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Psilocybin, Hallucinations, and the Spiritual Enlightenment

egleichman's picture

 Eve Gleichman

22 February, 2010

Neurobiology 202: Web Paper 1

Paul Grobstein 



Psilocybin, Hallucinations, and the Spiritual Enlightenment




Classroom discussions have driven our dialogue, naturally, to the intricacies and evolution of thought surrounding the human nervous system – it’s structure and function, and the implications of inputs influencing outputs, outputs influencing inputs, and the nervous system as a cyclical unit; a loop generating both inputs and outputs.  Interesting, then, are instances in which one perceives a stimulus that does not exist outside the brain and are instead imagined, generated by the brain – hallucinated. What I hope to do here is look at hallucinations as a breakdown of our internal-external stimulus awareness, and call upon studies of drug-induced hallucinations and, particularly, those psychoactive drugs as entheogens, and report on the findings of an experiment that left subjects of a test using psilocybin feeling spiritually enlightened and, overall – to put it simply – happier people.  I then want to compare these findings to the symptoms experienced by patients with acute schizophrenia who experience, in their first stages of the disorder, hallucinations of a similar nature.

Hallucinations, are, of course, not only a reaction to psychoactive drugs or a symptom of schizophrenia. A number of diseases and brain deficits (e.g. Parkinson’s, focal epilepsy, sleep deprivation) often include, in symptoms, hallucinations that can occur in any sensory modality.  One who experiences hallucinations perceives stimuli without the presence of an external stimulus (and, unlike vivid dreams or nightmares, require consciousness).  Thoughts about the causes of hallucinations traveled the then-popular Freudian route into psychoanalysis; hallucinations were thought to be symptoms of the traumatized or repressed, the un-called-upon emergence of unconscious desires.  But those theories took a more biological turn with a newfound understanding of brain deficits, specifically those that might yield to hallucinations – perhaps most famously, schizophrenia. 

Like other psychoactive drugs, hallucinogenic mushrooms, or psilocybin mushrooms, have long existed as aspects of spiritual and religious ceremonies in different cultures.  Only recently, however, have psilocybin mushrooms (discovered in 1943 alongside d-lysergic acid diethylamide – LSD) returned from a 40-year hiatus of attention to be put back under the microscope as a new-age spiritual movement takes flight (Bowers 216).  Psilocybin mushrooms have been used in studies that have begun to unearth “implications for advancing our understanding of spiritual dimensions of consciousness”  (Richards 377).

A study conducted by Ronald R. Griffith at Johns Hopkins suggests that “you can safely and fairly reliably occasion a mystical experience using psilocybin that may lead to positive changes in a person” (Bower 216).  Subjects of the study – 36 middle-aged, self-described spiritual – but non-psychedelic-drug-using – men and women, ingested psilocybin under a double-blind test.  The controlled aspect of the study was the use of methylphenidate, or Ritalin, which is not known to produce “mystical” effects.  The majority of the subjects (25 of the 36) declared the experience as in the top 3 or 5 most spiritual experiences of their lives, and reported (as did friends and family) increased quality of life months, and subsequently, years, following the study (Bowler 217).  Bower reports that “feelings of extreme fear or dread” were present for 11 of the 36 participants.  A review of the study goes on to cite instances of psilocybin as a life-changing tool, moving one user of the drug to confound Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 because of the spiritual and effects of the drug. 

Interesting that both brain deficits and disorders – and let us specifically look at schizophrenia now – and the ingestion of psychoactive drugs induce similar hallucinations, and yet there appears to be evidence of a positive impact on spirituality and general temperament from the psilocybin mushrooms, but overall negative experiences for those suffering from schizophrenia.  This observation suggests that it is not the hallucinatory aspect of the psilocybin, but some other result, that induces these positive changes.  This very contrast was studied with the following major distinctions made: first, that psychoactive drugs produced mostly visual hallucinations, as opposed to the auditory hallucinations more frequently experienced by schizophrenic patients; second, that hallucinations for those under the influence of psychoactive drugs were much more often described as pleasurable, while those experienced by schizophrenic patients were more often described as unpleasant; third, that the hallucinatory symptoms of a person suffering from schizophrenia often had been developing for much longer – years longer – than those of a person using psilocybin mushrooms, which take discourse in a matter of hours; and fourth, that a person who knowingly ingests psilocybin mushrooms also is likely to knowingly accept the hallucinatory effects and the relatively speedy return to normalcy, while those effects might seem unexplained and unending to those with schizophrenia. (Snyder, Banjerie, Yamamura, and Greenburg, 1245).

