Recreational Psychedelic Users Frequently Encounter Complete Mystical Experiences: Trip Content and Implications for Wellbeing

This mixed-methods preprint study sought to assess the implications of psychedelic and mystical experiences occurring outside of the laboratory setting. The study used text mining analyses and a survey (n=1424) to reveal associations between psychedelic use practices, complete mystical experiences, and psychological wellbeing. Mystical experiences resulting from psychedelic use outside of the lab were associated with improved psychological wellbeing.


“A growing proportion of the population is engaging in recreational psychedelic use. Psychedelics are uniquely capable of reliably occasioning mystical experiences in ordinary humans without contemplative or religious backgrounds. While clinical research has made efforts to characterize psychedelic experiences, comparably little is understood about how humans naturalistically engage with psychedelics. The present study employs a mixed-methods approach to examine the content and implications of psychedelic and mystical experiences, occurring outside of laboratory settings. We use text mining analyses to arrive at a qualitative description of psychedelic experiential content by abstracting from over two-thousand written reports of first-person psychedelic experiences. Following up, we conducted quantitative analyses on psychometric data from a large survey (N = 1424) to reveal associations between psychedelic use practices, complete mystical experiences, and psychological wellbeing. Topic-modelling and sentiment analyses present a bottom-up description of human interactions with psychedelic compounds and the content of such experiences. Psychometric results suggest psychedelic users encounter complete mystical experiences in high proportions, dependent on factors such as drug type and dose-response effects. Furthermore, a salient association was established between diverse metrics of wellbeing and those with complete mystical experiences. Our results paint a new picture of the growing relationships between humans and psychedelic experiences in the real-world use context. Ordinary humans appear to encounter complete mystical experiences via recreational psychedelic use, and such experiences are strongly associated with improved psychological wellbeing.”

Authors: Tianhong (Tim) Qiu & John P. Minda


Researchers have long been fascinated with the ability of psychedelics to induce mystical-type experiences and the effect such experiences can have on therapeutic outcomes. While tools such as the Mystical Experience Questionnaire have helped researchers to characterize and quantify mystical experiences in the clinical setting, little is known about the implications of such experiences outside of this setting.

The present study sought to examine these implications and the content of mystical experiences in people using psychedelics outside of the clinical setting. To do so, the researchers used a mixed-methods approach. Firstly, text mining analysis was used to assess over two thousand written reports of first-person psychedelic experiences. The results of this analysis yielded a qualitative description with regards to the content of the psychedelic experience. Secondly, the researchers conducted a quantitative analysis of psychometric data from a large survey (n=1424) to explore the associations between psychedelic use, mystical experiences and psychological wellbeing.

The main findings:

  • Sentiment analysis of trip reports suggest that emotional valence of psychedelic experiences differ by drug type, and certain psychedelics may allow for extreme deviations in positive and negative experiences.
  • Much like in the laboratory setting, encountering a mystical experience depends on drug type and dose response effects, i.e. those who took a higher dose had more mystical experiences.
  • Complete mystical experiences are associated with higher self-reported wellbeing on a range of facets including affect, mood disorder, life meaning, life satisfaction, mindfulness, and wisdom, compared to those without mystical experiences.

The study at hand presents an understanding of the natural interactions between humans and psychedelics without the influence of clinical or laboratory interventions. Another way the bias of the researchers was minimized is by using text mining to come to the themes, so as not to impose their preconceived ideas of what people should report from a trip.

Recreational users experience mystical states and these states are associated with improved psychological well being. This has, of course, been known by many who use psychedelics outside of the lab. This analysis adds another data point as to the existence of these positive outcomes and when they happen. Lest we forget, attention to safety is needed when planning any psychedelic experience, be it recreationally or in a laboratory.


Psychedelics are uniquely capable of reliably occasioning mystical experiences in ordinary humans without contemplative or religious backgrounds. This study uses text mining and sentiment analyses to describe the content of psychedelic experiences and to reveal associations between psychedelic use practices, complete mystical experiences, and psychological wellbeing.

Psychedelic drugs have long been consumed by humans throughout history in various locations and cultures. Recently, psychedelic use has re-emerged in society, particularly in Western societies, and more individuals are reporting recreational psychedelic use. Classical psychedelics are tryptamines, phenylethylamines, and lysergamides that exhibit 5-HT2a agonist activity and occur in nature. MDMA is not a classical psychedelic, but it does act as a 5-HT2a agonist and exhibits significant phenomenological overlap with classical psychedelics.

