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Magic mushrooms can induce mystical effects, study finds
Psilocybin Relieves OCD Symptoms
Headache Sufferers Flout New Drug Law:

Expert says  Moses was using  psychedelics when he heard god deliver the Ten Commandments
Expert says Moses may have been using
bark of the acacia tree when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments

The Last Meal of the Buddha-R. Gordon Wasson

Patients claim mushrooms relieve excruciating condition

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Published: 11 July 2006
A universal mystical experience with life-changing effects can be produced by the hallucinogen contained in magic mushrooms, scientists claim today.

Forty years after Timothy Leary, the apostle of drug-induced mysticism, urged his hippie followers to "tune in, turn on, and drop out", researchers at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, have for the first time demonstrated that mystical experiences can be produced safely in the laboratory. They say that there is no difference between drug-induced mystical experiences and the spontaneous religious ones that believers have reported for centuries. They are "descriptively identical".

And they argue that the potential of the hallucinogenic drugs, ignored for decades because of their links with illicit drug use in the 1960s, must be explored to develop new treatments for depression, drug addiction and the treatment of intolerable pain.

Anticipating criticism from church leaders, they say they are not interested in the "Does God exist?" debate. "This work can't and won't go there."

Interest in the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs is growing around the world. In the UK, the Royal College of Psychiatrists debated their use at a conference in March for the first time in 30 years. A conference held in Basel, Switzerland, last January reviewed the growing psychedelic psychiatry movement.

The drug psilocybin is the active ingredient of magic mushrooms which grow wild in Wales and were openly sold in London markets until a change in the law last year.

For the US study, 30 middle-aged volunteers who had religious or spiritual interests attended two eight-hour drug sessions, two months apart, receiving psilocybin in one session and a non-hallucinogenic stimulant, Ritalin, in the other. They were not told which drug was which.

One third described the experience with psilocybin as the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes and two thirds rated it among their five most meaningful experiences.

In more than 60 per cent of cases the experience qualified as a "full mystical experience" based on established psychological scales, the researchers say. Some likened it to the importance of the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.

The effects persisted for at least two months. Eighty per cent of the volunteers reported moderately or greatly increased well-being or life satisfaction. Relatives, friends and colleagues confirmed the changes.

The study is one of the first in the new discipline of "neurotheology" - the neurology of religious experience. The researchers, who report their findings in the online journal Psychopharmacology, say that their aim is to explore the possible benefits drugs like psilocybin can bring. Professor Roland Griffiths of the department of neuroscience and psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, said: "As a reaction to the excesses of the 1960s, human research with hallucinogens has been basically frozen in time.

"I had a healthy scepticism going into this. [But] under 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 is an early step in what we hope will be a large body of scientific work that will ultimately help people."

A third of the volunteers became frightened during the drug sessions with some reporting feelings of paranoia. The researchers say psilocybin is not toxic or addictive, unlike alcohol and cocaine, but that volunteers must be accompanied throughout the experience by people who can help them through it.

A universal mystical experience with life-changing effects can be produced by the hallucinogen contained in magic mushrooms, scientists claim today.

Forty years after Timothy Leary, the apostle of drug-induced mysticism, urged his hippie followers to "tune in, turn on, and drop out", researchers at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, have for the first time demonstrated that mystical experiences can be produced safely in the laboratory. They say that there is no difference between drug-induced mystical experiences and the spontaneous religious ones that believers have reported for centuries. They are "descriptively identical".

And they argue that the potential of the hallucinogenic drugs, ignored for decades because of their links with illicit drug use in the 1960s, must be explored to develop new treatments for depression, drug addiction and the treatment of intolerable pain.

Anticipating criticism from church leaders, they say they are not interested in the "Does God exist?" debate. "This work can't and won't go there."

Interest in the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs is growing around the world. In the UK, the Royal College of Psychiatrists debated their use at a conference in March for the first time in 30 years. A conference held in Basel, Switzerland, last January reviewed the growing psychedelic psychiatry movement.

The drug psilocybin is the active ingredient of magic mushrooms which grow wild in Wales and were openly sold in London markets until a change in the law last year.

