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  1. Phungushead
    New studies of hallucinogens link brain, spirituality

    As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.

    Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.

    Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan "Turn on, tune in, drop out." Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs' potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.

    After taking the hallucinogen, Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.

    "All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating," he recalled. "Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water's gone. And then you're gone."

    Today, more than a year later, Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects. Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.

    The results so far are encouraging but also preliminary, and researchers caution against reading too much into these small-scale studies. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s, when some scientists-turned-evangelists exaggerated their understanding of the drugs' risks and benefits.

    Because reactions to hallucinogens can vary so much depending on the setting, experimenters and review boards have developed guidelines to set up a comfortable environment with expert monitors in the room to deal with adverse reactions. They have established standard protocols so that the drugs' effects can be gauged more accurately, and they have also directly observed the drugs' effects by scanning the brains of people under the influence of hallucinogens.

    Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate. These similarities have been identified in neural imaging studies conducted by Swiss researchers and in experiments led by Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins.

    In one of Griffiths' first studies, involving 36 people with no serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a profound spiritual experience with lasting positive effects for most of them. None had had any previous experience with hallucinogens, and none were even sure what drug was being administered.

    To make the experiment double-blind, neither the subjects nor the two experts monitoring them knew whether the subjects were receiving a placebo, psilocybin, or another drug like Ritalin, nicotine, caffeine or an amphetamine. Although veterans of the '60s psychedelic culture may have a hard time believing it, Griffiths said that even the monitors sometimes could not tell from the reactions whether the person had taken psilocybin or Ritalin.

    The monitors sometimes had to console people through periods of anxiety, Griffiths said, but these were generally short-lived, and none of the people reported any serious negative effects. In a survey conducted two months later, the people who received psilocybin reported significantly more improvements in their general feelings and behavior than did the members of the control group.

    The findings were repeated in another follow-up survey, taken 14 months after the experiment. At that point most of the psilocybin subjects once again expressed more satisfaction with their lives and rated the experience as one of the five most meaningful events of their lives.

    Since that study, which was published in 2008, Griffiths and his colleagues have gone on to give psilocybin to people dealing with cancer and depression, like Martin, the retired psychologist from Vancouver. Martin's experience is fairly typical, Griffiths said:

    an improved outlook on life after an experience in which the boundaries between the self and others disappear.

    In interviews, Martin and other subjects described their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.

    "It was a whole personality shift for me," Martin said. "I wasn't any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people."

    The subjects' reports mirrored so closely the accounts of religious mystical experiences, Griffiths said, that it seems likely the human brain is wired to undergo these "unitive" experiences, perhaps because of some evolutionary advantage.

    "This feeling that we're all in it together may have benefited communities by encouraging reciprocal generosity," Griffiths said. "On the other hand, universal love isn't always adaptive, either."

    Although federal regulators have resumed granting approval for controlled experiments with psychedelics, there has been little public money granted for the research, which is being conducted at Hopkins, the University of Arizona; Harvard ; New York University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and other places.

    The work has been supported by private, nonprofit groups like the Heffter Research Institute and , the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

    "There's this coming together of science and spirituality," said Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS. "We're hoping that the mainstream and the psychedelic community can meet in the middle and avoid another culture war. Thanks to changes over the last 40 years in the social acceptance of the hospice movement and yoga and meditation, our culture is much more receptive now, and we're showing that these drugs can provide benefits that current treatments can't."

    Researchers are reporting preliminary success in using psilocybin to ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses. Dr. Charles S. Grob , a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at UCLA, describes it as "existential medicine" that helps dying people overcome fear, panic and depression.

    "Under the influences of hallucinogens," Grob writes, "individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant, change."

    11 April 2010


  1. Simplepowa
    Very good read
  2. Miss Match
    Fantastic Article - Thanks Phungushead.

    Nana saw a documentary on Discovery recently about LSD with similar studies conducted. Patients with "a fear of death" for example were given LSD as a "treatment"
    Patients generally reported similar to above... Amazing experiences, new perspective, new understandings etc..

