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What was the Johns Hopkins psychedelic study?

Johns Hopkins has carried out multiple studies into the positive effects of psychedelic substances. These studies have generated positive media response and, more importantly, brought attention to the incredible potential of psychedelics to treat people for whom conventional medical treatments have failed. 

A large portion of people who treat their mental health disorders with traditional antidepressants don’t see much benefit. Psychedelics are the only drug class where you have lots of stories of people saying they took this thing one time and it had a profound impact on the course of their entire life. 

When were psychedelics like shrooms first studied?

Psychedelics exploded on the scene in the 1960s and were associated with some radical changes to society. That scared a lot of people. I think now society is more ready to kind of accept these compounds, and the whole picture of them. 

The initial big wave of scientific interest for psychedelics was in the 1950s, about a decade after Albert Hoffman had first discovered the psychoactive properties of LSD. One of the most important groups in the history of this work was led by Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond in Saskatchewan, Canada. They were the first group that developed what we now call psychedelic therapy. There was growing appreciation of some of the risks and the safeguards needed to minimize the risks associated with psychedelic use. However, not every investigator was aware of these risks and there was some unethical research and controversy surrounding Timothy Leary especially after he was fired from Harvard.

When happened when psychedelics were made illegal?

Psychedelics became associated with countercultural movements in North America. Society was, in a sense, traumatized from the upheaval of the early to mid 20th century. One day, the psychedelic research being carried out all came to a halt. There were researchers that were running sessions and got the notices they just had to stop. Research was halted for decades before there was a reinitiation. The research that’s happening now is largely exploring medical applications of mushrooms and other psychedelics. 

What effect do mushrooms and other psychedelics have on a person?

These are all drugs that can have a profound effect on one sense of reality, including one sense of self. The only bet you can make is if you have the dose high enough, something interesting is going to happen. You might find yourself in your mind’s eye soaring in the heavens, the secrets of the universe seemingly revealed to you. On the other hand, five seconds later, it might collapse into what folks call a bad trip, or one could feel that they’re gonna die. It’s a massive shake up in one’s experience of reality. 

It’s remarkable how little impact these substances have on physiology. Your heart rate, your blood pressure, everything has its risks, to be clear, but compared to other drug classes, psychedelics are robustly safe at the physiological level. Therapeutic research by scientists at Johns Hopkins on psychedelics is based primarily on psilocybin, which is the agent in magic mushrooms. 

What dose of psilocybin is given to therapeutic patients?

The dose researchers now give to patients is anywhere from 30 milligrams to 40 milligrams, which is only slightly lower than what Terence McKenna (who’s the famous psychedelic Bard) would refer to repeatedly as the heroic dose (50 milligrams). If a microdose is a smaller than average amount, and a recreational dose is an average amount, a heroic dose is higher than the average dose. 

How did Johns Hopkins researchers prepare people to do shrooms?

When someone goes in for the day of their psychedelic session, they’ve already spent several hours with the research team on previous days. They have been preparing for the experience, developing the necessary rapport for a vulnerable psychedelic experience. All drugs are, in part, shaped by the context in which they’re given but for the psychedelic substances, that’s particularly more true. So Johns Hopkins researchers create a warm and welcoming situation, to allow research subjects to have more meaningful reactions to the substance. 

What did the subjects of the study experience?

When the experience unfolds, the person is going to lay down with eye shades and headphones through which music is played. The idea is to get out of their normal, everyday discursive analyzing intellect. Johns Hopkins researchers just encourage them to trust and let go and be open. Going into this type of treatment is not easy at all, and subjects must trust themselves and that they’re going to get through the experience. 

The range of experiences are broad. Some can swing from a terrifying experience to the most beautiful and amazing experience of their lives. Some people can feel like they’ve reached the end of reality, this plane of existence. Others say that they can feel the suffering across the entire planet, having an experience of universal empathy. The laughter, the tears, everything in between, that’s exactly what this process is for.

What happened during the shroom trips?

The integration phase is where researchers discuss the experience with the psychedelic research subjects. The themes that come up are varied. There are experiences where people will feel like they’ve learned something at a fundamental level. Oftentimes people will say “I’m allowing this to create my own suffering. The cancer hasn’t killed me yet. I can still live life but I’m letting it do this to me.” They could tell you the words, but after the heroic dose, they feel it in their bones, they feel it in their heart. People are reminded about the power they have to choose their own destiny. 

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