The Science of Magic Mushrooms

A study debuts today in the journal Psychopharmacology on the possible beneficial effects of psychedelic mushrooms; the Los Angeles Times reports:

Using the active ingredient in illegal hallucinogenic mushrooms, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have induced a lingering sense of spirituality that they believe has the potential to help patients struggling with addiction or terminal cancer.

Researchers said that the 36 subjects in the tightly controlled experiment--none of whom had ever taken the drug before--already had deep religious convictions, which primed them for a mystical experience.
.......
The National Institute of Drug Abuse [NIDA] and the Council on Spiritual Practices, a Berkeley-based organization that studies drugs and spirituality, funded the research.

The researchers sought out previously psychedelic-free "well-educated middle-aged people" in the Baltimore area--and spent six years finding 36 subjects, who tripped while listening to "classical music in comfortable rooms" with a "trained monitor" present to guide them.

Two-thirds of them described their drug trip as among the five most profound events in their lives, rivaling the birth of a child.

That feeling lasted up to a year in some cases.

MAPS--the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies--which advocates and helps organize such legal research into psychedelics, provides a good link roundup of coverage of the study, including NIDA's director claiming that the researchers went off on the psyilocibin tangent without explicit NIDA approval, and the Wall Street Journal's detailed account, complete with a time chart of Western culture's relationship with magic mushrooms.

MAPS paints this research as successor to the most famous research study of the links between mushrooms and spirituality, Harvard's "Good Friday Experiment" by Walter Pahkne, which also involved the notorious Dr. Timothy Leary. May this be only the beginning of a new wave of freedom to research forbidden substances and their mysterious and intricate effects on the human mind, personality, and emotions. Here is more info via MAPS on other ongoing research projects involving psilocybin and LSD.

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  • ||

    The University of Arizona conducted a study to see if psilocybin was effective in treating OCD: Effects of Psilocybin in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I haven't heard anymore about it, so I don't know about the results.

  • ||

    There's a lively discussion at Metafilter (disclaimer: my thread).

    If anyone wants the papers, I've zipped the set and put them up at YSI here.

    A correction now on the H&R post - Brian mentions about the search for the 36 participants and then quotes, without context, that two-thirds found the experience among the most profound. Actually, there were 36 participants, 30 of whom had two blinded sessions (15 had Ritalin first, then two months later psilocybin, and 15 the other way around) 6 had unblinded three sessions. The profundity question was asked of 24 participants from the first group.

  • Garth||

    And people wonder why every couple of years I head down to Bomba's Surf Shack on Tortola for a Full Moon Party: http://mv.lycaeum.org/i/bomba/

    The "Tea* is Free" and it's the recharge I need.



    *It's a local mushroom brew

  • ||

    A step in the right direction even though magic mushrooms aren't technically illegal anyways

  • ||

    ahaha...just what libertarians needed to win the drug war...a drug that makes christians feel closer to god.

  • ||

    Hmm, didn't see this bit in the Reason summary:

    "Even in the present study in which the
    conditions of volunteer preparation and psilocybin administration
    were carefully designed to minimize adverse
    effects, with a high dose of psilocybin 31% of the group
    of carefully screened volunteers experienced significant
    fear and 17% had transient ideas of reference/paranoia.
    Under unmonitored conditions, it is not difficult to imagine
    such effects escalating to panic and dangerous behavior.
    Also, the role of hallucinogens in precipitating or exacerbating
    enduring psychiatric conditions and long-lasting
    visual perceptual disturbances should remain a topic of
    research (Abraham et al. 1996; Halpern and Pope 1999)."

    Interesting study though - would like to read more on quantifying mysticism however.

  • ||

    Even in the present study in which the
    conditions of volunteer preparation and psilocybin administration were carefully designed to minimize adverse effects, with a high dose of psilocybin 31% of the group of carefully screened volunteers experienced significant fear and 17% had transient ideas of reference/paranoia.


    As I mentioned at Metafilter, the set/setting wasn't optimal in my opinion:

    "The 8-h drug sessions were conducted in an aesthetic livingroom-like environment designed specifically for the study. Two monitors were present with a single participant throughout the session. For most of the time during the session, the participant was encouraged to lie down on the couch, use an eye mask to block external visual distraction, and use headphones through which a classical music program was played. The same music program was played for all participants in all sessions. The participants were encouraged to focus their attention on their inner experiences throughout the session. If a participant reported significant fear or anxiety, the monitors provided reassurance verbally or physically (e.g., with a supportive touch to the hand or shoulder)."

    and

    these are psychedelic-naive subjects, for whom "Some expectancy effects are unavoidable because it would be unethical not to inform both the participants and the session monitors about the range of possible effects with hallucinogens.". The music, a powerful modulator, is not of their choosing; they aren't at home or in a familiar place; they're asked to lie down on a couch with a blindfold.

