psilocybin and depression
Posted by Jonathan Chamberlain on April 13, 2010
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Psilocybin and Depression
Here is the New York Times story of one man’s experience in using an hallucinogenic drug to combat depression brought on by chemotherapy
Hallucinogens make a comeback
By John Tierney
As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted
with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed
untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling
regimens for kidney cancer.
Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.
Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his
first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver to take
part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving
psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.
Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo
among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them
in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using
rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to
study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems
and illuminating the nature of consciousness.
After taking the hallucinogen, Martin put on an eye mask and
headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he
contemplated the universe. “All of a sudden, everything familiar
started evaporating, ” he recalled.
Today, more than a year later, Martin credits that six-hour
experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly
transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends.
Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San
Jose, California, for the largest conference on psychedelic science
held in the United States in four decades. Because reactions to
hallucinogens can vary so much depending on the setting,
experimenters and review boards have developed guidelines to set up a
comfortable environment with expert monitors in the room to deal with
In one of Dr Griffiths’s first studies, involving 36 people with no
serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that
psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a
profound spiritual experience . In a survey conducted two months
later, the people who received psilocybin reported significantly more
improvements in their general feelings and behavior than did the
members of the control group.
In interviews, Martin and other subjects described their egos and
bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of
consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities
vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with
lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.
“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Martin said. “I wasn’t any
longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I
could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just
show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a
feeling of attunement with other people.”
The subjects’ reports mirrored so closely the accounts of religious
mystical experiences, Griffiths said, that it seems likely the human
brain is wired to undergo these “unitive” experiences, perhaps
because of some evolutionary advantage.
Although federal regulators have resumed granting approval for
controlled experiments with psychedelics, there has been little
public money granted for the research.
Researchers are reporting preliminary success in using psilocybin to
ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses. Dr Charles S
Grob, a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at U C L A,
describes it as “existential medicine” that helps dying people
overcome fear, panic and depression.
The New York Times