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"Magic Mushrooms" Supposedly Good for You -- No, Seriously:

A Johns Hopkins press release reports:

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....

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." ...

In the study, more than 60 percent of subjects described the effects of psilocybin in ways that met criteria for a "full mystical experience" as measured by established psychological scales. One third said the experience was the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes; and more than two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful and spiritually significant. Griffiths says subjects liken it to the importance of the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.

Two months later, 79 percent of subjects reported moderately or greatly increased well-being or life satisfaction compared with those given a placebo at the same test session. A majority said their mood, attitudes and behaviors had changed for the better. Structured interviews with family members, friends and co-workers generally confirmed the subjects' remarks. Results of a year-long followup are being readied for publication.

Psychological tests and subjects' own reports showed no harm to study participants, though some admitted extreme anxiety or other unpleasant effects in the hours following the psilocybin capsule. The drug has not been observed to be addictive or physically toxic in animal studies or human populations....

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Scientific Study of Magic Mushrooms and Mystical Experience:
  2. "Magic Mushrooms" Supposedly Good for You -- No, Seriously:
AnonymousPoster:
Yet another study confirming what so many have known for so long. I also find it laughable that they do not think their "greatly controlled conditions" actually increased the amount of bad trips. Mystical experiences do not lend themselves to being strictly monitored and controlled.
12.19.2006 7:57pm
Mac (mail):
Well. I bet researchers had no trouble finding subjects for this study.
12.19.2006 8:18pm
Read frequently, comment infrequently:
Psilocybin is also being tested to reduce anxiety in cancer patients (see here).

It may be a Schedule I drug, but if it increases people's well-being, who cares?
12.19.2006 8:41pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
The biggest problem with the study is self-selection by the volunteer subjects. The likelihood that they represent a typical cross-section of Americans is low. These people hoped for a great "trip," and it is no surprise that so many of them got it. I highly doubt that a skeptical person such as I would find a drug-induced hallucination to be as significant an event as the birth of my children, and I doubt even more that it would generate long-lasting behavioral changes.

The use of a placebo control group was a joke: how could the subjects not know whether the capsule they ingested contained a hallucinogen? The effects certainly aren't subtle, and subjects on placebo were unlikely to believe that they received psilocybin.
12.19.2006 8:51pm
Greg S. :

Mystical experiences do not lend themselves to being strictly monitored and controlled.


And how. They should have let the participants enjoy Yosemite Valley (or any other comparably inspiring natural setting). Talk about a mystical experience.

(Not that I would know?)

Seriously, it's encouraging to see some well structured investigation of this. As the press release noted, this area has been neglected for decades. I wish I was optimistic that this study marks a turning point.
12.19.2006 8:51pm
WHOI Jacket:

How do you placebo hallucination-inducing drugs?
12.19.2006 9:01pm
Greg S. :

The use of a placebo control group was a joke: how could the subjects not know whether the capsule they ingested contained a hallucinogen? The effects certainly aren't subtle, and subjects on placebo were unlikely to believe that they received psilocybin.

I only glanced at the press release but I did see a reference to the placebo, methylphenidate, which is also a psychoactive drug. Despite being widely prescribed, it isn’t terribly well characterized. The release also made some mention of additional controls.

I’m not suggesting that this single study is perfect. That’s not the nature of this course of investigation. It does look reasonably rigorous and, if other researchers purse this line of inquiry, it might prove very illuminating. Or not, which is useful in its own scientific right.

As for the volunteers, that’s the nature of the beast. At this ridiculously early stage of the investigation, you’re always dealing with willing participants. Ethical scientists can’t exactly recruit people under the pretense of a vitamin study and then slip them a hallucinogenic agent unaware.
12.19.2006 9:04pm
jeffreymark (www):
Hey dudes, like in the 70's I knew this dude who ate magic mushrooms and fell into a spiritual trance man. After he stuck his finger in an electrical outlet he passed out and went to shakin all over man. Some fellows in white jackets arrived on the scene and spoiled his trip man. Dudes, whatever he saw while on those magic mushrooms definitely changed his life. He took those things again and went flying in his car- right off a 50 ft. drop man. Like those 'shrooms man, carried him right up to heaven man. True story man.

12.19.2006 9:20pm
moof (www):
... because that is a statistically common occurrence among users of psychedelics, I'm sure.

"In the course of two [LSD-25] experiments I was amazed and somewhat embarrassed to find myself going through states of consciousness that corresponded precisely with every description of major mystical experiences that I had ever read ... I found I could move with ease into the state of 'cosmic consciousness,' and in due course became less and less dependent on the chemicals themselves for 'tuning in' to this particular wave length of experience." - Alan Watts

It is obvious they have potential for psychotherapy, it is only a matter of whether we as a society are ready to let researchers develop a methodology for their usage in that context.
12.19.2006 9:28pm
Patrick S. O'Donnell (mail):
What counts as a 'mystical experience' should be determined by criteria derived from mystical traditions and mystical 'schools' within religious worldviews, not 'psychological scales' (that is, unless such scales have been sanctioned by the aforementioned traditions). There are various kinds of mystical experience and there exists a sophisticated literature addressing psychological and philosophical (linguistic, epistemological, ontological, and ethical issues) questions that arise in claims of mystical experience: there is no consensus as to what is deserving of this appellation. For a nice introduction, please see Jerome Gellman's entry on "Mysticism" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2005 Ed.) (online).

