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The experiment will test whether the fungi have an effect on faith.

Mike Pomranz
Updated July 10, 2017

People often describe using psychedelic mushrooms as a religious experience. The mind-altering states that the drug psilocybin, found within these fungi, can induce are known for opening up the proverbial “doors of perception” and changing the way users see the world. But what if you gave these mushrooms to people who have already had plenty of religious experiences – literal religious leaders across multiple disciplines? According to The Guardian, that’s exactly what’s happening in an ongoing study at Johns Hopkins University.

Since the DEA classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I drug, receiving government approval to study the naturally occurring compound is extremely difficult. However, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore has been at the forefront of this kind of research for years now. One of the university’s current studies might seem like one of its most daunting: Researchers set out to find a broad group of religious figures who would be willing to take two supervised but significant doses of psilocybin and discuss how the experiences influenced their mindsets. “With psilocybin these profound mystical experiences are quite common,” Dr William Richards, a Johns Hopkins psychologist involved with the study, told The Guardian. “It seemed like a no-brainer that they might be of interest, if not valuable, to clergy.”

In the end, the team behind the study was able to recruit Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian clergy, a Zen Buddhist and several rabbis. They were unable to find a Muslim imam or Hindu priest willing to participate, but “just about all the other bases are covered,” Richards continued.

Though some might question the scientific merit of such a “trippy” study, Richards said the research used psychology questionnaires and independent raters, and all participants underwent medical screenings as well. The researchers are still awaiting a final one-year follow-up, so it’s too early to report their findings, however, Richards was able to give some insight into what’s happened. “So far everyone incredibly values their experience. No one has been confused or upset or regrets doing it,” he said. “Generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage,” Richards stated. However, he later added that they also “get a greater appreciation for other world religions. Other ways up the mountain, if you will.”

Of course, regardless of the findings, religious leaders probably aren’t the most important organizational group when it comes to the future of psilocybin. Maybe for their next study, Johns Hopkins can conduct a study on government leaders from all walks of life and see if they’d be willing to rethink their positions on these mushrooms, too. If only to boost future funding.