Experiences of 'ultimate reality' or 'God' confer lasting benefits to mental health

God
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

People over the millennia have reported having deeply moving religious experiences either spontaneously or while under the influence of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms or the Amazonian brew ayahuasca, and a portion of those experiences have been encounters with what the person regards as "God" or "ultimate reality." In a survey of thousands of people who reported having experienced personal encounters with God, Johns Hopkins researchers report that more than two-thirds of self-identified atheists shed that label after their encounter, regardless of whether it was spontaneous or while taking a psychedelic.

Moreover, the researchers say, a majority of respondents attributed lasting positive changes in their —e.g., , purpose and meaning—even decades after their initial experience.

The findings, described in a paper published April 23 in PLOS ONE, add to evidence that such deeply meaningful experiences may have healing properties, the researchers say. And the study's design, they add, is the first to systematically and rigorously compare reports of spontaneous God encounter experiences with those occasioned, or catalyzed, by psychedelic substances.

"Experiences that people describe as encounters with God or a representative of God have been reported for thousands of years, and they likely form the basis of many of the world's religions," says lead researcher Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "And although modern Western medicine doesn't typically consider 'spiritual' or 'religious' experiences as one of the tools in the arsenal against sickness, our findings suggest that these encounters often lead to improvements in mental health."

The historic and widespread anecdotal evidence for their benefits led to the research team's latest effort to research the value, and possible downsides, of such encounters, Griffiths says.

For the new study, the scientists used data from 4,285 people worldwide who responded to online advertisements to complete one of two 50-minute online surveys about God encounter experiences. The surveys asked participants to recall their single most memorable encounter experience with the "God of their understanding," a "higher power," "ultimate reality" or "an aspect or representative of God, such as an angel." They also asked how respondents felt about their experience and whether and how it changed their lives.

About 69 percent of the participants were men, and 88 percent were white. Of those who reported using a psychedelic, 1,184 took psilocybin ("magic mushrooms"), 1,251 said they took LSD, 435 said they took ayahuasca (a plant-based brew originating with indigenous cultures in Latin America), and 606 said they took DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine), also a naturally occurring substance found in certain plants and animals.

Of the total participants, 809 were those who responded to the non-drug survey, whereas 3,476 responded to the psychedelics survey. Respondents were an average age of 38 when they took the survey. The people who said they had a God encounter experience when on a psychedelic reported that these experiences happened at age 25 on average, whereas those whose experience was spontaneous reported having it at an average age of 35.

Among other key findings:

  • About 75 percent of respondents in both the non-drug and psychedelics groups rated their "God encounter" experience as among the most meaningful and spiritually significant in their lifetime, and both groups attributed to it in life satisfaction, purpose and meaning.
  • Independent of psychedelics use, more than two-thirds of those who said they were atheists before the experience no longer identified as such afterward.
  • Most participants, in both the non-drug and psychedelics groups, reported vivid memories of the encounter experience, which frequently involved communication with some entity having the attributes of consciousness (approximately 70 percent), benevolence (approximately 75 percent), intelligence (approximately 80 percent), sacredness (approximately 75 percent) and eternal existence (approximately 70 percent).
  • Although both groups reported a decreased fear of death, 70 percent of participants in the psychedelics group reported this change, compared with 57 percent among non-drug respondents.
  • In both groups, about 15 percent of the respondents said their experience was the most psychologically challenging of their lives.
  • In the non-drug group, participants were most likely to choose "God" or "an emissary of God" (59 percent) as the best descriptor of their encounter, while the psychedelics group were most likely (55 percent) to choose "ultimate reality."

For future studies, Griffiths said his team would like to explore what factors predispose someone to having such a memorable and life-altering perceived , and they would like to see what happens in the brain during the experience.

"Continuing to explore these experiences may provide new insights into religious and spiritual beliefs that have been integral to shaping human culture since time immemorial," says Griffiths.z

Griffiths and the research team caution that the study relied on self-reported responses to a questionnaire, a method that carries substantial possibilities for biased or inaccurate responses among participants. They don't advocate that people use hallucinogenic substances on their own because they carry not only legal risks, but also behavioral risks associated with impaired judgment under the influence and the possibility of negative psychological consequences, particularly in vulnerable people or when the experience isn't safeguarded by qualified guides.