    Nana and Poppa discussed the doco over tea and buscuits for some time after..
    .... It bought up a question.
    Would a SWIMMER with a colourful drug history have the same positive results if the condition was the same as a person taking a psychedelic Drug for the first time ever?
  3. chillinwill
    Doctors Again Dabbling in Psychedelic Drugs

    Recent studies, combined with technological innovations to improve patient safety, are offering compelling evidence that modern medicine should reconsider the use of hallucinogenic drugs in the treatment of several psychiatric disorders.

    A handful of elite research institutions, including Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Harvard and New York University, are conducting tests on the potential for hallucinogens -- largely taboo among the medical community since the 1960s -- to offer beneficial, long-term changes to an individual's brain chemistry.

    Most of the current studies are concentrating on psilocybin, a key ingredient in the recreational hallucinogen known as "magic mushrooms."

    During one small experiment at Johns Hopkins, behavioral biologists doled out psilocybin to 36 patients with no known mental or physical health problems, to see how the drug would affect their mental health.

    Neither the patients nor the doctors knew which participants had been administered the hallucinogen. Each patient was given psilocybin during at least one of three sessions. During the other sessions, they were given controls such as Ritalin and caffeine.

    Two months after the experiment, 64 percent of the patients reported improved emotional well-being, and 58 percent ranked it as one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives, on a list that also included milestones like marriage and birth of a child.

    Experiences with Ritalin only made the list of top five most meaningful experiences for 8 percent of participants.

    Now that psilocybin has been vetted on healthy patients, the same doctors are offering it to patients struggling with anxiety and depression due to a cancer diagnosis. So far, the results have been exceedingly positive.

    "It was a whole personality shift for me," Clark Martin, one of the cancer patients, told The New York Times. "I wasn't any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people."

    The renewed interest in hallucinogens is due largely to advances in medicine, and with tight restrictions that make the studies safer than they were 50 years ago.

    Most important are brain scans, which can monitor the direct effects of the drugs on cognition. Experts are also on hand during the studies and often work one-on-one with patients during periods of drug-induced anxiety or fear.

    This week, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) will host a conference on psychedelic science. Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS, told the Times that cultural acceptance of alternative practices such as yoga and meditation have led to renewed consideration of the potential benefits of psychedelic medical treatment.

    "There's this coming together of science and spirituality," he said. "We're hoping that the mainstream and the psychedelic community can meet in the middle and avoid another culture war."

    The conference will include sessions on treating anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder using hallucinogenics such as psilocybin and LSD. Other topics will include the potential benefits of medical marijuana and the framework for guidelines in regulating the study and use of treatments that were, until recently, largely off-limits.

    If studies continue to demonstrate the efficacy of hallucinogens, the drugs could one day offer a treatment that differs from traditional medical salves in a salient way: Hallucinogens, it seems, can transcend the Band-Aid fix offered by anti-depressants or even regular counseling.

    At least, that's the case with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychological ailment estimated to afflict a growing number of Americans, including up to 35 percent of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in Charleston, S.C., has been running FDA-approved studies using MDMA -- commonly known as Ecstasy -- to treat victims of PTSD since 2004. All 21 of his initial patients demonstrated remarkable improvement during successive follow-ups.

    Now, as Mithoefer continues his research, he wants to see Ecstasy licensed as a prescription medicine, provided the right safeguards exist.

    "'If MDMA indeed proves an effective treatment for PTSD,' not only should the drug require prescription, but it should be administered only in licensed clinics with specially trained therapists, 'like methadone,'" he told The Washington Post.

    But such approval, whether of Ecstasy or psilocybin, could be years off. Much of the funding for hallucinogenic research continues to come from private donors and organizations. In 2006, MAPS donated an estimated $1 million to conduct research like Mithoefer's.

    And, of course, proponents of psychedelics will continue to face social stigma and, in some communities, a deeply ingrained distrust and fear of hallucinogenic drugs.

    "The contemporary status of prohibition categorizes all illegal drug uses as destructive and blurs all distinctions between use and abuse," the MAPS mission statement reads. "MAPS' focus on altered states of consciousness also requires MAPS to deal with deep-seated cultural and individual ambivalence toward religious experiences, the exploration of the unconscious mind, fear of death and loss of control, and powerful emotional states."

