The Powers of Psilocybin

The Powers of Psilocybin

A popular book for children, Bible Stories pictorially narrates the stories of great saints and prophets from the Bible. It uniquely appeals to children and leaves a lasting impression; after all, children are creatures leaning to diagrams. But because every human is a storytelling animal, Bible Stories also proffers some degree of appeal to adults.


Children might be fascinated by the picture of an Abraham who’s hellbent on knifing his then only son like a ram because, like themselves, he was just a child. The picture of a Daniel in the den of lions with graceful equanimity makes them comply with his beck instead of ripping off his head.


That will surely astonish them, given their knowledge of how deadly those creatures are. And, of course, the ark of Noah will also leave an impression and many others. There is something, though, that will intrigue the adults; it’s the picture of Jesus when he was about to ascend to heaven.


The book illustrates a rare picture of Jesus on a mountain, all smiles, looking down the flank of the mountain (like a proud commander checking out his aircraft), at his disciples and other onlookers who had come out in droves to see him off on his divine journey. Of course, they now believed in him, and his various miracles seemed to have conquered their resistance and won them over.


He did something strange, though, and one will be forgiven to call it funny. He raised one of his legs when everyone knew that his ascension to heaven would surely be on autopilot.

A man with the powers to satisfy the collective hunger of 5000 men with just a piece of fish and two loaves of bread; to transform water into wine for them to drink; to raise the forgotten dead and cure the despondent leper; to accurately predict what his people kept hidden in their homes and many more. A man like that is beyond such a stunt.


Perhaps the analogy is a bit out of place because, unlike any other pilot, he didn’t have to exert anything, not by pressing buttons and not raising legs! But he did raise his leg and “took off” without explaining such style, leaving us with the burden of making sense of what that was supposed to mean.

Thus, the question is: Why?


The Need for Spirituality

Many people navigate their lives only with the ships of rationality and logic. They put a great deal of calculation into the major aspects of their lives—like career and marriage choices, right down to the minutest things like the choice of underwear.


They forever put on their thinking hats. It makes one wonder how, despite this great deal of seriousness in their lives, many people still make decisions that boomerang on their faces. Decisions make it seem like they never entertain a modicum of thought before their action.

There is no denying that humans are spiritual beings as rational creatures.


Putting all their eggs in rationality’s basket does nothing but blind them to the spiritual aspects of their lives and equally crucial part. They live impoverished lives, not lack of money, of course, but lack of meaning. It drives them nuts at best, depression, anxiety, and ultimately, suicide, at worst.


Testing the waters to steer their lives towards spirituality and fulfillment won’t be a bad idea. Perhaps that was what Jesus had in mind when he raised his leg—symbolizing spirituality—to boycott rationality—the needlessness for raising his leg. He was in an apparent hurry to get away from the noise that typifies human life and everything that surrounds their dealings. He was in haste to communize with the Supreme Being—God, or anything you choose to call it. If humans try to be more attuned to the spiritual side of their being, perhaps they will feel less troubled and in synchrony with reality. They’ll be fully alive and present and alert to every interaction and feeling, all of which brings balance to life. After all, nothing seems to be going according to plan with rationality at the wheel.


We’ll see how that unfurls.


Let There Be Light

It is almost impossible for a drug to come out after entering the black hole of Schedule 1. Unfortunately, psilocybin falls into this category alongside cannabis, ecstasy, heroin, and LSD.


The prohibition of psilocybin goes back to the 20th century when the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 1970, and President Nixon, 1971, declared war on drugs. The law made the production and distribution of psychedelics illegal, be it for recreational or clinical use. Perhaps the recreational usage made the case against the clinical usage of psychedelics.


The stigma stuck on psychedelics when it became a synecdoche for hippie counterculture. Drugs like psilocybin fall on Schedule 1 because there was allegedly no permitted medical use for them. The paradox is that to test the medical utility of psilocybin, the embargo that Schedule 1 represents prevented researchers from carrying out such needed studies.


Things worsened when researchers at the CIA did works that were less-than-ethical. The fog lifted only when Griffiths—a scientist who had risen to prominence with his studies of people’s relationship to alcohol, cigarettes, and sedatives—submitted a safe research plan (egged on by his qualifications) to the drug regulating authorities.


He finally got the waited approval which lasted decades in 2010, alongside other researchers in the field. The greenlight came with funds that set the resumption of rigorous psilocybin studies in 1962.


Lately, the legal restrictions on psilocybin have been loosening. In May 2019, Denver became the first city in the United States to decriminalize the use of psilocybin. They are finally seeing the potentials in psilocybin.


Since then, a decentralized organization known as Decriminalize Nature has presided campaigns in over 100 U.S cities to decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin and other related plants. The good news is that Oakland, Santa Cruz, Cambridge, amongst others, are yodeling in the same direction.


