In 1962 experiments with psilocybin at Harvard University had already begun. Originally with strict set and setting protocols, Walter Pahnke courageously pushed the boundaries for these psychedelic trials. In an effort to see if psychedelics can promote mystical experiences.
The study consisted of 20 volunteers, 10 of which would receive psilocybin pills of 30 mg, and 10 of which would receive a placebo containing niacin. This would all go down at the Marsh Chapel on the campus of Boston University. The volunteers were existing students of theology and deemed more inclined to have a religious experience regardless is psychedelics being present or not.
At the end of the experiment, the volunteers were able to successfully determine who had the placebo, and who did not. However this was on a partial failure of the experiment do to the niacin effects having an effect of roughly 2 hours while the psilocybin experience lasts 4 to 6 hours. This was one of the flaws of the experiment which could have tampered with the results.
Those that received the psilocybin did report higher feelings of religious profoundness, and mysticism. Psychological tests were performed before and after the trials took place on all the volunteers, with seemingly positive results from the control group that did ingest the psilocybin.
This trial had it’s flaws, seeing as not every participant had a positive experience. Timothy Leary, the other head of some of the Stanford psilocybin experiments thought this project would contain high risks without a properly structured set and setting for people to initially dive into their first psychedelic experience.
This project received tons of media attention, in turn yielding attention to psychedelic studies, but was it responsible? How can we truly measure a “profound” experience and quantify a “closeness” with a religious deity? Is the relationship with an individuals “higher power” something that signifies a rounded mental health? All these are questions that we would love to hear your thoughts on.