Psilocybin Doesn’t Alter Belief or Disbelief in God, Study Suggests

High Times
Thu, May 16

The effects of psilocybin probably won’t convert an atheist to a believer in God, or vice-versa, a new study suggests. Psilocybin was linked, however, to changes in mind perception—notably the higher attribution of consciousness to living and nonliving things.

The study, “Psychedelic Experiences Increase Mind Perception but do not Change Atheist-Believer Status: A Prospective Longitudinal Study,” published May 7 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University uncovered insights into psilocybin’s power to alter our mind perception, but it probably doesn’t convert atheists, Filter Magazine reports. The study was conducted by Sandeep M. Nayak, Sydney H. White, Samantha N. Hilbert, Matthew X. Lowe, Heather Jackson, Roland R. Griffiths, Albert Garcia-Romeu, and David B. Yaden.

Researchers asked 657 participants questions from three main categories including their Atheist–Believer status, metaphysical beliefs, and mind perception.

To determine their Atheist–Believer status, participants were asked “How would you characterize your overall religious or spiritual belief system?” Participants could select one category each: Non-believer, Agnostic, or Believer.

Among the participants, Atheist-Believer status showed “no change.” Regarding changes in metaphysical beliefs, researchers observed “little to no changes.” 

“These findings suggest that concerns that psychedelics could change metaphysical beliefs or result in ‘conversions’ across religious affiliations may be overestimated,” researchers wrote. They added that “concerns related to changes in non-naturalistic beliefs or religious affiliation may be exaggerated.”

Metaphysical beliefs include ideas of materialism, dualism, idealism and determinism. Participants were asked questions like if they agree with the statement: “Everything that has ever happened had to happen precisely as it did, given what happened before.”

Researchers did notice changes in mind perception, notably increases of “small effect size”of non-human primates, quadrupeds, insects, fungi, plants, and inanimate objects. “Of these, the largest increases were apparent for attribution of consciousness to insects.”

“As psychedelic therapies move closer to possible approval for widespread use, the ramifications of mental health interventions with the potential to substantially change a person’s belief system raises serious considerations about how and by whom they can be used appropriately,” they wrote. “For instance, the possibility that psychedelic therapies could be used by individuals or organizations seeking to convert or otherwise coerce people into adopting particular worldviews (e.g., political or religious ideologies) clearly highlights the need for extraordinary caution in their implementation.”

Our prospective survey on belief changes following psilocybin use is now published with @ExistWell @AlChemical77 @sydneywhite_00 and others. link to preprint explainer thread below

“Recent studies suggest psychedelic use may be associated with changes in a variety of beliefs or belief-like states, including increased mind perception, non-naturalistic beliefs, and Atheist-Believer status (e.g. believer, agnostic, or nonbeliever),” researchers wrote. 

“We conducted a prospective longitudinal study among participants who planned to have a psilocybin experience outside a laboratory setting,” they continued. “We asked participants about their beliefs concerning mind perception of various entities, specific metaphysical positions, and Atheist-Believer status both before (and after their experience. Replicating previous findings, we observed increases in mind perception across a variety of living and non-living targets (e.g. plants, rocks). However, we found little to no change in metaphysical beliefs (e.g. dualism) or Atheist-Believer status.” 

“Taken together, these findings contrast with those from cross-sectional studies that psilocybin experiences result in changes to Atheist-Believer status and non-naturalistic beliefs but support the relevance of mind perception and mentalization,” researchers wrote.

The profound effects of psilocybin affect how we perceive the world in many other ways and its implications in the world of therapy. An excerpt from the new book Welcome to Psilocybin offers advice on dosing for psychedelic mushrooms. Psychedelic advocate Terence McKenna professed a heroic dose of 5 dried grams of psilocybin in silent darkness for a profound effect.

According to recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, psilocybin can boost insightfulness during meditation.

The study explored, for the first time, “a dataset of functional magnetic resonance images collected during focused attention and open monitoring meditation before and after a five-day psilocybin-assisted meditation retreat using a recently established approach, based on the Mapper algorithm from topological data analysis,” the researchers wrote in the abstract.

Other studies attempt to unlock our understanding of how psilocybin alters our psychological flexibility.

A recent pilot study published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies has found preliminary evidence that psilocybin, when administered in a group retreat setting, can enhance psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means being present in the moment and having the ability to respond to stimuli in ways that serve your values. This is one of the mechanisms psilocybin is being explored for in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and other disorders.

The study, “A pilot study of the effect of group-administered psilocybin on psychological flexibility and outcomes,” was conducted by Brian Pilecki, Jason Luoma, and Kati M. Lear.

The new findings regarding beliefs in God shed new light on the mysterious compound.