Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jul 2011 Source: Martlet (CN BC Edu) Copyright: 2011 Martlet Publishing Society Contact: http://www.martlet.ca/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/3140 Author: Tyler Laing CAN "MAGIC" MUSHROOMS HAVE THERAPEUTIC VALUE? For many people, eating "magic" mushrooms can mean an eye-dilated night out in the wild. Sometimes the wild they roam is outdoors -- Mystic Vale, perhaps, or Mount Doug. Often that wild is internal, a psychological journey of uncertain destinations. But of the numerous reasons why people ingest "magic" mushrooms, improved psychological health isn't usually high on the list. Until now, perhaps. Researchers at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, lead by Dr. Roland Griffiths, recently conducted a five-month study in which 18 participants ingested carefully calculated doses of psilocybin, the psychoactive constituent in hallucinogenic mushrooms. The results, published online on June 15 in the journal Psychopharmacology, suggest that an ideal dosage of psilocybin can positively affect an individual's attitude, mood and behaviour. "In my life [psilocybin] has had a very positive effect," says Ted Smith, president of the International Hempology 101 Society and founder of the Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada. Smith has been enjoying the effects of psilocybin for more than two decades and agrees with the study's finding about persisting positive effects. "You can have an incredibly enjoyable experience and bonding experience with other people and with nature and with yourself," says Smith. However, Dr. Stan Bardal, a pharmacologist and faculty member with the Island Medical Program in UVic's Division of Medical Sciences, holds some reservations about the study's weight. "They only have 18 participants in the study, so that's tiny," he says. "That's what we call a hypothesis-generating study." "That merely generates a hypothesis that might possibly be useful, but they need to do a much larger study," says Bardal. The 18 participants, averaging 46 years of age, were divided into two even groups. One group took descending dosages of the drug; the other, ascending. Scientists administered the psilocybin extract in quantities of 0, 5, 10, 20 or 30 milligrams per 70 kilograms of body weight. Although the study's measurements were specific, just how much psilocybin is in a mushroom is much harder to gauge. "People generally measure [mushrooms] by the gram," says Smith, but he doesn't know of any way to determine how many milligrams of psilocybin one mushroom would yield. Bardal agrees. "There's no way you would be able to titrate the dose of six versus seven mushrooms or something like that. It's just not going to happen. It's a hallucinogen . . . you wouldn't want to take too much of it." And because the psilocybin content is difficult to determine in mushrooms, says Bardal, "buying it from somebody on the corner" could be a dangerous proposition. "It can induce psychosis, and that's not something anyone wants." But while 39 per cent of the study subjects were alleged to have felt extreme anxiety or fear at some stage of the experiment, these feelings were not long lasting. Indeed, at the 14-month follow-up, 94 per cent of participants claimed the highest doses of psilocybin induced either the single most or among the five most spiritually significant moments of their lives. "One of the benefits that drugs can have is that while we have the capacity for spiritual enlightenment and mystical experiences and communion with God ourselves, the use of drugs can speed that along," says Smith. "Mushrooms help you tap into this energy that is beyond what you see and hear." During their 'trips,' which were conducted in a comfortable living-room-like setting, participants were encouraged to lie on a couch, while wearing eye masks, and listen to music through headphones. Two monitors accompanied each participant during the session. The whole monitor aspect of the study doesn't sit too well with Smith. "It's probably better to [be with] someone trustworthy, if not even someone in the same state of mind," says Smith. He also believed researchers could have improved the results of their study if they had changed the structure around a bit. "You can't really do a study of people on the beach playing the bongo drum," he says; but at the same time, "they might have even had more positive results if they'd had everyone together and hanging out in the same room listening to music." One of the questions behind this research is whether psilocybin use could potentially alleviate the anxiety and depression experienced by terminally ill cancer patients. However, the subjects of this study were all deemed physically and psychologically healthy. While Smith believes psilocybin could be used to help people deal with trauma, Bardal is less sure. "You have to keep your mind open," he says. However, "they're trying to find a dose that would be therapeutic, and that's obviously fairly controversial." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.