What Can Buddhist Meditation Teach Us about Psychedelic Science?

Katherine MacLean, PhD


Abstract: An increasingly large body of scientific evidence indicates that various types of mental training can improve cognitive performance, psychological well-being and brain function. In particular, meditation techniques drawn from the Buddhist tradition have proven effective for cultivating a calm mind, open heart and healthy body. The re-packaging of ancient Buddhist practices into a suite of modern therapeutic tools is one of the great success stories of so-called complementary and alternative medicine. What, then, can Buddhist meditation teach us about psychedelic science? While evidence is accumulating that psychedelic compounds can promote long-term improvements in behaviors, attitudes and well-being, there remain obstacles to the acceptance of psychedelics as modern medicine. In this talk, I will review and compare data from previous longitudinal studies of meditation and psilocybin, present preliminary findings from ongoing research examining the effects of psilocybin in long-term meditation practitioners, and discuss future directions for the use psychedelics and meditation to promote optimal health and well-being.

Katherine MacLean, PhD, is an Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she conducts research on psilocybin and meditation. As a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, Katherine was supported by a National Science Foundation research fellowship to study changes in behavior and brain function during three months of intensive meditation training. After obtaining her PhD in psychology in 2009, she joined the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins as a postdoctoral research fellow. Since 2009, Katherine has trained with Roland Griffiths, Matthew Johnson, Bill Richards, and Mary Cosimano on studies of psilocybin and other hallucinogens (Salvia divinorum) and has guided nearly 40 psilocybin sessions. She is currently investigating the intersection between psilocybin and meditation, including potential brain mechanisms and therapeutic applications. Outside of research, Katherine practices daily meditation, occasional handstands, and perpetual astonishment.


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