In addition, says Griffiths, "We want to be clear that our study looks at personal experiences and says nothing about the existence, or nonexistence of God. We doubt that any science can definitively settle this point either way."

Griffiths has been researching psychedelic drugs for nearly two decades. Some of his earlier studies have used psilocybin to explore mystical-type and their consequences in healthy volunteers, and the therapeutic potential of the drug in helping people to quit smoking or to ease mental distress in people due to a cancer diagnosis.

His team is hopeful that, one day, psilocybin may be developed as a drug to use in therapeutic settings under the care of a trained guide.


Explore further

Fast-acting psychedelic associated with improvements in depression/anxiety

More information: Roland R. Griffiths et al. Survey of subjective "God encounter experiences": Comparisons among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT, PLOS ONE (2019). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214377
Journal information: PLoS ONE

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Apr 23, 2019
LOL I would have thought that many atheists with physorg accounts would have chimed in by now, to display their dis- and unbelief of supernatural matters, and to show the believers what-for.

"Independent of psychedelics use, more than two-thirds of those who said they were atheists before the experience no longer identified as such afterward."

The experience of a meeting with the Creator God or with a Holy Angel is a life-changing event - one that cannot be forgotten or cast off as unimportant.
But it is also important to be made aware that the opposite of the Creator God may also appear in the disguise of an Angel, but is not a Holy one; and such a meeting with the "evil one" could prove detrimental to the person experiencing such a meeting. Therefore, it is imperative to KNOW the major differences between good and evil and to not be taken in by the potentially destructive forces - as have happened to many in the past, such as demonic forces.

Apr 23, 2019
Has Gods got roots

SEU, as this is your specialist subject
About 69 percent of the participants were men, and 88 percent were white
Griffiths has been researching psychedelic drugs for nearly two decades

In the survey
and
mainly men
so
not only the 88 percent, but predominantly male
what
is more disturbing
this
research
researching psychedelic drugs
to
show a connection in this high one gets in this belief in God can be achieved with drugs
as
what about the high runners get as chemical are released
that can be duplicated with drugs
These preconceived ideas need to be thought out again With less psychedelic attachments

Apr 23, 2019
"Experiences of 'ultimate reality' or 'God' confer lasting benefits to mental health"

-This means it's useful. Doesnt make it real.

Fairy tales help children get to sleep. Religious fairy tales make you think that unbelievers are dishonest, immoral, untrustworthy, evil. That's great for conquering and ethnic cleansing and tribal bonding.

Of course the persecuted, slaughtered, and enslaved then need therapy as a result so it's a zero sum at best.

mqr
Apr 23, 2019
People who did not suffer live in the illusion of control, with an elevated pride based on smoke and mirrors. Suffering is strongly related with loosing control of something valued, or loved.

Many who said the most arrogant and prideful statements, usually love nobody, and had suffered nothing e.g., d trump (lack of suffering is what makes him a little man).

Love is given to us to show us many lessons, especially when is taken away. by death, etc. Some people think their obsessions and compulsions are love, so they think they had loved. And their suffering is not suffering, is anger.

Psychedelics allow people to see things that are there, but that can not be seen without them. Like that the planet is alive as a super organism, or that the separation/independence of humans is an illusion as we are interconnected, or that our existence does not depend on our bodies made up of cells - so we do not fear "death" anymore. Therefore, we do not want to kill.

Apr 23, 2019
Has Gods got roots

SEU, as this is your specialist subject
About 69 percent of the participants were men, and 88 percent were white

In the survey
and mainly men so
not only the 88 percent, but predominantly male
what is more disturbing
this research
researching psychedelic drugs to
show a connection in this high one gets in this belief in God can be achieved with drugs as
what about the high runners get as chemical are released
that can be duplicated with drugs
These preconceived ideas need to be thought out again With less psychedelic attachments
says granville

Long before the advent of psychedelic drugs and chemists, both men AND women were experiencing a closeness and even a visual meeting with the Creator God and His Holy Angels. The only thing that is new is that modern humans are using such drugs, not to experience a meeting with the Creator - but to get high. For that reason, I question the science and the motives for eliciting a drug-induced vision.

