Psilocybin’s impact on intensely positive experiences deserves a closer look
Psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin have been of interest to psychologists due to their ability to induce altered states of intense well-being and profound personal significance. A recent study asked people, some who were psilocybin users and others who were not, about the best, most wonderful experiences of their lives. Some users said that the most wonderful experience occurred under the influence of psilocybin. Other users, who had their most wonderful experience while not under the drug’s influence, nevertheless reported a profound alteration of consciousness that was similar in some ways to the effects of psilocybin. For example, they described unusual visual hallucinations in addition to transcendental mystical states. Both groups of users said their most wonderful experience involved a more profoundly altered state of consciousness compared to the experiences of non-users. One possible implication of this study is that psilocybin could have lasting effects on a person’s ability to enter altered states of consciousness without drugs. However, further research is needed to confirm if this is actually the case.
Psychologists have long been interested in understanding the human capacity for intense well-being. Abraham Maslow, a pioneer of humanistic psychology, in particular coined the term “peak experiences” to refer to states in which a person feels intensely positive emotions such as great ecstasy, wonder and awe (Klavetter & Mogar, 1967). He considered peak experiences to be a sign of psychological health and thought that such experiences were particularly common in people who were fulfilling their deepest human potentials. Maslow conceptualised peak experiences as a perception of “Being” or “ultimate reality” in a mystical sense, although other researchers have used the term more broadly to refer to the most wonderful or best experiences in a person’s life.
Pioneering studies in the 1960’s investigated the potential of psychedelic drugs such as LSD to induce peak experiences. For example, one study on LSD-assisted psychotherapy found that under the influence of LSD some people had experiences involving feelings of intense beauty, a sense of deeper perception of reality, and of self-transcendence (Klavetter & Mogar…