Mushroom magic put to test
The magic of certain mushrooms has long been the stuff of myth. Now US scientists have confirmed their mystical powers.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have shown the active agent in magic mushrooms can induce a mystical or spiritual experience and prompt positive changes in behaviour and attitude lasting for months.
The study, published this week in the journal Psychopharmacology, is believed to be the first of its kind since the 1960s. Until then, compounds of the drugs had been used in psychotherapy but the practice fell into disrepute as their abuse led to severe side effects.
The Johns Hopkins study involved 36 healthy, educated adults. Most were middle-aged and had no family history of psychosis or bipolar disorder.
At two eight-hour drug sessions held at two-month intervals, they were given either the hallucinogen psilocybin, the active agent in magic mushrooms, or a placebo.
More than 60 per cent had a mystical experience when given psilocybin. More than two-thirds rated it in the top five most meaningful and spiritual experiences in their lives, likening it to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. One in three said it was their single most spiritually significant experience.
However, one-third reported significant adverse reactions, such as fear and paranoia.
Director of the Howard Florey Institute Professor Fred Mendelsohn said the research provided insight into the brain and consciousness, and showed psychotropic drugs could apparently be used safely in controlled trials.
However, he said: "This study should not be seen as endorsing the wider and unsupervised use of these compounds."