Apr 23, 2019
-contd-
@granville
Perhaps those who had been using psychedelic drugs were given the suggestion that they had actually been seeing and talking with the Creator God or Angels. The article doesn't specifically tell us if suggestions were made to the group who were users. Drug addicts are quite often prone to the power of suggestion, and this might have been the case with THEM. The point being that holy visions are not dependent on the brain being stimulated by chemicals to induce such visions. They occur naturally.
The fact that such chemicals were possibly used for that purpose renders the whole experiment suspect with regard to the drug users having visions.
The odd thing is that for many thousands of years, induced visions were only known amongst nonWhites that were used in their rituals. In Europe there was concern over the first tomatoes grown there because of the red colour which was regarded as a possible poisonous plant. Now the use of opioids is almost mainstream.

Apr 24, 2019
Religious fairy tales make you think that unbelievers are dishonest, immoral, untrustworthy, evil. That's great for conquering and ethnic cleansing and tribal bonding.

No. You can take the test yourself and see how you fare:
1. Have you ever stolen something - even of the smallest value or non-value?
2. How many lies have you told in your life?
3. Have you ever taken God's name in vain? - that OMG thing and such like?
4. Have you ever committed adultery or fornicated? Jesus said if a man looks at a woman with lust he has already committed adultery in his heart.
5. Have you ever been disobedient to your parents, biological or adoptive?
So, how did you fare on just those few? Not so well? Get this - we ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and so no one can boast and be arrogantly superior in that regard. Real believers know exactly that - they need the righteousness that only God can provide via the death that Jesus died on the cross.

mqr
Apr 24, 2019
"The odd thing is that for many thousands of years, induced visions were only known amongst nonWhites that were used in their rituals."

Since we have the race fetish on the table, because people are uncapable of abstractions...... the drug that "whites" use to change their consciousness for thousands of years is alcohol. That gives them visions so that they can murder, have orgies, invade cities and steal and rape.

Alcohol facilitates the degradation and decay of a societal group, that is why now they are doing opiods. Whereas entheogens/psychedelics favors spiritual liberation, reduction of cruelty, reduction of judging other for its own sake, etc.

Since I am not a racist, and I try to resist that vice, what I find theoretically productive is the socio-pharmacology i.e., how psychoactive substances change a society. That is a strong factor explaining why the USA is filled with prisons whille the Netherlands is closing them. Other factors matter e.g., USA was built on slavery.

Apr 24, 2019
Freddy says
No. You can take the test yourself and see how you fare:
1. Have you ever stolen something - even of the smallest value or non-value?
2. How many lies have you told in your life?
3. Have you ever taken God's name in vain? - that OMG thing and such like?
4. Have you ever blah further posturing etc
-Hey freddy let me ask you one: did you know that the overwhelming majority of inmates in US prisons are religious? They were raised in religious families and they believed in god while committing their crimes. And, the majority of them were christian.

Perhaps god told them it was alright to victimize heathens, or only implied it through the many glorious tales of israeli conquest and cleansing. Or, as we know, jesus forgives all sins doesnt he?

At the very, very least, belief in god has no effect on criminality whatsoever. At the worst, god-endorsed tribalism is the principal cause of crime. Everywhere.

Evidence tells us real believers are the problem.

Apr 24, 2019
Psychedelics can at time induce the mind into thoughts that minds tend to fear to contemplate. Death is cease of existence in this realm. It is an emotional thought with eternal implications. Most minds find it easier to not think about and relegate to abstinate from such thoughts. An aversion or ignorance of inevitable. Psychoactive drugs can lift that self regulating preventative function the mind has instituted in its faculties to avert from emotional stress and can allow exploratory introspection on cessation of existence.

What I find quite funny is that even atheists tend to succumb to fantastical thoughts when emotional stressors engage to fullest:) When faced with moment of stark realization even an atheist begins to pray.

Believing in afterlife is the way to go. If you leave this world and existence ceases nothing gained, if existence continues on another plane even better. Glass half full or half empty. You decide.

Apr 24, 2019
Linking Religion and incarceration is a very strong assertion and a false one in my opinion it is quite the oversight of contributing factors when analyzing statistics on inmates. Causation correlation oversight. Most people imprisoned are from low socioeconomic standing. Just the type that might be drawn to asking God for a hand in life. If anything I'd draw a link to poverty being the driving factor for both that it is poverty which induces crime and faith in a better day to come. Statistics can be quite the bitch, there are always links to other factors with some potentially even unknown. Claiming Faith as the cause of crime is a pretty ignorant and bold assertion in my opinion Otto, either a) very poorly thought out, or b) a weak ass attempt to drive a compulsory anti-religion agenda.

