Effects of magic mushrooms long-lasting

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Researchers in the United States say the "spiritual" effects of sacred mushrooms can last for more than a year.

Sacred mushrooms, also known as psychedelic or magic mushrooms, contain psilocybin, a plant alkaloid, which affects parts of the brain which respond to the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Psilocybin mushrooms are non-toxic and non-addictive and when eaten can cause nausea, dizziness and sometimes vomiting.

But the mushrooms are also credited with evoking feelings of bliss, relaxation, and wonder, but anxiety, sadness, curiousness and fear can also be experienced and the greatest danger from their recreational use appears to be that of a "bad trip" which can cause severe emotional and psychological distress.

The mushrooms can also be easily mistaken for extremely toxic wild picked mushrooms.

Sacred mushrooms have been used in some cultures for hundreds of years in religious ceremonies and for healing and now scientists say they may help patients with fatal diseases or addictions.

They say there are safe ways to test psychoactive drugs on willing volunteers, providing guidelines are followed.

The team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, gave psilocybin to 36 healthy, well-educated volunteers with active spiritual lives, for a study carried out in 2006.

At the time when they were asked how it felt, most reported having a "mystical" or "spiritual" experience and rated it positively.

The researchers led by Dr. Roland Griffiths found that more than a year later, most still said the experience increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction, and Griffiths says that is a remarkable finding.

According to Dr.Griffiths, a professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Neuroscience, in psychological research such persistently positive reports from a single event in the laboratory are rarely seen.

He says the findings lend credence to claims that the mystical-type experiences some people experience during hallucinogen sessions may help patients suffering from cancer-related anxiety or depression and may have potential for the treatment of drug dependency.

Psilocybin is illegal in many U.S. states and the researchers say the key to its use is supervision.

Dr. Griffiths says while some of the group reported strong fear or anxiety for some of the day-long psilocybin sessions, none reported any lingering harmful effects, and no clinical evidence of harm was observed.

The researchers say hallucinogens should not be given to people at risk for psychosis or certain other serious mental disorders but Griffiths stresses that even those who reported fear said a year later they had no permanent negative effects.

Of the volunteers who took the one-day test of psilocybin, 22 of the 36 had a "complete" mystical experience (based on a detailed questionnaire) and 21 continued to rate the experience highly 14 months later.

The researchers say 58 percent of 36 volunteers rated the experience on the psilocybin as among the five most personally meaningful experiences of their lives and 67 percent rated it among the five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives.

Lead author, psychopharmacologist Dr. Mathew W. Johnson, says with appropriately screened and prepared individuals, under supportive conditions and with adequate supervision, hallucinogens can be given with a level of safety that compares favourably with many human research and medical procedures.

Comments from the volunteers include those expressing an intensely powerful sense of surrender and becoming enveloped in the beauty of music which was enormously spiritual.

The research was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Council on Spiritual Practices, and the Heffter Research Institute and is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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