Planning to trip on shrooms anytime soon? If you’re willing to fill out a few surveys, your experience could help chart the future of psychedelic science.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who have been at the forefront of psychedelics studies in a lab setting, are partnering with a Denver-based nonprofit to gather thousands of real-world experiences with psilocybin, the main psychedelic component of so-called magic mushrooms. By diverging from a standard research setting, they’re hoping to gain a better understanding of the factors that influence a trip and its outcomes.
They’re asking people who plan to use psilocybin to share their experiences in order to build a better understanding of the drug’s effects outside a laboratory setting—at festivals and in nature, for example.
“Because our research is ‘real world,’ allowing participants to enroll for any reason and participate in any setting, we will learn unprecedented new details about how individuals are choosing to use this substance,” said Del Jolly, co-founder and director of Unlimited Sciences, the nonprofit funding the study. “We hope to grow our understanding with a large survey set.”
Any English-speaking adult planning to use psilocybin within the next six months can sign up to join the study. “Your input,” the website says, “could materially evolve our collective scientific understanding of psilocybin’s effects on the human mind.”
If that sounds like a worthy goal, be forewarned that there’s homework. Participants will be asked to take up to five surveys about themselves and their psilocybin experiences—one survey two weeks before taking psilocybin, the next in the hours before use, another in the days following the experience and then two follow-up surveys in the weeks and months afterward. Each survey is expected to take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete.
“Participants will be asked to describe details of both their ‘set’ (state of mind) and ‘setting’ (physical situation) at up to six time periods surrounding a planned psilocybin dose,” according to an Unlimited Sciences press release, “to isolate variables of experiences and how they relate to health and other outcomes.”
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have been studying psychedelics for decades, and last year the university launched a first-of-its-kind psychedelics research center. The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research has focused primarily on potential therapeutic uses for psychedelics, such as smoking cessation and treatment for depression, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia and opioid withdrawal. Assembling a repository of real-world data, Unlimited Sciences says, could help identify areas for future investigation.
“By expanding the study to include far more examples of real-life usage and outcomes, we can continue to learn more and refine our research,” said Heather Jackson, the nonprofit’s board president. “A study of this type can direct future controlled clinical trials.”
As with cannabis, the recent resurgence of interest in psilocybin and other psychedelics has propelled an effort to better understand the science behind the drugs’ effects. Unlimited Sciences was inspired by Realm of Caring, a nonprofit started in 2013 to gather data on how cannabis was being used medically.
“In late 2018, the founders of Unlimited Sciences saw a similar need,” Unlimited’s website says: “To collect scientific data and testimonials about how people use psychedelics in their lives.”
In the current study, Unlimited and Johns Hopkins want to learn more about the positive and negative outcomes of psilocybin use as well as factors that could influence those outcomes. “We aim to investigate variables such as demographics, lifestyle, mindset, and personality traits,” the study website says, “as well as characteristics of the experience itself such as dosage, ingestion method, intention, and setting, that could influence psilocybin’s long-term effects.”
As academics continue to investigate the effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics, advocates for safe access are making headway in both the U.S. and Canada.
Voters in Oregon this year will consider a ballot measure that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use as well as separate proposal that would decriminalize all drugs and invest in treatment. In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, activists have qualified a measure for November’s ballot that would decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelics, including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Earlier this month in Canada, four cancer patients in end-of-life care successfully petitioned the country’s health minister to exempt them from the country’s laws against psilocybin, allowing them to legally use the drug as part of psychotherapy treatment. “This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion,” said Thomas Hartle, one of the first Canadians in decades who will be able to use psilocybin legally. “I’m so grateful I can move forward with the next step of healing.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman