Clinical Trial of Psilocybin: From the Inside

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Clark Martin is a retired clinical psychologist; he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1990 and has had multiple metastases and treatments since then.  What follows is his description of receiving a single high dose of psilocybin, the active component of psychedelic mushrooms, under the auspices of a study conducted at Johns Hopkins.

Overview

This is a study for cancer patients who are experiencing depression secondary to everything associated with their cancer. Participants are highly screened and receive several days of counseling with the two experienced researchers who are present through out the treatment day. You are lying on a couch with eye shades and headphones (classical music). In my case, the experience can be roughly divided into three phases.

Induction

Within 10 to 15 minutes the psilocybin started taking effect. The brain stores models or neural representations of everyday reality. As these neural connections started going off line, things rapidly appeared and felt unfamiliar. Having never had a similar experience, this was quite anxiety provoking. I tried to relax and meditate but that seemed to make it worse and I just wanted everything to snap back in place. There was no sense of time and I realized the drug was in me and there was no stopping it. I worked very hard at trying to stay calm and had it not been for the two experienced researchers in the room I probably would have had a full blown panic attack and would have tried to get outside, looking for something familiar that I could fix my attention on. I sail and I liken this phase to falling off a sailboat in the open ocean, looking back and the boat is gone. Then the water disappears and then you disappear. There is however this clear consciousness remaining, even though there is no sense of self remaining. I was later told that after 1.5 hours I calmed down and appeared tranquil. There was nothing the least bit recreational.

Transcendent Consciousness

During the following 2 hours or so, there was this tranquil sense of presence but no visual or auditory sensations. At one point it seemed like I might have been in a cathedral but there was no one else. In my mind I invited God to speak to me, but there was no response. I did that twice. Later I had an experience of living on and through a specific region of a bubbles surface (a very large bubble). Curiously there was an experience of being perfectly comfortable, like I had always known this experiential place. There was no drugged feeling, completely alert. If there was any experience that you could put words to it would be curiosity or awe.

Return of everyday reality

This took a couple hours and was more like something you could describe in words. There was a period when I was midway between the two forms of consciousness, in which neither consciousness was completely intact or dominant. During this period I could pull up detailed memories of relationships at will. I could review them completely objectively with no ego. There were some associated tears. Also, during this period I had an insight that my primary role as a father was to maintain a rock solid attunement with my daughter. That is, no efforts to influence her development should sacrifice her experience of attunement or being loved. It was also clear to me out of this, that relationships develop naturally when people spontaneously share their personal enthusiasms and are present in a way that they are attuned to the others experience and world. The point being that relationships do not need not be managed, and one need not present a false image.

Subsequent unpacking of the experience

Over a year later, I am surprised with positive fall-out that still occurs with no effort or planning. A resultant trust in intuition, a meditation practice and a substantially altered sense of self may be what's leading to these ongoing effects. The depression was lifted except for the briefest periods and the long term effects have gone well beyond that in regards to over all lifestyle and attitude.

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Comments [2]

Jeff Cronkhite from Washington, DC

In 12/2009 I donated a kidney. While in the hospital I had a similar experience to what you described, and then another one six months later. No drugs were involved in the second experience and only narcotic pain killers were involved in the first one. In my mind I refer to the 1st as "The Vast Aloneness" and the 2nd as "The Night of Symmetry." I lost my fear of death in the second experience (I'm not a religious person), with attendant psychological symptoms I now know to be typical: Changes in attitudes towards relationships that you describe, a sense of relaxation that is not broken even in an emergency (my reflexes still kick in, as they did when I was nearly in a car accident - but I had no adrenaline rush from knowing that I was nearly killed, and only the muscles that were needed to save me flexed), and an overwhelming sense of curiosity and awe. Another interesting connection between your experience and mine is your image of living on a bubble. I am a physicist interested in cosmology, and during the second experience I was working on a cosmology problem, applying all the laws of physics I know. I drew the conclusion that the universe is a small part of a sort of gigantic "bubble" (a fractal might be a technically more correct description), the likes of which grow and dissipate continuously (albeit on incredibly long time scales).

Jan. 28 2011 02:23 PM
Francis Howard from California

As a teenager I suffered debilitating excessive/compulsive symptoms that made it dificult to leave my room. In an LSD induced lucid daydream I was floating in space when a bar of soap appeared. I was displeased with its presence so I grabbed it and threw it away into deep space. Streams of energy left my fingers and went with the soap. All ECD symptoms were permanently gone instantly and forever. LSD alone doesn't work that way for everyone. I'm glad there is some intelligent research re-emerging from the government's panic shutdown 40+ years ago.

Apr. 20 2010 01:53 PM

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