It has long been known among those with some experience of psychedelics of one kind or another that a person's character, his or her psychological maturity, and especially emotional state of mind are all important variables that affect whether or not one will experience fear, paranoia and so forth, in other words, have a 'bad trip.' For instance, anyone depressed, moody, irritable, anxious, or with a fragmented sense of identity (little or no consolidation of the ego) should by all means avoid mushrooms, LSD, etc.; analogous to meditation practice: such practice assumes an ego to transcend, hence those lacking solid ego identity are ill-suited for meditation. And highly ritualized conditions not far from the 'controlled conditions' above appear to facilitate the state of mind conducive to a beneficial experience (i.e., experience different or non-standard states of consciousness). Before he became a celebrity, Andrew Weil wrote The Natural Mind (1971; new ed. available), a book that explored some relevant issues with practical and conceptual clarity.
12.19.2006 9:37pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I have had much the same experience while inhaling quantities of nitrocellulose smoke.
12.19.2006 9:42pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
They stand on the shoulders of giants.
















Mine.
12.19.2006 9:50pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Most drugs, illegal or legal, have good and bad aspects to them.


For instance, anyone depressed, moody, irritable, anxious, or with a fragmented sense of identity (little or no consolidation of the ego) should by all means avoid mushrooms, LSD, etc.; analogous to meditation practice: such practice assumes an ego to transcend, hence those lacking solid ego identity are ill-suited for meditation.


I'm not sure about the ego nonsense, but a certain % of the population -- mostly those whose brains naturally absorb the least amount of seratonin -- (on the tail end of the bell curve) are subject to or otherwise predisposed to significant anxiety and depression. And indeed, probably the biggest drawback to not just these hallucinogens, but also pot is the potential negative emotions -- the "bad trip" if you will, that can result if these folks take them.

On the other hand, I know a lot of folks with more laid back personalities who have never had a bad experience on any of these drugs.

Most experts will tell you that such personality differences -- between the high strung more anxious type A and the more mellow laid back type B -- have little if anything to do with "psychological maturity" or "transcending ego," but are simply unchosen and to some degree immutable personality traits. They are not entirely immutable because you can take an antidepressant to raise your seratonin levels. You can also, I understand, use cognitive therapy to change your thought patterns and this can help. It is a lot easier (and arguably more effective) to just pop an antidepressant.
12.19.2006 9:52pm
Anonymous user (mail):
Almost everyone who has ever used a psychedelic drug such as LSD has reported that it is a phenomenal, life-changing, terrific experience. Those who scoff at such statements and bitch about dumb hippies, etc., have invariably never tried it. In my experience, LSD allows you to form thoughts and insights and have experiences you can't imagine. It is simultaneously grounding and inspiring. It has no real long-term effects so far as I can tell for mentally stable and laid-back people, and overdosing is impossible. I recommend everyone give it a try at some point in their lives.
12.19.2006 10:09pm
liberty (mail) (www):
How could anyone possibly know if the mystical experiences were remotely similar, let alone identical, to ones experienced (and reported) by others? And if you could know, so what? Who is to say that those experiences are healthy? And if using this hallucinogen does "prompt positive changes in behavior," we still should admit what this is: the effects of a drug on behavior, comparable to sedatives and mood altering substances.

Until we have proof that the relgious experiences of people using drugs that directly interact with the parts of the brain the control serotonin and areas like the amygdala, hippocampus &hypothalamus which control identity and are known to be involved in religious experiences, ARE RELIGIOUS and not just chemical, I don't see why we should treat use of these drugs to control behavior any differently than drugs which sedate or stabilize mood via other methods.

That said, none of them should be illegal.
12.19.2006 10:10pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"overdosing is impossible"

Ha. You've obviously never met any of the now-bums who took equiv 100+ hits of 1960s LSD at one point and never returned to the land of the sane. I have known several.
12.19.2006 10:12pm
WHOI Jacket:
Syd Barret would like to have a word with you...
12.19.2006 10:33pm
liberty (mail) (www):
In my experience, LSD allows you to form thoughts and insights and have experiences you can't imagine. It is simultaneously grounding and inspiring.

Let's not be overly romantic about the religious life-changing experiences aspect of this drug-induced euphoria / altered state. We have to be clear: there's reality, there's tripping, there's the stuff you're not sure if its real or not because you took too much acid when you were a kid, and there's reality. You have to keep them separate.
12.19.2006 10:43pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Ha. You've obviously never met any of the now-bums who took equiv 100+ hits of 1960s LSD at one point and never returned to the land of the sane. I have known several.

