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Johns Hopkins Study Finds Psilocybin's 'Sweet Spot' For Lasting Positive Effects

February 11, 2016

Man's use of mushrooms, whether it be for culinary, practical, or recreational purposes, dates back through the milennia. A variety of different fungus spores have been discovered in tooth scraping of human fossils as old as 19,000 years meaning our Paleolithic ancestry was very much aware of the sustenance certain mushrooms can provide, and perhaps even the psychoactive effects of others. In the late 1950s and 60s, mushroom species of the Psilocybe genus became wildly popularized on the streets of North America for the powerfully hallucinogenic, often spiritual influence they had on one's state of consciousness. 

Unfortunately, this rapid rate of unregulated dosing resulted in many individuals learning the hard way that a mismanaged use of the mysterious fungus can just as easily have a profoundly negative effect on one's state of consciousness. Known as psychedelic casualties, some individuals that likely took an excessive amount of psychoactive mushrooms with a less than ideal set and setting had terrifying, even haunting experiences that left them psychologically impacted for some time after, even indefinitely in some cases. Scares like this led to the swift and uninformed decision to place a strict prohibition on the psilocybin mushrooms and any ongoing research, despite any psychological benefits it may possess as a genuine medicine. This is where the research being conducted at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine comes into play.

In this particular study led by Roland Griffiths, PhD, the team of Johns Hopkins researchers designed an experiment in order to develop a better understanding of the immediate and persisting dose-related effects of psilocybin. Researchers had hopes of uncovering the dosage 'sweet spot' of pure psilocybin in order to achieve all of the desired benefits while minimizing the potential for any negative experiences. After screening individuals between the ages of 29 and 62, the team selected 18 of sound mind and body to undergo five sessions, each of which were eight hours in length and timed one month apart. During four of the sessions, the volunteers would receive varying dosages of the psilocybin compound and a placebo at the remaining session to serve as a control.

During the study, as with many of the studies at Hopkins, the volunteers were asked to lie down on a comfortable couch in a cozy, home-like environment with the company of trained monitor. After being administered the compound, they were encouraged to lie down and relax with the choice of donning a blindfold and/or headphones provided for them. The volunteers and the monitors were both unaware as to how much psilocybin the subject would receive during each session, though each volunteer was adequately prepared from coaching and guidance prior to the sessions.

As to be expected, the researchers noticed that the higher dosages were correlated with increases in positive effects, but also resulted in more instances of negativity throughout the experience. At the highest dosage of 30 mg/70 kg, 78 percent of the subjects reported having experienced on of the top five most spiritually significant events of their lives, though the reported moments of anxiety, fear, and stress increased by six times. At this dose, nearly a third of the participating volunteers experienced some sort of psychological struggle. 

On the other hand, the second highest dose used in the study (20 mg/70kg) resulted in only one of the volunteers reporting any negative experiences and all volunteers reporting positive experiences, albeit at a lower intensity than on the larger dose. What was perhaps the most notable of all, however, is that even the lowest dose used for the study (5 mg/70 kg) demonstrated discernible and long-lasting positive effects on behavior, attitude and overall outlook. So much so that even friends and family members of the volunteers were able to notice the changes.

"We seem to have found levels of the substance and particular conditions for its use that give a high probability of a profound and beneficial experience, a low enough probability of psychological struggle, and very little risk of any actual harm," says lead author Roland Griffiths, PhD

Just one month after the study had concluded, 61 percent of the volunteers disclosed that their psilocybin experience was the single most significant spiritual experience of their lives. With some more time to reflect, a followup 14 months after the study showed that 94 percent of the subjects felt the experience was definitely within their top 5 most significant.

 

While the results of this dose-effect study may seem somewhat predictably, it provides a numerical measurement and scientific reinforcement to previous research which has shown that psilocybin, under carefully calculated and controlled conditions, "has a high probability of leading to mystical or spiritual experiences descriptively identical to spontaneous ones mystics have reported across cultures and throughout the ages, while not leading to drug abuse or organ toxicity."

Other studies conducted at the Johns Hopkins University have looked into the efficacy of psilocybin as treatment for addictions and even the alleviation of the fear and anxiety experienced by individuals diagnosed with cancer. Some experimentation is even designed for the purpose of exploring psilocybin's spiritual effects by combining doses of the pure compound with traditional forms of cultivation such as awareness training, meditation and spiritual dialogue.

Over 40 years ago, similar experiments that were yielding similar results were slandered and subjected to bad press and federal fear mongering, bringing research to a screeching halt. After a few decades of cultural advancement, forward thinking and scientific breakthrough, it seems that the news of ongoing strides in psychedelic research is being well received in today's society. Even Czar Jerome Jaffe, MD, former chief of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention under the Nixon administration, has stated that "the Hopkins Psilocybin studies clearly demonstrate that this route to the mystical is not to be walked alone, but they have also demonstrated significant and lasting benefits." A groundbreaking change of heart.

References

Griffiths, Roland R., Matthew W. Johnson, William A. Richards, Brian D. Richards, Una McCann, and Robert Jesse. "Psilocybin Occasioned Mystical-type Experiences: Immediate and Persist." Ing Dose-related Effects. Psychopharmacology, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Griffiths, Roland R., William A. Richards, Una McCann, and Robert Jesse. "Psilocybin Occasioned Mystical-type Experiences: Immediate and Persist." Ing Dose-related Effects. Psychopharmacology, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Ridden, Paul. "Johns Hopkins Study Finds Psilocybin Dosage 'sweet Spot' for Positive and Lasting Effects." Johns Hopkins Study Finds Psilocybin Dosage 'sweet Spot' for Positive and Lasting Effects. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Council on Spiritual Practices: Psilocybin 
http://csp.org/psilocybin/

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