Walter N. Pahnke (1931–1971) was a minister, physician, and psychiatrist who 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 and best known for the "Good Friday Experiment". This is also referred to as the Marsh Chapel Experiment or the "Miracle of Marsh Chapel". On April 20, 1962 Pahnke conducted an experiment as part of his Ph.D. thesis in Religion and Society under his thesis advisors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. In this experiment, ten students from Andover Newton Theological School were given 30 mg psilocybin and ten 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.
In 1967, Pahnke joined the team at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Spring Grove, Maryland, conducting psychedelic therapy sessions with LSD and later 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 and served as director of the project from 1967 until 1971. In 1971, Walter Pahnke died in a scuba diving accident in Maine.
- Pahnke, Walter N., 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. Cited in Masters, R.E.L., & Houston, Jean., The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience (Turnstone Books, 1973).
- 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