.

Design: This narrative review was designed to summarise and assess the state of research on psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences and applications for the treatment of specific psychiatric conditions.

Results: Contemporary methods on the quantification of mystical-type experiences and their acute subjective effects are discussed. Recent studies provide some understanding of the pharmacological actions of psychedelics although the neurological similarities and differences between spontaneous and psychedelic mystical-type experiences are not well described. Applicability to modern clinical settings is assessed. Potential novel therapeutic applications include use in positive psychology interventions in healthy individuals.

Conclusions: Since 2006 significant advancements in understanding the therapeutic potential of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy have been made; however, more work is required to understand the neuromechanistic processes and applicability in modern clinical settings. Despite promising results in recent studies, funding issues for clinical trials, legal concerns and socio-cultural resistance provide a counterpoint to experimental evidence.

James, E., Robertshaw, T. L., Hoskins, M., & Sessa, B. (2020). Psilocybin occasioned mystical‐type experiences. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental35(5), e2742; 10.1002/hup.2742
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Mystical Experiences in Retrospective Reports of First Times Using a Psychedelic in Finland

Abstract

Despite their acutely inebriating and sometimes unpleasant effects, some people report positive changes in life satisfaction, well-being, or mental health after taking psychedelic drugs. One explanation may be the ability of psychedelics to trigger mystical-type experiences. We examined the validity, reliability, and factor structure of a novel Finnish translation of the Revised Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ30) among 288 people retrospectively reporting on their first time using a psychedelic. We found evidence for internal consistency reliability and preliminary evidence for criterion and discriminant validity of the Finnish MEQ30. A four-factor structure with factors for mystical qualities, positive mood, transcendence, and ineffability had the best, fair to reasonable fit to the data. MEQ30 scores and having a full mystical experience were highly associated with describing the experience as mystical, spiritual, or religious, and as personally significant, and somewhat associated with the experience being sad or difficult. Mystical experiences were especially associated with positive changes in relationships with nature and oneself and in creativity. Mystical experiences were more common with larger doses. Increasing research suggests mystical-type experiences to relate to positive changes after taking psychedelics. The Finnish MEQ30 is able to tap into relevant information about this aspect of people’s psychedelic experiences.
Kangaslampi, S., Hausen, A., & Rauteenmaa, T. (2020). Mystical Experiences in Retrospective Reports of First Times Using a Psychedelic in Finland. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2020.1767321
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Subjective features of the psilocybin experience that may account for its self-administration by humans: a double-blind comparison of psilocybin and dextromethorphan

Abstract

Rationale

Although both psilocybin and dextromethorphan (DXM) produce psychedelic-like subjective effects, rates of non-medical use of psilocybin are consistently greater than DXM.

Objective

New data are presented from a study of psilocybin and DXM relevant to understanding the features of psilocybin subjective effects that may account for its higher rates of non-medical use.

Methods

Single, acute oral doses of psilocybin (10, 20, 30 mg/70 kg), DXM (400 mg/70 kg), and placebo were administered under double-blind conditions to 20 healthy participants with histories of hallucinogen use.

Results

High doses of both drugs produced similar time courses and increases in participant ratings of peak overall drug effect strength. Nine subjective effect domains are proposed to be related to the reinforcing effects of psilocybin: liking, visual effects, positive mood, insight, positive social effects, increased awareness of beauty (both visual and music), awe/amazement, meaningfulness, and mystical experience. For most ratings, (1) psilocybin and DXM both produced effects significantly greater than placebo; (2) psilocybin showed dose-related increases; 3, DXM was never significantly higher than psilocybin; (4) the two highest psilocybin doses were significantly greater than DXM. These differences were consistent with two measures of desire to take the drug condition again.

Conclusions

This analysis provides new information about domains of psilocybin subjective effects proposed to be related to its reinforcing effects (alternatively described as the “motivation” to use). Observed differences on these domains between psilocybin and DXM are consistent with the relative rates of non-medical use of psilocybin and DXM.

Carbonaro, T. M., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2020). Subjective features of the psilocybin experience that may account for its self-administration by humans: a double-blind comparison of psilocybin and dextromethorphan. Psychopharmacology, 1-12., https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05533-9
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Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs: A systematic review

Abstract

Research into the basic effects and therapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs has grown considerably in recent years. Yet, pressing questions remain regarding the substances’ lasting effects. Although individual studies have begun monitoring sustained changes, no study to-date has synthesized this information. Therefore, this systematic review aims to fill this important gap in the literature by synthesizing results from 34 contemporary experimental studies which included classic psychedelics, human subjects, and follow-up latencies of at least two weeks. The bulk of this work was published in the last five years, with psilocybin being the most frequently administered drug. Enduring changes in personality/attitudes, depression, spirituality, anxiety, wellbeing, substance misuse, meditative practices, and mindfulness were documented. Mystical experiences, connectedness, emotional breakthrough, and increased neural entropy were related to these long-term changes in psychological functioning. Finally, with proper screening, preparation, supervision, and integration, limited aversive side effects were noted by study participants. Future researchers should focus on including larger and more diverse samples, lengthier longitudinal designs, stronger control conditions, and standardized dosages.

