Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Turning the corner in psychedelic research? New study of psilocybin and mystical states

Today marks a significant milestone in psychedelic research -- the publication of a new study on psilocybin (the main active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and mystical experiences. This study is groundbreaking for several reasons, but primarily because it addresses -- with rigorous scientific and ethical protocols -- the mystical experience induced or facilitated by entheogenic substances. Similar research was sidelined by the anti-drug hysteria of the late 1960s and 70s, and has only recently been revived (thanks, in part, to the pioneering efforts of MAPS).

The full paper, from the journal Psychopharmacology, can be found here.

Coming on the heels of recent and ongoing research into the healing potential of substances like MDMA (Ecstasy) for treating severe trauma and psilocybin in end-stage cancer patients and in the treatment of cluster headaches, this is a powerful rebuttal of the lingering "just say no" attitude that lumps entheogens with heroin and cocaine. And it's a momentous step forward in understanding the neurobiology of transcendent states.

Commentary on the study can be found here. Also, see further commentary by Kleber, Nichols, Schuster, and Snyder.

Huston Smith provides a very succinct coda:

"Mystical experience seems to be as old as humankind, forming the core of many if not all of the great religious traditions. Some ancient cultures, such as classical Greece, and some contemporary small-scale cultures, have made use of psychoactive plants and chemicals to occasion such experiences. But this is the first scientific demonstration in 40 years, and the most rigorous ever, that profound mystical states can be produced safely in the laboratory. The potential is great."

Smith also issued a caution and suggested that further research on the topic include social as well as neurological variables: "In the end, it's altered traits, not altered states, that matter. 'By their fruits shall ye know them.' It's good to learn that volunteers having even this limited experience had lasting benefits. But human history suggests that without a social vessel to hold the wine of revelation, it tends to dribble away. In most cases, even the most extraordinary experiences provide lasting benefits to those who undergo them and people around them only if they become the basis of ongoing work. That's the next research question, it seems to me: What conditions of community and practice best help people to hold on to what comes to them in those moments of revelation, converting it into abiding light in their own lives?"

Further coverage:



LA Times

Wall Street Journal

ABC News (with video clip)

New Scientist

Daily Mail

The Independent (UK)



SF Gate


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reference -- that was pretty incredible. Not that I've read many scientific papers, but the language of this one seems so beautifully incongruous, and it is ironic that it ends with an urge to study exactly how these chemicals cause mystical experiences. Perhaps, Mr. Scientist, we don't need to know that -- perhaps that's why they're called mystical.

I think my new favorite words are 'oceanic boundlessness'.

12:39 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

Very interesting post Professor. Coincidentally, I just Amazoned an old book Entitled Remember: BE HERE NOW , Hunuman 1971, I remember browsing through it years ago, and just thought it might be interesting to do so again.
The author states the many amazing revelatory experiences he and his friends had while high as a kite, but could not figure out how to curtail the 'coming down blues'...which is the reason the book was made in the first place.
Peace, you old hippy.

Btw, I know you are more than familiar with the Mayan Writings/Codex. It would be interesting to hear your comments on the significance of the year 2012.

As I mentioned months ago, I have a brother in law who also is studying Mayan Codex, is aware of the calander end of 2012, but does not think it means anything. He is a Fundamentalist Christian, which might be influencing his logic. Or visa/versa. whatever.

1:02 PM  

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