I was taught law by one. Seriously. He'd represented Timothy O'Leary and, we guessed, took some of the retainer in trade. Would in a lecture shift in mid-sentence from ponderously reading his notes to speaking at 20 words a second and then, ten minutes later, revert.

Could still write a heck of a law review article, tho.
12.19.2006 10:54pm
nrein1 (mail):
In my experience, LSD allows you to form thoughts and insights and have experiences you can't imagine. It is simultaneously grounding and inspiring. Yeah and if you actually write down your deep insights and look at them sober you realize how stupid most of them are. Not that I didn't enjoy my many trips.
12.19.2006 11:08pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Could still write a heck of a law review article, tho."

Thats good. It occurs to me that its a bit like seeing double. At the eye doctor recently I was made to look through a lens that made me see double, but both images were clear. Some long-time acid users can get along just fine, but have sort of multiple realities. In each of them, they function perfectly well, and it may take some probing before you can tell that they are "seeing double."

Still, it is not necessarily all positive, this life-changing part. And it certainly doesn't require "bad trips" to produce long-term effects. It most likely doesn't require any predisposition to schizophrenic disorders either, though we do not know. Certainly different people will have different thresholds, but that is what makes it dangerous.
12.19.2006 11:12pm
Xmas (mail) (www):
Mushrooms make you pee like crazy. I had a mystical experience with my 10 trips to the bathroom.

On the plus side, I could see in the dark, so I didn't have to turn on those harsh bathroom lights. Oh, and the toilet turned into a fractal. I guess that's a plus, too.
12.19.2006 11:14pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
In my experience, LSD allows you to form thoughts and insights and have experiences you can't imagine. It is simultaneously grounding and inspiring. Yeah and if you actually write down your deep insights and look at them sober you realize how stupid most of them are.

They might win a prize in a modern poetry competition, unless they were insufficiently self-absorbed.
12.19.2006 11:38pm
Porkchop (mail):
Maybe you could invite Carlos Castaneda to be a guest blogger sometime. :-)
12.19.2006 11:43pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Mushrooms make you pee like crazy. I had a mystical experience with my 10 trips to the bathroom.

Had the same mystical experience with Bacardi 141. I went to the bathroom, in the dark, and noticed that a strange diffuse light filled the room. Strangely, its light felt cool rather than warm. A world of brightly colored objects appeared, and the bathroom wall seemed to open into a universe of them.

At that point I realized I was peeing into the refrigerator.
12.19.2006 11:43pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
I'm not sure about the ego nonsense...


On nohz, ny irony meterz are broke.
12.20.2006 12:43am
Mahan Atma (mail):
You've obviously never met any of the now-bums who took equiv 100+ hits of 1960s LSD at one point and never returned to the land of the sane.


You've obviously never met any of the now-bums who left the land of the sane without ever having touched LSD, or any other psychedelic for that matter.

I've known several.
12.20.2006 12:45am
moof:

What counts as a 'mystical experience' should be determined by criteria derived from mystical traditions and mystical 'schools' within religious worldviews, not 'psychological scales' (that is, unless such scales have been sanctioned by the aforementioned traditions). There are various kinds of mystical experience and there exists a sophisticated literature addressing psychological and philosophical (linguistic, epistemological, ontological, and ethical issues) questions that arise in claims of mystical experience: there is no consensus as to what is deserving of this appellation.



Until we have proof that the relgious experiences of people using drugs that directly interact with the parts of the brain [that] control serotonin and areas like the amygdala, hippocampus &hypothalamus which control identity and are known to be involved in religious experiences, ARE RELIGIOUS and not just chemical, I don't see why we should treat use of these drugs to control behavior any differently than drugs which sedate or stabilize mood via other methods.


All experience, all consciousness, is fundamentally a chemical interaction. Moreover, it is evident that many religious or mystical experiences from different cultures and traditions share strikingly similar aspects. It seems apparent, then, that there an organized biochemical basis of mystical experience which can be assisted by the use of psychedelics. But of course there are always going to be heavy environmental and dispositional factors which serve to create that experience, just like in religion. You don't walk into a church and have a religious revelation (usually), but it would be hard to avoid a bit of that if you experienced something intensely spiritual in nature, according to your own associations ... say, seeing the planet from orbit, the night sky unhindered by light pollution, or, just maybe, walking into an old and lovely cathedral. But by all accounts, such an experience is something of a spontaneous collision of factors.

Psychedelics provide the potential to have a similar experience in ordinary circumstances. But it is by no means a sure thing. Because the benefits one reaps from insight are cognitive and not merely physiological, it requires your participation, so to speak. You can join a religious tradition and never take it further than Sunday mornings and the community it brings. Or you can whisk way to a monastery and probe the deepest mysteries of life and all that jazz. As enablers of mystical experience, religion and psychedelics are similar in this way.

