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Magic mushrooms can improve mental health

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According to new research by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, magic mushrooms can have long-lasting positive effects on people’s well-being. After their use of the drug, volunteers reported positive effects such as an increased sense of inner peace and increased ability to empathize with others.

It has been known for quite some time that the active constituent of magic mushrooms, psilocybin, can induce profound experiences. However, when the ‘trip’ becomes too strong, the experience often includes strong negative emotions such as anxiety and despair. The researchers, led by professor of behavioural biology Roland Griffiths, defined an optimal dose, inducing influential and mystical experiences without any negative side-effects.

Fourteen months after the experiment, 94% of the test subjects said the experiment was one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives; 39% said it was the single most meaningful experience. Reported positive effects included an increased understanding of themselves and others, and increased patience in their lives. Not only the participants themselves reported positive effects: also friends, family and colleagues of those who received the drug reported that they made a more calm and happy impression on them.

The researchers found that it is most effective to first introduce their test subjects to a small dose of the drug, and work their way up to higher doses in the course of several experiments. In this way, they could gain some experience with the effects of the drug, before its effects would become too overwhelming. This in contrast to earlier experiments (most notably in the 1960s), involving high initial doses, sometimes with negative consequences.

Eventually, the researchers want to find out whether the active constituent in magic mushrooms can be useful in psychotherapy, for example reducing fear of death in terminal patients, or relieving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This research was published in Psychopharmacology.

We would also like to point your attention to another recent paper by the group of Griffiths, also published in Psychopharmacology. This paper handles personality changes after the use of psilocybin, showing how these experiences can lead to increased openness in volunteers. You may also be interested in this article by Stephen Ross, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, about therapeutic applications of psilocybin, more specifically in the treatment of fear of death in terminal patients.

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