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PLoS One. 2019 Apr 23;14(4):e0214377. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214377. eCollection 2019.

Survey of subjective "God encounter experiences": Comparisons among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.
2
Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.
3
Department of Psychology, University of California San Diego, Gilman Drive, San Diego, California, United States of America.
4
Council on Spiritual Practices, Occidental, California, United States of America.

Abstract

Naturally occurring and psychedelic drug-occasioned experiences interpreted as personal encounters with God are well described but have not been systematically compared. In this study, five groups of individuals participated in an online survey with detailed questions characterizing the subjective phenomena, interpretation, and persisting changes attributed to their single most memorable God encounter experience (n = 809 Non-Drug, 1184 psilocybin, 1251 lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 435 ayahuasca, and 606 N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)). Analyses of differences in experiences were adjusted statistically for demographic differences between groups. The Non-Drug Group was most likely to choose "God" as the best descriptor of that which was encountered while the psychedelic groups were most likely to choose "Ultimate Reality." Although there were some other differences between non-drug and the combined psychedelic group, as well as between the four psychedelic groups, the similarities among these groups were most striking. Most participants reported vivid memories of the encounter experience, which frequently involved communication with something having the attributes of being conscious, benevolent, intelligent, sacred, eternal, and all-knowing. The encounter experience fulfilled a priori criteria for being a complete mystical experience in approximately half of the participants. More than two-thirds of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer identified as atheist afterwards. These experiences were rated as among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant lifetime experiences, with moderate to strong persisting positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning attributed to these experiences. Among the four groups of psychedelic users, the psilocybin and LSD groups were most similar and the ayahuasca group tended to have the highest rates of endorsing positive features and enduring consequences of the experience. Future exploration of predisposing factors and phenomenological and neural correlates of such experiences may provide new insights into religious and spiritual beliefs that have been integral to shaping human culture since time immemorial.

Conflict of interest statement

Roland Griffiths is on the Board of Directors of the Heffter Research Institute and Robert Jesse is convener of the Council on Spiritual Practices. This does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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