MEDICAL STUDY EXPLORES THERAPEUTIC BENEFITS OF HALLUCINOGENS
By Darryl Mason
Imagine if a major part of the recovery process from surgery or massive psychological trauma was as simple as taking a trip through your own mind.
Studies are now underway to determine if magic mushrooms should be regarded as medically beneficial, after decades of demonisation in the West. Ancient Mexicans, of course, knew that some kinds of mushrooms were far more magic than others.
One of the first positives from the studies has been the claim that cluster headaches could be more effectively treated with mild doses of magic mushroom-derived medications than virtually any pharmacueticals currently available.
Expect any positive results from the studies detailed below to be countered by another storm of demonisation hype and misinformation.
It is curious indeed that while easy-to-grow natural remedies like magic mushrooms, opium or cannabis are blamed for everything from rape and murder to psychotic children and the breakdown of society, tens of thousands of people die every year around the world from overdoses and the gut-reaming side effects of easily available pharmaceuticals like paracetemol. But what 'evil drug' scares hit the front pages and the news headlines? The ones connected to drugs that you can grow yourself, and that produce no profits for the trillion dollar a year worldwide pharmaceutical industries.
It's not all good news, bad trips can be haunting horrorshows, but the ancients had knowledge we've lost along the way. If there is something beneficial to humankind to be found in mild doses of magic mushrooms (in controlled conditions) then the information should be made public.
From the LA Times :
Resting on a hospital bed beneath a tie-dyed wall hanging, Pamela Sakuda felt a tingling sensation. Then bright colors started shimmering in her head.
She had been depressed since being diagnosed with colon cancer two years earlier, but as the experimental drug took hold, she felt the sadness sweep away from her, leaving in its wake an overpowering sense of connection to loved ones, followed by an inner calm.
"It was like an epiphany," said Sakuda, 59, recalling the 2005 drug treatment.
Sakuda, a Long Beach software developer, was under the influence of the hallucinogen psilocybin, which she took during a UCLA study exploring the therapeutic effects of the active compound in "magic" mushrooms. Although illegal for general use, the drug has been approved for medical experiments such as this one.
Scientists suspect the hallucinogen, whose use dates back to ancient Mexico, may have properties that could improve treatments for some psychological conditions and forms of physical pain.
The medical journal Neurology in June reported on more than 20 cases in which mushroom ingestion prevented or stopped cluster headaches, a rare neurological disorder, more reliably than prescription pharmaceuticals.
In July, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reported that mushrooms could instill a sense of spirituality and connection, a finding that scientists said could lead to treatments for patients suffering from mental anguish or addiction.
The research has been driven in part by the success of mood-altering pharmaceuticals, such as the antidepressant Prozac, which work on the same brain chemicals and pathways.
Forty years ago, the study of hallucinogens in therapy was a mainstream endeavor. The Swiss drug company Sandoz provided pharmaceutical-grade tablets of psilocybin and various researchers explored its use as a treatment for depression and other psychological problems.
Used for centuries during spiritual ceremonies by the Mazatec Indians in southern Mexico, mushrooms helped fuel the counterculture of the 1960s. Author Carlos Castaneda, while a graduate student at UCLA, wrote of his "magical time" with a Mexican shaman who introduced him to mushrooms and other hallucinogens.
In 1970, Congress made it illegal to posses hallucinogens, including psilocybin and LSD, by classifying them as Schedule I, meaning they had no legitimate medical use.
"All research was shut down," said UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Charles S. Grob.
In the late 1990s, regulators began approving experiments again, sparked by discoveries in neuroscience that illuminated the biochemical basis of mood and consciousness. The advances focused on the complex role of the brain chemical serotonin — a neurotransmitter that passes signals between cells.
Spread throughout the brain are a variety of receptors that respond to serotonin. In some instances, a flow of serotonin can alter moods, such as depression, euphoria, anxiety and aggression. The chemical is also believed to be involved with nausea, body temperature and appetite control.
Those who have used hallucinegenic mushrooms in the U.S. to ease their headaches are all lawbreakers.
They have become part of a new mushroom underground. Many of its denizens are like Bob Wold — a 53-year-old maintenance worker and Little League coach who had never taken hallucinogenic drugs before. He knew they could be dangerous.
Wold, who lives near Chicago, said his headaches felt like an ice pick being jammed through his eye. Once, they made him drive his fist through a plaster wall at home. Another time he pounded his head against the shower tiles so hard some of them cracked.
Seeking help, Wold stumbled across a website for cluster headache sufferers touting hallucinogenic mushrooms.
A man he met on the Internet mailed Wold 20 dried brown mushrooms. The recipe called for a very light tea, not strong enough to cause hallucinations.
After that, Wold started growing his own mushrooms.
Wold has formed an organization to fund research aimed at developing a pharmaceutical version of psilocybin.
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