Not since the 1960s and Harvard Professor Timothy Leary, has there been such interest in the medical and scientific study of entheogenic substances. Entheogens, hallucinogenic substances traditionally used in shamanic rituals or to facilitate spiritual experiences, have long been used by folk healers to treat psychiatric problems. Later this year, researchers at Alabama University at Birmingham are planning to study the effects of psilocybin mushrooms on cocaine addiction.

Researchers in Alabama noticed an interesting phenomenon. About 30,000 people who were charged with a felony were consequently sent to a diversion program called the Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC). This was a case management style intervention for people with a history of substance abuse. Researchers observed that those program participants who had used hallucinogenic drugs were less likely to return to crime and drug use after going through the program. Did the use of hallucinogenic drugs cause a reduced rate of recidivism? Researchers want to find out.  

Peter Hendricks, a clinical psychologist in the School of Public Health said: 

“There was an association between hallucinogen use and outcome in this TASC program, such that hallucinogen use was associated with decreased likelihood of failure.”

Pending approval by the the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and a lot of red tape, Hendricks is optimistic about future studies.

Exactly how entheogenic substances work to benefit those with substance abuse or psychiatric disorders is still a mystery to scientists. They may act as a mood elevator or somehow give a person a shot of confidence. On a deeper level, they may cause introspection or a spiritual experience that causes change thru self-reevaluation. These are some of the possibilities. 

Although his examples are not drug induced, Hendricks used the analogy of the fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge’s experience, and the Christian story of Saul, to explain the life-changing experience that psilocybin may evoke.  

“Something profound happened to Ebenezer Scrooge,” