‘Magic Mushrooms’ Can Improve Psychological Health Long Term
In their study, the Hopkins scientists were able to reliably induce transcendental experiences in volunteers, which offered long-lasting psychological growth and helped people find peace in their lives — without the negative effects.
As described by early advocates of the use of psychedelics — from ancient shamans to Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead — the psilocybin experience typically involves a sense of oneness with the universe and with others, a feeling of transcending time, space and other limitations, coupled with a sense of holiness and sacredness.
To zero in on the “sweet spot” of dosing, Griffiths started half the volunteers on a low dose and gradually increased their doses over time (with placebo sessions randomly interspersed); the other half started on a high dose and worked their way down. Those who started on a low dose found that their experiences tended to get better as the dose increased, probably because they learned what to expect and how to handle it. But people who started with high doses were more likely to experience anxiety and fear (though these feeling didn’t last long and sometimes resolved into euphoria or a sense of transcendence). “If we back the dose down a little, we have just as much of the same positive effects. The properties of the mystical experience remain the same, but there’s a fivefold drop in anxiety and fearfulness,” Griffiths says.
Some past experiments with psychedelics in the ’60s used initial high doses of the drugs — the “blast people away with a high dose” model, says Griffiths — to try to treat addiction. “Some of the early work in addictions was done with the idea of, ‘O.K., let’s model the ‘bottoming-out’ crisis and make use of the dark side of [psychedelic] compounds. That didn’t work,” Griffiths says.