    Katie Drummond
    April 12, 2010
    AOL News
  4. chillinwill
    Stairway to Heaven: Psychedelics Soothe Dying

    NYU Researchers Study Use of Psilocibin or 'Magic Mushrooms' to Help the Terminally Ill

    For the last eight years, Nicky has struggled with advanced ovarian cancer, and despite repeated rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, it's unclear how long she has to live.

    "Ovarian cancer has a very bleak outlook -- less than 30 percent make it to five years," said the 67-year-old former New York City French teacher. "I was diagnosed in 2002, and I was going in to my fourth year and had a recurrence -- which was like the proverbial shoe dropping -- and it frightened me so much."

    "For the moment, there is no pain," she said. "The most difficult part is leaving this world early. I wasn't ready to get on that bus."

    Coming of age in the drug-infused 1960s, Nicky, who, for privacy reasons, did not want to use her last name, didn't smoke marijuana and avoided the hippie sub-culture. "It never interested me," she said. "It wasn't necessary in my life."

    But last May, Nicky volunteered to take a psychedelic "trip" on psilocibin -- the hallucinogenic compound from "magic mushrooms" -- which has been used for thousands of years by indigenous cultures to reach higher levels of spirituality and consciousness.

    Today, even after losing seven friends from her cancer support group in 15 months, Nicky said she is less afraid of death and is living her life more "honestly and authentically."

    Nicky was one of the first terminally ill participants in an ongoing study at New York University on the use of hallucinogens to help those with terminal illnesses.

    "I had a wonderful life, a fabulous child and beautiful grandchildren, and here my life was cut short," she said. "I thought of my two granddaughters and not seeing them growing up and graduating from college -- it made me profoundly sad. I wanted to do something for myself, to be able to live more in the moment, rather than worrying about the future and having all these existential thoughts about what life was all about."

    Her "trip" took place under full medical supervision in a warm, living room-like setting with art books, fresh fruit, flowers and soothing music. She was given a pill in an earthenware chalice and a single rose, then hunkered down on a cozy sofa with eyeshades and headphones.

    "I was in a dome and it was all bejeweled with colors, mostly striped, like a kaleidoscope, but not turning," she said. "Every once in awhile, the dome would open up at the top and send a luminescence," she said. "I was in awe and could feel myself taking deep breaths. At the same, tears were running down my face, but I was not crying."

    "It was incredible," she said. "I wanted to share it. I couldn't believe the world could be so beautiful."

    Researchers at New York University say that in a controlled setting, hallucinogens, which alter perception and cognition, can help patients reduce the anxiety, personal isolation and fear of death.

    "I am still not ready to die," said Nicky, who just returned from trips to Mexico and Bali and boxes with a trainer several times a week. "It's definitely improved my interactions with those closest to me and figuring out how I want to live my life."

    "Has my anxiety of dying gone away? I would say no, I don't ever want to die," she said. "Will I be able to walk toward death with a little less fear? Perhaps. "I know it sounds trite, but I live more in the moment," she said.

    The three-year study, "Effects of Psilocybin on Anxiety and Psychosocial Distress in Advanced Cancer Patients," is being privately funded by the Zurich-based Heffter Research Institute , which promotes the use of psychedelics for the alleviation of suffering. Fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it adheres to rigorous safety guidelines and protocols.

    Researchers hope that it will one day lead to reclassification of Schedule 1 hallucinogens so that doctors may prescribe them to patients for palliative care, depression and even addiction.

    "It's daunting working with people in the midst of death," said principal investigator Dr. Stephen Ross, assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction. "To help people to have a good death, and not more chemotherapy, to prepare for the final part of life and to die with dignity and do it in a way that they are not frightened, that is one of the most important endeavors as a physician."

    NYU Looking for Participants in Hallucinogen Study

    Ross and his colleagues are looking for 32 patients who are willing to participate in the random, double-blind study. To be eligible, patients must be 18 to 76 years old with the diagnosis of a "potentially life-threatening disease" or advanced or recurrent cancer who are displaying symptoms of acute stress, anxiety or adjustment disorder due to their disease.

