There's a saying that goes, “If you can remember the Sixties, then you weren't there.”
The legendary drug excesses of the decade practically brought studies on entheogen psilocybin -- a psychoactive substance found in mushrooms -- to a complete halt.
That recently changed. The Johns Hopkins Psilocybin study published in the 2006 journal Pschopharmacology (with a follow-up in 2008) has been hailed by the world, scientific community, and press, as showing potential for profound transformation and long-lasting positive changes for properly prepared individuals.
The study took place at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and is headed by Roland R. Griffiths, Ph.D. It may spur a revival in the study of altered states of consciousness, according to Rick Doblin, founder and President of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (a non-profit organization devoted to advancing the study of psychedelics).
He told the Baltimore City Paper, “With psychedelic psychotherapy research at Harvard Medical School and spirituality/mysticism research at Johns Hopkins and the University of Zurich, we've re-entered the scientific mainstream.”
Unlike Bill Clinton, I inhaled when I experimented with marijuana in the mid-sixties. I remember eating mushrooms once with a couple of buddies. I enjoyed the colors which suddenly seemed brighter, and in general had a good time.
One of my friends got so paranoid that he nearly “tripped out.” He was afraid of everything, and had trouble handling the sensory experiences we grooved on. None of us thought of it as sacred experience (most world cultures that use it do), and we never tried it again.
That's why I found this study so interesting. One of the things it explored was mystic or holy experiences. Volunteers for the study reported they felt a “sense of unity” after taking the hallucinogen. Griffiths demonstrated that psilocybin can occasion mystical/spiritual experiences like those described by mystics and saints for centuries.
The study used carefully controlled conditions to minimize adverse effects and ensure the safety of the volunteers while they were “tripped out.” The report discussed safety the way adequately screened individuals were prepared and put in supportive situations.
Back in the Sixties when people tripped out on LSD, they often had an experienced “guide” (one who had taken LSD numerous times) to talk them through the trip. This study reminded me of that and in a strange way made a connection between now and then.
We search for answers about who we are and where we stand in the universe.
Over the centuries, meditation, fasting, and prayer have been used to answer these questions, along with the use of hallucinogenics. This research is an extension of that search under controlled conditions.
What really hit me were some of the reported results. For example, more than 60 percent of the participants reported substantial increases in life satisfaction and positive behavior. No one was worse off because of their participation, according to the report.
Researchers are looking for more volunteers with current or past diagnosis of cancer, who have some anxiety, or are feel down about their cancer, to participate in this study of self-exploration and personal meaning using entheogen psilocybin.
If you would like to know more about this study, and consider volunteering, call 410-550-5990 or e-mail [email protected] , and ask for Mary, the study's coordinator.
More psychedelic research is taking place in the United States and Europe, using LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine, and MDMA (Ecstasy) for treatment of anxiety and depression, obsessive-compulsive order, post-tramatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and addiction.
Attitudes are changing about the use of hallucinogenic drugs, but only in controlled situations. See www.csp.org/psilocybin for links to the report.
I can see how a process like this research is exploring, can be helpful as part of an overall program to make a sick person feel better. It's hard to argue with results. Still, I can't imagine a program like this ever going mainstream, despite the expectations the researchers have.
As It Stands, a self-described mystical experience with a drug is still no replacement for a lifetime spent in the pursuit of knowledge.
By Dave Stancliff
Posted: 02/15/2009 01:30:36 AM PST