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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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