Psilocybin Enhances Mindfulness-Related Capabilities in a Meditation Retreat Setting: A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled fMRI Study
Milan Scheidegger, M.D., Ph.D., M.A. HPK
Lukasz Smigielski, Michael Kometer, Rainer Krähenmann, Theodor Huber, Franz X. Vollenweider
Under supportive conditions, psychedelics can induce personally meaningful and profound psychospiritual experiences with a striking resemblance to mystical experiences reached in very deep meditation. Likewise, improvements in mindfulness-related capabilities may not only be enhanced by meditation practices but also through distinctive features of the psychedelic experience.
In order to investigate the neurobiology of expanded states of consciousness and the potential of psilocybin to facilitate mindfulness-related capabilities, we conducted a neuroimaging study with long-term meditators in a meditation retreat setting. We found that psilocybin induced profound mystical experiences and increased both self-reported meditation depth and post-retreat levels of mindfulness. Psilocybin-related changes in functional brain connectivity revealed neurodynamic modulations in self-referential information processing networks that subserve the process of meditation. Notably, participants in the psilocybin group showed marked positive changes in mood, attitudes, and behaviors as well as spiritual growth in the long-term follow-up.
We conclude that psilocybin has the potential to facilitate profound and personally meaningful spiritual experiences in experienced meditators within a contemplative retreat framework, which underscores the importance of set and setting and the conjunctive role of mindful stance to facilitate beneficial outcomes of psychedelic experiences. Through enhancing mindfulness-related capabilities and well-being, psilocybin may have promising therapeutic impact for integrative transformational healthcare.
Milan Scheidegger, M.D., Ph.D., M.A. HPK,, completed his Ph.D. in functional and molecular neuroimaging at the Institute for Biomedical Engineering (University and ETH Zurich). As a resident physician at the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics (University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich) he is currently researching the neurobiology and pharmacology of altered states of consciousness. He is member of the Swiss Society for Psycholytic Therapy (SAEPT) and investigates the potential of psychedelics such as ketamine, psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT to facilitate therapeutic transformation. On his ethnobotanical expeditions to Mexico, Colombia and Brazil he explored the traditional use of psychoactive plants in shamanic rituals. In addition to empirical research, he earned an M.A. degree in History and Philosophy of Knowledge (ETH Zurich). His main interests include biosemiotics, epistemology and phenomenology of consciousness, mindfulness and deep ecology.