Ultimately, there really hasn't been enough research on psychedelics - due in part to their legal status - to make any hard and fast conclusions about their nature, value, or applications. Yet the reality remains that they have had a profound impact on many cultures throughout history, have powerful and little-understood effects on consciousness, and that those effects can create what are subjectively among the pinnacles of human experience.

As someone else said, it is also evident that through their role in primitive culture we can see that ritual - which is a powerful organizing and channeling force psychologically and environmentally - has an important impact on the effects of these drugs. In a culture conspicuously devoid of that sort of complex, symbolic, and I dare say often psychedelic ritual, it's not surprising that people encounter difficulties and bad trips. Throw in all the anxieties and psychopathologies granted to us by modern technological society, and you can speculate as to why psychedelics often come with significant psychological risks.

It's not really appropriate to approach the experience as a dubious and suspect wholesale departure from normal reality. Anyone who has done a psychedelic in anything less than a very high dosage probably knows that it is much more an elaboration of reality than it is a confusion of it. So although it may be unwise to approach the experience with undue romanticism, it is also unwise to pretend that it throws some kind of unreality switch in the head. Consciousness is organic, and the control processes that provide for stability also chain the nature of perception and thought to certain expedient modalities. In taking psychedelics you are somewhat unhinged from those controls, and that provides for the possibility of insight, mystical experience, creativity, etc.

Psychedelics require levels of self-control, self-awareness, introspection, and other aspects of psychological maturity that are not best fostered by an underground, recreational culture. To that end, I do not think that their full potential has been properly grasped on a societal scale.

I think we tend to look at drugs in a polarized manner, and forget all the cultural, social, political, and other environmental aspects that flow into determining almost every characteristic they possess. It merely takes a look into the history of what are considered to be illicit, dangerous, and completely irredeemable drugs today to find times and places in which their usage was moderate, culturally acceptable, and even sophisticated. So in our culture, we take a skeptical and materialistic approach that such substances are "just chemicals" and ultimately less important or less fundamental than experiences in art, religion, education, or even our beloved pharmaceuticals. Contrary to our pretentious of objectivity, this is an approach that by its very nature defines the drug as such.

As I said, the drug is merely an enabler for the insights which make the experience profound. So you get more or less what you ask for, making the access criteria something of a mysterious conundrum. Hopefully more research will find a suitable description of both the psychological and environmental access criteria for an experience that is beneficial to intellectual and emotional development, which is clearly the best that psychedelics have to offer.
12.20.2006 2:26am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
According to philosophy of religion professor Paul Schmidt, it was found that true religious experience was distinguished from drug-induced religious experience by a lack of hangover.
12.20.2006 4:42am
Kovarsky (mail):
Ugh does this control for too much grateful dead and zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance?

Reminds me of great Hedberg:

My friend said to me he said "I think the weather is trippy" and I said "No man, it's not the weather that's trippy. Perhaps it is the way we perceive it that is indeed trippy." Then I thought man, I should have just said "Yeah."
12.20.2006 4:55am
BT:
Could have tripped out easy but I've, I've changed my ways....
12.20.2006 7:04am
DJR:
Bacardi 141? Let me guess, you bought it 10% off.
12.20.2006 7:58am
liberty (mail) (www):
You've obviously never met any of the now-bums who left the land of the sane without ever having touched LSD, or any other psychedelic for that matter.

So, its coincidence that ones that I knew left the land of the sane during an acid trip?

Just because some people get lung cancer and emphysema without smoking, should we ignore any correlation that we find?

There is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence that a) taking (by accident or on purpose) massive doses of LSD tends to stick some percentage of those people permanently outsidfe reality and b) that too many trips tends to push some percentage to the edge of sanity. My studies may not be scientific, but its quite unscientific to ignore this obvious correlation.
12.20.2006 8:05am
liberty (mail) (www):
moof,

Very well said and insightful post. I do not disagree at all. I was responding to the romantic naive approach that I was hearing from one or two commenters that "LSD is amazing, it totally opens you up to the universe and it could never hurt anybody."

The fact is that, if you are open to religious ideas (either you are generally or you are when analysing your experience) then you may find that the altered mental state is not simply a distortion of reality, but that our perception is not complete or perfect through our 5 senses, and the altering of perception can either reduce what we take in (as often happens with drinking and sedatives) or increase it (as often happens with LSD). Additionally, like a dream, the connections betweens memories, sensory imagery and creative thought may be perceived as interesting new insights of a powerful and often mystical nature.

You are also correct that one's environment and societal comfort matter -- however, returning to primitive culture or hanging out at hippie communes is not the only way to achieve this. I agree that our modern culture could do more to embrace the positive side of hallucinogens. We should not over-romantisize them either though. Like dreams, their visions can be over-interpreted.
12.20.2006 8:18am
Abdul (mail):

[with] 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.