Subjective psychedelic drug experiences range from mild perceptual distortions to utter departures from any recognizable landmark of ordinary consciousness. A certain subset of these experiences has been operationally defined as a mystical-type experience, which converges with non-drug related experience reports from mystics and contemplatives across cultures, religions, and history.

Recreational psychedelic use has been growing, and these experiences are reliably occasioning mystical states in a growing proportion of the human population. In decades when psychedelics were suppressed, most humans would unlikely chance upon a mystical experience. However, increasingly people are engaging with psychedelic drugs in real-world contexts, and little is known about what is occurring experientially. Though clinical data may offer weak inferences on how psychedelic experiences play out in the real world, the experiential content of recreational psychedelic trips remains an open question.

We aim to describe and understand the experience and subsequent psychological effects of recreational psychedelic use, and propose a basic descriptive model of how these effects relate to naturalistic mystical experiences and psychological wellbeing.

We used data from two existing studies to examine the intersection of psychedelic experiences and wellbeing.

We used the erowid dataset, a web scraped dataset of experience reports on, to analyze 24788 unique trip reports of drug experiences with dates ranging 2000-2016. We included MDMA due to its potential to elicit mystical-type experiences and strong phenomenological overlap with the classical psychedelics. Trip reports may document more than one substance consumed in a single session, but we analyzed reports detailing only one of mushrooms, LSD, DMT or MDMA.

We conducted a sentiment analysis on the corpora of trip reports for each of the four substances by referencing AFINN sentiment lexicon. We tested for differences between sentiment scores for each of the drugs using ANOVA and Tukey’s HSD.

We trained Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) topic models for each of the respective drugs corpora. LDA generates documents based on Dirichlet distributions, and bridges the probabilities of words occurring within a document.

We used LDA to automatically extract topics from our corpus of trip report documents. We evaluated convergence of three metrics: “Griffiths2004”, “CaoJuan2009”, and “Arun2010” to find optimal topic numbers for mushrooms, LSD, DMT, and MDMA corpora, respectively.

We collected data from 1424 participants in a previous survey-based observational study on psychedelics, mindfulness, and self-reported wellbeing of recreational users and meditators. The survey had three sections: demographics, psychedelic practices, and wellbeing metrics.

A battery of wellbeing psychometrics was included in the survey, including the MEQ, the FFMQ, and the DASS. The MEQ measures four aspects of mystical experience, while the FFMQ measures mindfulness and the DASS measures depression, anxiety, and stress.

The contents and implications of recreational psychedelic experiences are discussed. A z-test was used to compare the proportions of individuals who have encountered a complete mystical experience, and two-tailed Welch’s t-tests were used to compare the mean scores for the following psychometrics.

14 people who’ve used psychedelics were included in logistic regression (n = 991), and the total number of lifetime psychedelic doses was tested as a possible predictor. The four drugs differ drastically in dosing units, so a coarse estimate of “standard recreational dose” was derived.

Sentiment analysis was conducted on the corpora of trip reports for mushrooms, LSD, DMT and MDMA. The results indicate that trip report sentiment does not follow a true normal distribution, with LSD and mushroom trip reports exhibiting thicker tails and more extreme outliers.

Trip report sentiment scores for psychedelic drug experiences are visualized in Fig 1. Positive sentiment scores represent net positive sentiment within the trip report document.

Topic modeling by LDA revealed that DMT had a higher prominence of terms related to the physical body and sensations than mushrooms, LSD, or MDMA. The term “friend” occurred frequently in LSD, mushrooms, and MDMA topics, but only in 2 DMT topics. We identified interesting and coherent topics that may be related to the specific effects of the drug. These topics include: life, mind, god, reality, thought, people, feel, mystical-type experience, psychedelic, beautiful, family members, environment, and description.

Psychedelic users encountered complete mystical experiences in higher proportion than non-users. Total lifetime doses of psychedelic drugs was associated with occurrence of complete mystical experiences, though the association was weak.

LSD, DMT, and MDMA use are all significantly associated with higher odds of encountering complete mystical experiences. However, mushroom use is not uniquely associated with higher odds of encountering complete mystical experiences if the individual has already engaged in using other psychedelics.

