On February 1, 2016 a call went out from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland looking for rabbis willing to take psilocybin so that their scientists could study the science of psychedelics and spirituality.
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The ideal volunteers for the study were to be between 25 and 80, with no personal or family history of severe psychiatric illness, and no recent history of alcoholism or other drug addictions.
Psilocybin, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms” is a naturally occurring psychedelic which is found in over 200 species of mushrooms, and has recently been also found in lichen.
Psilocybin has a variety of mind altering (and heart-opening) effects including visual and mental hallucinations, perceptual shifts, and a distorted sense of time. Some experience what has been termed as “ego death”, which can result in adverse side effects such as panic, nausea, and paranoia.
Author Rick Strassman MD posited through his studies that psychedelic experiences (in particular DMT) allows for a unification with mystical realities, and may be the key to understanding spirituality.
The Hopkins scientists intend on exploring this concept, and hope to expand the reach of the study to also connect with various leaders from all religious traditions.
According to Times of Israel:
In the explanatory material sent out with the call for participants were quotes from such leaders, including the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal movement.
In the excerpt taken from a chapter Schachter-Shalomi contributed to a 2005 publication titled, “Higher Wisdom: Elders Explore the Continuing Impact of Psychedelics,” it appears that the rabbi endorses drug use as a shortcut to achieving a mystical high.
‘I think to understand the depth of religion, one needs to have firsthand experience… I think the psychedelic path is sometimes the easiest way’
“I think to understand the depth of religion, one needs to have firsthand experience. It can be done with meditation. It can be done with sensory deprivation. It can be done a number of ways. But I think the psychedelic path is sometimes the easiest way, and it doesn’t require the long time that other approaches usually require,” he wrote.
While Shachter-Shalomi was known for experimenting with illicit substances, beginning with LSD in the 1960s, it remains to be seen whether any rabbis involved in congregational life or Jewish education today would be willing to take a day off to consume some ‘shrooms — even for the sake of research.
This is not to say that Jews, including outwardly conservative ones, are not acquainted with psilocybin or other mind altering substances. There are accounts of contemporary young Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn getting stoned out of their minds. There are also historical ones of Jews getting high on more than just prayer.
Some have even posited that Jewish drug use goes as far back as the Israelites as they wandered in the Sinai desert, with the suggestion that Moses’ parting of the Red Sea was a drug-induced hallucination.
Beyond the scope of this particular endeavor, according to a 2014 report, Johns Hopkins has also studied over 200 people – and believe that they have been able to induce mystical and life-changing experiences in people by administering psilocybin under controlled laboratory conditions.
“Two-thirds or more of the volunteers reported one of their sessions as among the most meaningful experiences of their lives and attributed to it positive changes in their mood, behaviors, and overall well-being,” the researchers reported.
The new study/call to action for rabbis and religious leaders is yet another facet of this research, and time will tell what results it brings!
H/T Times of Israel