Predictors and potentiators of psychedelic-occasioned mystical experiences

This review (2022) examines factors that contribute to the occurrence and intensity of mystical experiences and enhance their long-term benefits, including music, meditation and spiritual practices and nature-based settings. The review provides food for thought on these factors and more, and how they might be optimised to increase the chances of a mystical experience occurring, while also considering factors that are negatively associated with mystical experiences with suggestions on how these might be mitigated.

Abstract

“Mystical experiences are often described as being among the most profound and meaningful events of a person’s life. Their occurrence, while a normal but uncommon phenomenon, is reliably occasioned by psychedelic substances under the appropriate conditions, although care is needed around the context of usage to help ensure safe and beneficial experiences. The occurrence of mystical experiences in psychedelic sessions is a key mediator of the sustained psychological benefits reported in both healthy and clinical populations. Certain factors including set and setting, drug dosage, trait absorption, drug type, intention and states of surrender and acceptance all predict or influence the occurrence of mystical experiences. Various additional factors may further contribute to the occurrence and intensity of mystical experiences and enhance their long-term benefits, including music, meditation and spiritual practices and nature-based settings. This review examines these factors and considers how they might be optimised to increase the chances of a mystical experience occurring, while also considering factors that are negatively associated with mystical experiences with suggestions on how these might be mitigated where applicable. Finally, potential future research avenues for furthering our knowledge of psychedelic mystical experiences and how their benefits might be enhanced is suggested. Maximising the potential for the occurrence of mystical experiences is an important aspect of the beneficial application of psychedelics.”

Author: Sam Gandy

Notes

The ability of psychedelic drugs to facilitate a mystical-type experience was initially studied during the first era of psychedelic research and has since been well-established. In what is now one of the most cited papers in psychedelic research, Roland Griffiths and colleagues (2006) reported that psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences that have substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Further research has pointed toward psychedelic-induced mystical experiences having positive effects on therapeutic outcomes in clinical trials.

In the present paper, Sam Gandy explores factors that contribute to the occurrence and intensity of mystical experiences and enhance their long-term benefits. Maximizing the likelihood of such experiences could be an important factor in the beneficial effects of psychedelics.

Predictors of Psychedelic Mystical Experiences

  • Set and setting. The context framing psychedelic usage, including the set (immediate and extended psychological context) and setting (extended sociocultural and immediate environmental context), determines experiential outcomes including the occurrence of mystical experiences.
  • Drug dosage. Dosage of psychedelic substances is a key predictor of mystical experiences, with ascending dosage more commonly associated with their occurrence although beyond optimal dosage, higher dosages are more likely to trigger adverse reactions.
  • Trait absorption. Trait absorption is the tendency to become fully immersed or engaged in sensory and imaginative experiences and is believed to play a central role in the occurrence of mystical experiences. This is correlated with personality trait openness, with higher levels of openness associated with mystical experiences.
  • Drug type. The consistency by which various psychedelic substances occasion mystical-type experiences may vary.
  • Intention. Having clear intentions prior to a psychedelic session so an individual feels prepared for the experience is also predictive of mystical experiences.
  • Surrender state. The ability to let go and surrender to the psychedelic experience is an important predictor reflected in the mantra “trust, let go, be open” often used by many therapists.
  • Acceptance. An accepting and appreciative attitude to oneself and one’s experiences is another key aspect.

Potential Mediators of Psychedelic Mystical Experiences

  • Music. In psychedelic therapy sessions, music has been referred to as the “hidden therapist” given the central role it plays in these sessions and the effects it has on the overall experience.
  • Meditation and spiritual practices. Long-term mediation practice has been associated with such experiences but even less experienced meditators may be more likely to undergo a psychedelic-induced mystical experience.
  • Nature-based settings. Such settings may provide a number of benefits that may potentiate the occurrence of mystical experiences as such settings can support meditative, reflective mind states and promotes states of absorption.

The present paper offers food for thought on the psychedelic induced mystical experiences and how they may be mediated to enhance therapeutic outcomes. Further research should more thoroughly investigate the various factors that are believed to predict such experiences. Overall, mystical experiences catalysed by psychedelics are considered an important predictor of long-term benefits in healthy and clinical populations much work remains to be done to examine how to maximise their occurrence and any potential benefits.

Find this paper

Predictors and potentiators of psychedelic-occasioned mystical experiences

https://doi.org/10.1556/2054.2022.00198

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Published in
Journal of Psychedelic Studies
March 22, 2022
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Study details

Topics studied
Neuroscience

Study characteristics
Literature Review

Participants
0 Humans

Authors

Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Sam Gandy
Sam Gandy has been working on psychedelics at Imperial College London and the Beckley Foundation, here he studies how psychedelics reconnect us to nature.