News Release

New study: Group practice of Transcendental Meditation may help decrease drug-overdose deaths

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Maharishi International University

Image 1

image: Image 1. Plot of the monthly drug-related fatality rate (red) 2002–2016 and the forecast of future values of the fatality rate 2007–2016 (blue). The forecast is based on the baseline data only. view more 

Credit: Maharishi International University, Fairfield, Iowa, USA.

A 15-year study published in the medical journal Medicina concludes that group practice of Transcendental Meditation® (TM®) and its advanced aspect, the TM-Sidhi® program, may help counter alarming rising trends in U.S. drug overdose deaths due to opioids and other drugs.

The TM and TM-Sidhi program are described as evidence-based procedures for reducing stress and tensions, improving health, and unfolding latent potentialities of human consciousness. These procedures are said to be suitable for those of all educational, cultural, and religious backgrounds.

The current study found significant support for the prediction that practice of these meditation techniques by a group of a theoretically predicted size would help decrease the rising monthly trend of drug-related fatalities by countering what the American Psychological Association and World Health Organization have termed an “epidemic of stress” that helps to fuel drug misuse and other negative public health trends. Support was also found for the prediction that the improved trend would be reversed when the meditation group fell below the required size.

According to government statistics, the U.S. has been experiencing a sustained epidemic of drug-related mortality, with U.S. drug-related fatalities reaching record highs in 2021. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that total drug-related fatalities surpassed 100,000 in 2021—more than double the total for gun-violence deaths and motor vehicle fatalities combined. Since 1999, more than one million Americans have died from drug overdose, more than total U.S. battle deaths in all U.S. wars.

These rising trends in drug overdose deaths are associated with high U.S. national stress levels as measured, for example, by data from a 2022 public opinion poll conducted for the American Psychological Association (APA). According to the APA survey, stress levels have been pushed to alarming levels by a succession of events including a global pandemic, inflation, financial worries, a cascade of collective traumas from repeated mass shootings, and the war in Ukraine.

To help counteract the pervasive negative effects of U.S. stress levels on public health, an initiative was launched at Maharishi International University (MIU) in Fairfield, Iowa USA to increase the size of a group practicing the TM and TM-Sidhi program together (see Image 2).

As shown in Image 1, during the five-year baseline period of the social experiment (2002–2006), the monthly drug-related fatality rate reported by the CDC rose in a steep trend, accompanied by a pattern of seasonal fluctuations around the trend. The blue line shows the “counterfactual” forecast of the fatality rate after the baseline period, predicting what may have happened to the rate if the baseline trend had continued during 2007–2016.

As hypothesized, the rising baseline trend was reduced (flattened out) during the five-year “demonstration period” of the study 2007–2011 (see Image 1) when the size of the MIU group was above or near the theoretically predicted level required to influence public health trends: the square root of 1% of the U.S. population, 1,725 at that time (see Image 2). The theoretical perspective underlying this research predicts that this size of the group is necessary to sufficiently relieve stress and tension in U.S. “national consciousness” in order to promote measurable improvement in stress-related national public health trends.

The authors define national consciousness (or “collective consciousness”) as the wholeness of consciousness of all the members of the nation or social group. Stress and tension in individual consciousness is said to contribute to stress in collective conscious, and vice versa. Common expressions referring to the concept of a collective consciousness, include “national mood” in public opinion polling, “investor sentiment” in finance, or “employee morale” in business.

Segmented-trend regression analysis found that the reduction in fatality rate trend during the demonstration period was highly statistically significant (two-tailed p-value < 1 × 10-9, or less than 1 chance in a billion that the true change was zero). The total percent decrease in trend was 35.5%, calculated relative to the baseline average rate.

As hypothesized, after the demonstration period the fatality rate began to increase again during the study’s five-year follow-up period, 2012–2016 (Image 1), when, due to decreased funding, the size of the group fell increasingly below the required size (see Image 2). In the first follow-up subperiod (2012–2014) the fatality rate trend increased significantly relative to the demonstration-period trend (p-value < 1 × 10-7, or less than 1 chance in 10 million).

