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Study: ‘Bad trips’ from magic mushrooms often result in an improved sense of personal well-being

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New research suggests a bad trip isn’t always bad. About 84 percent of drug users who have experienced a “bad trip” from hallucinogenic mushrooms say they benefited from the psychologically difficult situation.

The counterintuitive findings were reported in a study published online in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Psilocybin-containing mushrooms — also known as magic mushrooms or just shrooms — are a powerful psychedelic drug that can profoundly alter the way a person experiences the world. But unlike some drugs, psilocybin has an ambiguous effect on a person’s emotional state. It can produce heavenly bliss or create a personal hell — the latter being known as a “bad trip.”

The study, led by Roland Griffiths of John Hopkins University, surveyed 1,993 adults regarding their single worst “bad trip” after ingesting psilocybin mushrooms. More than 9 out of 10 of the participants had used psilocybin more than two times in their life. The average dose that produced the bad trip was about 4 grams.

A majority of the participants — 62 percent — said their bad trip was among the top 10 most psychologically difficult situations of their lives. Eleven percent said it was their number one most difficult experience.

But 34 percent of participants said the bad trip was among the top five most personally meaningful experiences of their life and 31 percent said it was the among the top five most spiritually significant. And 76 percent said the bad trip had resulted in an improved sense of personal well-being or life satisfaction. Forty-six percent said they would be willing to experience the bad trip all over again.

Interestingly, the degree of psychological difficulty was statistically associated with beneficial outcomes. More difficult or challenging experiences tended to be viewed as more beneficial or meaningful. However, longer bad trips were associated with less beneficial outcomes.

The study also demonstrated that bad trips can have severe consequences. Eleven percent of the participants said they put themselves or others at risk of physical harm, while 2.6 percent reported behaving in a physically aggressive or violent manner. This was associated with longer, more difficult experiences in which the participant had little physical comfort or social support.

About 3 percent reported seeking medical help. “Three cases appeared associated with onset of enduring and impairing psychotic symptoms and three cases with attempted suicide,” the researchers noted.

The researchers warned that their study could be skewed in favor of more positive reports because of the sample they used. The participants in the study were recruited from psychedelic-focused online forums and social networking sites — a group of people who are more likely to have a favorable view of psilocybin. On the other hand, the study focused on negative experiences and therefore likely overestimated the frequency of severe consequences.

The researchers said “it is important to note that risks of dangerous behavior or enduring psychological problems are extremely low in laboratory studies of psilocybin with carefully screened, well-prepared participants who are supported during and after psilocybin administration.”

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