That's an odd way of saying "we put a Grateful Dead bootleg on the stereo and burned some sandalwood incense."
12.20.2006 9:10am
Patrick S. O'Donnell (mail):
'All experience, all consciousness, is fundamentally a chemical interaction.'---That, to put it mildly, is arguable. Philosophers have not determined that consciousness is, 'fundamentally,' a chemical interaction.

No one is denying that 'many religious or mystical experiences from different cultures and traditions share strikingly similar aspects,' but as similarity is not identity, the interesting questions revolve around the nature of the differences.

Moreover, mystical experience is, it seems, quite rare, at least by the evidence garnered from within religious traditions. There is little or no evidence that psychedelics are 'enablers of mystical experience,' rather, it seems to be the case that at least for some individuals it provides the necessary motivation to engage in further, deeper explorations of consciousness, but within the constraints and narratives provided by religious traditions equipped to provide the checks and guidance missing from bootstrapping endeavors.

I've heard not a few individuals proclaim that they were God or experiencing something on the order of the 'being, consciousness and bliss' referred to in one tradition, but how does one know if such experience is genuine? Do we rely on the subject's prima facie claims that yes, indeed, they are having a 'mystical' experience? Hardly. Religious traditions have generated criteria useful in such a determination, criteria with stringent conditions and provocative juxtapositions of propositional and non-propositional knowledge.

If psychedelics were reliable necessary conditions for or precursors to mystical experience they would be regularly ingested in religious environments: the fact that they are not should give us pause (I would contend, for example, that the soma [at one time believed, erroneously it turns out, to have been some kind of mushroom] ingested in Vedic religious rituals provided for a kind of religious experience, but not one that we would label 'mystical'). At best, we might argue psychedelics provide a 'taste' of genuine mystical experience, analogous to the manner in which the experience of suffering can prompt one to explore religious faith or metaphysical questions in a more deliberate fashion (keeping in mind that there are typically gradations within mystical experience, and that there are other forms of religious experience: numinous experience for one, that are distinguishable from mystical experience proper).
12.20.2006 9:38am
Jiminy (mail):
I can say with certainty that having too much of the acid can push someone towards the precipice of mental disorder.

It isn't like an overdose where 5 ml will hurt, and 10 ml will kill, but you get stuck on the bad times and really can't turn it off or pass out / sleep to avoid it, especially with overdoses that can last for 12-18 hours with no off switch. This is different from those other heavy hitters that will slow your heart or make it burst due to an overdose.

I have watched people make a feedback loop of negative emotion and amplify it to the point where they act out and wreak havoc for hours. My own experiences have been that the drug enables you to look at external reality and internal consciousness from a separate perspective, and be able to view both external and internal events with a touch of objectivity that we usually lack in the normal course of things.

I sure can see where a controlled amount in a controlled environment could be very beneficial to psychoanalysis or therapeutic treatement of otherwise crippling disorders.
12.20.2006 9:41am
Spartacus (www):
"The use of a placebo control group was a joke: how could the subjects not know whether the capsule they ingested contained a hallucinogen? The effects certainly aren't subtle, and subjects on placebo were unlikely to believe that they received psilocybin."

I have sen people have a great trip on what they thought was LSD, btu was actually a plain piece of paper. The placebo coudl easily be mistaken for Psiloscybin (especially by one who hadn't tried it).

That being said, all this talk about the positive v. negative effects of LSD ignores the fact that this study was about psilocybin, not LSD. They may both have benefits, but they are different drugs. I think the risk of an overdose (which is in fact possible with both) with LSD is greater, if only because the dosages are so much smaller, but perhpas also because of the quick reaction and the body's ability to process a lot of it.
12.20.2006 9:48am
Zac (mail) (www):
Its a little disingenuous to compare LSD and mushrooms.

Having eaten some really good mushrooms last year in Amsterdam, I will only say the following: Once the nauseau passes (they are actually poisonous and work by making you sick), they make you feel better than you can possibly imagine.

The amazing thing is that you are completely lucid. Need to be responsible? No problem. It never occurred to me to describe them this way until I read this article, but they are like the world's best anti-depressant.

And no, there is no hangover from mushrooms, or at least the hangover comes first, but passes quickly.
12.20.2006 10:13am
jallgor (mail):
Liberty,
I don't doubt your statement about LSD making people you know permanently impaired but you do admit you are relying on anecdotal evidence. I have always wondered how much of that stuff is societal lore designed to place a stigma on LSD.
I also find it interesting that a discussion of LSD is so prevalent on this thread when the post is about Mushrooms. They really are 2 very different drugs as far as I am concerned.
DR. T SAID "I highly doubt that a skeptical person such as I would find a drug-induced hallucination to be as significant an event as the birth of my children, and I doubt even more that it would generate long-lasting behavioral changes."
This is clearly spoken by someone whose never tried these drugs and I say this because hallucinations, as far as I am concerned, are a very minor part of the experience. For the 5-8 hours that they are working, mushrooms change the way you think. First, many people describe having many more thoughts in a shorter period of time (perhaps do to the amphetemine-like aspects of the drug). Those thoughts are often more abstract or introspective than the person would otherwise find themsleves capable of. I think this is what people are referring to when they use the cliche "opening up the mind." If you share this experience with friends or loved ones you may talk to them for hours about what they mean to you, what you like about them, what you like about yourself, etc. Sure some of it is babble because your mind is racing but much of it is healthy relationship building and confidence building (because you find yourself really examining who you are and what makes you tick). Because of this intense, hours long, thought process many people feel euphoric, confident, more self aware for many months afterward. Some people feel they are forever changed for the better. Could you get this same effect from meditation or conquering some difficult task, perhaps climbing a mountain or even just running a marathon? Sure. Mushrooms is just a quick and easy way to acheive that kind of experience.
12.20.2006 10:55am
Tom952 (mail):
you can safely and fairly reliably occasion what’s called a primary mystical experience that may lead to positive changes in a person

