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Psychedelics and God

Speaking to people who found God after taking psychedelics

A recent study revealed a connection between regular DMT use and belief in a higher power – four people discuss their newfound faith

TextBrit DawsonIllustrationCallum Abbott

“It feels like the universe is holding you,” says 21-year-old Gemma*, “and that faith is enough. Things are going to be OK.” 

A year and a half ago, Gemma started believing in God after an experience with DMT. Previously an atheist, she thought “religious people were just desperately trying to hold onto something – false hope, or something to rationalise pain”. Now, she says that her newfound belief stems from her regular use of acid and magic mushrooms, combined with meditation. “I had the craziest experiences during meditation on psychedelics that have been the most convincing in my path to God,” she says.

Gemma is just one of many who have found God after taking psychedelics. Last month, a study revealed that most people who regularly use DMT – a hallucinogenic rumoured to mirror a near-death experience – develop beliefs in some kind of higher power. The report by John Hopkins University, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, concluded that the DMT experience was one of the most “personally meaningful, spiritually significant, or psychologically insightful” of people’s lives.

Lasting anywhere between a few minutes and several hours – depending on how much you take and the method you do so – DMT appears to have the ability to permanently alter a person’s outlook on life. 90 per cent of respondents in the study reported improved life satisfaction and wellbeing after taking the drug, while 80 per cent said they found meaning and purpose. More than half of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer did afterwards. 

“I’ve done shrooms, acid, and DMT, but DMT was by far my favourite,” Martha tells Dazed. “I’ve been dealing with depression for as long as I can remember but with DMT I felt like my mind was free.” During her trip, Martha – who was raised Roman Catholic – says she remembers sitting outside at 1AM and “looking up at the night sky, transfixed by the vastness of everything”. After her experience, as well as finding her insomnia had improved and her overall mood had lifted, Martha felt a connection to a different kind of religion.

“With DMT I felt like I was really seeing the world,” she explains. “For the first time, I was thinking outside myself. That experience made me appreciate life more. I think that’s what God is, seeing something outside of yourself – it’s selfless.”

During his experience on DMT, 24-year-old Alex says he “shot up into this spiritual realm”. Describing the trip, he explains: “I was inside this cathedral of yellow and orange energy, and felt an intense peacefulness and awe. I saw this group of people looking at me as if they were expecting me, but they didn’t say anything. I slowly came back down into my body. I felt a lingering sensation from my third eye and my spine for 30 minutes, as if I had activated my pineal gland.” 

“With DMT I felt like I was really seeing the world. For the first time, I was thinking outside myself. I think that’s what God is, seeing something outside of yourself” – Martha

Located in the centre of the brain, scientists are yet to establish the full function of the pineal gland. One thing they do know is that it produces melatonin, a hormone that’s activated when the sun goes down, which makes you feel less alert and regulates your sleeping pattern. Sometimes known as the ‘third eye’, the pineal gland is often believed to connect the spiritual and physical worlds, as it supposedly provides perception beyond ordinary sight. In his 2001 book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman hypothesised that the pineal gland, which detects daylight, is responsible for the production and release of DMT, which he says is released at the moments of birth and death.

However, it’s not just DMT that can help you find religion or some kind of higher power. Other psychedelics, including acid, magic mushrooms, and 2CB, can also have a long-lasting impact on a person’s spirituality.

As well as DMT, Alex has taken acid, mushrooms, and salvia multiple times. “There is so much we have yet to fully comprehend and understand about the workings of the universe, consciousness, and reality,” he says. “(My experiences on psychedelics have) definitely changed the lens in which I look at the ordinary world.” Alex cites an experience when he took acid at the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles. “I heard a voice repeating, ‘Unlock your sub-combination’,” he tells Dazed, “and that has stuck with me until this day. Your mind is a door and it has a lock – psychedelics are the key to open the door.”

3ION, a Baltimore-based 29-year-old who asked to go by his artist name, also began believing in a higher power after taking LSD, which he’s now taken once or twice a year since 2013. “I felt at one with everything,” he says. “It felt like I’d found an essential piece of a puzzle, but I still couldn’t articulate what that meant.” 3ION explains that the higher power was there before he started tripping, but says “the LSD made it easier to notice magic in the most mundane parts” of life. “You start to see nature breathing and dancing in this unique way. It felt like the universe was like, ‘I’ve been waiting for you’.

Gemma, Alex, and 3ION all said their psychedelic trips enhanced their creativity. “I felt an afterglow effect,” 3ION tells Dazed, “and felt more inclined to create art.” Alex even made a drawing after one of his trips to “capture the essence” of the experience.

“Your mind is a door and it has a lock – psychedelics are the key to open the door” – Alex

study released in April 2019, also conducted by John Hopkins University, highlighted the profound, life-affirming effects of psychedelic trips. “Experiences that people describe as encounters with God or a representative of God have been reported for thousands of years,” Roland Griffiths, the study’s lead researcher, said at the time. “Although modern Western medicine doesn’t typically consider ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ experiences as one of the tools in the arsenal against sickness, our findings suggest that these encounters often lead to improvements in mental health.”

In recent years, scientists have been discovering the benefits of psychedelics, which have the capacity to relieve symptoms of anxiety and PTSD, as well as untreatable depression. Research which emerged this year found that just one dose of psilocybin – a compound found in magic mushrooms – can reduce depression for as long as five years.

“My life has 100 per cent improved since I started taking psychedelics,” says Gemma. “Looking back, I was lost, I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. (Psychedelic drugs) make you question the narrative you’ve been given, and whether your thoughts, opinions, and actions are your own, which changed my subjectivity and burst open my mind. Without this, I would never have even considered God as an option.”

Martha agrees. “From my experiences, I’d say my life has changed in the sense that I realised I have to be kinder to myself and take time to pause in the moment,” she explains, adding that her journey with psychedelics is “just beginning” and that she wants “to see more”.

“I always find something profound through these experiences,” Alex adds, “and I’m always on the search to deepen my understanding of myself, the world, and this journey we call life.”

3ION describes his experiences with LSD as “therapeutic”, explaining that it made him feel “more at one with the higher power”. “Rather than making me feel like someone was judging my actions, I began to feel like I am loved unconditionally. I believed in a creator, but my idea of its attributes were skewed,” he says. Now I feel like God is my mother, God is earth, God is the universe, God is multidimensional.”

*Name has been changed