Psychedelic mushrooms have for millennia been said to trigger mystical experiences. The most rigorous scientific experiment with the hallucinogen, and the first in 40 years, proved capable of producing mystical states in the laboratory safely. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University selected 36 spiritually active volunteers, who might interpret the experiences best, and disqualified potential subjects who had a family or personal risk for psychosis or bipolar disorder. One third of volunteers given psilocybin, the mushroom's active compound, described it as the most spiritually meaningful experience of their lives, and about two thirds rated it in their top five. Some side effects occurred: A third admitted significant fear in the hours following their dose, and some felt momentary paranoia. Two months later 79 percent reported moderately or greatly increased well-being or life satisfaction compared with those given a placebo. Further research could lead to therapies against pain, depression or addiction, experts commented online July 12 in Psychopharmacology.
This article was originally published with the title "Magical Mushroom Tour" in Scientific American 295, 3, 36 (September 2006)