Psychedelic drugs, never really out of fashion among a segment of alternative health and spiritual practitioners, are “coming out of the drug counterculture and back into the mainstream laboratories of some of the world’s leading universities and medical centers,” according to Utne Reader (May/June). Don Lattin writes that new research programs at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Purdue University, and the University of California are probing the “mind-altering mysteries and healing powers” of substances such as ecstasy, LSD, and psilocybin. Leading the way in seeking to legitimize these drugs is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which has sought to make Ecstasy available for people suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Studies conducted with this drug have shown dramatically better results than the prescription drugs that are usually used, with few of the harmful effects that have been reported in the past. Proponents of such treatment envision that it will be administered by therapists in a controlled environment.
But another byproduct of these drugs’ growing interest and acceptance in the medical and scientific community is exploration of “consciousness,” according to Lattin. He cites a Johns Hopkins study of psilocybin for patients with anxiety about their cancer, finding that two thirds of subjects rated the sessions where they took this drug as being “among the five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives.” Butother researchers are troubled that the “new wave of psychedelic research is blurring the lines between
spiritual experience and the hard science of medicine.”
This resistance is not going unchallenged: a “new generation of psychedelic drug researchers has emerged on university campuses across the nation.” William Richards, a pioneer of psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins, acknowledged that the new interest in these drugs and their effect on spirituality may be met by a backlash of scientists “who resist the idea that scholars should seriously study something as slippery as spirituality.”
The therapy trials using psilocybin that have been conducted so far do have a religious component, even if it is an Eastern and Native American mode, according to a report in the NYU Alumni Magazine (Spring). The subjects receive their dose of the drug in a ceramic chalice in an “act nodding to indigenous cultures,” writes Jennifer Bleyer. After taking the medication they are told to “stay connected to the experience with meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Participants claim that psilocybin helped them, in one researcher’s words, experience “infinite consciousness” and often laid the foundation for other spiritual experiences.
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