TDG reader Michael M. Hughes wrote in to let me know about an article he’s just had published:
My article on the Johns Hopkins psilocybin studies went live yesterday: “Sacred Intentions: Inside the Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Studies“. I got full access to several of the study volunteers and the researchers, and I think it’s the best article yet on the studies (yes, I am modest).
Jokes aside, I’ve got to agree with Michael – it’s a wonderful article, not least because he’s familiar with the topic and therefore not prone to the usual mistakes/hype that other reporters normally include. But the best part is the personal touch of talking to subjects Sandy Lundahl, John Hayes and Anne Dorsey Emmons, as well as study designer Roland Griffiths and psychedelic therapist Bill Richards:
Richards describes the final, and as far as his work is concerned, most important, stage. “After the archetypal realm comes the mystical state,” he says. “There’s a dimension of awesomeness, of profound humility, of the self being stripped bare. In the psychology of religion, mystical experience is well-described–unity, transcendence of time and space, noetic knowledge, sacredness, ineffability….It’s the sacred dimension of revelation, but it can be what Kierkegaard called `fear and trembling’–incredibly profound and powerful terrain to travel.
“People who have never studied the psychology of religion hear `mystical,’ and it sounds like `misty’. . . something vague, not very precise or clear. We know what we’re talking about, but the man on the street doesn’t. So who would want a mystical experience? I’d rather get drunk!” He laughs.
Richards frowns upon so-called recreational use of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs: “There are a lot of people who have taken psilocybin who haven’t had a mystical experience. Especially college students taking `shrooms’ who experience minor perceptual changes and view it as recreational. With the higher doses [like those in the study], when you get to those transcendental experiences…that’s not recreational at all. If you want a recreational drug, this is not a good drug for you. You want to be cool with your friends, and all of a sudden you start reliving your mother’s death…it spoils the party!”
The article also discusses the use of psilocybin in helping terminally ill patients. Bill Richards again discussed some of his past experiences in the area:
“There are a lot of people with cancer lying in bed, depressed, just lying there, suffering, preoccupied with pain and estranged from their family members. Sort of half alive while they’re waiting for the cancer to advance. We found that people who have mystical experiences tend to benefit most dramatically. They resolve conflicts of guilt, grief, estrangement from family members, breaking through the denial and pretense that often accompanies cancer. That’s incredibly helpful. They are less anxious, less depressed, closer in their personal relationships, less preoccupied with pain.
“And, perhaps most significantly, those who have mystical experiences claim loss of a fear of death…that they somehow feel part of something eternal. Not necessarily personal immortality–there’s a paradox there–it’s not denying death, but that somehow in spite of the reality of death, it’s a good universe. Life makes sense. And there’s every reason to live the rest of this lifetime as fully as possible. It’s pretty inspiring.”
These substances have been a part of human history from the very beginning. After a brief time of rejecting them completely – and on the flipside, abusing them as playthings – it’s so wonderful to see people seriously discussing the use of entheogens as tools for exploring the inner world of the psyche. Thanks Michael, great job!