In 1960, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert began to explore the effects of psychedelic substances on the human mind at Harvard University. In 1963, after 3 years of studying the effects of psychedelic substances, Leary and Alpert were fired. As a result, their studies on psychedelic substances abruptly ended. Subsequently, Leary and Alpert’s studies created a lasting impact and psilocybin gained popularity within society.
In 1968, Congress passed the Staggers-Dodd Bill, which amended the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. As a result, possession of psilocybin mushrooms became a federally illegal act. Furthermore, the United States classified psilocybin as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, reaffirming psilocybin’s federally illegal status.
Today, local municipalities have decriminalized psilocybin. Specifically, Denver, Colorado; Oakland, California; and Santa Cruz, California have all decriminalized the possession of psilocybin. While individuals cannot lawfully possess psilocybin in Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, law enforcement resources in those municipalities will not be directed towards combatting psilocybin possession. Yet, individuals may still face criminal penalties for the sale or cultivation of psilocybin.
In 1957, psilocybin gained notoriety in the United States after mycologist R. Gordon Wasson wrote an article in Life Magazine. Mr. Watson described the use of psilocybin mushrooms in a ritual ceremony Mr. Watson witnessed on a trip in Mexico. In the years following, several clinical studies were conducted using psilocybin to aid in treating alcoholism, schizophrenia, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. Yet, the United States classified psilocybin as a Schedule I controlled substance in the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. A Schedule I controlled substance is defined as a substance that has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Consequently, medical research of psilocybin halted until 1992, when the National Institute on Drug Abuse partnered with the FDA to allow for psychedelic research. Consequently, the Heffter Research Institute was created to study Psilocybin’s effect on treating cancer-related psychiatric disorders and addiction.
Today, several research organizations study the use of psilocybin to aid a variety of ailments. Due to psilocybin’s Schedule I classification from the DEA, most research is funded using entirety private donations. Yet, there are still several organizations that conduct research about the use of psilocybin. Most notably, John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research has conducted successful studies in treating symptoms associated with terminal disease, depression, and addiction. Moreover, the Usona Institute currently tests the use Psilocybin in treating symptoms of depression. In addition, the University of San Francisco currently studies the use of Psilocybin to treat symptoms of distress in patients who suffer from AIDS.
History of Psychedelic Spiritual Research
Psilocybin has deep roots in history. The first evidence of psilocybin dates back to between 4,000-7,000 B.C.E. Within mountain ranges in Tassili, Algeria, there are ancient rock carvings that suggest ancient psilocybin use. In one carving, a row of masked figures hold up mushrooms in their right hands. Two parallel dotted lines from each mushroom connect to the top of the figures’ heads. In another carving, a large, masked figure is shown with mushrooms growing from its hands, forearms, and thighs.
Furthermore, around 1,000-500 B.C.E, tribes and indigenous persons in Mexico and Guatemala erected temples for mushroom gods. In addition, mushroom-carved stones and other mushroom motifs from 200 A.D. also appeared throughout Central America.
Studies of psilocybin’s connection with spirituality continue today. In April 2019, Roland R. Griffiths, Ethan S. Hurwitz, Alan K. Davis, Matthew W. Johnson, and Robert Jesse, published a survey on the use of psychedelic substances. The authors determined, “Most participants reported vivid memories of the encounter experience, which frequently involved communication with something having the attributes of being conscious, benevolent, intelligent, sacred, eternal, and all-knowing.” Furthermore, the researchers found that, “More than two-thirds of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer identified as atheist afterwards. These experiences were rated as among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant lifetime experiences, with moderate to strong persisting positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning attributed to these experiences.” It follows, psilocybin remains an important tool to facilitate strong spiritual connections.
 Griffiths, Roland R., et al. “Survey of Subjective ‘God Encounter Experiences’: Comparisons among Naturally Occurring Experiences and Those Occasioned by the Classic Psychedelics Psilocybin, LSD, Ayahuasca, or DMT.” Plos One, vol. 14, no. 4, 2019, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0214377.