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Several rabbis have taken part in an American university experiment that studies the effect of magic mushrooms on the religious experience.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore signed up more than 20 leaders from various religious denominations after issuing a call for volunteers at the beginning of 2016.
After an initial vetting process, the participants were given two strong doses of psilocybin – which is the active ingredient in magic mushroom, a psychedelic drug.
British daily The Guardian reported that the study aims to discover whether a “transcendental experience makes the religious leaders more effective and confident in their work, and how it alters their religious thinking.”
The study will publish its findings after conducting follow-up interviews with the participants a year after the psilocybin was administered.
The paper quotes psychologist Dr. William Richards, who is involved in the study, as saying profound mystical experiences are quite common with the use of psilocybin. “It seemed like a no-brainer that they might be of interest, if not valuable, to clergy,” he noted.
As well as the rabbis (whose names, like the other participants, have not been released), other religious leaders taking part included Catholic and Presbyterian priests and a Zen Buddhist. Richards told The Guardian that although a Hindu priest or Muslim iman did not sign up, “just about all the other bases are covered.”
The two sessions took place in New York University and Johns Hopkins. After the drugs were administered, The Guardian reported that the participants spent time lying on a couch while wearing eyeshades and hearing religious music on headphones.
The paper quoted Richards as saying that, so far, all of the participants “incredibly value their experience. No one has been confused or upset or regrets doing it.”
Richards also told The Guardian that although it was too early to discuss results, “people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage” from the whole experience.
Like other religions, Judaism does not advocate the use of hallucinogens. In the Talmud (Pesachim 113a), Rav advises his son “not to get into the habit of drinking medications, lest you develop an addiction.” Talmudic scholar Rashi interpreted this as meaning that drugs are addictive and waste a person’s money.