In the past, magic mushrooms have been synonymous with hippies, the 70’s and all things groovy baby. But scientists who have been studying them at the John Hopkins University think we should start taking them a little more seriously. In their research, they found that the active ingredient – psilocybin, when used correctly, can create feelings of a positive nature and could be a potential benefit to those suffering from depression. The study, which was published recently in the Psychopharmacology Journal, took 18 volunteers and tested their reactions after they were treated in five 8-hour sessions with four different doses of psilocybin and one placebo. Results showed that 14 months after the sessions, 83% of the volunteers given the higher doses of psilocybin said they felt much more positive whilst 89% reported improvements in their behaviour. A whopping 94% of those tested said the experience was one of the most “spiritually significant” in their lives. Not one of the volunteers felt worse after taking the mushrooms.
The active hallucinogen psilocybin in mushrooms, is known to trigger transformative spiritual states, but at high doses it can also result in ‘bad trips’ which can result in panic attacks and wild behaviour. It is therefore important to get the dose just right and find the correct amount in which to administer. The surroundings in which the drug is taken is also important. Participants should be tested in a relaxed and safe environment and monitored closely throughout the experience. Before volunteers are allowed to participate in the study, they are screened for physical and emotional problems and are started off on low doses of psilocybin to make sure they do not get too anxious.
Roland Griffiths, the Professor of behavioural biology at Hopkins says, “The important point here is that we found the sweet spot where we can optimise the positive persistent effects and avoid some of the fear and anxiety that can occur and can be quite disruptive.” To zero in on this ‘sweet spot’ of dosing, Griffiths started half the volunteers on a low dose and gradually increased their doses over time, the other half started on a high dose and worked their way down. For those who started on a low dose, results showed that their experiences tended to get better as the dose increased. This may be due to the fact that they learned what to expect and how to handle it. But the volunteers who started with high doses experienced more anxiety and fear (though these feeling didn’t last long and sometimes resolved into euphoria or a sense of transcendence).
Unfortunately,the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms are illegal in America but Griffiths hopes his research could help persuade the FDA to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. One volunteer, Richard Boothby, 57, a philosophy professor at Loyola University, said the experience helped him cope with the suicide of his son and “It was a truly unforgettable and transforming experience,” he said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”