Chemical Enlightenment Author(s): Bruce Bower Source: Science News, Vol. 170, No. 14 (Sep. 30, 2006), pp.

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None cited drugs. The remaining six participants received methylphenidate at the two sessions without being told what the pills contained. of the psilocybin group attributed many more positive changes in felt unified joy. However. you can safely and fairly reliably occasion a mystical experience using psilocybin that may lead to positive changes in a person. the researchersused methylphenidatean amphetamine known as Ritalin when used to treat attentiondeficit hyperactivitydisorder. preliminaryresearchhad suggested that LSD and related substances-now regarded as powerful but nonaddictivedrugs-aided in psychotherapy. 170 cybin can be fully explored. some of these participants reported long-lasting positive effects of their experiences. its placearosea senseof merging tical reactions. participants sat together during the broadcast and could easily tell whether others were acting out of character. SCIENCE NEWS .psilocybin before listening to a radio broadcast of a Good Friday of eralhours. Johns Hopkins psychopharmacologist Roland R. published in the August Psychopharmacology.ages24 to 64. though. In the 1950s and 1960s. At a third session. they took psilocybin pills after being told what was in the tablets. All but one volunteer had graduatedfromcollege. ing of oneness with God. Now.No participantwas told which drug he or she ingested-onlythat it might be eitherofthe two substances. At the start of the study. who whichdrugtheyweretakingand pills by administering to one volunteerat a time. scientific way with ordinary people. Methylphenidate rarelyproduced a mystical experience. dreading lasting improvements in people'slives. in Griffiths'view. "Ourfinding is an early step in what we hope will be scientific work that helps well as widespread illicit use of psychedelic drugs.the mundane certainty service. GRIFFITHS JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY spiritualactivities. 104).who later sat with participants during drug sessions and offered support if needed. Four of them had full-blown mysIn tencemeltedaway. led to legal restrictions that halted most psychedelic research. Each of 30 randomly selected volunteers attended two 8-hour drug sessions. the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms that some societies have used for centuries in religious ceremonies. and opened 1963 investigation conducted by physician and minister Walter Pahnke." During Pahnke'sstudy. What's more. researchersconcluded. Psilocybin-inducedmental states had apparentlytriggered somebecamefearful. - had no serious mental disorders themselvesor in their immediate families. the second occurring 2 months afterthe first. The new findings put psychedelic studies on the road back to respectability. Such observations could have affected their reactions to what they had ingested. As a control in the test. At and love duringthese experiences. which they said included ecstatic visions and a feelall withanultimate realitywhere thingsexistin a sacred. attitude and behaviorto the Good Fridayservice than vitamin takers did." he says. Griffiths' team is investigating the drug's reputed mind-expanding effects in a rigorous. Griffiths and his colleagues have taken psilocybin out of its traditional context and far from the black-light milieu of its hippie-era heyday. one afteranother. unseendangers. the scientific and clinical promise of drugs such as psilo216 SEPTEMBER 30.Formanyofthem. 2006 VOL. psilocybin frequently sparked temporarymystical makeovers in volunteers who didn't know what kind of pill they were taking. and creativity-promotingprograms. Yet volunteers last year entered the living room-like space. although the researcherswere intrigued that a few people did have that response. After exis. Psilocybin boosts transmission of the brain chemical serotonin. The pills that enabled these mystical excursions contained psilocybin. much as LSD and some other hallucinogenic drugs do. "Withcareful preparation. SPIRIT TRIPS Griffiths'recent work was inspired by an unusual reclinedon the couch. Half of 20 Protestant seminarians randomly received to themselves a profound mystical journeylastingsev. At one session they received a strong dose of psilocybin and at the other a high dose of methylphenidate. swalloweda pill. The rest took a B vitamin that caused the skin to flush. the excesses of researchers such as the late Harvard UniversitypsychologistTimothy Leary.psychedelicmysticaltour BY BRUCEBOWER T hecomfortably furnished room acorner in ofthe in JohnsHopkins University SchoolofMedicine Baltimore seemsanunlikely settingforspiritual transcendence. In interviews conducted 6 months and 25 years later. Griffiths'team tried to min- "You can safely imizethe powerof expectation by not telling most participants reliably andfairly occasion a occasiona The team recruited36 physically mystical healthyadults.many members ofthe psilocybingroup reported being a skin-bounded personwith an individual spiritual experiences.Line up for the scientific. prayer. p. addictiontreatment. however. Griffiths'study. members realm. In the group'srecent test. Griffithssays.unusualthe service. times. Each reported at least occasional participation in religious or any previoususe of psychedelic ____________________ ROLAND R.and meditation.Participants intense peacefuilness. that psilocybin mayleadto positivechanges It in a person. combines researchon psychedelic-drug effects-which have received little attention in the past 40 years-with a burgeoning scientific interest in the roots of spirituality (SN: 2/17/01.each volunteer met several times with a psychologist or social worker.includingchurch services.

