Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Science Update


Forgetting for a moment who you are, forgetting that you have to be anyone, relieved, looking down from silent, cool darkness. Planetary movements, million-year cycles, the long journey of light. Bare trees in midwinter reaching their branches toward you, clearer than anything you've ever seen before. All the colors so saturated, the snowflakes so fat and defined. Heading home to warmth, to friends, to photographs of your family.
[I]n a report published this week on the effects of magic mushrooms, more than 60 percent of people taking the hallucinogenic drug said the resulting "trip" met the criteria for a "full mystical experience" as measured by established psychological scales.

One third of the 36 subjects said that the experience was the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes; and more than two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences. . . .

Many of the subjects, who were healthy, well-educated volunteers, and most of whom were middle-aged, compared the importance of the experience to the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.
Japan Times See also Forbes ("Volunteers who tried the hallucinogenic ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms during a controlled study funded by the U.S. government had 'mystical' experiences, and many of them still felt unusually happy months later."); Washington Post:
Of the 36 people, 22 had a "complete" mystical experience as judged by several question-based scales used for rating such experiences. Two-thirds judged it to be among their top five life experiences, equal to the birth of a first child or death of a parent. Two months after a session, the people who had taken psilocybin reported small but significant positive changes in behavior and attitudes compared with those who had taken Ritalin.

One-third of the subjects, however, said they experienced "strong or extreme" fear at some point in the hours after they took the hallucinogen. Four people said the entire session was dominated by anxiety or psychological struggle.
The research appears to have been funded in part by the U.S. government. I want to say that such research is valuable in exploring possibilities of the mind, but I also wonder to what purpose the government or business would want to put chemicals such as psilocybin. In any event, if the chemical can improve people's lives, I guess it's worth looking into. God knows that we are currently dosing ourselves with all sorts of mind-altering chemicals.

Life is short and filled with mundanity, pain, loss, sickness, and struggle. Perhaps everyone is entitled -- at least once -- to the type of experience psilocybin appears to offer. Psilocybin and similar substances have been part of ritual and tradition for a long time, and apparently for a reason. Of course, as the studies note, substances like these are not risk free, and many have gone very wrong by going too far. What if the world were just a bit weirder, though?

3 comments:

jose said...

Not weirder, exactly. Better, perhaps, to say less predictable and, thus, more "real."

Caeli said...

One psilocybin experience per human should be mandatory.

Octopus Grigori said...

Jose: Maybe. Really depends on what the word means to you.

Caeli: That would be a tough law to pass, but I am sympathetic to your suggestion.