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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 2

Hallucinogens Could Ease Existential Terror

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is being explored as a therapeutic tool to improve the lives of people with a life-threatening illness

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I was lying on a lumpy off-white sofa under a mountain of blankets, wearing an eye mask and listening to a Brahms symphony playing through my headphones. The notes of a violin solo lit three strands of deep red light, which trickled like water in my right visual field. Deeper tones poured from above in huge blue clouds in the middle distance. Another violin flourish turned the sky yellow and brought with it a comet's tail of body parts flying from the upper left of my visual field to the lower right, disappearing behind me.

This all happened within the first hour of my swallowing a capsule of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” as a study subject at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit (BPRU). Patients with cancer are given the drug to improve mood and outlook and to help regain a sense of existential meaning in the face of a deadly disease.

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