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A medical use for magic mushrooms

July 1, 2008 |  1:01 pm

The LSD era is long past, but the use of psychedelic drugs to boost personal enlightenment hasn't lost its appeal to some researchers. Case in point is the study published online this week in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Johns Hopkins researchers reported in 2006 that the hallucinogen psilocybin, otherwise known as the sacred mushroom, caused a profound mystical experience in the majority of a group of 36 volunteers who took the drug in a laboratory setting. Two years later, the researchers re-interviewed the volunteers and found that the spiritual effects of the experience appear to last for more than a year. "Most of the volunteers looked back on their experience 14 months later and rated it as the most, or one of the five most, personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives," says lead research Roland Griffiths.

Whoa! That's quite an endorsement for magic mushrooms. The researchers, however, say the drug could be used under careful conditions to help the outlooks of people with anxiety or depression due to serious illness. Psilocybin may also even help as a treatment for drug dependence. A new study is underway that will examine the effects of a psilocybin trip on people with cancer.

"This is a truly remarkable finding," Griffiths says. "Rarely in psychological research do we see such persistently positive reports from a single event in the laboratory."

Don't try this at home, however. The Journal of Psychopharmacology published an accompanying report on how psilocybin can be used safely and ethically in research. The drug is only given to people with no history of psychosis or serious mental disorders, and psychological support is provided during and after the experience.

And, in case you don't think this is serious stuff, the research was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

-- Shari Roan

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