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Psychedelic Medicine

Association

Predicting and Potentiating Peak Psychedelic Experiences with Sam Gandy, PhD

Summary

In this episode of the Psychedelic Medicine Podcast, Dr. Sam Gandy returns to discuss the topic of psychedelic-induced mystical experiences, looking specifically at how to predict and potentiate these experiences. Dr. Gandy holds a PhD in ecological science from the University of Aberdeen and has conducted field research across the globe. He is a researcher and science writer who is also a collaborator with the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, with a research interest in the capacity of psychedelic substances to influence individuals’ connection with nature.

Dr. Gandy begins this conversation by defining the topic of mystical experiences. He explains that while there are a number of competing terms for how to best address this subject, what is important is that the research has consistently shown that these types of experiences are closely correlated with beneficial therapeutic outcomes. Whether brought on by psychedelics or not, mystical experiences tend to produce positive psychological changes, so it is important for psychedelic researchers to take this topic seriously and thoroughly investigate these experiences and where they come from.

However, Dr. Gandy notes that there are a number of hurdles to addressing this topic scientifically. Because of the mystical or spiritual quality of these peak experiences, it can be difficult for researchers to develop sufficiently neutral language in surveys while maintaining accurate descriptions of the qualities of the altered states. Similarly, Dr. Gandy explains that therapists have to walk a fine line between not introducing spiritual or religious bias into the session through decoration or suggestion which may prioritize a certain religious tradition, while also preserving a certain type of spiritual atmosphere which is conducive to mystical experiences and thus beneficial therapeutic outcomes.

Dr. Gandy then goes on to explain variables which can be predictive of psychedelic mystical experiences. Set and setting are of course crucial, but there are a number of additional parameters to consider. Dr. Gandy explains that dose, of course, is particularly important, stating that a standard has emerged in the research around psilocybin which has found that 25 milligrams of pure synthetic psilocybin is a sweet spot for encouraging mystical experiences without leading to additional adverse reactions due to the intensity of the experience. Additionally, different psychedelic substances produce mystical experiences at different rates, with 5-MeO-DMT being the most likely to lead to these experiences. Besides dose and substance, Dr. Gandy has also found that intention as well as the personality trait known as absorption are both predictive of mystical experiences in psychedelic therapy.

To conclude this conversation, Dr. Gandy shares three possible potentiators of psychedelic mystical experiences: music, meditation and spiritual practice, and nature-based settings. Each of these items, if integrated into the experience intentionally can encourage a more immersive and intense mystical experience. For all of these, Dr. Gandy encourages further research for how they could best be integrated into psychedelic therapy practices.

In This Episode

• The psycho-social changes which often follow mystical experiences
• The connection between mystical experiences and “spiritual emergencies”
• The difficulty of working with a spiritual element in the context of psychedelic therapy and research
• How the typical Western protocols for psychedelic therapy encourage an inward experience
• Why people who rank highly in the personality trait absorption are more likely to have mystical experiences, both spontaneously and while under the influence of psychedelics
• Ways to train psychological states of surrender and acceptance prior to high-dose psychedelic therapy which can encourage mystical experiences and prevent adverse reaction

Quotes

“What makes psychedelics quite interesting is that they—under the right, appropriate conditions and contexts—they can reliably elicit these [mystical] experiences.” [4:39]

“The psychedelic 5-methoxy-DMT is definitely an interesting substance to highlight here. … The data that is there shows that when it’s used in a supportive context, it can predict mystical experiences—three quarters of cases, over that in two separate studies that have been done so far.” [31:22]

“Entering the experience with an emotional intent or a spiritual motivation seems to predict greater likelihood of mystical experiences” [34:36]

“There’s this aspect that negatively predicts mystical experience called mental barriers. And this is where you enter the experience with in some sense an overly rational, analytical way of viewing things, and if you enter the experience like that that’s a potential block on mystical experiences happening.” [44:21]

“People with meditation experience or with an ongoing practice, they seem more liable to report states of oceanic boundlessness tied to the mystical experience.” [49:16]

“Nature-based settings seem to be quite conducive to mystical and spiritual states, just inherently.” [57:00]

Links

* The Psychedelic Medicine Podcast has allowed the Psychedelic Medicine Association to post episodes as an educational resource, and in return the PMA is hosting the podcast show notes.