Aday, J. S., Mitzkovitz, C. M., Bloesch, E. K., Davoli, C. C., & Davis, A. K. (2020). Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs: A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews., 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.03.017
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Use of Benefit Enhancement Strategies among 5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) Users: Associations with Mystical, Challenging, and Enduring Effects.

Abstract

5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) is a potent, fast-acting psychedelic. Anecdotal reports from 5-MeO-DMT users suggest that they employ a variety of benefit enhancement (BE) strategies aimed to increase positive effects and decrease any potential challenging effects of the substance, but no empirical study has investigated this claim. We examined the prevalence of BE strategy use using secondary data from a survey of 5-MeO-DMT users (n = 515; Mage = 35.4, SD = 11.7; Male = 79%; White/Caucasian = 86%). Results indicated that BE strategy use was common in this sample. As a secondary aim, we assessed whether the use of BE strategies was associated with acute subjective (i.e., mystical-type, challenging) and persisting effects of 5-MeO-DMT among a subset of respondents who reported using 5-MeO-DMT once in their lifetime (n = 116). Results showed that the use of several BE strategies were associated with significantly more intense mystical-type effects and enduring beliefs about the personal meaning and spiritual significance of their experience, and some BE strategies were associated with less intense or challenging experiences. Data suggests that BE strategies are commonly used, and that the use of BE strategies may be associated with increases in positive mystical-type and enduring effects. The causal influence of BE strategies on acute/persisting effects of 5-MeO-DMT should be examined in longitudinal research.

Lancelotta, R. L., & Davis, A. K. (2020). Use of benefit enhancement strategies among 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) users: Associations with mystical, challenging, and enduring effects. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 1-9.,10.1080/02791072.2020.1737763
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Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences

Abstract

Historical research about the use of psychedelics in specific religious contexts can provide rational explanations for visionary experiences that could otherwise be cause to question the mental health of religious actors. Reversely, if historians ignore or overlook empirical evidence for the use of psychedelics, the result can be that normal and even predictable reactions of healthy subjects to the effects of psychedelic substances are arbitrarily interpreted as ‘irrational’.

AIM: To describe the meaning of the psychedelic factor in historical visionary experiences.

METHOD: Discussion based on three examples of selective use of historical sources on psychedelics.

RESULTS: This theme is of broader relevance to cultural history and scientific theory because we are typically dealing with religious practices that have traditionally been categorized as ‘magic’ and thereby classified in advance as irrational and potentially pathological. The article discusses three historical examples: the so-called Mithras Liturgy from Roman Egypt, early modern witches’ ointments, and spiritual use of hashish in the nineteenth century.

CONCLUSION: Established academics often deny the significance of psychedelics in visionary experiences. Discussion of pre-Enlightenment source material appears to be of considerable importance for the correct interpretation of important religious and cultural traditions. Critical empirical source research without prejudices or implicit agendas is the appropriate method.

Hanegraaff, W. J. (2020). Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences. Tijdschrift Voor Psychiatrie62(8), 713-720.
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Distinct acute effects of LSD, MDMA, and D-amphetamine in healthy subjects.

Abstract

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a classic psychedelic, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is an empathogen, and D-amphetamine is a classic stimulant. All three substances are used recreationally. LSD and MDMA are being investigated as medications to assist psychotherapy, and D-amphetamine is used for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. All three substances induce distinct acute subjective effects. However, differences in acute responses to these prototypical psychoactive substances have not been characterized in a controlled study. We investigated the acute autonomic, subjective, and endocrine effects of single doses of LSD (0.1 mg), MDMA (125 mg), D-amphetamine (40 mg), and placebo in a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study in 28 healthy subjects. All of the substances produced comparable increases in hemodynamic effects, body temperature, and pupil size, indicating equivalent autonomic responses at the doses used. LSD and MDMA increased heart rate more than D-amphetamine, and D-amphetamine increased blood pressure more than LSD and MDMA. LSD induced significantly higher ratings on the 5 Dimensions of Altered States of Consciousness scale and Mystical Experience Questionnaire than MDMA and D-amphetamine. LSD also produced greater subjective drug effects, ego dissolution, introversion, emotional excitation, anxiety, and inactivity than MDMA and D-amphetamine. LSD also induced greater impairments in subjective ratings of concentration, sense of time, and speed of thinking compared with MDMA and D-amphetamine. MDMA produced greater ratings of good drug effects, liking, high, and ego dissolution compared with D-amphetamine. D-Amphetamine increased ratings of activity and concentration compared with LSD. MDMA but not LSD or D-amphetamine increased plasma concentrations of oxytocin. None of the substances altered plasma concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. These results indicate clearly distinct acute effects of LSD, MDMA, and D-amphetamine and may assist the dose-finding in substance-assisted psychotherapy research.
Holze, F., Vizeli, P., Müller, F., Ley, L., Duerig, R., Varghese, N., … & Liechti, M. E. (2019). Distinct acute effects of LSD, MDMA, and d-amphetamine in healthy subjects. Neuropsychopharmacology, 1-11., https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-019-0569-3
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Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects

