Psychedelics (Entheogens) and Spirituality
People have used psychedelics to commune with the divine and create bonds among the living and the dead, the spiritual and the natural worlds for centuries and possibly millennia. Pre-Incan civilizations consumed the San Pedro cactus, which contains mescaline; Vedic and Zoroastrian traditions consumed soma, which some scholars believe may have been based on mushrooms containing psychoactive ingredients; Bantu diviners use psychedelic herbs called ubulawu during healing ceremonies; and early Christians may have consumed sacramental wine laced with a psychoactive ingredient.
As scientists increasingly explore the potential benefits of psychedelics, the spiritual aspect of these substances remains central. Some contemporary religions incorporate them as a sacrament, and many psychedelic users report having deeply spiritual and mystical experiences outside of a structured religious context. Here’s some background on the role of entheogens in both organized religious traditions and individual religious practices.
Church of Holy Light of Queen v. Mukasey, U.S. District Court, Oregon, 2009
Classic Hallucinogens and Mystical Experiences: Phenomenology and Neural Correlates, Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience, 2018
Effective connectivity changes in LSD-induced altered states of consciousness in humans, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018
The Historical Origins of Santo Daime: Academics, Adepts, and Ideology, The Internationalization of Ayahuasca, 2011
Mystical Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin Lead to Increases in the Personality Domain of Openness, Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2011
Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later, Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2008
Peyote Crisis Confronting Modern Indigenous Peoples: The Declining Peyote Population and a Demand for Conservation, American Indian Law Journal, 2020
Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study, Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2015
Psychedelics and Consciousness: Distinctions, Demarcations, and Opportunities, International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2021
Recollections of the Good Friday Experiment: An Interview with Huston Smith, The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1997
Religious Matrices of the União do Vegetal, Fieldwork in Religion, 2006