    Patients are screened carefully -- those with psychotic spectrum disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression cannot participate.

    "Mysticism is really the cornerstone of all major religions going back millennia," said co-principal investigator Anthony Bossis , professor of psychiatry and anesthesiology at the NYU School of Medicine.

    "It is characterized by a sense of unity, transcendence, connecting to the broader universe and a sense of life and the promotion of personal spirituality," he said. "It recalibrates how we see our life and gives a sense of sacredness and reshapes how we view death."

    A mystical experience can help root patients like Nicky more in the present, according to Bossis. "People with cancer can spend their final days and months not anxious and improvement in quality of life is attainable," he said. "These experiences have the potential to do that."

    Scientists across the country have shown a renewed interest in the medical uses of hallucinogens. So far, 80 to 90 patients have had similar experiences in studies on psilocybin at other universities including Johns Hopkins and UCLA.

    If these studies are "robust enough," Ross and Bossis hope hallucinogens like psilocibin -- a Schedule 1 drug with no therapeutic ability, according to the FDA -- can be declassified and doctors might be able to prescribe them for patients.

    In a study on 36 patients at Johns Hopkins, researchers looked at the effects of psilocibin on depression. At the 14-month follow-up, more than 60 percent of volunteers rated the experience as among the five most meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives; 58 percent reported a "complete" mystical experience.

    "We have come a long way in pain management with the use of opiods , but the sheer anxiety is so hard to address in a medical setting," said Bossis, a clinical psychologist whose specialty is end-of-life care.

    "The heart of this study is to address these levels of suffering and get at the existential [fear] of not being here any longer that we all face," he said. "We provide an empirical experience where the patient goes into a journey -- his own journey -- and can find resolution and peace and transformation and return back here to integrate it into their lives."

    Psilocibin, an alkaloid compound in the tryptamine family, is produced by hundreds of species of fungi, acts on the serotonin receptors in the part of the brain responsible for non-verbal imagery and emotion. Its mind-altering effects can last anywhere from three to eight hours.
    It is in the same class of chemicals as mescaline, contained in the peyote cactus, which is used in religious ceremonies by Native Americans, and dimethyltryptamine, which is contained in ayahuasca, used by indigenous South American religions. The effects are sometimes described as similar to near-death experiences. Some research has shown that brain activity under psilocibin mimics closely that of Buddhist monks.

    "It appears we are hardwired with neuro-circuitry to meditate and have the spiritual experience," said Ross.

    Abuses of LSD Lead to a Ban on Hallucinogens in 1966

    Psychologist Timothy Leary popularized hallucinogens like LSD in his 1964 book with Ralph Metzner, "The Psychedelic Experience," which he hailed as a way to "journey into new realms of consciousness."

    "It opens the mind, frees the nervous system of it ordinary patterns and structures," Leary wrote.

    Experiments with LSD took place as early as the late 1940s and 1950s, after it was discovered in an ergot fungus by Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hoffman.

    By 1965, more than 2,000 papers had described positive results in 40,000 patients with few side effects and a high level of safety in treating patients with anxiety disorders, depression, sexual dysfunction, bereavement and even addiction, according to the British Journal of Psychiatry.

    But by 1966, the drug was made illegal after abuses by the hippie counterculture, scientists distanced themselves and the government cracked down on research licenses. By the 1970s, under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, virtually all research ended.

    "It got demonized as a most addictive drug, but the irony is that it is not addictive," said Ross. "Used in the models we describe, it can actually lead to sustained sobriety."

    Volunteers in the NYU study agree to take part in two full-day sessions, seven weeks apart, where they are administered either a placebo or the psilocibin. They are monitored for anxiety and outcomes two to four weeks prior to drug administration, then one day prior, then again seven hours, one day and several weeks' intervals until 26 weeks post administration.

    Investigators also measure depression, pain and quality of life as well as attitude toward their disease progression at designated intervals.

    Beforehand, they undergo preparation for the experience in psychotherapy. "We take their life narrative and their cancer narrative and review all the safety parameters -- what happens if X," said Ross.

