Have the shamen and the Merry Pranksters returned?
> 7/12/2006 9:33:42 AM

Researchers from Johns Hopkins have released a study that is generating a lot of headlines across the United States. For our part, let's look at the Forbes write up, which runs under the headline: "'Magic Mushroom' Drug Study Probes Science, Spirituality." Essentially, doctors from Johns Hopkins created a rigorous study whereby they administered psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic agent from so called "magic" mushrooms, to 36 subjects and monitored their physiological responses as well as recorded their personal responses to the drug. They also followed up two months later in an effort to discern any longer term effects.

The results, from the John's Hopkins' press release:

In the study, more than 60 percent of subjects described the effects of psilocybin in ways that met criteria for a “full mystical experience” as measured by established psychological scales. One third said the experience was the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes; and more than two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful and spiritually significant. Griffiths says subjects liken it to the importance of the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.

Two months later, 79 percent of subjects reported moderately or greatly increased well-being or life satisfaction compared with those given a placebo at the same test session. A majority said their mood, attitudes and behaviors had changed for the better. Structured interviews with family members, friends and co-workers generally confirmed the subjects’ remarks. Results of a year-long followup are being readied for publication.

Taking the first paragraph first, the obvious question is "So what?" No one ever questioned whether psilocybin would get someone high. Even in a controlled experiment, most would have guessed that there would be some psychoactive reactions that could be interpreted as "mystical." A high is a high, how you describe it is just semantics. One would think that the National Institute on Drug Abuse would have better things to do with their money than attempt to categorize the strength of potent and restricted substances. For their part, NIDA acknowledged the study in a statement, but distanced themselves from any of the claims that the researchers advanced.

It was back in the 60's that writers like Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters were advocating the use of mushrooms using similar language to the doctors at Johns Hopkins. While the drugs' modern day activists probably shouldn't hold their breath, this new research adds an unnecessary and undeserved legitimacy to the recreational use of these type of hallucinogenics. Many will probably point to the two-month followup as evidence of the beneficial effects that these drugs can have, but the bottom line that a sense of well being that is facilitated by a drug only brings us one step closer to full chemical reliance. If we can learn about neurological functions, then let's keep our limited focus there. Doctors and researchers should leave the "mysticism" to shamen and the pranksters.

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