These differences are important to keep in mind when reviewing the striking similarities between the internally-generated stimuli that occur from psilocybin mushrooms and the first stages of acute schizophrenia: “feelings of enhanced self-awareness, awe, and ecstasy, with sensations of increased acuity and profundity of all sensory perception … Perceptual modes were heightened, the patients feeling that they had broken through conventional modes of perceiving, thinking and feeling to attain a “new creativity” (Snyder, Banjerie, Yamamura, and Greenburg, 1245).  The feelings of extreme dread and fear also seem to match up well.  It would be well, then, to next investigate the properties of psilocybin unrelated to hallucinations, that might offer insight into why those under the influence of the drug have such drastically positive immediate and long-lasting effects compared to those of schizophrenic patients, and where, outside of the hallucinations, that divide lies.  


Works cited:




Chemical Enlightenment.  Bruce Bower Science News, Vol. 170, No. 14 (Sep. 30, 2006), pp. 216-217+220

Published by: Society for Science & the Public



Drugs, Neurotransmitters, and Schizophrenia

Solomon H. Snyder, Shailesh P. Banerjee, Henry I. Yamamura, David Greenberg

  • Science, New Series, Vol. 184, No. 4143 (Jun. 21, 1974), pp. 1243-1253
  • Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Stable URL:



Sacks, Oliver W. Man who mistook his wife for a hat and other clinical tales. New York,

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Google Books. Web. 20 Feb. 2010.







New web paper.doc35.5 KB


Luke's picture


If you've seen "the light", then will truly know the existence of god/whatever you want to call it. The pineal gland/DMT are what orient a human with space and time. When you use these drugs, this allows you to perceive other dimensions which coexist with ours. In our modern reality time and space seem to be everything because we are conditioned to believe so. When one has these experiences you are essentially making contact with an extra-deminsional reality, where other forms of intelligent consciousness exist. This is essentially where UFOs come from, these visitors are not necessarily from other planets, but other dimensions where there is more advance technology. They are time travelers. When you enter these states of mind where time and space are perceived differently, you begin to realize how very little time matters in the universe. All information of the past, present, and future are available within our own individual human brains. This information is hidden because our planet is truly unready for each individual to have all knowledge. Our world leaders understand this and this explains the illuminati, they are not evil. They realize that life and death are irrelevant because the soul is eternal and that the human consciousness/energy is all one. War is a process of evolution. Im bored with explaining this because the key to life is to stay in a continuos state of remain present. When you calm your mind to not think in the future or past and remain in the present, you will begin to see the dream like nature of our reality and will begin to become one with god/universe/the flow of life. You can begin to interpret "sign" for your souls purpose on this planet. The harder you try to force your own will on the world the more stress, insecurities, and physical body and environment fight against you. Learn acceptance of yourself, exactly how you are. Recognize the divinity in each individual human being. Your life will change, you will be happy regardless of whether you drive a civic or a ferrari. We are all here to help each other, we all have the divine right to be happy. This is walking gods path and entering the flow of life, its beautiful. I wish you all luck on your journey.

Anna's picture

hallucinations, both drug induced and not....

I am someone that periodically (I have had five episodes in 15 years), experiences episodes of 'psychosis' that include audio and visual hallucination. For me these are deeply rooted in spirituality and can have extremely positive periods, and negative episodes too. I have always been someone who is prepared to think outside the box and challenge perception.

During these episodes, although I internalize my external environment a lot, very unusual things occur around me and, when pointed out, other people witness this. My thoughts are so concentrated and I put all my energy into them. I sometimes wonder if the environment is shaped by my thought process, and to what extent. Most of the other time, I am quite 'normal', although I still believe perception of our reality changes the nature of our reality. Like the observation of an electron that behaves differently when observed.

Environment plays a huge role in positive hallucinatory experiences. Having had several 'trips' with both mushrooms and lsd in my youth, the environment and people in it can greatly influence a positive or negative state for the experience. I would concur that when one is having hallucinatory psychotic episode environment is also important. That includes how people react and especially the disharmonious and un-nurturing hospital environment. The label of being 'mentally ill'.

I believe spirituality plays a fundamental role in hallucination. I would like to know how many people's experiences of psychotic/schizophrenic hallucination are deeply rooted in their spirituality and inability to integrate that aspect of themselves in modern society, outside of the structure of organized religion.

A psychotic hallucination can last days, whereas a drug induced one can be relatively short. Remaining positive during a 'trip' is harder over an extended period- people don't eat or sleep properly, blood sugar crashes etc. The inability to return to normality can be scary.