That is ridiculous. The introduction of the substance into the brain produces temporary congnitive malfunction. Basically, temporary insanity. Hopefully temporary.
12.20.2006 11:11am
liberty (mail) (www):
jallgor,

1. The people I know were not societal lore. Yes, it is anecdotal, but this doesn't make it irrelevent. Until more studies are done, it must be anecdotal. Everything tends to start with anecedote - like smoking &lung cancer - until studies are undertaken. Anyone who has been part of a community where a lot of acid is done (and I grew up among hippies and stayed within such communities until my mid-twenies) has known many people permanently affected. It is also (like smoking and lung cancer) intuitive and unsurprising.

2. Your description of mushrooms is very similar to LSD users description of LSD trips and the two (and DMT and mescaline) are chemically very similar and similar to serotonin. The indole ring structure means that any of these compounds could be mistaken for serotonin or act as serotinin in the brain, or contrarily could block serototonin. This is also the relationship to schizophrenia, which is thought to be related to serotonin levels.
12.20.2006 11:16am
Porkchop (mail):

Mushrooms make you pee like crazy. I had a mystical experience with my 10 trips to the bathroom.

Had the same mystical experience with Bacardi 141. I went to the bathroom, in the dark, and noticed that a strange diffuse light filled the room. Strangely, its light felt cool rather than warm. A world of brightly colored objects appeared, and the bathroom wall seemed to open into a universe of them.

At that point I realized I was peeing into the refrigerator.


The next morning as you awoke in a strange room, you realized with some relief that it was not your refrigerator, right?
12.20.2006 12:56pm
Roger Thornhill (mail):
The highlight of my mushroom trip was taking a walk around the neighborhood block right after sunset. It was a beautiful summer evening and we were hanging out at friend's house whose parents were out of town for the weekend. During the walk, I was amazed at almost every tree, rock, fence, bush, streetlamp, or statue we encountered along the way. I would stop to inspect the leaves of a tree or to kick a picket fence to make sure it was real. I eventually started to convince myself that there was a city department responsible for placing and maintaining each item. Thus, a fence department came around to make sure all the fences were in working order and a rock department would come around to ensure all rocks were properly placed in people's yards and still rock-like.

I also eventually thought up of question I had always wondered as a child and still occasionally think about as an adult. Who comes up with new words? During my trip, I eventually reasoned that there was a word department comprised of linguistic geniuses who were responsible for creating new words each year. My friends and I also came up with the idea that new citizens could submit their ideas for new words to this group for review. I laughed hysterically at the thought of a good friend of mine trying to submit a new word each year and the Dept of Words constantly rejecting his selections for being too wordy.

Don't remember any hangover or bad thoughts. Although like commenter Xmas noted, I also remember constantly having to urinate. The song's Peace Frog/Blue Sunday by The Doors also took on a whole new meaning. If you woulda told me this morning that I was to talk about my shroom experience on The Volokh Conspiracy boards I don’t think I would’ve believed you.
12.20.2006 1:52pm
cyberbones:
You know where psilocybin mushrooms grow? Under cow shit. People have been following cows around for hundreds of thousands of years. Our ancestors have known about these mushrooms for countless generations.

Some people believe that psilocybin has been instrumental in the development of language, and other aspects of our evolution. (I recommend a book called "Food of the Gods.")

The "war on drugs" has lumped together completely unrelated phenomena under one heading: drugs. It has over-simplified some very complex and interesting aspects of our existence.

Did I say something? Never mind. Let's go get a coffee.
12.20.2006 2:03pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Roger Thornhill,

Sounds like you thought you were in France.
12.20.2006 2:31pm
Kelvin McCabe (mail):
Please, everyone - do yourself a favor and check out the MAPS site:

www.maps.org Maps stands for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

These guys are not quacks, they truly want to help people and consistently are fighting legal battles to get DEA, FDA, etc.. approval for the type of studies discussed in this thread. One such promising avenue invovles couples therapy and MDMA (ectasy) - which also has the intense introspective (hallucinogenic) like quality that mushrooms have (with less visuals and melting walls/colors). These doctors and therapists are onto something here and they could use support. I have heard one of the founders (rick doblin)of this group speak at a national NORML conference, and its simply fascinating (dare i say "mind blowing") stuff - -
12.20.2006 3:36pm
Roger Thornhill (mail):
"Roger Thornhill,

Sounds like you thought you were in France."


