Timothy Leary, Dad and me

Timothy Leary, Dad and me

Magic mushrooms are back. Johns Hopkins researchers have just published a study of the effects of psilocybin, citing promising results. From the Wall Street Journal:

In a study that could revive interest in researching the effects of psychedelic drugs, scientists said a substance in certain mushrooms induced powerful, mind-altering experiences among a group of well-educated, middle-age men and women.

…the episodes generally led to positive changes in attitude and behavior among the 36 volunteer participants and… the changes appeared to last at least two months. Participants cited feelings of intense joy, “distance from ordinary reality,” and feelings of peace and harmony after taking the drug. Two-thirds described the effects of the drug, called psilocybin, as among the five most meaningful experiences of their lives.

But not everyone had such a good reaction:

[I]n 30% of the cases, the drug provoked harrowing experiences dominated by fear and paranoia. Two participants likened the episodes to being in a war. While these episodes were managed by trained monitors at the sessions where the drugs were taken, researchers cautioned that in less-controlled settings, such responses could trigger panic or other reactions that might put people in danger.

It sure does sound like the kind of results that are likely to get people to start abusing mushrooms, and that’s not a particularly good thing.

I have a distant personal connection to this story. My fairly straightlaced father did his PhD in social psychology at Harvard in the early 1960s. His faculty advisor was Timothy Leary –who led experiments with psilocybin and LSD– until getting fired. (Dad said Leary was a lousy advisor who mainly wanted an excuse to take drugs.)

Anyway, this connection to Leary came in handy as a way to deflect peer pressure to do drugs during my vulnerable teenage years. After all, unlike most of the freaked out, unhip parents of my friends who had no clue about drugs, my dad was able to talk to me about psilocybin and the like in an informed way and let me know why it was a bad idea to play around with.

“Hey, Timothy Leary was my dad’s faculty advisor,” I used to say. That was considered pretty cool and no one pressured me.

July 12, 2006

2 thoughts on “Timothy Leary, Dad and me”

  1. David, all due respect, but I think you missed the real story here.

    Some drugs with far worse and far higher percentages of side effects have been OK’d for clinical trials — even been approved for use. The problem has been the taboo associated with some drugs which have been used for recreational purposes, and the government jobs program that perpetuates an irrational “war” against them.

    That the DEA signed off on letting psilocibin go to clinical trials is a good thing, not only because drugs to help people might be the end result, but it’s a sign of a culture change in government (permit me a little blithe optimism; I’m well aware that the person who OK’d this might just as soon be fired).

    The potential for abuse shouldn’t hold us back, since anything can be abused (e.g. “huffing” with spray paint, or turning my own personal head-cold wonder drug, Sudafed, into meth).

    But your Timothy Leary story is really cool.

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