Abstract

Both psychedelics and meditation exert profound modulatory effects on consciousness, perception and cognition, but their combined, possibly synergistic effects on neurobiology are unknown. Accordingly, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 38 participants following a single administration of the psychedelic psilocybin (315 μg/kg p.o.) during a 5-day mindfulness retreat. Brain dynamics were quantified directly pre- and post-intervention by functional magnetic resonance imaging during the resting state and two meditation forms. The analysis of functional connectivity identified psilocybin-related and mental state–dependent alterations in self-referential processing regions of the default mode network (DMN). Notably, decoupling of medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, which is thought to mediate sense of self, was associated with the subjective ego dissolution effect during the psilocybin-assisted mindfulness session. The extent of ego dissolution and brain connectivity predicted positive changes in psycho-social functioning of participants 4 months later. Psilocybin, combined with meditation, facilitated neurodynamic modulations in self-referential networks, subserving the process of meditation by acting along the anterior–posterior DMN connection. The study highlights the link between altered self-experience and subsequent behavioral changes. Understanding how interventions facilitate transformative experiences may open novel therapeutic perspectives. Insights into the biology of discrete mental states foster our understanding of non-ordinary forms of human self-consciousness and their concomitant brain substrate.

Smigielski, L., Scheidegger, M., Kometer, M., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2019). Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects. NeuroImage196, 207-215., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.04.009
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Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory

Abstract

Background: Psychedelic therapy is gaining recognition and the nature of the psychedelic experience itself has been found to mediate subsequent long-term psychological changes. Much emphasis has been placed on the occurrence of mystical-type experiences in determining long-term responses to psychedelics yet here we demonstrate the importance of another component, namely: emotional breakthrough.
Methods: Three hundred and seventy-nine participants completed online surveys before and after a planned psychedelic experience. Items pertaining to emotional breakthrough were completed one day after the psychedelic experience, as were items comprising the already validated Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores were used to predict changes in well-being (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) in a subsample of 75 participants with low well-being baseline scores (⩽45).
Results: Factor analyses revealed six emotional breakthrough items with high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha=0.932) and supported our prior hypothesis that emotional breakthrough is a distinct component of the psychedelic experience. Emotional breakthrough scores behaved dose-dependently, and were higher if the psychedelic was taken with therapeutic planning and intent. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores combined, significantly predicted subsequent changes in well-being (r=0.45, p=0.0005, n=75), with each scale contributing significant predictive value. Emotional breakthrough and Mystical Experience Questionnaire scores predicted increases in well-being and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores predicted less increases.
Conclusions: Here we validate a six-item ‘Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’. Emotional breakthrough is an important and distinct component of the acute psychedelic experience that appears to be a key mediator of subsequent longer-term psychological changes. Implications for psychedelic therapy are discussed.

Keywords: Psychedelics; catharsis; emotion; therapy.
Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Idialu-Ikato, K., Kaelen, M., Watts, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: validation of the emotional breakthrough inventory. Journal of Psychopharmacology33(9), 1076-1087., https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881119855974
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Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Psychedelic therapy is gaining recognition and the nature of the psychedelic experience itself has been found to mediate subsequent long-term psychological changes. Much emphasis has been placed on the occurrence of mystical-type experiences in determining long-term responses to psychedelics yet here we demonstrate the importance of another component, namely: emotional breakthrough.
METHODS:
Three hundred and seventy-nine participants completed online surveys before and after a planned psychedelic experience. Items pertaining to emotional breakthrough were completed one day after the psychedelic experience, as were items comprising the already validated Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores were used to predict changes in well-being (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) in a subsample of 75 participants with low well-being baseline scores (⩽45).
RESULTS:
Factor analyses revealed six emotional breakthrough items with high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha=0.932) and supported our prior hypothesis that emotional breakthrough is a distinct component of the psychedelic experience. Emotional breakthrough scores behaved dose-dependently, and were higher if the psychedelic was taken with therapeutic planning and intent. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores combined, significantly predicted subsequent changes in well-being (r=0.45, p=0.0005, n=75), with each scale contributing significant predictive value. Emotional breakthrough and Mystical Experience Questionnaire scores predicted increases in well-being and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores predicted less increases.
CONCLUSIONS:
Here we validate a six-item ‘Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’. Emotional breakthrough is an important and distinct component of the acute psychedelic experience that appears to be a key mediator of subsequent longer-term psychological changes. Implications for psychedelic therapy are discussed.
Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Idialu-Ikato, K., Kaelen, M., Watts, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881119855974., https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0269881119855974
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