    When the drug is administered, the patient is paired with a male and female therapist to monitor responses and for comfort.

    "Emotional stability optimizes the chance for a good experience," said Bossis. "Trust with the monitors is crucial . If the patient doesn't feel safe, we don't go forward."

    Sometimes the experience is traumatizing, but facing fears is part of the process. Doctors have an antidote to abort the experience, if necessary, or use valium to calm a patient down.

    "We encourage them to go inward, to minimize the communication with us and enter the experience, even if it's something dark and difficult that comes before them," said Bossis. "We tell patients that no matter where they find themselves, they will return to a normal state of consciousness within six hours," said Bossis.

    Two of the three patients in Nicky's group have already died. Both reported extraordinary experiences -- "a cleansing of the body and soul of grief and sadness and an increase in the acceptance of the disease and the dying process," according to Bossis.

    The patients said they wanted to give back more -- financially or emotionally – and were able to reconnect with estranged friends and family members. Both were "peaceful and thankful," at the end, he said.

    As for Nicky, the first hour of her psychedelic journey was awe-inspiring, but the second part was deeper and more emotional. At several points, she had to sit up and take off her eyeshades and seek the comfort of Ross and her other therapist.

    "I became profoundly sad, and I actually had to sit up after 45 minutes and talk to them and I cried a lot," she said. "Then I lied down again and there was another scenario then I went through the rest by myself."

    In six hours, when it was all over, she stayed and analyzed her experience with the doctors.

    "In therapy we had been working on my top five [issues with death or family]," she said. "During my experience, I reordered the hierarchy of issues to lead a more authentic life emotionally. I didn't realize my number four was actually number one."

    "It was such an enormous gift," said Nicky. "It's really amazing that a king's ransom arrived at my door step."

    Today, Nicky said she would take psilocybin again -- "in a New York minute." She continues her therapy at NYU and will go on a drug trial soon for late-stage ovarian cancer. She also hopes that her openness about the psychedelic experience will help others.

    "I don't think people should be so afraid of something that could be so helpful when you are nearing the end of life," she said. "I had huge insight into my head. I can still conjure it up and I tried for very long to relive it -- it was breathtaking."

    Nicky is not a religious person and never expected to find God. "I didn't have that spiritual experience, but my dome was very close," she said. "When it opened up several times and let in the air, I would have thought it was my creator."

    For more information on how to participate in the study, contact patient coordinator Krystallia Kalliontzi at 212-998-9252 or kk71@nyu.edu.

    April 19, 2010
  5. chillinwill
    Psychedelic trips aid cancer patients in study

    The big white pill was brought to her in an earthenware chalice. She'd already held hands with her two therapists and expressed her wishes for what it would help her do.

    She swallowed it, lay on the couch with her eyes covered, and waited. And then it came.

    "The world was made up of jewels and I was in a dome," she recalled. Surrounded by brilliant, kaleidoscopic colors, she saw the dome open up to admit "this most incredible luminescence that made everything even more beautiful."

    Tears trickled down her face as she saw "how beautiful the world could actually be."

    That's how Nicky Edlich, 67, began her first-ever trip on a psychedelic drug last year.

    She says it has greatly helped her psychotherapeutic treatment for anxiety from her advanced ovarian cancer.

    And for researchers, it was another small step toward showing that hallucinogenic drugs, famous but condemned in the 1960s, can one day help doctors treat conditions like cancer anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    The New York University study Edlich participated in is among a handful now going on in the United States and elsewhere with drugs like LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy) and psilocybin, the main ingredient of "magic mushrooms." The work follows lines of research choked off four decades ago by the war on drugs. The research is still preliminary. But at least it's there.

    "There is now more psychedelic research taking place in the world than at any time in the last 40 years," said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which funds some of the work. "We're at the end of the beginning of the renaissance."

    He said that more than 1,200 people attended a conference in California last weekend on psychedelic science.

    But doing the research is not easy, Doblin and others say, with government funders still leery and drug companies not interested in the compounds they can't patent. That pretty much leaves private donors.

