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February 2012
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Psilocybin and the drug war

Interesting article by Amanda Feilding of the Beckley Foundation in the Guardian: Magic mushrooms, international law and the failed ‘war on drugs’.

It’s actually two OpEds in one — the first being about the failed war on drugs and efforts within the world community to push back against the drug conventions, either through finding the “wiggle room” or through amending them.

The other is about the fascinating research into the effects of psilocybin on the brain.

Many users of psychedelics report the experience as a consciousness-expanding one, and conventional wisdom suggests that such drugs should increase brain activity and blood flow to the brain.

Instead, the research in PNAS showed that psilocybin decreased blood flow to specific regions of the brain that act as “connector hubs”, where information converges and from where it is disseminated. In the paper, we suggest that these hubs normally facilitate efficient communication between brain regions by filtering out the majority of input in order to avoid over-stimulation and confusion. But the hubs also constrain brain activity by forcing traffic to use a limited number of well-worn routes. Psilocybin appears to lift some of these constraints, allowing a freer and more fluid state of consciousness.

In the second study, subjects were given cues to recall positive events in their lives. With psilocybin, their memories were extremely vivid, almost as if they were reliving the events rather than just imagining them.

The findings suggest potential uses for psilocybin in the treatment of depression

We haven’t talked much about magic mushrooms here, but certainly psilocybin is an unfortunate victim of the war on drugs. It’s one of the most harmless of the illicit drugs (and less harmful than most licit drugs) and one that has some of the highest potential for beneficial use.

Certainly, at the very least, restrictions should be eased to make it easier to do research on psilocybin.

I got a kick out of Professor David Nutt’s comment (Nutt has called for legalizing psilocybin and has often been criticized as being “pro-drug” in his call for a rational harm scale on drugs):

“I’m not recommending anyone taking any drugs. I’m just suggesting we need to have a more scientific rational approach to drugs and vilifying drugs like psilocybin whilst at the same time actively promoting much more dangerous drugs like alcohol is totally stupid scientifically.”

[Thanks, Tom]

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36 comments to Psilocybin and the drug war

  • claygooding

    Totally stupid is the proper terminology for the drug warriors and the war on drugs.

    My few experiences with psilocybin were pleasurable enough but to me it is not a public drug. It was not enjoyable in public because it is hard to act like a mushroom and not be noticed.

  • Matthew Meyer

    Yeah, my sense of the period between 1965’s DACA and the CSA is that there was a push to “do something” about *prescription drugs* like bennies. But Huxley and others, then Leary, got into LSD and psilocybin, and soon the “hallucinogens” were on the radar too.

    This was thirty years after the guy who injected cannabis extracts into dogs made history as the only scientific witness for the Marihuana Stamp Tax Act…there was no excuse for the precipitous move in this case. Drugs like DMT that most people never even heard of got thrown in, too, so that we could waste millions later trying to stop the Brazilian ayahuasca religions from coming to our shores.

    It is completely stupid that there are these amazing substances, but we’re so scared of them that we still have only the barest idea of how they even work. (Check out Cheryl Pellerin’s awesome book TRIPS, with cartoons by R. Crumb.)

    The government is fighting these small groups about as tenaciously as it fights cannabis. After an Oregon ayahuasca group got a fairly broad injunction ordering the DEA to leave it alone, the DEA appealed, wanting to apply any number of pesky regulations that the group hadn’t argued violate its religious rights. Just last month, the judge, Owen M. Panner, ordered to more closely tailor his injunction, issued a 1-paragraph statement ordering the DEA not to interfere, but giving no details of how things are supposed to work now.

    I don’t know how many millions have been wasted since 1999 trying to stop people from practicing ayahuasca religions in this country.

    • Duncan20903

      .
      .

      Classic Dragnet, Sgt Friday meets “Blue Boy”. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall of the actor portraying the youth tripping on acid when he was working up his character. He did a stupendous job of acting. Gosh, one might actually think shit like this is more than a figment of the prohibitionist imagination. Down with fuzz!

      • Matthew Meyer

        Sgt. Friday: “…the drug itself was now called the ticket, the ghost, the beast, the chief, the hawk…or simply 25”

        Priceless, Duncan.