For the US study, 30 middle-aged volunteers who had religious or spiritual interests attended two eight-hour drug sessions, two months apart, receiving psilocybin in one session and a non-hallucinogenic stimulant, Ritalin, in the other. They were not told which drug was which.
One third described the experience with psilocybin as the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes and two thirds rated it among their five most meaningful experiences.

In more than 60 per cent of cases the experience qualified as a "full mystical experience" based on established psychological scales, the researchers say. Some likened it to the importance of the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.

The effects persisted for at least two months. Eighty per cent of the volunteers reported moderately or greatly increased well-being or life satisfaction. Relatives, friends and colleagues confirmed the changes.

The study is one of the first in the new discipline of "neurotheology" - the neurology of religious experience. The researchers, who report their findings in the online journal Psychopharmacology, say that their aim is to explore the possible benefits drugs like psilocybin can bring. Professor Roland Griffiths of the department of neuroscience and psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, said: "As a reaction to the excesses of the 1960s, human research with hallucinogens has been basically frozen in time.

"I had a healthy scepticism going into this. [But] under 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 is an early step in what we hope will be a large body of scientific work that will ultimately help people."

A third of the volunteers became frightened during the drug sessions with some reporting feelings of paranoia. The researchers say psilocybin is not toxic or addictive, unlike alcohol and cocaine, but that volunteers must be accompanied throughout the experience by people who can help them through it.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Magic Mushroom' Drug Study Probes Science, Spirituality

Research uncovers mystical effects of controversial psychedelic agent

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- Volunteers who tried the hallucinogenic ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms during a controlled study funded by the U.S. government had "mystical" experiences, and many of them still felt unusually happy months later.

The aims of the Johns Hopkins researchers were simple: to explore the neurological mechanisms and effects of the compound, as well as its potential as a therapeutic agent.

Although psilocybin -- the hallucinogenic agent in the Psilocybe family of mushrooms -- first gained notoriety more than 40 years ago, it has rarely been studied because of the controversy surrounding its use.

This latest finding, which sprang from a rigorously designed trial, moves the hallucinogen's effect closer to the hazy border separating hard science and religious mysticism.

"More than 60 percent of the volunteers reported effects of their psilocybin session that met the criteria for a 'full mystical experience' as measured by well-established psychological scales," said lead researcher Roland Griffiths, a professor in the departments of neuroscience, psychiatry and behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

What's more, most of the 36 adult participants -- none of whom had taken psilocybin before -- counted their experience while under the influence of the drug as "among the most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives," Griffiths said. Most said they became better, kinder, happier people in the weeks after the psilocybin session -- a fact corroborated by family and friends.

The researchers also noted no permanent brain damage or negative long-term effects stemming from use of psilocybin.

But the study, published in the July 11 online edition of Psychopharmacology, did not neglect the hallucinogen's "dark side."

Even though the candidates for the landmark study were carefully screened to reduce their vulnerability and closely monitored during the trial, "We still had 30 percent of them reporting periods of very significant fear or anxiety which could easily escalate into panic and dangerous behavior if this were given in any other kind of circumstances," Griffiths said.

"We simply don't know what causes a 'bad trip,' " he added, "and we can't forecast who'll have a difficult time and who won't."

Still, many experts hailed the research, which was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Council on Spiritual Practices, as long overdue.

No less than Dr. Herbert Kleber -- former deputy director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy under former President George H.W. Bush -- said these types of studies "could shed light on various kinds of brain activity and lead to therapeutic uses for these categories of drugs." He authored a commentary on the Hopkins study.

"Over time, with appropriate research, maybe we can figure out ways to decrease [illicit drugs'] bad effects," while retaining those effects beneficial to medical science, Kleber said.

Scientific research into the effects of illegal, Schedule 1 drugs such as psilocybin are allowed by federal law. But the stigma surrounding their use has kept this type of research to a minimum. The taboo surrounding drugs such as psilocybin "has some wisdom to it," Griffiths said, but "it's unfortunate that as a culture we so demonized these drugs that we stopped doing research on them."

