Even Bad ‘Shroom Trips Are Meaningful for Most, JHU Researchers Find

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Photo by Alan Rockefeller, via Wikimedia Commons

Hopkins’ psychedelic researchers don’t just want to know whether magic mushrooms can help smokers quit or bring cancer patients peace; they also want to know about the worst trips and their lasting effects.

According to a new study of a survey by Johns Hopkins University researchers, around one in 10 users who had a bad time with psilocybin, known to most of us as “magic mushrooms” or simply “shrooms,” put themselves or others at risk during their scare. A smaller proportion of those people – about one in 38 – said they acted aggressively or violently or sought out medical help while freaking out.

But even for those folks who didn’t reach a happy place via shrooms, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The survey showed a majority found the experience was still one of the most meaningful or worthwhile experiences of their lives, and a third said it became either a top-five meaningful or spiritual experience for them.

“In a way, it’s not really so surprising,” said research team leader Roland Griffiths in a Q&A with Hopkins Medicine. “When we look back on challenging life events we wouldn’t choose, like a bout with a major disease, a harrowing experience while rock-climbing, or a painful divorce, sometimes we feel later that the difficult experience made us notably stronger or wiser. We might even come to value what happened.”

That’s not to say the bad trips weren’t really all that bad. Three in five respondents who had an unpleasant trip said it was among their top-10 most difficult life experiences.

Griffiths’ colleague and study co-author Robert Jesse pointed out that the long-term outcomes for the most unfortunate of shroom-takers cast doubt on the label of a so-called “bad trip.”

“Our laboratory studies and this survey study support each other in showing that an unpleasant, ‘bad’ experience can sometimes lead to positive outcomes,” Jesse said. “It doesn’t seem accurate, then, to call all of the negative psilocybin experiences categorically ‘bad.’”

Then again, it can be a lot easier for a user to say they had an awful time than to delve into how their scary run-in with psychedelics changed their life. Whatever the right label is, there must be something to the shrooms. Nearly nine percent of Americans – almost 23 million people – say they’ve taken them at some point in their lives, according to 2014 federal survey data.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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4 COMMENTS

  1. Everybody should have the mushroom or LSD experience at least once in life. Anti-drug advocates are very much like children who don’t like Brussels Sprouts even though they have never tasted them.

  2. This is poorly written article and a ridiculous topic. Playing around with psychedelic drugs isn’t necessarily bad? Tripping on shrooms, really? This research sounds unscientific and sketchy at best. Common sense indicates recreational drug users are lonely, depressed, or sick. We feel sorry they have to turn to drugs for a “life altering” experience. It doesn’t take a researcher to know that psychedelic drug use is a clear indicator that there is a major void in users lives. Healthy advise: Fill the void with something truly meaningful such as having supportive relationships with others, or learn something new that might “change you” such as learning about a new culture or tradition, (ie., get off the couch and go meet people, travel, try different food, take a cultural class in something, endless possibilities). How about volunteering and doing something to help others? The biggest high anyone can ever have is to know that have truly helped another human being. Nothing compares to making a difference in someone else’s life and you can do it no matter what your situation.

    • Thanks for your insight, Kate. I’m not sure how volunteering ties into use of psychedelics, but that could be an interesting story. Here’s the full study if you want to take a closer look at the researchers’ methodology and findings.

  3. Kate, your comment may have been common, but had little sense. You know nothing about the subject, or the different between each type of drug. If you read the literature you will find both benefits and potential dangers from psychedelic drugs. An open mind is refreshing

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