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Mystical placebo

Discover magazine in its year-end round up reports on an experiment done by Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins (covered here in New Scientist) in which he gave 36 patients either psilocybin or Ritalin. They were told they’d be getting an hallucinogen but not in which of two or three sessions they’d receive it. More than 60% of the essence-of-mescalin eaters reported having a mystical experience, while only 11% of the Ritalin consumers achieved mystical one-ness. Thus, the experiment concludes there’s truth to the common idea that mescalin helps you get your mystic on. But, says Griffiths, you should not try this at home because psilocybin can also cause schizophrenia. (Ah, remember in the ’60s when schizophrenia was just another lifestyle choice?)

All that’s fine, but isn’t the fact that a full 11% of the people taking Ritalin had a mystical experience the interesting result of this experiment?


Just for the record, whatever that is, I took mescalin a few times in college and shortly thereafter. I had a mysticalish experience, but it felt more like “This is what a mystical experience would be like, if I were actually to have one.” Interesting, but not worth the potential damage. But, it was The Sixties, so it was pretty much required.

(Ah, remember the ’60s when we were all required to be nonconformists?)

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8 Responses to “Mystical placebo”

  1. Hey David:

    Sometimes a hallucinogenic mushroom is just a hallucinogenic mushroom, but its action on the brain (and the mind) may share a similar mechanism with that of whatever causes schizophrenia. From PubMed:

    Vollenweider FX, Vollenweider-Scherpenhuyzen MF, Babler A, Vogel H, Hell D.

    Research Department, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland. 1998

    Psilocybin, an indoleamine hallucinogen, produces a psychosis-like syndrome in humans that resembles first episodes of schizophrenia. In healthy human volunteers, the psychotomimetic effects of psilocybin were blocked dose-dependently by the serotonin-2A antagonist ketanserin or the atypical antipsychotic risperidone, but were increased by the dopamine antagonist and typical antipsychotic haloperidol. These data are consistent with animal studies and provide the first evidence in humans that psilocybin-induced psychosis is due to serotonin-2A receptor activation, independently of dopamine stimulation. Thus, serotonin-2A overactivity may be involved in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and serotonin-2A antagonism may contribute to therapeutic effects of antipsychotics.

    It just so happens that psilocybin is being explored as a possible therapy for OCD:

    This isn’t PubMed:
    ‘Magic Mushrooms’ May Ease Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
    The active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms appears to relieve symptoms of severe obsessive compulsive disorder, says a preliminary study by a University of Arizona psychiatrist.
    The study of nine patients found that psilocybin reduced symptoms of the disorder for an average of four to 24 hours, but some patients remained symptom-free for days, the Associated Press reported.
    “What we saw acutely was a drastic decrease in symptoms. The obsessions would really dissolve or reduce drastically for a period of time,” said Dr. Francisco A. Moreno.
    The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

  2. To paraphrase Monty Python:-

    You’re all non-conformists!

    We’re all non-conformists!

    I’m not.

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