Christians understand that divine grace can be experienced through ingesting a sacred substance. Jesus instituted the eating of sacraments in the Lord’s Supper, a central ritual in Christian gatherings around the world. Psychedelics are an official sacrament in multiple Christian denominations and are used by Christians for spiritual transformation and psychological healing. They are validated by scientific studies and mental health experts for their near-miraculous therapeutic potential. And they have been used for centuries in congregational settings by indigenous peoples for spiritual transformation. Unfortunately, many uninformed Christian leaders stigmatize psychedelics as demonic or evil. There are no biblical texts to support this misguided claim. According to the Bible, Christians should view psychedelic plants, fungi, and animals as part of God’s good creation–divine gifts from the Creator.
The consistent report of psychedelic users, including Christians, is that psychedelics lead to life-changing visionary experiences of divine union, like the visions of God recounted by the biblical mystics Ezekiel, Isaiah, and John the Seer. Psychedelics are an amazing tool to help Christians actually experience what they read about in Scripture. They are known by those who use them for spiritual growth as entheogens. The word entheogen is a combination of the Greek words used in the New Testament ἔνθεος and γενέσθαι, translated “to become God within.” In Christian theology, this references the doctrine of theosis or divinization–a central biblical teaching that the goal of spiritual life is union with God. The word entheogen, therefore, is a way of speaking of psychedelics as sacraments that lead to divine union.
According to Christianity, a sacrament is a conduit of divine grace. Although it is not typically psychedelic, the sacrament of Holy Communion (The Eucharist, Lord’s Supper) is understood by Christians as entheogenic in that the ingestion of substances in ritual leads to becoming more godly. The sacrament of Communion entails a mystical identification with fellow Christians and God through remembrance of Jesus’ death in ceremony (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Matthew 26:26-28). (For psychedelic explorers this can be seen as an analogy for the well-known mystical experience of ego death.) Holy Communion also involves a looking forward to the resurrection of Jesus, and the believer along with him, as liberated beings who receive the New Covenant gift of Holy Spirit. The New Covenant is a new pact replacing bondage to The Law, which represents the old paradigm agreement people unconsciously believe, “I have to work to be loved.” The New Covenant is the agreement of grace, “I deserve all the love in the universe because I know my nature is divine through union with Spirit.” It is a way of living in harmony and a state of flow with oneself, nature, and divinity.
Ingestion through eating and drinking is a powerful symbol of transformation. The practitioner actively participates in the process of grace through surrendering to the substance as it does its work digestively. She receives its transformation of healing and growth of new life in the human organism through metabolic processes of bodily alchemy that transform the elements into substance and action. We experience this metaphor of grace every time we eat. It is pronounced with entheogens (psychedelics) because these compounds open our channels of innate spiritual connection, allowing us to take in spiritual revelation and hear the voice of God directly, effortlessly, and consistently.
Psychedelics Are God-Given Gifts of Nature
Naturalists have often remarked on the marvelous fact that psychedelic compounds growing in nature are seemingly custom-designed to activate neural networks in the human brain and aspects of the psyche that lead to a sense of harmony with nature and ecstatic union with the divine. The organisms that produce psychedelic compounds have coevolved with us, or were created with us, for our mutual benefit (or both, depending on your beliefs). Psychedelic plants, fungi, and animals occur in every portion of the globe and have been recognized throughout recorded human history as spiritual supplements, administered in sacred settings. (We need not limit ourselves to nature-based compounds. Synthetic and semi-synthetic psychedelics can be viewed as human medicines co-created with the divine.) We must ask ourselves, how could plants that result in healing and spirituality be of the devil instead of God? Why are many Christian leaders the last to recognize that psychedelics are healing gifts of nature and God, lagging behind both secular science and other spiritual traditions?
Christians would do well to apply the metaphor Jesus uses in his parable about good and bad fruit to psychedelics: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers” (Luke 6:43-44, NIV). On the natural level, Jesus highlights that we recognize plants as beneficial or harmful based on the effects of the fruit they produce. Since psychedelics, taken with proper precautions in a good setting, lead to increased health in the overwhelming majority of cases, we should recognize them as good plants with good fruits. As the prophet Isaiah warns us, misdiagnosing good as evil is destructive: “Woe to those who call good evil” (Isaiah 5:20, NIV).
Should Christians Take “Illegal Drugs?”
Christians should not condemn psychedelics on the grounds that they are currently illegal in many settings because psychedelic usage is a matter of religious freedom. We have an innate human right to utilize medicines and sacraments that promote our wellbeing and spiritual growth. This should be understood by Christians perhaps more than any other group because Christians historically know what it is to be persecuted for their religious freedom. In its earliest years, Christianity was made illegal by the Roman Empire. Christians were hunted down and killed for their rituals and beliefs. They were portrayed as psychotic, evil cannibals because they ate the body and drank the blood of Jesus in their ceremonies. Christians have been persecuted and killed for their illegal religion in many societies; this is one of the chief reasons religious freedom was instituted by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution. While it is understandable and biblical to want to obey governing authorities (Romans 13), Christians have a moral obligation to protest and thrust aside unjust laws that violate divine will (Revelation).
