Hallucinogens make a comeback

Hallucinogens make a comeback

Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.

Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.

Fresh approach
Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.

After taking the hallucinogen, Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe. “All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating,” he recalled.
Today, more than a year later, Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends.

Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, California, for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. Because reactions to hallucinogens can vary so much depending on the setting, experimenters and review boards have developed guidelines to set up a comfortable environment with expert monitors in the room to deal with adverse reactions.
In one of Dr Griffiths’s first studies, involving 36 people with no serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a profound spiritual experience . In a survey conducted two months later, the people who received psilocybin reported significantly more improvements in their general feelings and behavior than did the members of the control group.

Miraculous change
In interviews, Martin and other subjects described their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.

“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.”

The subjects’ reports mirrored so closely the accounts of religious mystical experiences, Griffiths said, that it seems likely the human brain is wired to undergo these “unitive” experiences, perhaps because of some evolutionary advantage.

Although federal regulators have resumed granting approval for controlled experiments with psychedelics, there has been little public money granted for the research.
Researchers are reporting preliminary success in using psilocybin to ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses. Dr Charles S Grob, a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at U C L A, describes it as “existential medicine” that helps dying people overcome fear, panic and depression.
The New York Times

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