PS I wouldn't draw the link from poverty to crime or religion either, it was just an example to show your biased.

Apr 24, 2019
"The odd thing is that for many thousands of years, induced visions were only known amongst nonWhites that were used in their rituals."

Since we have the race fetish on the table, because people are uncapable of abstractions...... the drug that "whites" use to change their consciousness for thousands of years is alcohol. That gives them visions so that they can murder, have orgies, invade cities and steal and rape.
Other factors matter e.g., USA was built on slavery.
says mqr

Fermentation of fruits & grains, etc into alcohol and its use, if done only occasionally and within limits, does NOT induce visions of the Creator God and His Holy Angels. The mother of Yahoshuah was certainly not in a drunken stupor when the Angel told her that she was with child.
Racism is rampant everywhere - even in subSahara-Africa where Albino children are often kidnapped and killed due to their skin colour.

Apr 24, 2019
-contd-
@mqr

In subSahara Africa, Albinos are often killed by people in the community for the colour of their skin (lack of pigmentation) because of superstitions that Albinos are evil spirits and other folk tales. So racism is alive and well even amongst Black Africans.
The fact that YOU are conflating racism with what I said about nonWhites using psychedelic drugs (from plants such as certain mushrooms) is proof that YOU are a RACIST yourself.
Basically, EVERY HUMAN IS RACIST. Why? Simply due to the fact that they are very AWARE of the differences in SKIN COLOURATION, hair texture, and all other factors that differentiate one person from another person. When you see someone, either in a crowd or alone, you will tend to be aware most of their race, skin colour, their clothing/appearance. This is the human way. But even animals are aware of the differences between them and other species. So it isn't just a human thing but practically universal.

Apr 24, 2019
Freddy says
No. You can take the test yourself...
-Hey freddy let me ask you one: did you know that the overwhelming majority of inmates in US prisons are religious? They were raised in religious families and they believed in god while committing their crimes. And, the majority of them were christian.
Perhaps god told them it was alright to victimize heathens, or only implied it through the many glorious tales of israeli conquest and cleansing. Or, as we know, jesus forgives all sins doesnt he?

At the very, very least, belief in god has no effect on criminality whatsoever. At the worst, god-endorsed tribalism is the principal cause of crime. Everywhere.

Evidence tells us real believers are the problem.
says SpookyOtto1923

Incarcerated Black Americans are majority of the Islamic religion. Islam advocates the killing of INFIDELS, which means killing everyone who is not a practicing Muslim.
White prisoners are not religious and most often are mentally deranged.

Apr 24, 2019
Psychedelics can at time induce the mind into thoughts that minds tend to fear to contemplate. Death is cease of existence in this realm. It is an emotional thought with eternal implications. Most minds find it easier to not think about and relegate to abstinate from such thoughts. An aversion or ignorance of inevitable. Psychoactive drugs can lift that self regulating preventative function the mind has instituted in its faculties to avert from emotional stress and can allow exploratory introspection on cessation of existence.
says Kron

Psychedelic drugs are not for everyone. And certainly not for inducing a vision of the Creator God and/or His Holy Angels because it would be more likely a FALSE VISION. There is no way to know how anyone's brain will react to a chemical substance such as opioids (even those so-called "magic mushrooms" that native-Americans used in their religious rituals.
Fervent Prayer and a strong desire to talk with the Creator God is the best way.

Apr 24, 2019
What I find quite funny is that even atheists tend to succumb to fantastical thoughts when emotional stressors engage to fullest:) When faced with moment of stark realization even an atheist begins to pray.

Believing in afterlife is the way to go. If you leave this world and existence ceases nothing gained, if existence continues on another plane even better. Glass half full or half empty. You decide.
says Kron

The strongest admonition is to live a good, decent life with no ill will toward anyone (or anything). The saying that there are 'no atheists in foxholes' is often true. But atheists are those who refuse to be "burdened" with rules and Laws from anyone else other than another human, and sometimes not even that. They don't believe in an afterlife, but only of the "flesh, blood and bone" of their existence. And as they grow old and infirmed, either their atheism grows stronger, or they begin to wonder if they hadn't made an error in their rejection of the Creator God

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