FY I – God Is In The Magic Mushrooms


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

God Is In The
Magic Mushrooms
This just in: Psychedelic drugs could be very good
for your mind, heart, soul. Can you believe?
By Mark Morford
SF Gate Columnist

Hide the children. Pour some absinthe, fluff the pillows, take off your pants. 
It is time.

Because now we know: Getting nicely and wholly high on illegal but completely 
natural hallucinogenic drugs might, just might open some sort of profound 
psychological doorway or serve as some sort of giddy terrifying rocket ride to a
higher state of consciousness, happiness, a sense of inner peace and love and 
perspective and a big, fat lick from the divine.

It's true. There's even a swell new study from Johns Hopkins University that 
officially suggests what shamans and gurus and botany Ph.D.s and 
alt-spirituality types have known since the dawn of time and Jimi Hendrix's 
consciousness: that psilocybin, the all-natural chemical found in certain 
strains of wild mushrooms, induces a surprisingly large percentage of users to 
experience a profound -- and in some cases, largely permanent -- revolution in 
their spiritual attitudes and perspectives.

Not only that, but the stuff reportedly made a majority of testers feel so much 
more compassionate, open-hearted, connected to and awestruck by the world and 
the universe and God that it ranks right up there with the most profound and 
unfathomable experiences of their lives. I know. Stop the presses.

But let us sidestep the face-slapping obviousness. Let us look past the fact 
that you are meant to react to this study's findings like it's some sort of 
revelation, like it doesn't merely reinforce roughly 10 thousand years of 
evidence and modern research and opinioneering and responsible advocacy by 
everyone from Timothy Leary to Terence McKenna to Huston Smith to the Tibetan 
Book of the Dead with yet another study to add to the pile in the Science of the
No Duh.

You know the type -- studies that merely reinforce ageless common sense, that 
simply reiterate something that's been said and understood for eons. There have 
been, for example, recent studies that prove that meditation actually reduces 
blood pressure (no!) and that MDMA (Ecstasy) is amazing at releasing inhibition 
and tapping the deeper psyche (shocking!) and that marijuana is roughly a 
thousand times less harmful than Marlboros and nine vodka tonics and smacking 
your family around in an alcoholic rage. You know, duh.

Because one thing painfully redundant studies like this do provide is a nicely 
clinical framework, a structured context from which to view a long-standing 
phenomenon. But here's the fascinating part: In the case of something like 
psilocybin, it's not so much the astounding findings that can make you swoon, 
it's also, well, the illuminating shortcomings of science itself.

Put another way, they are trying, once again, to measure enlightenment. They are
attempting to put a frame around consciousness, cosmic awe, God. And of course, 
they cannot do it. Or rather, they can only go so far before they hit that point
where the sidewalk ends and the world spins off its logical axis and the study's
participants cannot help but deliver the death blow every scientist dreads to 
hear: "You cannot possibly understand."

Witness, won't you, these revelations:

The psilocybin joyriders claimed the experience included such feelings as "a 
sense of pure awareness and a merging with ultimate reality, a transcendence of 
time and space, a feeling of sacredness or awe, and deeply felt positive mood 
like joy, peace and love." What's more, for a majority of users, the experience 
was "impossible to put into words."

It doesn't stop there. Two months later, 24 of the participants (out of a total 
of 36) filled out a questionnaire. Two-thirds called their reaction to 
psilocybin "one of the five top most meaningful experiences of their lives. On 
another measure, one-third called it the most spiritually significant experience
of their lives, with another 40 percent ranking it in the top five. About 80 
percent said that because of the psilocybin experience, they still had a sense 
of well-being or life satisfaction that was raised either 'moderately' or 'very 

You gotta read that again. And then again. Because those statements are just a 
little astonishing, unlike anything you will read in some FDA report on Prozac 
from Eli Lily. The most profound experience of their lives? One of the most 
spiritually significant? Can we get some of this stuff into Dick Cheney's blood 
pudding? Into the Kool-Aid at the American Family Association? Into Israel and 

But this is the amazing thing: Here, again, is hard science running smack into 
the hot cosmic goo of the mystical. Here, again, is science peering over the 
edge of understanding and jumping back and saying, "Holy crap." It is yet 
another reminder that our beautiful sciences have almost zero tools with which 
to quantify something like "transcendence of time and space" or "a feeling of 
sacredness and awe." And watching them try is either tremendously enjoyable or 
just depressing as hell. Or a little of both. It all depends, of course, on how 
you see it.

Here then, are your choices. Here are the three ways to look at the effects of 
magic mushrooms on the consciousness of humankind. Which angle you choose 
depends a great deal on how nimble you allow your mind, your heart, your spirit 
to be. Or maybe it's just how much wine you've had.

The first way is to simply presume that the lives of the study's participants 
had obviously been, up to their psilocybin joys, tremendously mediocre. So bland
and so limp that something like hallucinogenic mushrooms could not help but be, 
in contrast, as profound as being licked by angels.

This is a clinical interpretation. The gorgeous experience itself means nothing 
except to say that normal life is terribly drab and crazy drugs temporarily 
scramble your brain in occasionally positive and interesting ways, but never the
twain shall meet, so oh well let's go back to work.

But you can also take it one step further. You may conclude that the study 
underscores the harsh fact that we as a species are so divorced from deeper 
meaning, so detached from the mystical and the divine and the universal in our 
everyday instant-gratification lives, that it takes something like a powerful 
hallucinogen to show us just how meek and limited and far from merging with God 
we still very much are. This is the pessimistic view. And it is, by every 
estimate, a very primitive and sour place to be.

Ah, but then there's the third way. This is to suggest that it's exactly the 
other way around, that perhaps at least some of us are, as Leary and his cosmic 
cohorts have suggested for decades, just inches from the celestial doorway, 
already on the precipice of realizing that we are, in fact, the divine we so 
desperately seek. Problem is, we can't see the edge through the tremendous fog 
of consumerism and conservatism and quasi-religious muck.

But even so, every now and then we manage to take a tiny, unconscious, clumsy 
step ever closer to the edge, stumbling toward ecstasy without really knowing or
understanding that we're doing so. And ultimately, sly entheogens like 
psilocybin are merely nature's way of clearing the fog for a moment, of letting 
us know just how close we are by smacking us upside the scientific head and 
tying our cosmic shoelaces together. And doesn't that sound like a fascinating 
way to spend the weekend?


Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF 
Gate and in the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle. To get on the e-mail list 
for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing. Mark's 
column also has an RSS feed and an archive of past columns, which includes 
another tiny photo of Mark probably insufficient for you to recognize him in the
street and give him gifts.

As if that weren't enough, Mark also contributes to the hot, spankin' SF Gate 
Culture Blog.



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