They. and basking in overwhelming feelings of love and other positive moods. Cardefia studies yet another way that people enter life-changing spiritual realms. Sweden. They then reached a state of deep hypnosis. 29 participants reported moderately or greatly increased well-being and satisfaction with their lives as a result of psilocybin experiences. None of the 12 students in the study reportedbeing in a meditation program or currentlyusing psychedelic drugs. Wilson backed research that suggested a use for druginduced mystical experiences as part of alcoholism treatment. wonder. friends. WWW. Cardela identified eight women and four men who entered trance states with ease. The researchers are now analyzing results of a 1-year follow-up of participants. dimlylit room. and coworkers of each volunteer confirmed the reports of long-lived improvements in mood. Dubbed hypnotic virtuosos by Cardenia. Still. (continuedon page 220) SEPTEMBER 30. . friends. "It'sabout time that psychology and relatedfields startedtaking seriously mystical and other anomalous experiences.and sitting on a stationarybicycle equipped with a motor that propelledthe pedals. participants occasionally noted that the unusual occurrences of deep hypnosis scared them. transcending time and space. The others cited no such changes.After taking psilocybin. and enhanced inner peace. Afewtreatment-focused investigations of psilocybin are already under way. the scientists say. each participantinduced a self-hypnotic state under three conditions-while lying on a bed. Feelings of extreme fear or dread emerged in 11 of the 36 volunteers after taking psilocybin and in none after taking methylphenidate. meditation. and their anxiety often decreases. Favorable increased personal insight.perceiving unity in all things. From a group of 147 college students. Sessions ran for 17 minutes. ORG . Griffiths' study offers important improvements over earlier studies. Mystical events typically included a sense of merging with an overarching reality. whether they'reproduced by fasting. these people enjoyed the inner benefits of a selfinduced mysticalencounterwithout ingesting any mind-alteringdrugs. although 3 had ingested such substances years ago. This approach enabled researchers to distinguish genuine drug effects from placebo reactions. infectious disease states. 22 of the 36 volunteers described having mystical experiences. Griffiths and his colleagues now plan to follow up on that research. "There's good reason to believe that similar brain _ _ __ mechanisms are at work during profound religious experiences.directed by psychiatrist FranciscoMoreno of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Cardenia says. neardeath experiences. In pairs of 6-hour sessions separated by 1 month. and coworkers. _ stop drinking alcohol. which became more intense when the students were lying still. neither the participants nor those assisting them knew which drug was being administered. controlled breathing. In other words. the researchers verified participants' reports of psilocybin-induced improvements by talking to their families."he contends.aman named Bill Wilson cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous. sleep deprivation."he says. Another study. and freedom. 25 participants-including 3 who hadn't reported mystical encounters-rated the experience as among the five most meaningful and spiritually significant events in their lives. Grob and two assistants sit with each patient during these sessions. psychiatrist Charles Grob of the University of California. Los Angeles administers either psilocybin or placebo pills to patients with life-threatening cancer. pedaling a stationarybicycleat a comfortablerate. Participants reported an initial period of moderate hypnosis characterized by spinning sensations. four volunteers reported mystical experiences as well.these patients do pretty well after psilocybin sessions. "Evenwithout having a classic mysticalexperience. After taking methylphenidate. Two decades later. Second. or psychoactive substances.such individuals can direct their thoughts inward and. All but three of these cases occurred in volunteers who didn't know what kind of pill they were taking. moving participants'feet at a moderate rate."Grob says. At the end of psilocybin sessions. is examining psilocybin as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Interviewswith family members. Patients then typically lie still with their eyes covered while listening to relaxing music. First. He plans to investigate six more patients before publishing his findings. but none described any declines in well-being in response to the psilocybin use. and of being one with everything. They also want to examine whether psilocybin sessions ease depression and anxiety in end-stage cancer patients. before legal restrictions largely ended studies on psychedelic drugs. loss of touch with the external world. Two months after their last drug session. in most instances. He had recently undergone a self-described spiritual revelation that caused him to _S . Those who encountered negative reactions nonetheless completed the sessions with assistance from the psychologist or social worker. asserts psychologist Etzel Cardefia of the University of Lund. attitudes. become hypnotized on their own. Cardefia reported in the January 2005 Journal of Clinical and Experimental resultsincluded Hypnosis. at the end of the experiment and 8 months later. of merging with a light. The experiences while in deep hypnosis closely resembled mystical journeys taken in Griffiths' psilocybin sessions.. Reports included a sense offloating or flying. Grobhas studied six patients so far. of one'smind leaving one'sbody. and perceived bodily changes. SCI ENCEN EWS.the volunteers mentioned only positive effects of the deep hypnosis. They will try to determine whether psilocybin indeed fosters a spiritual insight that people can use to break alcoholism's grip. Positive effects of psilocybin seemed to last beyond the sessions.This condition is marked by anxiety and a need to perform repeatedly certain behaviors.tracking them for 6 months after completing the sessions. as well as powerful feelings of love. 2006 VOL. ranked the experience among the top five in their lives. LIFE In CHANGERS 1935. and behavior. DEEP HYPNOSIS Although it's not news that psilocybin stimulates mystical experiences. 170 217 Griffithsalso plans to explorehow brain processes unleashed by psilocybin compare with neural activity in people who experience drug free spiritual epiphanies."Cardefiasays. such as enlarged hands. In another parallel to Griffiths' findings. too. fewer nightmares. in no more than a minute or two. a feeling of lightness. Some folks spontaneously undergo mystical experiences during periods of "deephypnosis. In a silent.

