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Walter Norman Pahnke (Jan 18, 1931 - July 10, 1971) was a minister, physician, and psychiatrist most famous for the "Good Friday Experiment", also referred to as the Marsh Chapel Experiment or the "Miracle of Marsh Chapel".

Pahnke attended Harvard in the early 1960s. He earned an MD from Harvard Medical School, a BD (now MDiv) from Harvard Divinity School, a PhD from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and a Harvard psychiatric residency. He was a psychedelic researcher at Harvard University.

On April 20, 1962, Pahnke conducted the "Good Friday Experiment" as part of his Ph.D. thesis in Religion and Society under his thesis advisors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert.[1] In this experiment, ten students from Andover Newton Theological School were given 30 mg psilocybin and ten were given an active placebo (niacin - vitamin B3) in a religious setting (a Good Friday service) to see whether entheogens could help facilitate a genuine religious experience. Nine out of ten of the students reported religious or mystical experiences while only one of ten in the placebo group reported the same. Among those who participated in the study were Leary and Huston Smith, professor of philosophy at MIT and respected religious scholar.[1] Later follow-up studies (see Marsh Chapel Experiment) confirmed the results and the thesis that primary religious experiences could be occasioned by using psychedelic drugs in a religious setting.

In 1967, Pahnke joined the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Spring Grove, Maryland. He conducted psychedelic therapy sessions using LSD and DPT ,with terminal cancer patients as well as people suffering from alcoholism and severe neurosis. There he worked with therapists Stanislav Grof, Bill Richards, and Richard Yensen, among others. Pahnke served as director of the project from 1967 until 1971, when he died in a scuba diving accident in Maine.


  1. ^ a b Pahnke, Walter Norman, Drugs and Mysticism: An Analysis of the Relationship between Psychedelic Drugs and the Mystical Consciousness. A thesis presented to the Committee on Higher Degrees in History and Philosophy of Religion, Harvard University, June 1963. See also MAPS collected commentary, reviews, and recordings of the sermon.


  • Drugs and Mysticism [PhD thesis] (1966)
  • Drugs and Mysticism (1966)
  • Implications of LSD and Experimental Mysticism (1966)
  • LSD and Religious Experience (1967)
  • The Psychedelic Mystical Experience in the Human Encounter With Death (1971)
  • The Use of Music in Psychedelic (LSD) Psychotherapy (1972), with Helen Bonny