The Proven Powers of Psilocybin

Psilocybin, classified as a hallucinogen, is a compound that resides in certain species of mushrooms. There are specific receptors in the brain on which these mushrooms act to create their—well, if you will—magic.


The power of psilocybin is that it can change the way people perceive the world around them—for good, of course—and enhance their thinking skills. Asides from the ability to mitigate symptoms of anxiety and depression, researchers have found that psilocybin can bring about permanent personality change and open people up for new experiences.


According to findings, volunteers who took psilocybin in a controlled setting reported having deep, meaningful, and significant experiences that impacted their lives outside the experiment room long after the dissipation of the trippy effects.


Volunteers reported having mystical experiences that the best way they could describe these experiences was that they are simply indescribable (no pun intended).

But they tried to make sense of these feelings. Feelings which include a sense of pure awareness, a merging with ultimate reality, a transcendence of space and time, sacredness and awe, deeply felt positive moods like joy, peace, and love, connectedness with a feeling beyond.


One participant was particularly effusive and poetic in his (or her) own report of the experience: an appearance of God in golden streams of light and a conversation with Him; an assurance from Him of the perfection of everything that’s in existence, even if their physical self fails to understand this perfectly.


To test the longevity and endurance of the positive feeling, 24 of the 36 participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire two months later. Two-thirds called the feeling they had from taking psilocybin one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives. In another measure, one-third described it as the spiritual highlight of their lives, while it ranked in the top five of another group.


The follow-up in 2011 was an investigation into the links among psychedelics, spiritual episodes, and quality of life. In this study, the participants experienced a total mystical uptick, and the changes lingered around long after the participants had metabolized the pills. The experiences include a positive change in attitudes, moods, and behavior.


Psilocybin was now gaining momentum, and in the same year, another study was conducted. This one looked into personality traits. Experimenters measured participants’ level of openness before and after administering the compounds.


After the “trip,” participants who had mystical experiences during the trip scored higher than they had before they took the compounds. The fascinating part of this study and the transformation it brought about was that it was done with adults, not kids, who can pick up a trait as quick as a flash. The transformation, if measured, would take decades for adults to naturally mature into it. Quite fascinating!


Psychedelics seemed to possess the magical ability to alter psychology and perspective. Some decades ago, some scientists suggested that it could curb addiction. In 2014, the team conducted another study to test this decades-old suggestion of the said scientists. They did a small trial with smokers and gave them a few doses of psilocybin alongside cognitive behavioral therapy.


The result was astounding. While the best smoking-cessation drug in the market at that time had a success rate of 35 percent, and while solo cognitive behavioral therapy scored 30 percent in leading smokers to quit, psilocybin had a success rate of a whopping 80 percent. In addition to that feat, participants were more likely to succeed if they had had mystical experiences during their trip.


I’m Still Here

In 1990, doctors gave retired clinical psychologist Clark Martin a year to live after results showed that he had stage 4 cancer. “I’m still here,” he said 20 years later. Beating the prognosis of medical science should be a triumphant declaration, but his tone conveyed nothing of such.


It turned out that the years of treatment as a cancer patient and the ever-present idea of impending death had, in the long run, depressed and sapped his energy. When relating his experience, he said it was exhausting and was no way to live.


Almost 20 years after the medical prediction, he read about a research program in which brain scientists would measure how hallucinogens—the ones that alter thinking patterns and sensory perceptions—might be useful in positively affecting afflicted people’s mental health. He was interested in the program, and rightly so: the program is for people like himself, and he so badly wanted to snap out of his depression.


After a great deal of reluctance, Martin signed up for the trial. He had always been interested in psychedelics, but the fear of messing up locked him to the chambers of his condition. After signing up, he prepared for it with a clinical psychologist in several counseling sessions.


On the day of the program, with a statue of Buddha, airy paintings, and yellow-light table lamps, the campus medical office in which Martin sat had been transformed into a calming living room.


He took the compounds from a chalice, put a mask over his eyes, and reclined while listening to classical music as the researchers watched on.


According to his report, after he took off the mask, everything in the room took on a strangeness that he’d never experienced before when the chemicals started to kick in. He could not make sense of the voices he was hearing. He wanted to run outside to get some sense of familiarity that would tether him to the things around him.


When the psilocybin reached through the core of his system, he reported finding himself in a cathedral or a sort of stained-glass windows that seemed like a cathedral to him during his trip. When he saw God, he thought that if there was ever an opportunity to talk, that would be it. And he decided to invite God to chat.


The trip was no more than alertness to the interaction and feelings. He exerted no force to make sense of any of the things he saw, he was just there, rapt in full presence, and his 20-year-old depression ended with the session.

More research, awareness, and expansion into the benefits of the drug are needed for humans to become more attuned to the powers of their minds in making that transformation a reality.


The human mind has the capacity for breaking the reins of chaotic and violent inclinations and for metamorphosing into the genesis of love, oneness, and selflessness, all of which can make our world a much better place.


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