Psilocybin appears to work primarily on the brain's serotonin receptors to alter states of consciousness. In their study, the Baltimore team sought to determine the exact nature of psilocybin's effects on humans, under strictly controlled conditions.

To do so, they sought volunteers with no prior history of drug abuse or mental illness who also had a strong interest in spirituality, since the drug was reputed to trigger mystical states.

The study included 36 college-educated participants averaging 46 years of age. It was also randomized and double-blinded, meaning that half of the participants received psilocybin, while the other half received a non-hallucinogenic stimulant, methylphenidate (Ritalin), but neither researchers nor the participants knew who got which drug in any given session. Each volunteer was brought in for two or three sessions in a "crossover" design that guaranteed that each participant used psilocybin at least once.

During each eight-hour encounter, participants were carefully watched over in the lab by two trained monitors. The volunteers were instructed by the researchers to "close their eyes and direct their attention inward."

According to the Baltimore team, nearly two-thirds of the volunteers said they achieved a "mystical experience" with "substantial personal meaning." One-third rated the psilocybin experience as "the single most spiritually significant experience of his or her life," and another 38 percent placed the experience among their "top five" most spiritually significant moments.

Most also said they became better, gentler people in the following two months. "We don't think that's delusional, because we also interviewed family members and friends by telephone, and they confirmed these kinds of claims," Griffiths said.

So, is this "God in a pill"? Griffiths said answering questions of religion or spirituality far exceeds the scope of studies like these.

"We know that there were brain changes that corresponded to a primary mystical experience," he said. "But that finding -- as precise as it may get -- will in no way inform us about the metaphysical question of the existence of a higher power."

He likened scientific attempts to seek God in the human brain to experiments where scientists watch the neurological activity of people eating ice cream.

"You could define exactly what brain areas lit up and how they interplay, but that shouldn't be used as an argument that chocolate ice cream does or doesn't exist," Griffiths said.

Another expert said the study should give insights into human consciousness.

"We may gain a better understanding of how we biologically react to a spiritual state," said Dr. John Halpern, associate director for substance abuse research at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

Halpern, who's conducted his own research on the sacramental use of the hallucinogenic drug peyote by Native Americans, said he's encouraged that the Hopkins trial was organized in the first place. "This study, by some of the top-tier people in the country, shows that it's possible for us to re-look at these substances and evaluate them safely in a research setting," he said.

For his part, former deputy drug czar Kleber stressed that agents such as psilocybin "carry a high likelihood of misuse as well as good use."

Griffiths agreed the study should not been seen as encouragement for casual experimentation.

"I think it would be awful if this research prompted people to use the drug under recreational conditions," he said, "because we really don't know that there aren't personality types or conditions under which you could take things like that and develop persisting harm."

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Magic Mushrooms: Study Says They Help Some See Their Spiritual Side

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/07/01/study-shrooms-help-some-s_n_110182.html

MALCOLM RITTER | July 1, 2008 08:59 AM EST
 

NEW YORK In 2002, at a Johns Hopkins University laboratory, a business consultant named Dede Osborn took a psychedelic drug as part of a research project.

She felt like she was taking off. She saw colors. Then it felt like her heart was ripping open.

But she called the experience joyful as well as painful, and says that it has helped her to this day.

"I feel more centered in who I am and what I'm doing," said Osborn, now 66, of Providence, R.I. "I don't seem to have those self-doubts like I used to have. I feel much more grounded (and feel that) we are all connected."

Scientists reported Tuesday that when they surveyed volunteers 14 months after they took the drug, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience.

Two-thirds of them also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had.

The drug, psilocybin, is found in so-called "magic mushrooms." It's illegal, but it has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries.

The study involved 36 men and women during an eight-hour lab visit. It's one of the few such studies of a hallucinogen in the past 40 years, since research was largely shut down after widespread recreational abuse of such drugs in the 1960s.

The project made headlines in 2006 when researchers published their report on how the volunteers felt just two months after taking the drug. The new study followed them up a year after that.