  • darkcycle

    Odd thing about mushrooms. Actually many, many odd things about mushrooms. Back in the eighties, when I hadn’t strung more than two hours of sleep together in nearly ten years (ptsd) I was taught by a friend how to find them. The wole shebang, identifying where they grow, spore printing, the lot. When I found mushrooms, I took it as a sign and I would eat them (or some of them) right away. They used to grow in the yard of the apt. bldg. I lived in,some days, I’d walk out the door and there they’d be, pick a handful, and turn around and go right back inside. And I always found them at the right time, when I could take a four hour trip without too many consequences. I did this for about a year, during that year I quit drinking, and made the decision to go on to graduate school. Then, they started hiding from me. I had made an “agreement” with the ‘shrooms, that I will only consume them when when I find them. And, even though I’ve looked for them, they are hiding from me now. I used to find them all over, every week. I have not found a psyllocybe mushroom since 1990. And since I only do them when they “volunteer”, I have not had a psychedelic mushroom in over 11 years. I know, unless you’ve actually done a lot of mushrooms, the idea of negotiating an agreemnet with a fungus is crazy. But I made a promise.

    • Duncan20903

      .
      .

      I recently read that the Feds started forcing cow chow vendors to start adding a fungicide to the product. I’ve no clue if this is true, or even if there is such a thing as commercial cow food.

      • Maria

        I’ve often wondered about that but wouldn’t the cow shit be useless as manure / compost at that point because no fungus could grow?

        disclaimer: I do not spend an inordinate time wondering about cow shit. Bullshit on the other hand…

      • darkcycle

        That’s irrelevant to mushrooms. It’s a common misconception that they only grow in cow shit. Mycelia grow on cellulose, it just so happens that although their normal habitat is wood chips, cow manure is primarily cellulose, and free of competing fungus (when it comes out of the cow, that is). They will readily grow in lawn clippings that have been allowed to mulch naturally, or wood chips from a chipper. The trick is, the cellulose ha to be free of competing fungus, and needs to be innoculated with more than just one spore.
        Read anything by Paul Stamets for solid information about our favorite medicinal mushroom, you’ll be intersted to know he is a close friend of Dr. Weil.

        • claygooding

          In Florida you look for a horse pasture because they cannot put the anti-fungicide in horse feed because they do not chew their food several times as a cow does and don’t have four stomachs to digest their food as cows do,,,,or you feed your cows horse and mule feed as the final marbling feed before you slaughter them.

      • Windy

        There are commercial feeds for cows, but they are only given to beef intended for slaughter and usually only at the feedlots, but most of their life they eat grass and hay (I prefer the taste of grass fed only over grain fed, and those feedlots are horrible places). For milch cows the diet is grass, some kind of silage (around here it is usually pea silage, and boy does that stuff stink!) and hay.

    • divadab

      Well, I’ve always thought that to eat psilocybin is to experience the mushroom’s joy at being human. And the insights which flow from this experience are the result.

    • Francis

      I have a similar arrangement with the Krispy Kreme “Hot Doughnuts” sign. (I’m beginning to suspect that the doughnuts don’t have my best interests in mind.) 😉

  • darkcycle

    In a wonderful aside, 70% of the mushroom species known occur in the Pacicif Northwest. Up around here, we are only occupying. It is the fungus and the mosses that really own this place.

  • claygooding

    Our government has fought nature’s drugs so hard they have allowed the pharmaceutical companies to load up our medicine cabinets with enough poisons to kill everyone big enough to die.

    • divadab

      Well they are owned by the pharmaceutical manufacturers and operate for their benefit. We are “consumers” aka pawns to be exploited for profit.

      Look at the results – obese brainwashed poisoned drones waddling down the snack food aisle at WalMart, continuously seeking satisfaction in self-hating induced neurosis.

      Corporatism = monopoly capitalism = State capitalism creates only weakness because it is essentially parasitic. It will collapse because it destroys its host’s independence and ability to adapt to change.

      The only solution is abdictation and resistance. A good start is to cancel your cable.

      • claygooding

        Sorry divadad,,I refuse to give up John Stewart or Peter Griffin.

      • Windy

        You don’t have to cancel your cable, just stop watching the propaganda they call news. There is lots to watch on TV which is nothing more than pure entertainment. Personally, I prefer the SF shows like Eureka, Falling Skies, The Warehouse, etc.; “horror” shows like True Blood (I’ve read all the currently available books this series is based upon — the books are better), The Vampire Diaries, Being Human, the new Teen Wolf, etc.; series like Nikita and Ringer, fantasy like Grimm and Once Upon A Time, and some of the reality shows like DWTS, The Voice and American Idol). I occasionally catch one of the big three networks’ national news, and more often watch one of the local news shows, but because I am aware of the propaganda I am not taken in by it.