During the second follow-up subperiod 2015–2016, the fatality rate trend increased further (p-value < 1 × 10-46 or less than 1 chance in 3.8 trillion). This accelerated rise in fatality trend was associated with a steep further decline in the size of the group (see Image 2). The increase in trend slope was 47.4% in 2015–2016 and 11.8% in 2012–2014, both calculated relative to the average rate in the demonstration period.

The study estimates that 34,194 (6,839 per year) drug-related fatalities may have been averted as a result of the decline in drug-related fatality rate during the demonstration phase. Because the fatality rate remained below the projected baseline trend until the end of 2016, another 52,115 deaths may have been averted during the follow-up phase (see Image 1). Thus, a total of 86,309 fatalities may have been prevented during the combined demonstration and follow-up periods.

The authors report that the results of this study could not be plausibly explained by other factors such as reduced prescription of opiate pain killers by physicians. According to the American Medical Association, only from 2012 through 2020 did physicians reduce opioid prescriptions, and this reduction did not result in a decline in rapidly rising rates of drug-related fatalities. Other competing possible explanations also could not account for the study’s findings, including changes in national economic conditions, pre-existing trends or patterns in the data, seasonal variation, changes in ambient temperature, violation of key assumptions of the statistical analysis, or “spurious regression.”

The authors note that two other recently published studies found a similar pattern of significant improvement in U.S. public health indicators when the size of the MIU meditation group was sufficiently large, followed by a reversal of these gains when the group size fell below the critical level: (1) a 15-year study of monthly U.S. homicide rates published in Studies in Asian Social Science and (2) a 17-year study of annual data on eight public health indicators plus a composite index published in World Journal of Social Science.

The present study also outlines the theoretical framework underlying this research. The authors point out that, although the results of the current study are consistent with a substantial body of previous peer-reviewed research, these findings appear to be paradoxical from the point of view of the dominant materialist or physicalist paradigm of modern science.

Co-author Kenneth Cavanaugh remarks: “The nature of consciousness remains a great mystery from the perspective of the materialist paradigm. By contrast, the theoretical predictions of the current research are derived from a rich theory of consciousness and its applied technologies. This Consciousness-Based® theoretical perspective was brought to light from the ancient Vedic tradition of knowledge of consciousness by the noted scholar and scientist of consciousness, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1917–2008). Further elaborated by Harvard- and MIT-trained neuroscientist Tony Nader, MD, PhD in a rigorous framework of formal logic, this perspective bridges the gap between consciousness and matter and holds that ‘consciousness is all that there is.’”

Cavanaugh added: “This Consciousness-Based perspective explains that the beneficial effects of group practice of TM and TM-Sidhi program are produced by reducing stress and tension in national consciousness through enlivening the universal field of consciousness at the basis of national and individual consciousness.”

Lead author Michael Dillbeck concludes: “The findings of the current study are consistent with those of 27 previous peer-reviewed published studies that report that improved trends in numerous other public health indicators associated with group practice of the TM and TM-Sidhi program. Taken together, these results indicate the pressing need for public and private sector support for establishing a permanent TM and TM-Sidhi group consisting of at least the √1% of the U.S. population. This approach is cost-effective: an endowment to permanently support such a group would cost less than a single U.S. B-2 bomber aircraft.”

Note: The two authors of the study are research professors at the Dr. Tony Nader Institute for Research in Consciousness and its Applied Technologies at Maharishi International University, USA. The citation for the study is: Dillbeck, M.C. & Cavanaugh, K.L. (2023). Empirical evaluation of the possible contribution of group practice of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program to reduction in drug-related mortality. Medicina, 59(2), 1–32. A free pdf of the article, like those for two other recent articles mentioned in this press release, may be downloaded by clicking on the journal’s name or its URL.

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