Experts emphasize that people should not try psilocybin on their own because it could be harmful. Even in the controlled setting of the laboratory, nearly a third of participants felt significant fear under the effects of the drug. Without proper supervision, someone could be harmed, researchers said.

Osborn, in a telephone interview, recalled a powerful feeling of being out of control during her lab experience. "It was ... like taking off, I'm being lifted up," she said. Then came "brilliant colors and beautiful patterns, just stunningly gorgeous, more intense than normal reality."

And then, the sensation that her heart was tearing open.

"It would come in waves," she recalled. "I found myself doing Lamaze-type breathing as the pain came on."

Yet "it was a joyful, ecstatic thing at the same time, like the joy of being alive," she said. She compared it to birthing pains. "There was this sense of relief and joy and ecstasy when my heart was opened."

With further research, psilocybin (pronounced SILL-oh-SY-bin) may prove useful in helping to treat alcoholism and drug dependence, and in aiding seriously ill patients as they deal with psychological distress, said study lead author Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins.

Griffiths also said that despite the spiritual characteristics reported for the drug experiences, the study says nothing about whether God exists.

"Is this God in a pill? Absolutely not," he said.

The experiment was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The results were published online Tuesday by the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Fourteen months after taking the drug, 64 percent of the volunteers said they still felt at least a moderate increase in well-being or life satisfaction, in terms of things like feeling more creative, self-confident, flexible and optimistic. And 61 percent reported at least a moderate behavior change in what they considered positive ways.

That second question didn't ask for details, but elsewhere the questionnaire answers indicated lasting gains in traits like being more sensitive, tolerant, loving and compassionate.

Researchers didn't try to corroborate what the participants said about their own behavior. But in the earlier analysis at two months after the drug was given, researchers said family and friends backed up what those in the study said about behavior changes. Griffiths said he has no reason to doubt the answers at 14 months.

Dr. Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, called the new work an important follow-up to the first study.

He said it is helping to reopen formal study of psychedelic drugs. Grob is on the board of the Heffter Research Institute, which promotes studies of psychedelic substances and helped pay for the new work.
 

Clinical trials test potential of hallucinogenic drugs to help patients with terminal illnesses

· First test of 'psychedelic psychotherapy' since 70s
· Researchers hope effects will improve quality of life

    * James Randerson
    * The Guardian,
    * Tuesday August 12 2008
    * Article history

Magic mushrooms
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/aug/12/medicalresearch.drugs
 

Magic mushrooms, which contain the psychedelic chemical psilocybin.

Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP
Link to this audio
James Randerson discusses the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD to treat ailments from depression to cluster headaches
 

Scientists are exploring the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD to treat a range of ailments from depression to cluster headaches and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The first clinical trial using LSD since the 1970s began in Switzerland in June. It aims to use "psychedelic psychotherapy" to help patients with terminal illnesses come to terms with their imminent mortality and so improve their quality of life.

Another psychedelic substance, psilocybin - the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has shown promising results in trials for treating symptoms of terminal cancer patients. And researchers are using MDMA (ecstasy) as an experimental treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the Swiss trial eight subjects will receive a dose of 200 microgrammes of LSD. This is enough to induce a powerful psychedelic experience and is comparable to what would be found in an "acid tab" bought from a street drug dealer. A further four subjects will receive a dose of 20 microgrammes. Every participant will know they have received some LSD, but neither the subjects nor the researchers observing them will know for certain who received the full dose. During the course of therapy researchers will assess the patients' anxiety levels, quality of life and pain levels.

Before hallucinogenic drugs became popular with the counter culture, they were at the forefront of brain science. They were used to help scientists understand the nature of consciousness and how the brain works and as treatments for a range of conditions including alcohol dependence.

Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre, is in the vanguard of the resurgence of scientific interest in psychedelics, having recently completed a trial that used psilocybin to help patients with terminal cancer come to terms with their illness. "I think there's a perception these compounds hold untapped potential to help us understand the human mind," he said.

