- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — People who took an illegal drug made from mushrooms reported profound mystical experiences that led to behavior changes lasting for weeks — all part of an experiment that recalls the psychedelic ‘60s.

Many of the 36 volunteers rated their reaction to a single dose of the drug, called psilocybin, as one of the most meaningful or spiritually significant experiences of their lives. Some compared it to the birth of a child or the death of a parent.

Such comments “just seemed unbelievable,” said Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, the study’s lead author.

But don’t try this at home, he warned. “Absolutely don’t.”

Almost a third of the research participants found the drug experience frightening even in the controlled setting. That reaction suggests people experimenting with the illicit drug on their own could be harmed, Mr. Griffiths said.

Viewed by some as a landmark, the study is one of the few rigorous looks in the past 40 years at a hallucinogen’s effects. The researchers suggest that the drug someday may help drug addicts stop their habit or aid terminally ill patients struggling with anxiety.

Funded in part by the federal government, the research was published online yesterday by the journal Psychopharmacology.

Psilocybin has been used for centuries in religious practices, and its ability to produce a mystical experience is no surprise. But the new work demonstrates it more clearly than previously, Mr. Griffiths said.

Even two months after taking the drug, most of the volunteers said the experience had changed them in beneficial ways, such as making them more compassionate, loving, optimistic and patient. Family members and friends said they noticed a difference, too.

The study volunteers had an average age of 46, had never used hallucinogens and participated to some degree in religious or spiritual activities such as prayer, meditation, discussion groups or religious services. Each tried psilocybin during one visit to the lab and the stimulant methylphenidate (better known as Ritalin) on one or two other visits.

Each visit lasted eight hours. The volunteers lay on a couch in a living-roomlike setting, wearing an eye mask and listening to classical music.

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