MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES LINKED TO PSILOCYBIN MUSHROOMS

09/25/06

From a Johns Hopkins University press release dated July 5, 2006: Scientists Show Hallucinogen in Mushrooms Creates Universal Mystical Experience Rigorous study hailed as landmark (Links to all of the papers discussed here may be found at end of this article.)

Using unusually rigorous scientific conditions and measures, Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that the active agent in "sacred mushrooms" can induce mystical/spiritual experiences descriptively identical to spontaneous ones people have reported for centuries. . . . The resulting experiences apparently prompt positive changes in behavior and attitude that last several months, at least. The agent, a plant alkaloid called psilocybin, mimics the effect of serotonin on brain receptors—as do some other hallucinogens—but precisely where in the brain and in what manner are unknown. . . . An account of the study, accompanied by an editorial and four experts’ commentaries, appears online today in the journal Psychopharmacology. Cited as "landmark" in the commentary by former National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) director, Charles Schuster, the research marks a new systematic approach to studying certain hallucinogenic compounds that, in the 1950s, showed signs of therapeutic potential or value in research into the nature of consciousness and sensory perception. "Human consciousness…is a function of the ebb and flow of neural impulses in various regions of the brain—the very substrate that drugs such as psilocybin act upon," Schuster says. "Understanding what mediates these effects is clearly within the realm of neuroscience and deserves investigation." . . . "A vast gap exists between what we know of these drugs—mostly from descriptive anthropology—and what we believe we can understand using modern clinical pharmacology techniques," says study leader Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a professor with Hopkins' departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry and Behavioral Biology. "That gap is large because, as a reaction to the excesses of the 1960s, human research with hallucinogens has been basically frozen in time these last forty years." All of the study's authors caution about substantial risks of taking psilocybin under conditions not appropriately supervised. "Even in this study, where we greatly controlled conditions to minimize adverse effects, about a third of subjects reported significant fear, with some also reporting transient feelings of paranoia," says Griffiths. "Under unmonitored conditions, it's not hard to imagine those emotions escalating to panic and dangerous behavior." The researchers' message isn't just that psilocybin can produce mystical experiences. "I had a healthy skepticism going into this," says Griffiths, "and that finding alone was a surprise." But, as important, he says, "is that, under very defined conditions, with careful preparation, you can safely and fairly reliably occasion what's called a primary mystical experience that may lead to positive changes in a person. It’s an early step in what we hope will be a large body of scientific work that will ultimately help people." Dr. Bill Richards, co-author of this study, joined Dr. Carol Roberts and Rob Lorei on this edition of the Alternative Health program.

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