Adam Cagney's picture

At your service :-)

Dear Anna
In recognizing that your post is from almost 2 years ago and being unaware if you have had any satisfactory feedback or further researched your observations and beliefs surrounding the phenomenon, I may be able to shed some light for you!
I will be 30 years old in 3 months time. During the course of the last 10 years I have been admitted to hospital in a psychotic state on 5 maybe 6 occasions. I began drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis around the age of 14 on a weekly basis. By the age of sixteen I had moved on to stimulant use of speed and ecstasy. From around this time I began to notice unusual occurences within my environment also, for example, looking up into a sky filled with clouds and somehow understanding their specific shapes and positions to be an external reflection of my internal thought processes. These types of ideas began occurring more frequently and my interest in them increased also. So began a time of entheogen and hallucinogen use in my life where I dabbled in substances such as lsd, mescaline, ketamine and psilocybin.
One day it just went pear shaped- I was in a euphoric, hypomanic and psychotic state when my recognition of a personal truth did instantaneously send me to a depressed and psychotic realm of total despair. I spent most of the next 7 years trying to overcome the turmoil, I did not intend but was aware, I had caused myself. During this long period of my life I did not abstain completely, but greatly diminished my use of psychotropic substances due to the fear I held about possible outcomes.
I was blessed in my creation with a solid academic aptitude. I combined this ability with my intrigue into the human psyche, spirituality and effects of various psychotropics on such facets of existing. Some part of my being still wanted to know the answers to questions which had arisen from my altered states and left me in that depressed one.
During the last few years my mental health has steadily improved and I have rediscovered lost feelings of contentment and personal strength. I feel like me again. During the past 2 years I have began to use various substances again on recreational, personal and spiritual terms.
Now for the light! Have you ever heard of the chemical hormone called Dimethyltryptamine? DMT for short. DMT is produced within the pineal gland in our very inner brain. It is systematically released into the body generally during three times in a person's life. It is released when you are born. It is released when you die. And it is released in smaller concentrations when you dream whilst asleep.
Modern research suggests that the pineal gland and it's production of DMT is the seat of concsiousness. DMT has been dubbed "The Spirit Molecule" and "The God Molecule". Humans, along with some other animals, and many forms of plant life produce this hormone naturally. It can be extracted for recreational/spiritual use from these plants. When administered the drug brings about a profound mystical experience many users find hard to describe.
Besides the typical release of DMT, certain atypical releases can and do occur. Near-Death and Out-Of-Body Experiences are due to atypical release. Atypical release also occurs in individuals who experience various types of seizures and individuals experiencing bouts of psychosis, particularly in manic states.
I have just recently grown to not only believe in God, having had a non-religious childhood, but completely understand who god is and how god operates. I know God now as a singularity. God is infinite. God entails all of existence. I am in God. You are in God. We are all in God. Essentially, we literally are god, yet we do not recognize ourselves as the collective consciousness that is our true identity. It is our ego which hides this truth from us. Where I'm headed with this approach is to provide you with some insight surrounding questions you had posed yourself....- Yes, through the power of your thought you were responsible for events that may have occurred. You were existing as, or aligning with god, as the one true self. You were SEEING

emily's picture

On Dreams...

 I really liked your comparison between psilocybin-induced and schizophrenic hallucinations, and how you relate hallucinations to our discussions in class. Neither of us (here and in A Revision of Vision) compare hallucinations of such sorts to dreams, which are also unconscious outputs from the mind itself. I was unable to find much about dreams in my research, did you come across anything? Dreams must connect to many other parts within our brain, because stresses/anxieties/emotions are often expressed in dreams (for example, around finals week I had 3 different dreams in which I was late for a test!). But, dreams also seem to be very random in some cases. I wonder how these connections between conscious and unconscious are made, and how they differ between dreams and other types of hallucinations.

Paul Grobstein's picture

hallucinations: spirituality vs illness

"there appears to be evidence of a positive impact on spirituality and general temperament from the psilocybin mushrooms, but overall negative experiences for those suffering from schizophrenia. "

There is indeed an interesting issue there.  How real are the differences?  Certainly some people have bad trips; is it possible that there are schizophrenic hallucinations that are positive but we don't hear as much about them?   If the differences are reasonably robust, can they be attributed to differences in the character of the hallucinations?  If not, to what might we attribute them?   Certainly it could have to do with whether one (the "I-function"?) seeks the hallucinatory experience or not.  But it could also have to do with the responses of other people to whom one describes the hallucinatory experience.  Its probably harder for an experience to have positive impact if others take it as evidence of illness.

For another take on internally generated visions,  see A revision of vision