The dose-dependence of mushrooms, LSD, and DMT were individually modeled for association with occurrence of complete mystical experiences. Higher doses of MDMA were not significantly associated with increased odds of occasioning complete mystical experiences.

Individuals who’ve encountered complete mystical experiences had significantly higher scores on all wellbeing metrics except DASS anxiety and MLQ search subscales, which did not differ significantly between groups.

The aim of our study was to depict the changing relationship between humans and psychedelic drugs in naturalistic contexts outside of laboratory settings. Psychedelic users are more likely to encounter complete mystical experiences, depending on drug type and dose-response effects. These experiences are linked to improved wellbeing on a range of facets including affect, mood disorder, life meaning, life satisfaction, mindfulness, and wisdom.

MDMA does not exhibit dose-dependent relationship with intensity of mystical experience, though simply using MDMA is associated with increased odds of invoking complete mystical experience.

Recreational psychedelic users with complete mystical experiences have higher self-reported wellbeing than those without, spanning nonparallel facets of psychological and human wellbeing. Such results are a strong signal that simply experiencing strong mystical states outside of controlled lab settings is closely related to holistic and multi-faceted psychological wellbeing. Psychedelic users have higher odds of encountering complete mystical experiences compared to non-users, which is consistent with existing clinical evidence. However, recreational LSD and DMT use is also associated with higher odds of encountering complete mystical experiences.

The text mining analyses of psychedelic experiences suggests that the phenomenological content of such experiences qualitatively differs from one another. Friends and other people appear less relevant to DMT experiences whereas LSD, mushrooms, and MDMA experiences prominently feature friends and even family members.

Recreational psychedelic experiences are vague to interpret, but generally involve a sense of “life” or “being alive”. The sentiment of psychedelic experiences varies by drug, suggesting that they do not necessarily invoke the same degree of positive and negative emotional valence.

The present study is unique in that it uses data-driven text mining analyses to summarize a large dataset of written reports. The large sample size and diverse wellbeing metrics allows for interesting and stronger conclusions despite the observational design of the study.

We studied human experiences in relation to psychedelic use and found that psychedelic users experience complete mystical states in substantial proportions and such states are associated with improved wellbeing across a wide range of psychological domains.

Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs are reviewed in a systematic review. Arun, R., Suresh, V., Veni Madhavan, C. E., & Narasimha Murthy, M. N. use latent dirichlet allocation to find the natural number of topics in a data set. Carbonaro, Johnson, Griffiths, Carhart-Harris, Leech, R., Hellyer, P. J., Shanahan, M., Feilding, A., Tagliazucchi, E., Chialvo, D. R., & Nutt, D. (2019). Greater empathy in MDMA users.

Recreational psychedelic experiences may include entity encounters, enhanced mood, and social connectedness. The satisfaction with life scale may be used to assess the effects of psychedelic use. Griffiths, Hurwitz, Davis, A. K., Johnson, M. W., & Jesse (2019) compared subjective “God encounter experiences” among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT.

Recreational psychedelic experiences can have substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety can be found in Griffiths, Johnson, Richards, W., & Griffiths (2011).

Recreational psychedelic experiences include altered consciousness, mystical-type experiences, and brain network function. There is evidence that illicit use of LSD or psilocybin, but not MDMA or nonpsychedelic drugs, is associated with mystical experiences in a dose-dependent manner.

Psychedelic experiences are described in Maclean, Leoutsakos, Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths (2012), Móró, L., Simon, K., Bárd, I., & Rácz, J. (2011), and Nichols, D. E. (2016). Pallavicini, Cavanna, F., Zamberlan, F., de la Fuente, L. A., Ilksoy, Y., Perl, Y. S., Arias, M., Romero, C., Carhart-Harris, R., Timmermann, C., & Tagliazucchi, E. (2021).

Recreational psychedelic experiences include the presence of and search for meaning in life, and include mystical experiences, creative problem solving, and associations with naturalistic classic psychedelic use. The Near-Death Experience is modeled by DMT, and the PANAS scales are brief measures of positive and negative affect. Yaden, D. B., Le Nguyen, K. D., Kern, M. L., Belser, A. B., Eichstaedt, J. C., Iwry, J., Smith, M. E., Hood, R. W.

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