The way hallucinogens such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocybin and mescaline (the active ingredient in the peyote cactus) act on the brain is reasonably well understood by scientists. The drugs stick to chemical receptors on nerve cells that normally bind the neurotransmitter serotonin, which affects a broad range of brain activities. But how this leads to the profoundly altered states of consciousness, perception and mood that typically accompany a "trip" is not known.

Prof Roland Griffiths at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore Maryland recently published a study of 36 healthy volunteers who were given psilocybin and then observed in the lab. The participants' ages ranged from 24 to 64 and none had taken hallucinogens before. When the group were interviewed again 14 months later 58% said they rated the experience as being among the five most personally meaningful of their lives, 67% said it was in their top five spiritual experiences, and 64% said it had increased their well-being or life satisfaction.

"The working hypothesis is that if psilocybin or LSD can occasion these experiences of great personal meaning and spiritual significance ... then it would allow [patients with terminal illnesses] hopefully to face their own demise completely differently - to restructure some of the psychological angst that so often occurs concurrently with severe disease," said Griffiths. So by expanding their consciousness during a session on the drug, the patient is able to comprehend their thoughts and feelings from a new perspective. This can lead to a release of negative emotions that leaves them in a much more positive state of mind.

Twelve patients with terminal cancer have already helped Grob to test this idea and, although the research is not yet published, anecdotal reports from some subjects are encouraging. Pamela Sakuda (see below) was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer in December 2002. Her husband, Norbert Litzinger, said the psilocybin treatment transformed her outlook.

"Pamela had lost hope. She wasn't able to make plans for the future. She wasn't able to engage the day as if she had a future left," he said. Her "epiphany" during the treatment was the realisation that her fear about the disease was destroying the remaining time she had left, he said.

Despite fears that psychedelic drugs can induce psychosis, they are comparatively safe when administered with the proper precautions and with trained medical professionals present, according to a manual for studying their effects, which was recently published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

They do have a powerful effect on a person's perception and consciousness and cannot be considered "safe", but they are almost entirely nontoxic, they virtually never lead to addiction and they only rarely lead to long-lasting psychosis (usually in people with a family history of mental illness). The main danger is that the person taking the drug injures him or herself while in a mind-altered state, for example because they think they can fly. The manual states, for example, that, "investigators need to be confident that the volunteer could not exit the window if in a delusional state". Griffiths does not advocate recreational use.

Since the 1970s, scientific research into the effects hallucinogenic drugs have on the brain and their potential benefits has become a pariah field for any scientist who wanted to keep their reputation - and funding - intact. The psychologist Timothy Leary was the most famous advocate of the scientific and recreational use of psychedelic drugs. He conducted experiments at Harvard that were widely criticised and he was accused of faking data.

"The way I view it is we experienced some kind of broad cultural trauma back in the 60s and these drugs became demonised in that context," said Griffiths. "As a culture we just decided clinical research shouldn't be done with this class of compounds," he said. "This was partly the federal regulatory authorities, it was partly the funding agencies and it was partly the academics themselves ... Leary had so discredited a scientific approach to studying these compounds that anyone who expressed an interest in doing so was automatically discredited."

Dr Rick Doblin is president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in California, a nonprofit organisation which funds clinical studies into psychedelic drugs, including the Swiss LSD trial. "These drugs, these experiences are not for the mystic who wants to sit on the mountain top and meditate. They are not for the counter-culture rebel. They are for everybody," he said.
Case study

Edited extract from an interview Pamela Sakuda did for researchers on the psilocybin experience

"As the session began, and as it built up, I felt this lump of emotions welling up and firming up almost like an entity. I started to cry a little. Then it started to dissipate and I started to look at it differently and I think that is the beauty of being able to expand your consciousness. I don't think the drug is the cause of these things. I think it is a catalyst that allows you to release your own thoughts and feelings from some place that you have bound them to very tightly. I began to realise that all of this negative fear and the guilt was such a hindrance to making the most of and enjoying the healthy time that I'm having - however long it may be. I was not utilising it to the best and enjoying my life because I was so afraid of what wasn't there yet. These substances occur in our natural world and people have been using them for thousands of years to treat physical illness, to treat social and behavioural problems."
 
 

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