Magic Medicine re­view – mak­ing the case for mush­rooms

The Guardian Australia - - Science - Peter Brad­shaw

An in­trigu­ing, in­con­clu­sive film about an in­trigu­ing, in­con­clu­sive drug trial. Monty Yates’s doc­u­men­tary shows the work of Dr Robin Carhart-Har­ris at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don: after years of bu­reau­cratic wran­gling, he got per­mis­sion to con­duct re­search into the pos­si­bil­ity that psilo­cy­bin – the psy­choac­tive in­gre­di­ent of magic mush­rooms – could be used to treat de­pres­sion. Could it be that so­ci­ety’s taboo dis­ap­proval is need­lessly hold­ing back our un­der­stand­ing of this is­sue?

We see three long-term suf­fer­ers of de­pres­sion, sen­si­tively in­ter­viewed about their lives. They are each shown into a room that has been tricked out like an aro­mather­apy suite with low light­ing and gen­tle mu­sic; they lie down on a couch, and doc­tors re­as­sur­ingly hold their hand. They are given a low, in­tro­duc­tory dose of shroom-essence at the first ses­sion, and at the se­cond the amount is stepped up. The re­sults are star­tling.

The drug does not in­duce a vague non-spe­cific eu­pho­ria that washes away the sad­ness. Rather, it dis­lodges the log­jam of emo­tions and re­pressed mem­o­ries, some­times very painfully, a bit like reg­u­lar ther­apy. But then there is a re­mark­able sense of free­dom. In most cases, the pa­tients felt much bet­ter – but, ag­o­nis­ingly, these ef­fects are not per­ma­nent.

So what on earth should we con­clude from all that? That psilo­cy­bin should be freely avail­able so that med­i­cal re­searchers can dis­cover more and chronic suf­fer­ers can con­tinue to take it? Fine. But what if it’s just an­other ba­nal drug, like Te­mazepam, as flawed and ad­dic­tive as all the other pills get­ting doled out?

The film is called Magic Medicine, and of course the ad­jec­tive in the ti­tle is an ironic ref­er­ence to magic mush­rooms. But it could be that in osten­si­bly com­plain­ing about the “for­bid­den­ness” of psilo­cy­bin, re­searchers are fetishis­ing its power and im­por­tance. Well, Dr Carhart-Har­ris thinks we need to know more about psilo­cy­bin. He’s right.

Push­ing the boundaries … Robin Carhart-Har­ris

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