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Research Summary:
Psilocybin & Mystical Experience
14-Month Follow-up
by Erowid
Nov 2008
See also: Practical Data from Psilocybin Research: on Dose, Mystical Experience, and Personality

In July 2008 the Journal of Psychopharmacology published results of the 14-month follow-up evaluation of 36 volunteers who took part in a 2006 psilocybin study conducted at Johns Hopkins University. The study was designed to determine whether psilocybin experiences—provided via a double-blind experiment to drug-nave, mentally healthy adults who had an ongoing spiritual practice—resembled spontaneous mystical experiences.

"These appear to be life-altering experiences that have much in common with classical mystical experiences described throughout the ages. The persistence and salience of the effects didn't diminish by 14 months, and that is noteworthy. It's one thing to have a meaningful experience, but 14 months later, you might be hard-pressed to remember it. But in this case, you have an eight-hour session in a lab, and 14 months later you have 60 percent of them saying it's among the five most personally meaningful experiences of their lives."
— Dr. Roland Griffiths 1
Follow-up testing measured the persistence of the sessions' effects related to mysticism, spirituality, and personality. The main finding of this follow-up study was that the remarkable gains in several domains were robust and were still reported or measured more than a year after the original experience. At the 14-month follow-up, a large proportion of volunteers still seem to have received substantial benefits from participating in the study.

Fifty-six percent of volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as being among the five most personally meaningful experiences of their lives, 67% rated it as one of the five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives, and 64% indicated that the experience increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction moderately or very much. Of the 22 subjects who were originally scored as having a "complete mystical experience" during their session, 21 continued to fulfill the criteria. A significant correlation was found between whether or not a mystical experience was scored during the psilocybin sessions and the high or low ratings of personal meaning and spiritual significance during the follow-up. The follow-up study represents an important extension of the original findings from 2006.

Study Participant Comments

Two of the study participants have now spoken to the media about their experiences in the study. Dede Osborn, 66, participated in the study in the aftermath of a divorce and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She describes her psilocybin session beginning with a feeling of taking off, followed by "brilliant colors and beautiful patterns, just stunningly gorgeous, more intense than normal reality."2 During the session she experienced both euphoria and difficult sensations:
I felt like my heart was being torn open ... Once I got by the sensory titillation, the colors and the sounds - the pain was a very strong physical pain, but it was nothing I was afraid of. It was a combination of sweet and painful. There is so much joy in being alive and there is so much pain in being alive. We usually don't feel it because we are so armored."2
Osborn reports lasting positive effects from the experiment, saying "I became more aware of when I was afraid or when my heart would become closed up," she said. "I began asking myself what I would do if I wasn't afraid. When I felt myself tensing up, I would breathe a little deeper."2 She also stated "I feel more centered in who I am and what I'm doing. I don't seem to have those self-doubts like I used to have. I feel much more grounded [and feel that] we are all connected."3

Sandy Lundhal, 55, became interested in the research after learning of it from an acquaintance who was involved with the study. The Baltimore Sun reports:
"At first I saw these figures that looked like little harlequins opening a curtain, trying to show me all these colorful things," she said, "but they weren't really important." As the effects of the drug became stronger, she said, she wrestled with emotions rooted in her personal relationships and sadness about her father's death. "I had no idea what I had been repressing with regards to my father's death," she said. "I had to process the truth about it."2
The 14-month follow-up report includes several anonymous comments by study participants. Like Osborn and Lundhal, some of the quotes suggest a crisis that gave way to deep and lasting insight. One subject recounts "The experience of death, which initially was very uncomfortable, followed by absolute peace and being in the presence of God. It was so awesome to be with God that words can't describe the experience."4 Another says, "I remember feeling a profound sense of loss of [my family]... I remember after I resolved my fears, the shift then went to joy."4

Other subjects describe experiences of a spiritual character:
"A non-self self held/suspended in an almost tactile field of light."

"The utter joy and freedom of letting go -- without anxiety -- without direction --beyond ego self"

"The experience expanded my conscious awareness permanently. It allows me to let go of negative ideas faster. I accept 'what is' easier."

"My conversation with God (golden streams of light) assuring me that everything on this plane is perfect; but I do not have the physical body/mind to fully understand."4

Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Nov, 2008 - Summary published in Erowid Extracts
  • v1.1 - Jul 6, 2009 - News coverage, study participant comments and related references added