  • ||

    dbcooper,

    God is to be feared, as well as loved.

    Ok, who drinks?

  • ||

    Damn scientists!! Is nothing to remain mysterious and reverent anymore? First it's marinol, now they are going to try to extract Magic Mushroom Juice. Next thing you know they will invent a phone to talk to God.

  • ||

    Interestingly enough, I actually sat next to a doctor from Purdue University and founder of the heffter institute on a plane a couple weeks back. He was telling me about this study and the interesting things they are doing with psilocybin, lsd, ecstacy and end of life transitions for terminally ill patients. Seemed fascinating. I'd like to read more.

  • ||

    I'd personally like to trip wihtout eating htose awful mushrooms though kwix. If you could buy a bottle of psilocybin extact to line a zig zag or something like you can with salvia that'd be great.

  • ||

    Ok, scientists are studying a drug that might bring us closer to God. Why does the world keep moving closer & closer toward phildickianness? What's next?...I got it!
    The Christian-Islamic Church versus the Scientific Legate.
    Film at 11:00

  • ||

    daksya - I totally agree on it not being an optimal setting. And as you correctly point out, they are newbies to the wonderful world of psychedelics.

    I wouldn't want to lie on a couch with a blind-fold on, either, and I'm no newbie.

  • ||

    One reasonable conclusion from these efforts is that God is basically neurochemistry.

  • b-psycho||

    You'd think christians would already realize that Shrooms had a purpose, since otherwise the Guy in the Sky wouldn't have made them...

  • ||

    One opinion on the psychological effects of LSD has accurately summed up my experiences with the whole group of psychedelics.

    Basically, your mind is like a screen. All of the values you have learned, and all of the information you absorb goes through this screen (mind) of yours. As time marches forward, the screen can get a bit clogged because of so many conflicting messages from the events in your life. It becomes highly difficult to see things in your life clearly. And that WAS the draw, for me anyway, of LSD. It wipes the screen clean, and allows you to again see your world as is, not as you think it is.

  • SteveInClearwater||

    It seems that in the majority of the test sessions, the subjects were also experiencing almost full sensory deprivation.

    No eyes, ears given a steady dose of classical music only, smell and taste likely remained consistent as did touch since they're described as laying on a couch.

  • ||

    SageP has a good point. I see the experience similarly. When you see someone for the first time, you notice a lot of things about their features that, over time, you stop seeing - when you see the person, you just recognize them, but you no longer notice things like the color of their eyes or shape of their mouth.

    It has to do with learning and development. The first time you do something, it's usually challenging, and requires concious effort and attention (like driving when you're 15). As you get more practice, you reach the point where you can perform what was once difficult automatically. I barely even remember my trip home from work this afternoon.

    Your brain develops automatic subroutines, or circuits - neural networks, what have you - to perform the action, and it no longer requires concious attention. As we grow, more and more of our lives are taken over by the subroutines, and our lives need less and less attention to run smoothly. We begin to, for lack of a better word, sleepwalk. This isn't necessarily good. Many of the most vivid times of our lives are the times when we lack these subroutines (childhood) or when have yet to develop them (learning how to ride a motorcycle).

    My perception of hallucinogens is that they disrupt our brain function somewhat. Not critically, but enough to prevent us from engaging the normal functions that we use to interact with the world. The world is then presented to us again, without the filters of previous experience. To allude to Blake, the doors of perception are opened, and we can see things for the first time.

  • Rich Ard||

    Man, I'm never around when they're looking for subjects for these studies.

  • Warren||

    Ooohhh Wooooowwwww maann, Looook at the moooooooon. Love those shrooms. But uh Brian, aren't you poaching on Jacob's territory.

  • ||

    "Even in the present study in which the
    conditions of volunteer preparation and psilocybin administration were carefully designed to minimize adverse effects, with a high dose of psilocybin 31% of the group of carefully screened volunteers experienced significant fear and 17% had transient ideas of reference/paranoia. Under unmonitored conditions, it is not difficult to imagine such effects escalating to panic and dangerous behavior."


    Well, having experienced about a dozen and observed hundreds of mushroom trips myself, I can tell you that panic is very common in the beginning of the trip. In fact, I find it quite suprising that only 31% experienced "significant fear." In my experience, when individuals with no prior experience with psychedelics are given a dosage large enough to induce a full-blown visionary experience, there is almost always a stage of extreme fear and anxiety, where the individual is convinced that they are dying or losing their mind (which in a sense, they are).

