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Magic Mushrooms

For hundreds of years, people have consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms, saying the experience is deeply spiritual, expands their minds and profoundly alters their perspective about life. Heady claims, to say the least. But there's new scientific evidence backing them up.

Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins, led a team of researchers who conducted a careful study in which they gave 36 volunteers psylocybin, the hallucinogenic substance in "magic mushrooms." Two months after participating in the research in 2006, two-thirds of the subjects described the experience as mystical. In fact, one third said it was the single most spiritually significant event of their lives, and another third put it in the top five.

Now, in their first follow-up aimed at determining whether those feelings were fleeting or long-lived, Griffiths and his colleagues report in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that after 14 months the same proportion of the subjects continued to say the experience increased their sense of well-being and satisfaction with their lives. There were also indications that the experience had prompted more positive behavior, such as being more sensitive, helping others and expressing positive emotions.

None of the participants said they were worse off after the experience or reported any lasting negative effects.

The researchers say the findings give credence to the claims of people who use the mushrooms, and that the substance may help people make positive changes in their lives. But the researchers caution their findings are no license to start using the drug casually or for recreational purposes. Some participants in the study did report feeling anxious, fearful and paranoid at times during the experiment even though it was very carefully designed and controlled.

The middle-aged subjects were all healthy, well-educated with no history of mental health problems. They were given psilocybin or Ritalin without knowing which they were getting before two, eight-hour sessions. A trained professional monitored them closely in a room outfitted to look like a "comfortable, slightly upscale living room" with soft music and lighting.

The researchers also published a paper with detailed suggestions for how to conduct similar studies in the future. Griffiths and his colleagues are already planning to test psilocybin on patients suffering from advanced cancer-related anxiety or depression and drug dependence.

By Rob Stein  |  July 3, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alcohol and Drugs  
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This is encouraging and challenging--and a step toward a discussion about our out-of-step attitudes about drugs of every kind. Our drug war and the paranoia it generates has created a climate in which it is almost impossible to have a dialogue about drugs. I hope this study is the first of many that will eventually bring greater freedom to discuss and perhaps enjoy some drugs without fear of losing one's job, family, and/or freedom.

Posted by: TPS Reports | July 3, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I have used 'shrooms many times in my past...the last being over 10 years ago. Yes, the positive influences are there. Yes, spirtual experiences can be had. I never had a negative experience with them at all, unlike a few times with LSD out of the many times I used that drug as well.

While not out to find this spiritual path, I was self medicating pain from my youth, I think that this report should help others see that not everything labeled by the gov't as "narcotic", hence EVIL/ADDICTIVE/BAD, is what it seems.

I hope to see more experiments done in the future not with just this "EVIL" drug that has positive effects on it's users.

Posted by: Sterling Park | July 3, 2008 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I agree; I would add that if you only have 20 minutes to spare, smoking very strong 'salvia divinorum' [in a safe environment] by inhaling the smoked vapors and holding them for as long as possible, is even more 'awakening' [and it's still legal to buy in most places].

Posted by: mobedda | July 3, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

A friend of mine in his late thirties -- after using hallucinogenic drugs throughout his adult life -- got himself connected with a steady supply of mushrooms. He -- I should say she -- is now transgendered. I'm not judging or casting aspersions. My love for my friend is unconditional and everyone should pursue personal happiness. But I gotta wonder, was it the mushrooms? Not to bash recreational drug use, or anything ...

Posted by: bcareful | July 3, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I took mushrooms twice in my mid-twenties. I'm now in my early 50s and can still recall the peace and joy and love and spiritual awakening that came of it. It was a thrilling and vivid experience. In the right setting (I had some mild anxiety towards the end of the 2nd time - enough to remember, not enough that I couldn't think my way out of it), mushrooms can be very beneficial.

Posted by: anon | July 3, 2008 11:20 AM | Report abuse

an interesting story, but could the mushrooms actually change the make up of the brain, if slightly? I find that to be a distinct possibility. keep an eye out for more news.

Posted by: anonymous | July 3, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I've taken mushrooms about a dozen times or so and I can tell you that the experience is amazing. If you are confident that you are of relatively sound mind and body, then
shrooms are certainly an experience worth sharing with close friends. However, they can be very intense and should only be taken in a place where you feel comfortable and safe. As for the govt's position on this...who cares? What does the govt actually do other than try to spread its influence and power? Shrooms encourage independent thought, apprecation, and consideration...its no wonder the govt doesnt want you doing these!

mobedda...ditto on the salvia...all i can say about it is wow!...though the govt. will probably soon make it illegal as well.

Posted by: jim | July 3, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm middle-aged, well-educated and have no history of mental illness. Where do I sign-on for the fun?

Posted by: Yo'Mama | July 3, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I am nearly 50 and suffer from exquisitely painful Cluster headaches. I am a participant in another study through McLean Hospital to examine psilocybin use for my condition and it is the most effective medicine with the least amount of side effects.

Please continue your fine work to eliminate the needless stigma and taboos regarding this type of medicinal, non-recreational drug use.

Posted by: peev | July 3, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I ate shrooms about 30 times over a period of years, finishing about 20 years ago, mainly because the dangers of being arrested began to worry me. I found the experience to be quite interesting and enjoyable, though it could be a bit weird if I took too much. When that happened I would retreat to my sofa and just relax. In three to four hours, you are down. It's easy to manage. I would still rank walking around Yosemite National Park on psilocybin as being one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I remember taking my shoes off and walking down a trail, and thinking how natural it felt and how right. My feet are designed to be walked on!! It seemed a revelation.

Posted by: david johnson | July 4, 2008 4:36 AM | Report abuse

I agree with every thing said here. (1 must use caution if you chose to try the 'shroom, it has a different effect on everyone) it is a living,organic compound
unlike the dread lsd. it's way safer than
any synthetic chemical. i suspect because it is alive when ingested it is very,very different than anyone thinks(includes all you researchers too?) sigh, after 30years im still grinning! not bad for a "drug"?

Posted by: johnypaycut | July 7, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

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