Ha. As amusing as my multiple departments "idea" was at the time, can you imagine what a nightmare that type of program would be? I can imagine the French version of Nanci Pelosi saying something like "We need to stop cutting the Dept of Fences' budget so that they can effectively monitor the height and safety of our nation's fences."
12.20.2006 3:58pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Yes, while they don't regulate quite that much in France (though they did in the Soviet Union, but that was because "the people" owned those fences) they do have a department of words.

It sounds fun or smart if you only think of the surface of the idea - which, sadly, is all many "insightful" ideas like those experienced on hallucinogens or in dreams are - fun thought experiments that graze the surface of actual issues.
12.20.2006 4:08pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
Roger -

Wow! Who would have thought that 'shrooms would so powerfully bring out your inner Central Planner! Next you'll be calling for five-year plans and a board of our best and brightest to allocate industrial resources more efficiently!

Seriously though, this has made great reading for me. I've never done any kinds of drugs, but have always been curious about them, and am moderately pro-legalization. Maybe someday ...

- Alaska Jack

PS Short wikipedia article here on the the Harvard Psilocybin Project: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Psilocybin_Project
12.20.2006 4:17pm
Roger Thornhill (mail):
Yes, while they don't regulate quite that much in France . . . they do have a department of words."

Wow. Didn't think any country would really have a Dept of Words (I figured words just kind of evolved over time through individuals or groups) but leave it to the French to have one. I checked out the wikipedia article and found this interesting quote: "The Académie consists of forty members, known as immortels (immortals)." You think those guys maybe think kinda highly of themselves?

Also, it looks like the Académie has tried to create their own new words to cover female professions. For example, the Académie invented the word "la ministre" to refer to female ministers so they wouldn't be called "le ministre" (a total insult). I might start submitting my own recommendations for new French words to the Académie although I wonder if they'll take advice from a mere mortal.
12.20.2006 5:18pm
Roger Thornhill (mail):
"Who would have thought that 'shrooms would so powerfully bring out your inner Central Planner!"

The ironic part is that I'm pretty conservative/libertarian but for some reason the multiple departments idea appealed to me at the time, even though it's a thoroughly socialist idea. Maybe that 5 hour trip was my brief hippie phase.
12.20.2006 5:26pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Maybe that 5 hour trip was my brief hippie phase."

Ha! Yeah, which came first the hippie or the trip? ... interesting.
12.20.2006 5:31pm
moof:

Having eaten some really good mushrooms last year in Amsterdam, I will only say the following: Once the nauseau passes (they are actually poisonous and work by making you sick), they make you feel better than you can possibly imagine.

I have never read any research - or anything else - suggesting that gastrointestinal disturbances occur because psilocin is toxic. From what I have read, as a serotonergic agent, psilocin causes these problems due to its psychoactivity in the central nervous system.
12.20.2006 5:36pm
Kelvin McCabe (mail):
No, shrooms cause the stomach problem because shrooms taste like crap (from whence they came), causing many people to have a gag reflex - From college experience, they are commonly "ingested" with all sorts of edibles. Peanut butter, pizza, hamburgers, hell anything that will cover up their disgusting rank taste. Of course, the "hardcore" shroomers would just gobble them up plain, and they were usually the ones to throw up. not that i know or anything.
12.20.2006 5:50pm
Roger Thornhill (mail):
Ha! Yeah, which came first the hippie or the trip? ... interesting.

My guess would be the trip, induced of course by a drug. Without pot/LSD/shrooms I highly doubt we woulda had all the hippies back during the late 60s and early 70. Sans drugs, I feel like we also would have missed out on a lot of good music from the Beatles, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Dylan, etc.
12.20.2006 5:57pm
moof:

'All experience, all consciousness, is fundamentally a chemical interaction.'---That, to put it mildly, is arguable. Philosophers have not determined that consciousness is, 'fundamentally,' a chemical interaction.

Then really the only alternative is believing that consciousness has some "essence" or "soul" separate from its physical configuration as complex network of neurons (which interact chemically). Neuroscientists, neuropsychologists, and others in the scientific community are the ones qualified to determine the nature of consciousness on this level of examination, not philosophers, though the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical is something of intense philosophical curiosity nevertheless.

I've heard not a few individuals proclaim that they were God or experiencing something on the order of the 'being, consciousness and bliss' referred to in one tradition, but how does one know if such experience is genuine? Do we rely on the subject's prima facie claims that yes, indeed, they are having a 'mystical' experience? Hardly. Religious traditions have generated criteria useful in such a determination, criteria with stringent conditions and provocative juxtapositions of propositional and non-propositional knowledge.

