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Spiritual Effects of Hallucinogens Persist, Johns Hopkins Researchers Report - 07/01/2008

Spiritual Effects of Hallucinogens Persist, Johns Hopkins Researchers Report

Related report gives safety guidelines for hallucinogen research
Release Date: July 1, 2008

In a follow-up to research showing that psilocybin, a substance
contained in "sacred mushrooms," produces substantial spiritual
effects, a Johns Hopkins team reports that those beneficial effects
appear to last more than a year.

Writing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the Johns Hopkins
researchers note that most of the 36 volunteer subjects given
psilocybin, under controlled conditions in a Hopkins study published
in 2006, continued to say 14 months later that the experience
increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction.

"Most of the volunteers looked back on their experience up to 14
months later and rated it as the most, or one of the five most,
personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives,"
says lead investigator Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a professor in the
Johns Hopkins departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and
Neuroscience.

In a related paper, also published in the Journal of
Psychopharmacology, researchers offer recommendations for conducting
this type of research.

The guidelines caution against giving hallucinogens to people at risk
for psychosis or certain other serious mental disorders. Detailed
guidance is also provided for preparing participants and providing
psychological support during and after the hallucinogen experience.
These "best practices" contribute both to safety and to the
standardization called for in human research.

"With appropriately screened and prepared individuals, under
supportive conditions and with adequate supervision, hallucinogens
can be given with a level of safety that compares favorably with many
human research and medical procedures," says that paper's lead
author, Mathew W. Johnson, Ph.D., a psychopharmacologist and
instructor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry and
Behavioral Sciences.

The two reports follow a 2006 study published in another journal,
Psychopharmacology, in which 60 percent of a group of 36 healthy,
well-educated volunteers with active spiritual lives reported having
a "full mystical experience" after taking psilocybin. {See
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Press_releases/2006/07_11_06.html }

Psilocybin, a plant alkaloid, exerts its influence on some of the
same brain receptors that respond to the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Mushrooms containing psilocybin have been used in some cultures for
hundreds of years or more for religious, divinatory and healing purposes.

Fourteen months later, Griffiths re-administered the questionnaires
used in the first study -- along with a specially designed set of
follow-up questions -- to all 36 subjects. Results showed that about
the same proportion of the volunteers ranked their experience in the
study as the single most, or one of the five most, personally
meaningful or spiritually significant events of their lives and
regarded it as having increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction.

"This is a truly remarkable finding," Griffiths says. "Rarely in
psychological research do we see such persistently positive reports
from a single event in the laboratory. This gives credence to the
claims that the mystical-type experiences some people have during
hallucinogen sessions may help patients suffering from cancer-related
anxiety or depression and may serve as a potential treatment for drug
dependence. We're eager to move ahead with that research."

Griffiths also notes that, "while some of our subjects reported
strong fear or anxiety for a portion of their day-long psilocybin
sessions, none reported any lingering harmful effects, and we didn't
observe any clinical evidence of harm."

The research team cautions that if hallucinogens are used in less
well-supervised settings, the possible fear or anxiety responses
could lead to harmful behaviors.

These studies were funded by grants from NIDA, the Council on
Spiritual Practices, and the Heffter Research Institute.

Additional researchers who contributed to this work include Matthew
W. Johnson, Ph.D. and Una D. McCann, M.D. of the Department of
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School
of Medicine; psychologist William A. Richards of the Johns Hopkins
Bayview Medical Center; and Robert Jesse of the Council on Spiritual
Practices, San Francisco.

MediaContact: John Lazarou
410-502-8902;jlazaro1@jhmi.edu

MediaContact: Eric Vohr
410-955-8665; evohr1@jhmi.edu

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