    • Maria

      Maintaining a vast and expanding pool of managed “health consumers” is a much more lucrative business model than curing OR killing.

      We are all so deeply sick with all sorts of syndromes, in some cases they just haven’t had the drugs approved yet to tell us what with.

      At least these days, there’s no danger of burning witches when teenage girls go into mass hysterics. Oh wait…

  • Mooky

    Psychedelics have taught me so much about life in the most peculiar of ways.A human teacher using language could never possibly do in that in the same amount of time.

    They are not for everyone, but research should certainly be allowed to be done with psychedelics.

    Some say that psychedelics are to psychology what the microscope is to biology.

    I agree.

  • tensity1

    Not that I’m advocating anyone breaking the law, but I do believe the law allows you to have knowledge of mushrooms and how they are culitivated (since there are many types of mushrooms out there)–which can easily be found on the ‘net and newsgroups. I am no lawyer, but I do believe the acquisition, possession, and even cultivation of spores is legal–up to the point of “harvesting,” the cutting and drying of fungi. That is where it gets to no-no territory. Now, if LEOs found your mega-sized fungi science experiment with pounds of still growing mushrooms, I think questions of intent may come up and the above information may not hold much water, but take it for what it’s worth.

    • Windy

      Drugs, Inc. did one show on psychedelics (each show is an hour long documentary on some aspect of the war on drugs or on one of the various kinds of “illicit” drugs, the two I’ve seen were on Ecstasy and the psychedelics). They talk to growers/manufacturers, smugglers, dealers, users and those who are trying to use these drugs in beneficial ways. The show on psychedelics went into detail about how they are used to relieve depression, PTSD, and other problems. (They did this with MDMA on the Ecstasy show, too. Did you know the Ecstasy pills the kids take at raves are no longer pure MDMA? I didn’t until I watched this show. When I did Ecstasy back in the 80s it was made by a professional chemist and was pure MDMA. Psychologists say their patients can accomplish more in one session using MDMA than with a year of traditional methods.) Anyway, back to psilocybin, apparently it helps prevent cluster headaches, a patient does the shrooms about once every two months to keep those horrid headaches at bay. The patient they interviewed grows his own, dries them, powders them and puts them in capsules (of which he takes quite a few), then he goes to bed and waits out the experience which he dislikes intensely except for the headache relief.

  • Servetus

    The discovery of temporarily reduced blood flow to parts of the brain due to psilocybin ingestion will dispel a few fears about the substance, at least among people who identify with science. Not everyone does.

    So far, it’s been as if prohibitionists believe psychedelics are a kind of possession by demons, as Mexico’s inquisitors believed centuries ago with peyote. Like the inquisitors, prohibitionists can be grouped with social conservatives, and recent research has some new insights about the conservative mind as well.

    Studies show that conservatives have larger amygdalas than liberals. With the amygdala being a fear center for the brain, it’s anticipated that conservatives are more likely to fear change, as well as certain demonized drugs. By contrast, liberals had more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, a center for coping with complexity, such as the complexities of freedom and drug experiences:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201104/conservatives-big-fear-brain-study-finds

    Confronting conservatives’ fears is far more difficult than just providing new facts, since the conservative fears facts and reality as much as anything. Conservatives are actively anti-intellectual and anti-science. They will even muck up their own education system to keep themselves comfy in their little bubbles:

    http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/776434/first_they_came_after_science_teachers_for_evolution._now_let%27s_defend_them_on_climate_change/#paragraph2

    So how does one confront an opponent who rejects facts and science?

    Fighting fear with fear might be one approach, although use of the guillotine as an effective instrument of persuasion is obsolete. Compassion and empathy are rejected by conservatives. Ridicule and exposing hypocrisy still works to a degree. Maybe a drug exists that could shrink the amygdala. If the conservatives’ enlarged amygdala problem can be cured like an enlarged prostate, it would be a solution all liberals would welcome.

    • Windy

      Liberals have as many flaws as conservatives, just different in kind. Liberals think in collectives and reject individual liberty in favor of group think and one size fits all laws.

      I am so happy to be a libertarian who has neither the flaws of conservatives, nor the flaws of liberals, and the best of both. The most freedom for all individuals, pro-choice in everything, self-ownership and self-determination, and a tiny little government bound down by the Constitution.