    "There's still a lot of resistance to it," said David Nichols, a Purdue University professor of medicinal chemistry and president of the Heffter Institute, which is supporting the NYU study. "The whole hippie thing in the 60s" and media coverage at the time "has kind of left a bad taste in the mouth of the public at large.

    "When you tell people you're treating people with psychedelics, the first thing that comes to mind is Day-Glo art and tie-dyed shirts."

    Nothing like that was in evidence the other day when Edlich revisited the room at NYU where she'd taken psilocybin. Landscape photos and abstract art hung on the walls, flowers and a bowl of fruit adorned a table near the window. At the foot of the couch lay an Oriental rug.

    "The whole idea was to create a living room-like setting" that would be relaxing, said study leader Dr. Stephen Ross.

    Edlich, whose cancer forced her to retire from teaching French at a private school, had plenty of reason to seek help through the NYU project. Several recurrences of her ovarian cancer had provoked fears about suffering and dying and how her death would affect her family. She felt "profound sadness that my life was going to be cut short." And she faced existential questions: Why live? What does it all mean? How can I go on?

    "These things were in my head and I wanted them to take a back seat to living in the moment," she said. So when she heard NYU researchers speak about the project at her cancer support group, she was interested.

    Psilocybin has been shown to invoke powerful spiritual experiences during the four to six hours it affects the brain. A study published in 2008, in fact, found that even 14 months after healthy volunteers had taken a single dose, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. They also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had.

    Experts emphasize people shouldn't try psilocybin on their own because it can be harmful, sometimes causing bouts of anxiety and paranoia.

    The NYU study is testing whether that drug experience can help with the nine months of psychotherapy each participant also gets.

    The therapy seeks to help patients live fuller, richer lives with the time they have left.

    Each study participant gets two drug-dose experiences, but only one of those involves psilocybin; the other is a placebo dose of niacin, which makes the face flush.

    The homey NYU room where Edlich had been getting psychotherapy was the setting for her drug experiences. She had brought along photos of her son, grandchildren and partner. She met with two therapists she'd come to trust, knowing they would stay with her through her hours under the influence.

    Taking the drug followed a ritual, including the chalice and the hand-holding, because ritual has been part of psilocybin's successful use for centuries by traditional cultures, said Ross, the lead researcher.

    After swallowing the white pill, Edlich perused an art book for about a half-hour while waiting for the psilocybin to take effect. Then she lay on the couch with headphones and listened to music with eyeshades over her eyes.

    After her vision of the brilliantly colored dome, Edlich went on to two more experiences involving parts of her life. She won't describe those much, even to friends. They "brought me profound sadness and profound grief" but also transformed her understanding of what was important to her in the areas of relationships and trusting, she says.

    She sat up and talked with her psychotherapists about what had gone on. And after nine hours in that room, she went home and wrote 30 pages in a diary about what had happened. And she thought about it for weeks afterward.

    Did the drug experience help?

    It let her view the issues she was working on through a different lens, she said.

    "I think it made me more aware of what was so important and what was making me either sad or depressed. I think it was revelatory."

    All three people in the study so far felt better, with less general anxiety and fear of death, and greater acceptance of the dying process, Ross said. No major side effects have appeared. The project plans to enroll a total of 32 people.

    Ross' work follows up on a small study at the University of California, Los Angeles; results haven't been published yet, but they too are encouraging, according to experts familiar with it.

    Yet another study of psilocybin for cancer anxiety, at Johns Hopkins University, has treated 11 out of a planned 44 participants so far. Chief investigator Roland Griffiths said he suspected the results would fall in line with the UCLA work.

    In interviews, some psychiatrists who work with cancer patients reacted coolly to the prospects of using psilocybin.

    "I'm kind of curious about it," said Dr. Susan Block of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She said it's an open question how helpful the drug experiences could be, and "I don't think it's ever going to be a widely used treatment."

    Ross, meanwhile, thinks patients might benefit from more than one dose of the drug during the psychotherapy. The study permits only one dose, but all three participants asked for a second, he said.

    Edlich said her single dose "brought me to a deeper place in my mind, that I would never have gone to ... I feel a second session would even take me to more important places.

    "I would do it a second time in a New York minute."

    April 23, 2010
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