Moreover, psychedelics are rapidly becoming legal in a variety of contexts through a modern psychedelic renaissance of research, advocacy, and religious liberty. The United States Government (along with other nations) has already sanctioned several religious organizations to legally administer psychedelics as sacraments in recognition of religious freedom. Christian-identifying denominations like the Santo Daime Church and União do Vegetal officially recognize the psychedelic ayahuasca as a central sacrament and administer it legally in their church services in the US, Brazil, and other countries. Native American congregations legally administer peyote and San Pedro cacti as sacraments in the US. Movements like Decriminalize Nature have already decriminalized psychedelics in Denver and Oakland, and similar efforts are underway throughout the United States. Magic mushrooms and MDMA are undergoing Stage III clinical trials for approval by the FDA to be reclassified as legal for administration alongside psychotherapy.
The criminalization of psychedelics is a historical blip on the screen. It is abnormal and unprecedented; most cultures in human history have revered psychedelics as sacraments. Criminalization was a reactionary backlash to the environmentalist, social justice, antiwar, and convention-questioning movements of the 1960s that psychedelics inspired in massive numbers of people who took them. It was the result of the media sensationalization of a few incidents of people taking psychedelics in an unsafe manner, resulting in the shutdown of a multitude of scientific studies that saw remarkable advances in the treatment of mental illness and drug addiction. And it was a deliberate racist political strategy to use criminalization of substances as a means to incarcerate and oppress millions of black and brown Americans through the nefarious Controlled Substances Act. Psychedelic criminalization has been a colossal assault on our collective sanity. As ambassadors of righteousness, it behooves Christians to examine the history of psychedelic legislation more closely and participate actively in social justice movements that aim to make these God-given gifts more accessible to the people who need them.
The Religious Risks of Taking Psychedelics
There are risks, however, that religious people ought to be aware of when considering psychedelics. Psychedelics are known to increase openness and cause people to change their ingrained ways of viewing themselves and the world. A recent John Hopkins study, for example, administered a single dose of psilocybin to 51 religious and spiritual participants. Fourteen months after the session, the study found that participants experienced enduring positive personality changes; particularly the trait of openness.1 (A study on Effects of Psilocybin-Facilitated Experience on the Psychology and Effectiveness of Professional Leaders in Religion is currently enrolling religious leaders as participants.)
Some people choose to change their religion as a result of their psychedelic experiences. This is not inevitable, however. Many choose to remain within their religious traditions and approach their beliefs in new and exciting ways. The Good Friday Experiment is a prototypical example. This experiment was a double-blind study conducted on 20 graduate degree divinity student volunteers in 1962 as part of the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Nearly all the volunteers who received psilocybin (the psychedelic compound active in magic mushrooms) reported profound religious experiences they still considered one of the high points of their spiritual life twenty-five years later in a follow-up study.2 Many went on to become Christian leaders and remained religious, such as the famous scholar of religions Huston Smith.
However, there is some rationale behind the condemnation of psychedelics by some Christian leaders. Psychedelic users often recount encounters with beings that appear as angels, animals, spirits, deities of other religions, or even extraterrestrials. These encounters are usually perceived as healing and beneficial. Some interpret them as purely psychological and others view them as actual spirits or a combination of both. Christian leaders have been hasty to conclude that these encounters must be demonic and therefore psychedelics are of the devil. Or they contend that using psychedelics is like playing with fire and opening oneself up to the potential of being deceived by demons appearing as light. These Christians cite Bible verses out of context that make no mention of psychedelics, such as “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). They warn their congregants that anything unknown or contrary to their interpretation of the Bible is a message from false prophets and demons that could lead the openminded Christian to lose her salvation on a slippery slope straight into hell.
The sweeping dismissal of all accounts of psychedelic communion with the divine seems validated to these leaders by the fact that most who take psychedelics broaden their perspective. They sometimes change their religion or church denomination, or expand their worldview to integrate wisdom and practices from other religions. How dare they presume that God might even be at work outside of the four walls of the Church, or that Christians might not know everything there is to know about spirituality! Because of this, I recommend that Christians who consider themselves fundamentalists, authoritarian, theologically rigid, or who view any changes to their beliefs as threatening avoid psychedelics. Psychedelics are a genuine threat to Christian doctrines that promote fear and oppression, which people often break out of after having experiences of God. For many Christians, losing the fear of hell is as terrifying as going to hell. And those who take psychedelics usually heal from their religious trauma and learn to resist the manipulative control tactics commonly employed by many churches and ministers. However, for those Christians who value the humility of wisdom and genuine experience of God over someone else’s lifeless theological certainty, psychedelics are a great fit.
Yet psychedelics are not for everyone, and they should not be pushed on anyone. Christians who do not wish to utilize psychedelics should not judge other Christians who do. The Apostle Paul’s discussion about differing degrees of confidence among Christians about eating or not eating Kosher food can be applied to psychedelics: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge…?… Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.” (Romans 14:3-4; 16, NIV). Paul says that each of us should trust our own conscience and not judge each other for our individual choices to ingest or abstain.
