Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine have found that over 10 percent of those who have taken psilocybin-containing "magic mushrooms" experienced their worst "bad trip" and put themselves and others in danger during the event. A significant majority called the most distressing episode they had while on a trip "one of the biggest challenges" they have ever encountered in their life.
Psilocybin and other hallucinogens became popular in the United States back in the 1960s as charismatic proponents charmed users with anecdotes of benefits and profound psychological experiences. However, most of them were banned in the 1970s for safety reasons, although not a lot of scientific evidence was released about the drugs' risks.
Study author Roland Griffiths and the research team have conducted earlier works to confirm the benefits of psilocybin use. The current study, however, was aimed at highlighting the effects of bad trips.
For a study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the researchers carried out a survey involving 1,993 participants. Focused on the topic of psilocybin use, the survey included three questionnaires: the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (developed by Griffiths and colleagues back in 2006), the Hallucinogen Rating Scale, and portions of the 5D-Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire. The entire survey took about an hour to accomplish.
Of the respondents, 78 percent were male, 89 percent were Caucasian, 66 percent were from the United States, and 51 percent had graduate or college degrees. Survey participants were, on average, 30 years old when they joined the study and 23 years old when they had their bad trips. Ninety-three percent also said they used psilocybin more than twice.
Aside from the 10.7 percent that put themselves or others in danger during a bad trip, 2.6 percent said they became violent or aggressive while 2.7 percent said they sought out medical assistance. Five of those with reported pre-existing depression or anxiety or have thought of suicide before attempted suicide while on a bad high from the drug.
Psilocybin Not Always Bad
At the same time, however, some study participants reported positive experiences from psilocybin, such as antidepressive effects, with six subjects saying their suicidal thoughts went away after their worst bad trip, a third saying the experience was one of the top five most meaningful events in their lives, and another third saying it was one of their top five most spiritually significant experience.
"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," said Griffiths.
However, the researchers caution that enjoying the positive effects of psilocybin means ensuring the drug is taken in a safe environment.
Magic mushrooms have long been used in certain cultures to promote healing and for religious purposes but corresponding safeguards have been developed as these cultures recognized the substance's potential dangers.
Psilocybin Use In The United States
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 8.7 percent of Americans or 22.9 million individuals in the country have taken psilocybin before.
While it does come with psychological and behavioral risks, psilocybin is not addictive and is also not harmful to the liver, brain, and other organs.