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Psilocybin Can Induce Mystical Experiences

Authors to study role of hallucinogen on drug dependence, cancer patients with depression

TUESDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- Test subjects who take psilocybin, the hallucinogen found in certain mushrooms, consistently report mystical or spiritual experiences similar to those that have been reported for centuries within some religious cultures, according to a paper published online July 7 in Psychopharmacology.

Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues conducted a double-blind study of 36 healthy volunteers with no family history of psychosis or bipolar disorder, and with no previous hallucinogenic use. Subjects attended two or three eight-hour sessions at two-month intervals during which they received psilocybin or methylphenidate (Ritalin).

More than 60 percent of subjects described the effects of psilocybin in ways that met the criteria for a "complete mystical experience" as measured by established psychological scales. One-third called the experience the single most spiritually significant event of their lives. The psilocybin-induced positive changes lasted at least several months. Conditions were controlled to minimize adverse effects, but about one-third of participants still reported fear.

"Under very defined conditions, with careful preparation, you can safely and fairly reliably occasion what's called a primary mystical experience that may lead to positive changes in a person," said Griffiths, who plans to study the role of psilocybin on drug dependence and on patients with cancer-related depression or anxiety.

The study was supported by a grant from the Council on Spiritual Practices.

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