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Key Takeaways

  • Psilocybin significantly enhances the effectiveness of meditation.
  • This effect is partially based on the ability of meditation to mitigate the more common side effects of psychedelic compounds, e.g. anxiety. Though psychedelics seem to also induce a rare state of self-dissolution that is experienced only by experienced mediators.
  • Psilocybin leads to higher perceived scores on the spiritual experience scale compared to meditation alone (66% vs 22%), a sense of unity and togetherness (70% vs 40%), and bliss (86% vs 48%).

Actions to Consider

  • We can’t recommend you start taking psychedelics to boost your meditation retreats, at least not before certain regulatory bans are lifted (currently in progress in the cities of Oakland and Portland). Psilocybin mushrooms are currently illegal in the United States and only being used for research purposes, but the mindfulness-boosting effects are increasingly hard to ignore. We recommend keeping an eye on the research and regulations in your state, and discussing with your psychotherapist or practitioner on whether you’re a candidate to receive treatment.
  • In the meantime, meditate more! Even without the psychedelic boost, meditation brings forth all sorts of health benefits for your health, mind, and longevity.

Meditation and psychedelics: do they mix?

Meditation is a contemplative activity that leads to a state of inner balance, calm, and harmony. Psychedelics, on the other hand, are often seen as party drugs that cause hallucinations and emotional arousal.

Although these two have little in common at first glance, their combination can actually give you unexpected benefits for the mind.

For example, a recent study reported that psilocybin could significantly enhance the effects of meditation.

What is this study about?

Published in October 2019 in the Scientific Reports journal, this study looked into the synergistic effects of meditation and the psychedelic (consciousness-altering) substance, psilocybin. To do so, scientists gave either psilocybin (315 μg/kg orally) or placebo to a small group of 39 meditators on a  five-day mindfulness retreat.

All participants followed a well-structured meditative program that started at 6 AM and ended at 9 PM every day. Their daily routine included:

  • Eight 30-minute sessions of sitting meditation (4 hours total)
  • Five 10-minute sessions of indoor walking meditation (50 minutes total)
  • Two 30-minute sessions of outdoor walking meditation (1 hour total)
  • 75 minutes of mindful physical work (1 hour 15 minutes total)

These 7 hours and 5 minutes of daily meditation were interleaved with meals, short breaks, and group recitations. The psilocybin group received their single dose of psychedelics on the 4th day of the intervention, with their pre- and post-experience routines being identical to that of the placebo group.

The ‘shrooms made a difference 

According to the results of this study, psilocybin showed quite a few benefits for the mind:

  • It helped to preserve mindfulness even after the retreat was over
  • Meditators who took psilocybin experienced greater improvements in their psychosocial profile at a 4-month follow-up

According to the authors of the study, the key role in these positive changes is probably based on the action of psilocybin. In this context, meditation serves as a way to mitigate the possible side effects that may be caused by the psychedelic—anxiety, for example.

In a sense, this beneficial combination has been well-known in the hippie culture, as well as some New Age movements that followed. Psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin would be combined with meditation or music to reach a deeper sense of presence, togetherness, and positive attitude toward one another.

No scientific studies on the matter were available then, but it seems like this combination really works!

How the combination of psychedelics and meditation works

Although there are many different approaches to meditation, they all boil down to reducing the self-centered focus of the mind and approaching a calm, contemplative state. The peak of such a condition can be described as selflessness—a profound experience that even long-term meditators rarely reach.

Psychedelics, on the other hand, induce a state of self-dissolution and selflessness much more frequently, in about 60% of cases, especially at higher doses. The downside of this effect is that higher doses of psychedelics occasionally lead to intense hallucinations that are often accompanied by anxiety, restlessness, and other unpleasant forms of emotional arousal.

The calming effect of meditation and the ability of psychedelics to induce a state of self-dissolution counterbalance each other, bringing forth the best of the two worlds.

Conclusion

Humans have been using psychedelic ingredients like the psilocybin mushrooms or psychoactive cacti with mescaline since ancient times, mostly for spiritual and religious reasons.

Today, studies are looking into their effects on the brain and mind, and the findings are truly amazing. 

Still, there are a lot of legal and ethical questions related to psychedelic intake, so approach the matter carefully and stay in the loop by following progress in organizations like Compass Pathways, MAPS, and Hopkins Psychedelic Research. 

Links to the study

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-50612-3

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