Magic Mushroom Research

Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate. These similarities have been identified in neural imaging studies conducted by Swiss researchers and in experiments led by Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins. …..

Since that study, which was published in 2008, Dr. Griffiths and his colleagues have gone on to give psilocybin to people dealing with cancer and depression, like Dr. Martin, the retired psychologist from Vancouver. Dr. Martin’s experience is fairly typical, Dr. Griffiths said: an improved outlook on life after an experience in which the boundaries between the self and others disappear.

In interviews, Dr. Martin and other subjects described their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Dr. Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.”

“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Dr. Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.”

The subjects’ reports mirrored so closely the accounts of religious mystical experiences, Dr. Griffiths said, that it seems likely the human brain is wired to undergo these “unitive” experiences, perhaps because of some evolutionary advantage. …..

“There’s this coming together of science and spirituality,” said Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS. “We’re hoping that the mainstream and the psychedelic community can meet in the middle and avoid another culture war. Thanks to changes over the last 40 years in the social acceptance of the hospice movement and yoga and meditation, our culture is much more receptive now, and we’re showing that these drugs can provide benefits that current treatments can’t.”

Researchers are reporting preliminary success in using psilocybin to ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses. Dr. Charles S. Grob, a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at U.C.L.A., describes it as “existential medicine” that helps dying people overcome fear, panic and depression.

“Under the influences of hallucinogens,” Dr. Grob writes, “individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change.”

– from NY Times: Hallucinogens have Doctors Tuning in Again

Some thoughts: I am not drawn to trying or using stimulants, sedatives, or hallucinoges myself, mostly because the world seems so strange, amazing, and incomprehensible as it is. But I am all in favor of promoting relatively harmless, inexpensive, and potentially very useful and helpful substances – such as psychedelic mushrooms. From what I understand, they are non-addictive and non-toxic, and although you can have a “bad trip” it seems to depend on expectations and setting. Know a bit about what you are in for, find a nice and comfortable setting, and the experience will most likely be enjoyable.

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Psychedelic mushrooms do not appear on this chart from the Lancet, but I imagine they would be at the far bottom left.

Of course, as many have pointed out, there are purely historical reasons why two mid-level substances – alcohol and tobacco – are legal, while most of the less harmful ones are illegal. It doesn’t make sense, but tradition – and prejudice – is hard to change. If we were to start from a blank slate, we would quite probably do it very differently. And if we were to legalize the use of a particular substance, psychedelic mushrooms might be a good candidate. At the very least, they could be available through prescription.

Also, decriminalizing drug use may be a very effective way to go. We only need to look at the real-life example of Portugal. They decriminalized use of drugs in 2001, and it appears to have been successful in a number of ways.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

– from Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work? in Time from last year

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