“It is effectively a brand, a multimillion-pound industry that thrives on ever more people buying books, apps and courses,” says Wikholm. Then there’s the evangelical zeal of mindfulness fans; a well-intentioned desire to spread the word so others can benefit.
“But, primarily, there’s a problem with the way that scientific studies are reported,” says Wikholm. “Beneficial findings are overstated in some media reports, whereas studies without the expected results go under the radar. This leads to a skewed picture, wherein the enthusiasm may be ahead of the evidence. Currently, with mindfulness, the evidence is not necessarily consistent or conclusive.”
When Farias and Wikholm began researching The Buddha Pill, they were astonished at the paucity of solid studies on the benefits. Then their own research threw up surprising evidence that mindfulness has a range of outcomes – not all positive.
“To some, this will be blissful relaxation, but for others the outcome will be emotional distress, hallucinations or perhaps even ending up in a psychiatric ward,” says Farias. “David Shapiro of the University of California, Irvine, found that seven per cent of people on meditation retreats experienced profoundly adverse effects, including panic and depression.”