Now.he says. and it's far from over.andonlyin rarecases look deeper. In turn. the field faces many unanswered questions. mugs.the unemployment rate has skyrocketedfrom 3 percent to 27 percent since 1994.saysEllentourism." Psychiatrist Herbert D." betweenhardscience needsto be a closeralliance she says. calls the treatment of drug addiction with psychedelic substances "entirelyconceivable. The elephants have ravagedroughly 7. berg.occupation. strange trip. and enviguins-and ecotourismon Damas and then the other islands. He adds that Kakum National Parkofficialshave confirmed his observations. that's where the analysis ends." Murray says with a chuckle.a Sanjay Nepal of the University of basedits rulesforapproaching penTexas A&M in College Station. are to manygovernments reluctant providefuhdingfor investigations because profit they fromecotourism.says = I _ arrangements often go awry.further. Moreno says.will be gone. Results are promising." Appiah-Opoku says. which is bad news for the majority of villagers." "And once they're Availableat. but killing the animals.a . the former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Not everyone finds Griffiths'study enlightening. SCIENCE NEWS . If the guidelinesaren'tchangedquickly. (continuedfrom page 217) such as hand washing.only a few dozenpenguinsresideon Damas. Most destinations began.Kleber cautions that only well-prepared individuals-such as those in Griffiths'study-are likely to reap lasting benefits from drug-related mystical states. however. * _ . says Honey. and sometimes instigate fear and paranoia. Activity in the brains of people who show minimal reactions to psilocybin should also prove intriguing.guins. .the Humboldtpening to find a balance between the social. Moreover.cafeshops.SaysHueter. It's been a long. he asserts. improperviewingguidelines. "In a place like this. 170 Check out our exclusive selection of T-shirts." to is on Currently. . _ _ 3* . "Psilocybinmight grow hair on bald men-we just don't know.u ronmental elements-it's ambitious and it's complex. the forest-elephant population has increased. "Myconcern is.As today'ssmallpopulationslips "One of the things I've lately begun to think is we're asking therebeforeecotourism touristswill headto the nearbyislands.800 acres offarmland since the park opened. remarks David Murray. caps. and much more! only understandings tists studyecotourism's to fedbackintothe industry. Clinical benefits of psilocybin have yet to be demonstrated. 2006 VOL. cause disorientation. special assistant to the current director ofthe White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Psychiatrist Charles R Schuster of Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit says that the new investigation will hasten explorations of the neural basis of drug-induced altered states of consciousness." he says. although he won't discuss the findings in detail until their upcoming publication in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Overall. economic. there should have been an agreement that part ofthe moneywould go into the [village] economy. making before-and-after comparisonsdifficult. . .The Humboldtreserve -_ .is illegal. Griffiths'paper has attracted some surprising supporters.that'sit. sweatshirts. Appiah-Opoku reports. .says weren'tstudiedbeforeecotourism humandisturbance. If speciescalledthe Magellanic members of the native population don't reap profits from eco. educatewhatis acceptable behavior. Perhaps majorbarrieris the the working assumption that ecotourism."There andthe tourismindustry."* The key to this balance is more research. He _ guinson a relatedSouthAmerican reports on the cultural impacts of penguin.that some ofthe people would be employed in the park.mustbe betterthan typicalmasstourism. "need be to impacts. As scien. with the conservation fundsit raises.. good research ecotourism difficult find.' do [researchers] Inthe caseofthe Humboldt pena lack of research led to . Former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. the . Kleberlooks forwardto investigations ofwhether mystical experiences triggered by methylphenidate and psilocybin activate the same brain regions. he says. Localfishermenestimatethat three times as many lived began. golf shirts. after lying dormant for decades. e 220 SEPTEMBER 30. "Ecotourism veryoften is in direct conflict with host communities for its markets and resources. they may focus on their diminished opportunity to harvest the natural resourcesthey had access to in the past. The new data simply confirm the longstanding knowledge that psychedelic substances disturb perception. and many of the villages are "ghost towns. Even ardent proponents of psychedelic-drug research acknowledge that. Kleber of Columbia University in New York City agrees.saysEllenberg. . "Try.which is far less sensitive ecotourism in Taiwan in an upcoming Tourism Management." But even when local inhabitants ' participate in the planning. argues Ellenberg. who are farmers.. In the meantime. says Nepal. *. too much from the so-called idea of ecotourism. Schuster. even in defense of personal territory.

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