How Do You Keep the Magic?


I'm a little late in noting this, but last week the Journal of Psychopharmacology published a follow-up to the 2006 study in which Johns Hopkins researchers found that psilocybin triggered "mystical-type experiences" in experimental subjects who had never used psychedelics before. The first report described the 36 subjects' impressions two months after the experiment, when a large majority reported meaningful, generally positive experiences of lasting significance. The new report says the general picture remained the same after another year:

At the 14-month follow-up, 58% and 67%, respectively, of volunteers rated the psilocybin-occasioned experience as being among the five most personally meaningful and among the five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives; 64% indicated that the experience increased well-being or life satisfaction; 58% met criteria for having had a "complete" mystical experience.

The sense that the psilocybin sessions had lingering positive effects on the subjects' attitudes and behavior was confirmed by "community observers." The persistence of these feelings is not surprising, inasmuch as Rick Doblin found that the good vibes from Walter Pahnke's classic 1962 psilocybin experiment involving divinity students at Boston University's Marsh Chapel were still felt a quarter century later.

Although these results may not seem startling to anyone who has tried psychedelics, it's interesting that psilocybin commonly elicits quasi-religious feelings even in a secular environment (albeit with subjects who reported "regular participation in religious or spiritual activities"). The most important aspect of the study probably is the publicity it has attracted to the possibility that something good might come from using politically incorrect drugs. My favorite part is that some of the funding for the project came from the prohibition-boosting National Institute on Drug Abuse.

I considered the legal status of religious drug use in a 2007 reason article that was accompanied by a sidebar discussing the Johns Hopkins study. Last July I reviewed Andy Letcher's history of magic mushrooms.