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A Magic Mushroom Study Seeks Spiritual Leaders

By Valerie Tejeda 03/08/16

A Johns Hopkins study is looking for 24 spiritual leaders who are willing to trip on psychedelic mushrooms in the name of science. 

A Magic Mushroom Study Seeks Spiritual Leaders
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Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are looking for religious leaders willing to take drugs for science. Yes, drugs.

If the idea of rabbis, priests, and monks getting high for a study makes you scratch your head, you’re not alone. But the scientists are looking to reveal insights into the nature of spirituality and are hoping the hallucinogen psilocybin—a psychedelic compound found in more than 200 types of mushrooms—will do the trick. 

"The question for us is: What are these experiences like for people in the clergy who have taken, in some cases, religious vows, and whose professions are focused on supporting others in their own spiritual quest?" said Roland Griffiths, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the study's lead author.

Griffiths has studied psilocybin in the past, and in addition to finding that it can help with anxiety and depression, he has discovered that when administered in a controlled setting, the user experiences something spiritually significant and deeply meaningful. And on top of that, these experiences last long after the drug is out of the participant’s system. “There's often a sense of love, open-heartedness and sometimes a collapse or a transcendence of time and space," said Griffiths. "They're very hard to put into words." 

But what the team is aiming to achieve with this study is to observe how these mystical experiences have an impact on clergy compared to those who aren’t “men of the cloth.” The scientists are also interested in seeing if the beliefs of the spiritual leaders will tie into what they see on their “trip.” Meaning, will they have visions of Jesus, Buddha, Moses, etc. 

"What we do know is that these experiences are biologically normal and that most people under these conditions will have experiences that are profoundly moving and sacred," Griffiths explained. "And so it may be that the interpretive frame that people put on is just that, an interpretive frame, and the underlying experience is the same across these traditions."

The researchers are crossing their fingers to find 24 religious leaders from a variety of different faiths, and naturally, all the identities of those participating will be kept confidential. The identities of the 24 people selected will remain anonymous to protect the participants who may be cautious about disclosing their scientific drug use to their parishioners. 

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Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including but not limited to: VanityFair, MTV, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, She Knows, Latina, The Fix,, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Valerie on Linkedin and Twitter.

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