  • ||

    "I'd personally like to trip wihtout eating htose awful mushrooms though kwix. If you could buy a bottle of psilocybin extact to line a zig zag or something like you can with salvia that'd be great."

    Psilocybin is water-soluble and is easily extracted from dried mushrooms with warm water.

  • ||

    Ah yes another man made law to outlaw a naturally occuring piece of mother nature. I wish they would outlaw hurricanes after last year.

    To me this shows the total Dictator like tendencies of the people in power to have to gall to think they can outlaw nature.

    One thing I have always loved about the gulf coast is the fungus is amoung us au natural. Unless they plan on outlawing shit and cow fields there will always be mushrooms. I highly doubt them outlawing shit as it would make them all instant criminals everytime they open their mouths.

    Good to see a push into research of compounds already used in personal clinical testing by millions over 100's of years. The FDA only requires a few 1000 people to determine if a drug is safe for all. So comparing sheer numbers on illegal drugs to side effects versus Pharma drugs should seem a no brainer. But alas no one stands to profit from a sticky weed or mushroom cap in the natural state. We must rebuild it!

    Try stacking the caps in pure honey in a jar. Let it sit for a month and then sweeten your tea with it, easy on the stomach. Or boil in a pressure cooker until you have a thick concentrate and take a shot with a grape coolaid backer lol.

  • ||

    i personaly like to freeeze them and let the cap thaw out a little till there mushy and put son hot sauce on them and eat them like oysters

  • ||

    what a frigging waste of money this study was (with federal help as well)

    "But don't try this at home, he warned.
    "Absolutely don't." - yeah, ONLY do this in a confined room while wearing an eye mask surrounded by scientists with clipboards. fucking genius.

    Many of the 36 volunteers rated their reaction to a single dose of the drug, called psilocybin, as one of the most meaningful or spiritually significant experiences of their lives. Some compared it to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Such comments "just seemed unbelievable," said Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, the study's lead author.

    - unbelievable? this guy is a friggin retard. here's his next study "Sex, does it feel good?"

    sorry I'm not all giddy about this as some are, but this study has been already been performed for free millions of times over the past 3 decades.

  • ||

    "A step in the right direction even though magic mushrooms aren't technically illegal anyways"

    What do you mean? According to Erowid, all psilocybin-containing mushrooms are illegal to grow, distribute, or possess under US federal law, and most states have similar laws as well. Does it make any practical difference that psilocybin, rather than mushrooms, is listed under schedule 1?

  • ||

    Patrick, yes. In many(most?) states, if the shrooms haven't been dried/"prepared", and aren't indicated for consumption, they are not (Schedule I) drug containers and hence not strictly illegal. As it is, spores are legal in most states, 48 IIRC, and easily available online.

  • ||

    "Patrick, yes. In many(most?) states, if the shrooms haven't been dried/"prepared", and aren't indicated for consumption, they are not (Schedule I) drug containers and hence not strictly illegal. As it is, spores are legal in most states, 48 IIRC, and easily available online."

    I knew about the spores being legal in most states, since they, unlike the shrooms, contain no psilocybin, but I'm not sure what to believe about the shrooms themelves, because according to Erowid, psilocybin shrooms are in fact illegal, according to state law, in every state except Florida and New Mexico. They dont say anything about drying/packaging, but I'd be awfully suprised to find that its perfectly legal to grow/sell/possess shrooms so long as they aren't dried or packaged in a manner that suggests that consumption is the intended use.

    Are you saying that, hypothetically, a mushroom enthusiast could grow and sell fresh psilocybe mushrooms so long as he doesn't intend them (wink, wink) to be consumed or sell them to people he believes will consume them?

  • ||

    My favorite reason for picking fungus when I have been asked by farmers what I was doing is to simply say.

    I am a Biology major in college and I am trying to collect different species of fungus for a paper on mycology. Just pick a few odd ball tops and chuck them later, that way you look like your taking anything you can find that a mushroom ;)

    Where does one apply for these government grants? I have lots of things I would like to study on someone elses dime.

  • ||

    according to Erowid, psilocybin shrooms are in fact illegal, according to state law, in every state except Florida and New Mexico

    My bad. Just confirmed it on Erowid.

  • Tom||

    One reasonable conclusion from these efforts is that God is basically neurochemistry.

    That's a common view in neuroscience (consistent with my, ahem, informal study of psychedelics).

    My perception of hallucinogens is that they disrupt our brain function somewhat. The world is then presented to us again, without the filters of previous experience.

    They certainly disturb brain function. The second part... well, it's certainly lovely to think so.

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