The use of mushrooms by man for practical, culinary or recreational purposes is said to date back to at least Paleolithic times, with perhaps the best-known variety in recent times being Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric. Nibbling on one side of this fungus made Alice grow in size and the other made her shrink, leading to some rather bizarre adventures and inspiring one of my favorite songs – White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane. The favored psychoactive mushrooms of the drop-out 1960s, though, were members of the Psilocybe genus. Researchers now believe that they have found the optimum dose of the pure chemical found in those so-called magic mushrooms, a level which offers maximum therapeutic value with little risk of having a bad trip.
Psilocybin is produced by over 200 species of fungi and its hallucinogenic, often spiritual, influence has long been well known. It’s said to lead to a feeling of oneness with nature and the universe, of a great inner peace and calm. But, as if proof of the old adage, too much of this good thing can also result in powerful negative episodes marked by fear and anxiety, and has led to strict regulation or outright prohibition in many countries throughout the world.
The latest Psilocybin study at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine set out to discover the “sweet spot” dose of pure chemical Psilocybin that would offer users all the positive benefits while minimizing the negative effects. Researchers screened volunteers between the ages of 29 and 62, ensuring that they were of sound mind and body (as the saying goes), and chose 18 to undergo five sessions lasting eight hours each and timed a month apart. At four of these, the volunteers would receive varying doses of the chemical and a placebo (no drug) at the remaining session.
Lie back and look inward
In common with other studies at Hopkins, volunteers in this one were settled into a comfy couch in an aesthetically-pleasing, living-room-like environment during each session and were accompanied by trained monitors. The subjects were encouraged to lie back and relax, with mood-complementing classical and world music being played through headphones. Neither the volunteers or the monitors knew beforehand how much Psilocybin they were to receive at each session but subjects were given preparatory guidance and coaching.