No Existing Evidence Suggests Psychedelics Can Alter Religious, Political Beliefs

As psychedelics slowly become more mainstream, some alarmist and exaggerated views of the substances may also be resurfacing. To help give a more grounded perspective, scientific data is used to discredit these extreme views.

Today, we look into an article that was published approximately a month ago that argues whether a psychedelic pill can change a person’s religious or political beliefs. The piece brings up ethical questions addressing whether psychedelics ar as effective as psychiatric treatments. The author, Eddie Jacobs, argues that psychedelic therapy may shift a patient’s religious beliefs or political beliefs in another direction.  However, this theory is not supported by any current scientific data.

A look at the major studies that were mentioned in the article as a basis of this argument will show that the cited evidence is inconclusive.

Jacobs first cites a small pilot study of psilocybin being used as a depression treatment. The study showed a decrease in the authoritarianism measure of seven people after a week of psilocybin treatment. However, there is no clear indication that the decrease in authoritarianism is linked to current political affiliations. The presence of many historical examples of both right-wing and left-wing authoritarian governments such as fascism and communism further quash this argument.

A different 1971 study that centered on political beliefs explored the link between increased liberalism and LSD. That study compared three groups: individuals who had never used LSD, individuals who had used it on their own and individuals who had used psychedelic substance as a medical treatment. The study discovered that the individuals who had taken LSD on their own were the only ones who showed more support for ideas such as foreign policy liberalism and individual freedom when compared with people who had not taken the psychedelic substance. Despite this finding, however, no differences between the political beliefs of those who hadn’t taken LSD and those who received the psychedelic treatment under medical supervision were observed. This suggests that medical psychedelic treatments do not change political beliefs.

With regard to religious beliefs, a study had recruited people who had had an “encounter with God experience” after consuming a psychedelic for purposes other than research. Before the experience in their psychedelic sessions, 21% identified as atheists; after the experience, that percent decreased to 8%. This decline was followed up with a decline in identification with major religions.

It should be noted, however, that the study was not representative of the general public as it only took into account individuals who had reported an encounter with God. While some evidence indicates that psychedelics can influence some changes in a person’s sense of spirituality, spirituality can mean different things for different people, so the term should be used broadly.

This only goes to show that, based on the existing data, psychedelic therapy cannot influence any major shifts in a person’s political or religious beliefs or orientation.

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