• Luigi Espasiano

Boundaries of the Ego and the process of belief change in psychedelic-assisted therapy

Psilocybin and psychedelic substances in general, produce a wide spectrum of acute effects affecting the perceptual, emotional and cognitive spheres. The detected effects also include the phenomenon described as "Ego dissolution." It is known that this experience can have important philosophical and therapeutic implications as much for the "healthy" subject as in some psychopathologies such as major depression or pathological addictions. The following talk aims to illustrate the available hypotheses on how psychedelics would affect our sense of self and the relevance of this phenomenon in catalysing positive change in the individual.


One of my main ares of interests is that of "addictions". One can seemingly develop an addiction to many things; one can become addicted to video games, pornography, anti-anxiety drugs, the search for rare vinyls, the list is endless. What caught my attention is the role of the spiritual experience in the resolution of addictions. For example note that in AA (alcoholics anonymous), founded by Bill Wilson, a well-known proponent of LSD therapy, they speak of "awakening" to refer to the healing process.

In my own journey of learning about psychedelics and their healing potential, it became clear how the spiritual experience plays a key therapeutic role. In the psychedelic literature, the term "mystical experience" is used. This is a problematic term and one that I use with caution because of the many associations it has with the supernatural and in general with various constructs of religious ideologies. This religious connotation is certainly one of the factors that stigmatises its systematic and scientific study.

In this first reflective essay, therefore, I want to explore with you the nature of mystical experience, setting aside metaphysical or religious associations; I will then list some clinical studies that suggest the importance of this experience in the healing process. We will conclude with some suggestions based on recent available evidence on how to avoid difficult experiences.

Walter Stace and the study of Mystical experiences

One of the leading scholars to take an interest in the phenomenology of mystical experience is Walter Stace, an English philosopher, member of Princeton's dpt. of Philosophy, whose treatise Mysticism and Philosophy, is considered among the major works on the subject. Before Stace, William James was interested in the phenomena of "religious conversion" in his well-known essay entitled "The variety of religious experiences." For the purpose of this presentation we will refer to Stace, since his work is the key reference for the bulk of scholarly research of mystical experiences.