Religious traditions generate those criteria within their own cultural context through the relatively slow and disciplined spiritual practice in that context, and who is to say that those are genuinely representative of "real" mystical experience? Do we rely on religious figures' prima facie claims that they are having mystical experience and not just faking it to move up in rank?

It's the same difference, I'm afraid. It's obvious psychedelics can produce some kind of experience outside what one is normally capable of experiencing, and those experiences are considered positive, uplifting, and profound to the experiencer, "mystical" in imagery, impact, and importance. All hair-splitting aside with regards to what constitutes the legitimate rubber-stamped mystical experience, this is what I am talking about.

If psychedelics were reliable necessary conditions for or precursors to mystical experience they would be regularly ingested in religious environments: the fact that they are not should give us pause (I would contend, for example, that the soma [at one time believed, erroneously it turns out, to have been some kind of mushroom] ingested in Vedic religious rituals provided for a kind of religious experience, but not one that we would label 'mystical').

On the other hand, psychoactives were long a part of many primitive cultures. The psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, morning glory seeds, Salvia divinorum, ayahuascua, ibogaine, marijuana, and others are among the many that have played roles in the religious traditions of those cultures, sometimes a central one. That they are not used today can be explained by the numerous forces that are more powerful in man than the desire to seek any kind of religious or mystical experience.

Does this mean that psychedelics deliver the whole package free of caveats? Of course not. As Juan Cole eloquently said when this study came out, they just point the way. They are, generally speaking, a 4 to 12 hour experience which can leave little lasting effects or profound ones on a person's psyche.

Can we say for sure that such experiences, that compared to religious mystical experiences take place in a vacuum of associations for explanation, are the real deal? Probably not. But it is evident that their effects run close enough to genuine spiritual revelations in general to make them of interest. That is all I, for one, meant by "mystical experience."

Still, I think you underestimate their effects.
12.20.2006 6:13pm
moof:

No, shrooms cause the stomach problem because shrooms taste like crap (from whence they came), causing many people to have a gag reflex - From college experience, they are commonly "ingested" with all sorts of edibles. Peanut butter, pizza, hamburgers, hell anything that will cover up their disgusting rank taste. Of course, the "hardcore" shroomers would just gobble them up plain, and they were usually the ones to throw up. not that i know or anything.

It's worth mentioning that the vast majority of cultivated psilocybin mushrooms are grown in a grain-based substrate. I mean, I don't have any surveys of people growing illegal hallucinogenic drugs, but that's usually how it's done.
12.20.2006 6:16pm
Patrick S. O'Donnell (mail):
moof: Your comments demonstrate a lack of acquaintance with the immense literature in contemporary philosophy and psychology on consciousness. To cite just one book that doesn't fit into your crude 'either this, or that' alternative: Sunny Auyang, Mind in Everyday Life and Cognitive Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). You would also benefit from M.R. Baker and P.M.S. Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Malden, NA: Blackwell, 2003). It would be rather tedious to list all the other titles you might familiarize yourself with....

Your comments on mysticism likewise evidence a lack of acquaintance with the literature. Where do you think the notion of 'mystical experience' originated?

What, pray tell, are 'primitive cultures?'

Perhaps I'm obtuse, but I can't make heads or tails of the last three paragraphs.
12.20.2006 7:36pm
moof:
You're probably right.
12.20.2006 7:38pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Still, I think you underestimate their effects."

The vast majority of "mystical experiences" that users of drugs such as magic mushrooms have are very simple revelations. For example, that societal biases are indeed societal: they are not the same biases that people of another generation or society would have. Common people living several hundred years ago (in a more primitive setting) would not have the same reaction to seeing someone live like the bums of today... someone on mushrooms who meets a bum and has this revelation thinks it is supremely mystical and is grateful for the drug's insight.

Why not open up a little instead? Why not look around you? Why not shake off the chains of your privilege on your own?

A little Christmas movie might help. Try Christmas on Division Street. There are a million, but that's a nice one.
12.20.2006 7:43pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Well, if they are able to separate the good trips from the bad, it might have some uses in medicine.

There is some question in my mind whether the experiences are truly spiritual or simply giving better access to what is already in one's mind, possibly in a distorted form. One can get real spirituality through prayer and/or meditation, which, no denying, is a lot more work, but a whole lot safer and ultimately better for you.

As for the dangers of psychoactive drugs, there is no question but that they are real, which is why I, for one, want no part of them.

Back in the mid-60's I moved out of my parents' house in Cambridge, MA and went back to Beacon Hill in Boston where I grew up as a child. Bad mistake - the neighborhood had been taken over by students and hippies and one night, some character broke into the apartment building going from door to door claiming that he was the incarnation of Christ. He eventually broke into the apartment below mine, where he fell on his knees and worshipped the woman - terrified - who lived there, claiming that she was the Virgin Mary. The cops took him away; we heard later that he had permanent brain damage from ODing on LSD....

No thanks, no way....
12.23.2006 9:49pm