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The Unlikely Force Behind a Push to Legalize ‘Shrooms’ in New York

Religious texts state that when Moses climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, he was spoken to by God and inscribed that message onto stone tablets that became known as the Ten Commandments. Thunder rumbled, trumpets blared and lightning shot across the sky.

It was, by biblical and other standards, an extraordinary moment. Moses had been fasting and was clearly in an altered state of consciousness when God appeared to him, scholars say.

But what if, as at least one Jewish scholar has suggested, Moses was also high?

It may sound like blasphemy, but some religious scholars say they see an overlap between the pursuit of the divine and the use of psychedelic drugs — an unlikely partnership that underpins one of the most unusual legislative efforts in New York this session.

The goal is to expand access in the state to psilocybin, a psychedelic compound found in over 200 types of mushrooms that has been used as a part of religious experiences — as well those of a spiritual and existential sort — for thousands of years.

“There has been a long, documented history of humans interacting positively on religious, spiritual and cultural grounds with psilocybin,” said Aaron Genuth, president of Darkhei Rephua, a Jewish nonprofit that pushes for the legalization of psychedelics.

That history could trace as far back as biblical times. Benny Shanon, a psychology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argued in 2008 that the Israelites may have come across hallucinogenic plants as they wandered in the desert ahead of Moses’ revelation.

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