  • Francis

    Randomly enough (or perhaps not?), I just read Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception” about a week ago, and was really struck by the concept of the brain as a “reducing valve.” Here’s a passage from another article on the psilocybin study that references the idea:

    Huxley posited that ordinary consciousness represents only a fraction of what the mind can take in. In order to keep us focused on survival, Huxley claimed, the brain must act as a “reducing valve” on the flood of potentially overwhelming sights, sounds and sensations. What remains, Huxley wrote, is a “measly trickle of the kind of consciousness” necessary to “help us to stay alive.”

    A new study by British researchers supports this theory. It shows for the first time how psilocybin — the drug contained in magic mushrooms — affects the connectivity of the brain. Researchers found that the psychedelic chemical, which is known to trigger feelings of oneness with the universe and a trippy hyperconsciousness, does not work by ramping up the brain’s activity as they’d expected. Instead, it reduces it.

    Under the influence of mushrooms, overall brain activity drops, particularly in certain regions that are densely connected to sensory areas of the brain. When functioning normally, these connective “hubs” appear to help constrain the way we see, hear and experience the world, grounding us in reality. They are also the key nodes of a brain network linked to self-consciousness and depression. Psilocybin cuts activity in these nodes and severs their connection to other brain areas, allowing the senses to run free.

  • darkcycle

    The discovery that silly-sybin shuts down portions of the brain involved in inhibiting functions is not a leap. Your brain is about evenly divided between excititory and inhibitory systems. There is a mechanism for stimulation, there needs to be mechanisms of control. The autonomic nervous system is divided into afferant (excititory) and efferent (inhibitory) neurons and systems. 101 psych.

  • beaver

    I was reading a wiki about Bicycle Day(I’ll be off) and it said that LSD had a 50% cure rate among alcoholics. Imagine the suffering that would stop…..someday..

  • yep, fun guys them little shroomies be. Another earthly ancient avenue of access for the evolution of the human conscience. If any are interested in shrooms and haven’t, a read of Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods is a must.

    If the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on. – Terence McKenna

    I’ve long thought that entheogens could have a place in criminal rehab. Psychedelic treatment for the violence prone…

    and the best resource on shrooms I’ve found online is the shroomeryhttp://www.shroomery.org/

  • darkcycle

    Here. Completely off topic, but so good I’ve watched it about a dozen times:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MejbOFk7H6c

  • oooh! me too, me too!

    off topic but so on-topic:

    The Government’s War on Pain Doctors

    Today[…] anyone who uses pain medicine is considered to be a “drug seeker” or “addict.” We have undeservedly labeled pain patients and the doctors that treat them. As an alternative medicine specialist and family practitioner, I could justify patient’s pain, and I could help the patient fix the cause. I became the only physician in the area willing to treat pain. Southwest Virginia is a targeted area by the government for drug abuse, which led to a raid on my office. I accepted a plea agreement of one count of Medicare/Medicaid fraud. I am a felon for being overpaid $65 and helping my patients heal from disease through alternatives, which saved the government millions of dollars.

    The fact that I didn’t charge insurance for acupuncture or prolotherapy, knowing they weren’t covered, wasn’t considered. The government, unable to find anything medically wrong with my pain management, stated that my nutritional recommendations and counseling sessions were “not medically necessary” and therefore fraud. Does that justify a two-year investigation, four years probation and making me a felon? Spend a million dollars over $65 and ruin a person’s life? That just shows the extent the government is willing to go to in their war against doctors, even good ones.

    The author is… rrrr… was a doctor. This is one to pass around.

  • darkcycle

    Yep, if there were an award for sticking your thumb in the eye of prohibition, Malcolm wins it hands down. Now, if I get to an article before Malcolm has had a go, I don’t wonder if he’ll post, I wonder if I’ll get my response written and posted before his shows up.
    I must be channelling Duncan these days, because I have had a hard time getting my comments past moderators all of a sudden.

    • Thanks!

      That happens to me too, especially recently. Don’t just leave it at that though; If get a mail saying my comment has been rejected, then I either remove the most provocative part and repost, or I try a different ‘boiler plate’ – It very often works, and besides, were also educating (or at least conditioning) the moderators.

      I’ve been rather limited the last few days; my wife has gone down with a very strong strain of flu (I’m probably next) – I’ve even had to make my own coffee, and every time I sit down, somebody calls .. Daaad!

      • darkcycle

        I’m there with you pal. We just passed the plague around here. Francis, pay attention, he-he. Your turn is coming.