Discreet charm of psilocybin. Why have we been reaching for hallucinogenic mushrooms for thousands of years?

Psilocybin is a psychoactive substance that has been accompanying humanity for centuries and cannot get boring. Why is it like that? This question was answered by scientists from the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at John Hopkins University of Medicine.

A renewed interest in the use of psychedelics in psychiatric treatment prompted Roland R. Griffiths , a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, to investigate another issue related to these substances. Why over the centuries have people so readily reached for psilocybin, a substance that is found in hallucinogenic mushrooms in nature?

- Increasing research suggests that psilocybin, a classic psychedelic drug, has significant potential to treat various psychiatric conditions such as depression and drug addiction disorders. This study tried to answer a simple but somewhat embarrassing question: Why do people use psilocybin? - writes Griffiths.

Safe drug?

According to experts from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), psilocybin is one of the few narcotic substances that are not addictive, do not lead to the use of other drugs, do not cause withdrawal syndrome or cause its users to reach for other drugs.

So it can be assumed that this is one of the safest stimulants that humanity has been applying for (at least) several thousand years. But what makes us reach for it at all? According to NIDA experts, psilocybin does not cause a classic state of euphoria.

To answer this question, a group of researchers from the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research invited 20 healthy volunteers who had already taken hallucinogenic drugs and performed a double-blind test on them. This means that some participants received psilocybin, some dextromethorphan (DXM) and some received placebo. With these assumptions, five experimental sessions took place. The sessions were held in a living room-like environment, and participants were instructed to lie down on the sofa and listen to music.

"Dextromethorphan was chosen as a comparator to psilocybin because, although it is a hallucinogen with some psilocybin-like effects, it has a much lower rate of non-medical use despite the widespread availability of over-the-counter cough medicine," explains Griffiths.

Conclusions after the study

Each participant was asked to evaluate individual experimental sessions. In addition, each of them also had to write a brief description of their experiences and complete a questionnaire with questions arranged by the Griffiths team. Based on this documentation, the researchers found that most participants were willing to take psilocybin again. But only 1 in 4 reported willingness to take DXM again.

- The study showed that several subjective feelings predicted the participants' willingness to take psilocybin again: psychological insight, sensibility of sensation, increased awareness of beauty, positive social effects (e.g. increased empathy), positive mood, or mystical effects - explained Griffiths.

Almost half of the participants rated their experiences after the highest dose of psilocybin as one of the most significant and psychologically insightful in their lives.

- The study provides the answer to the mystery why psilocybin has been used by people for hundreds of years, and yet it doesn't have many of the features used to define classic drugs. The answer seems to be based on psilocybin's ability to cause exceptional changes in human conscious experience that create meaning, insight, beauty and mystical-type effects, "said Griffiths.

This is not the first time science has seen the relationship between psilocybin and so-called religious experiences. 14 years ago Griffiths conducted a somewhat similar study called All is One , in which people with religious experience on their account were given psilocybin for the first time in their lives. The state induced in this way turned out to be very similar to religious experience.

- There are indications that in religious experiments a similar mechanism is triggered as for psilocybin, but this is still a matter to be explored. Meditation, breath control, sleep disturbance, emotions in the face of death or severe illness can have similar effects as the effects of a psychoactive agent. There is even a new term for a field that deals with these issues - neuroteology.

Roland R. Griffiths suggests that humanity's use of psilocybin can be explained by the desire to experience deeper, sometimes even religious experiences and a deep insight. Therapists who experiment with psilocybin during their sessions also come to very similar conclusions. Many of them claim that after administering psilocybin to a patient, it is much easier to work with him various types of trauma and anxiety. In Poland, such research still remains illegal. The Polish Psychedelic Society is applying to change this state of affairs.

Discreet charm of psilocybin. Why have we been reaching for hallucinogenic mushrooms for thousands of years?


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