Magic Mushrooms Drug Shows Promise as Therapeutic Tool
Researchers Say Lower Doses Produced Lasting Benefits With Less Risk of a 'Bad Trip'
WebMD News Archive
June 16, 2011 -- Psilocybin, a powerful psychoactive substance derived from magic mushrooms, can safely be used in a controlled setting to help people have positive and often life-altering experiences, a new study shows.
The study is part of a renaissance of research into the benefits of hallucinogenic drugs that were first popularized, and villainized, in the counterculture movements of 1960s.
Ongoing clinical trials are testing agents like LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline to treat alcoholism and other addictions and to ease anxiety and depression in people who are dying of cancer.
Though early results from small studies have been promising, little is known about how best use these powerful mind-bending medications.
Hallucinogens as Therapeutic Tools
The new study, from researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, tested different dosing regimens of psilocybin in 18 healthy adult volunteers.
“Previously, we looked at a single high dose of and showed that it occasioned these mystical-type experiences that had profoundly meaningful and spiritually significant effects,” says study researcher Roland Griffiths, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neuroscience at Hopkins.
After trying psilocybin just one time, many of the volunteers in that 2006 study reported having profound spiritual and mystical experiences that made them more open and honest, less judgmental, and closer to family and friends, and some rated it as the most personally meaningful experience of their lives.
But about one-third of those volunteers also experienced transient periods of overwhelming fear and anxiety. They felt afraid that they were trapped, for example, or that they were going to go insane. Most of the time, those feelings passed during the session, but in a few cases, they went on for hours.
“That’s known to be one of the risks of recreational use of these compounds: People can have panic reactions, fearful reactions, and the danger is that they’re going to engage in dangerous behaviors that then put themselves or others at risk,” Griffiths says.
In the new study, Griffiths and his team found that when the dose of psilocybin was reduced slightly, most people still had the transformative mystical experience, with far less fear and anxiety.
“The optimal dose appears to be lower than what we were using,” he says. “You can back the dose down and pretty dramatically, like fivefold, decrease the rates of these fearful anxiety responses while only marginally decreasing the mystical-type experiences.”
Nearly 75% of the study volunteers reported having positive, highly beneficial experiences on the two highest psilocybin doses used in the study. Almost half rated taking the drug in a supportive, therapeutic setting as the single most meaningful experience of their lives.
The study is published in Psychopharmacology.
Recreational Use Can Be Dangerous
This is not to suggest, experts say, that people should use psilocybin or hallucinogenic mushrooms recreationally.