Survey reveals risks, benefits of psilocybin use

Researchers urge caution when using psilocybin, or psychedelic mushrooms.

By Amy Wallace
New survey shows the risks and benefits of psilocybin or hallucinogenic mushroom use. Meditations/PixaBay
New survey shows the risks and benefits of psilocybin or hallucinogenic mushroom use. Meditations/PixaBay

BALTIMORE, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- New survey by John Hopkins University School of Medicine examines risky behavior and positive outcomes with the use of psilocybin, or psychedelic mushrooms.

Researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 people about their past negative experiences with psilocybin-containing "magic mushroom" use.


More than 10 percent of individuals surveyed said their worst "bad trip" put themselves or others in harm's way and a majority described their most distressing episode as one of the top 10 biggest challenges of their lives. The same respondents reported the experience as "meaningful" or "worthwhile," with half saying it was one of the top most valuable experiences in their life.

"Considering both the negative effects and the positive outcomes that respondents sometimes reported, the survey results confirm our view that neither users nor researchers can be cavalier about the risks associated with psilocybin," Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., psychopharmacologist and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of the study, said in a press release.

The use of psilocybin and other hallucinogenic drugs became popular in the United States in the 1960s, but were banned in the 1970s for safety reasons, without much scientific evidence as to risks or benefits.


The survey, by Griffiths and his team, asked 1,993 participants to focus only on their worst bad trip experience and report the dosage, the setting where the experience occurred, how long it lasted, and strategies available to stop the negative or unwanted consequences.

The survey was divided into three questionnaires: the Hallucinogen Rating Scale, the Mystical Experience Questionnaire, and part of the 5D-Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire.

On average, the survey participants were 30 years old at the time of the survey, and 23 years old at the time of their bad trip experience. Roughly 78 percent of respondents were men, 89 percent were white, 51 percent had college degrees, 66 percent were from the U.S., and 93 percent had used psilocybin more than two times.

The results showed 10.7 percent of respondents reported putting themselves or others in harm's way during their bad trip, with 2.6 percent saying they acted violently and 2.7 percent saying they sought medical help as a result of their bad trip.

A third of the participants reported their experience was among the top five most meaningful, and a third ranked it in the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives.

"The counterintuitive finding that extremely difficult experiences can sometimes also be very meaningful experiences is consistent with what we see in our studies with psilocybin -- that resolution of a difficult experience, sometimes described as catharsis, often results in positive personal meaning or spiritual significance," Griffiths said in a press release.


The study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

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