Erasing Psychedelic Stigma: Treatment of Drug Addiction and Mental Health Issues
Many Christians dismiss psychedelics not for theological reasons, but because they associate them with addictive drugs. Contrary to this stigma, psychedelics are one of the most promising treatments for addiction, often curing addiction entirely or resulting in long windows of sobriety for opiate, alcohol, and cigarette addiction. Medical treatment centers administer the psychoactive plant iboga to treat or cure addictive drugs including heroin, crystal meth, opioids, cigarettes, and other substances in countries like Canada and Mexico.
Psychedelics are also a breakthrough treatment for a host of mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. In Phase II FDA clinical trials for psychotherapy-assisted MDMA treatment, 68% of patients no longer qualified for a diagnosis of chronic treatment-resistant PTSD after a 12-month follow-up.3 Psychedelics also treat anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health conditions. Currently, the psychedelic ketamine is legally administered by physicians to treat depression in the United States. Christians should be aware of these miraculous healing benefits of psychedelics and spread this good news to their suffering family members and friends.
Precautions, Negative Experiences with Psychedelics, and “Spiritual Warfare”
Not all experiences on psychedelics are pleasant or beneficial. All who consider psychedelics should do their research about potential risks and preparation and find experienced facilitators who can answer their questions. Some psychedelics are gentler than others: I recommend the San Pedro cactus (named after Saint Peter’s “keys to the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16:19) as a gentle and blissful introduction for first-timers, or a light dose of mushrooms. Psychedelics are contraindicated for people with certain medical conditions, a family history of psychosis, or while taking certain medications. Psychedelic journeys can bring up deep traumas; thus, those who take them should be prepared to face and work through their problems or else abstain. But for the vast majority of people, psychedelics are not harmful. They are non-addictive and non-toxic (more accurately, anti-addictive and healing). Difficulties arise primarily when people take psychedelics in a poor setting, with an unprepared mindset, or without a support system to integrate the healing.
However, psychedelics can still result in unpleasant experiences. Most users report that even (or especially) their “bad trips” were lifechanging. The majority of these experiences can be averted or shifted by working with a guide or taking psychedelics in a setting where the user has support. Occasionally people on psychedelics have experiences that feel dark or threatening, sometimes appearing as entities. These are usually manifestations of negative emotions and tendencies in the psyche that need to be worked through. Many learn to view their unpleasant emotions and thoughts, inside and outside of psychedelic journeys, not as enemies but as teachers and parts of themselves offering insight on how to release unhelpful patterns.
This is a critical lesson for Christians who believe in literal demons. Most Christians who believe in dark spiritual forces try to fight them through combative commands or “taking authority in the name of Jesus.” This is fighting fire with fire. If you feed the energies of fear and violence with more fear and violence, they will only increase. Real spiritual warfare is learning how to see your enemies as friends in disguise. If one takes Christian teachings about spirits literally, spirits with negative energies are actually light beings who have fallen out of alignment with truth. They only appear to us as enemies if we are accustomed to viewing the unpleasant things in life as evil. The best way to work with such energies is to approach them with curiosity, detachment, and nonjudgment, asking, “Is there something I can learn from you?” If not, wish them well, send them towards the light, and intend for them to return to their original purpose. Whether these encounters are viewed as real, hallucinations, or parts of our own psyche (my main view), this new way of relating to challenging emotions and experiences is highly beneficial for facing the many challenges of everyday life.
The Christian Church can no longer afford to demonize the God-given gifts of psychedelic sacraments in a time of unprecedented human suffering and spiritual decline. Christians have a wealth of biblical reasons to take or advocate for psychedelics and oppose harmful stigmas propagated by uninformed Christians. For those interested in further study, there are libraries of books, podcasts, and scholarly literature available for free on the internet. I recommend Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence and James Fadiman’s The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys for a basic introduction.
1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Single Dose of Hallucinogen May Create Lasting Personality Change.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/single_dose_of_hallucinogen_may_create_lasting_personality_change (Release Date: September 29, 2011).
2. Doblin, Richard. “Pahnke’s Good Friday Experiment: A Long-Term Follow-Up and Methodological Critique.” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology23 (1): 1-25. http://www.atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-23-91-01-001.pdf
3. “A Phase 3 Program of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Severe Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” https://maps.org/research/mdma/ptsd/phase3
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I’m Andrew Jasko, Master of Divinity (M.Div.), Masters in Counseling in Progress, and I work to help you transform your trauma into the place of your power and connect to a healthy, authentic spirituality that works for you (whether that’s as a spiritual not religious, atheist, religious, transitioning, or agnostic identifying person). I was born into a minister’s family and became a preacher and missionary to India, after studying theology at Wheaton College and Princeton Seminary. As a Christian, my relationship with God was my passion, but unhealthy religious teachings caused me an anxiety disorder, sexual repression, and spiritual disillusionment. I felt alone, traumatized, and abandoned by the divine. After an agonizing crisis of faith, I rejected religion and spirituality. Then, I reintegrated a healthy spirituality through mystical, spiritual, and mindful practices. My passion is to help you to heal and connect with your authentic spiritual wholeness.
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