Imagine you’re taking psilocybin for the very first time. You ingest the shrooms, and suddenly you begin to experience strange sensations. You find yourself excited, giggly, and filled with euphoria. As you begin to hallucinate, you embark on a mystical, out of body journey. You feel at one with nature, possibly revisit old memories, and maybe even discover your life-purpose.
When the psilocybin wears off, you try to make sense of your hallucinogenic adventure. You ask yourself whether others who’ve tried hallucinogens have had similar experiences. You wonder if such drugs are a universal gateway to enlightenment — or if trips vary from person to person.
A new study suggests that the answer might be a bit of both. A team of researchers recently interviewed over 50 Norwegian psychedelic users about their experiences with hallucinogens, like LSD and psilocybin. They published their findings in Sage Journals.
The researchers found that many psychedelic users shared broadly similar experiences. They discerned that the subjects of their study had experienced three archetypical, mystical patterns in particular: “(1) the transcendence of time and space; (2) deep euphoria; and (3) the perception of being at one with ‘a larger whole.’”
As the study’s authors interviewed their subjects, such patterns repeatedly emerged, but the researchers also found that the psychedelic users experienced “culturally specific storylines.” That means that cultural and situational forces influenced their particular experiences with hallucinogens.
We take from the abstract, dis-embodied stories and integrate personal details to make them specific to our own experiencesResearch Authors Copes, Gashi, & Pedersen
For instance, many of the test subjects experienced a renewed concern for nature and the planet’s fate after they’d taken the substances. The researchers linked this pattern to contemporary Norwegian politics, which is increasingly concerned with “climate, ecology, nature and plants.”
“The general pattern of their experiences (from the ineffable quality, to the transcendence of time and space, to the mystical level) is consistent with decades of research on psychedelics,” the study’s authors stated. “However, the specific nature of the stories they told, from analogies and metaphors to the details of their perceptions, can be interpreted in the light of these participants’ cultural and political environments.”
The researchers concluded that both mystical themes and contemporary culture played a role in psychedelic experiences.
“While people are storytellers, we do not create stories from scratch. Instead, we draw on pre-existing themes and tropes to shape our stories. We take from the abstract, dis-embodied stories and integrate personal details to make them specific to our own experiences,” they wrote. “As such, our findings show support for the mediated nature of mystical experiences and illustrate how narratives both explain and shape these experiences.”