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A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology has found that a single dose of psychedelics can result in lasting belief changes about the supernatural or non-physical world. The study highlights that pre-existing beliefs could influence belief changes induced by psychedelic substances, and further exploration is necessary for this field.

The research team recruited 1,874 participants who reported experiences with commonly used psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, or ayahuasca. The majority of the questions in the survey were aimed at understanding the impact of a single psychedelic experience on an individual’s beliefs. The findings indicated that a single psychedelic experience could result in specific and significant changes in a person’s beliefs. Participants experienced an increase in all categories of beliefs, except superstitious beliefs, following an experience with psychedelics.

The changes remained consistent over time, even when assessed an average of 8.4 years after the experience. The study revealed that most participants reported that their fundamental understanding of reality had been altered, and there was an increase in the number of participants who identified as “believers.” The research team proposes three additional elements that may influence the direction of changes in beliefs: the cultural environment and expectations, the revelation of underlying cognitive prejudices, and experiential education through powerful personal experiences that promote non-physicalism.

The findings are in line with another study, which indicated that psychedelic drugs could alter a person’s core beliefs about the nature of reality, consciousness, and free will. However, the research team acknowledged some limitations to their new study. Firstly, the individuals who reported having psychedelic experiences resulting in a change of beliefs may not be a representative sample of typical psychedelic users. Moreover, most participants were from the United States, and the survey relied on retrospective self-reporting.

This study contributes to what is known about psychedelics and their potential for therapeutic use. The magnitude of belief changes is strongly associated with mystical experience ratings, which are assessed without reference to supernatural beliefs. These features may account for changes in beliefs such as increases in the sense of purpose and meaning of life, and that the universe is conscious. Guardrails against particular belief changes in clinical use are important, but the extent to which such nonnaturalistic beliefs may be therapeutic is unclear.

By Molly Cowell

Molly is a freelance writer who lives in Hamburg, Germany.

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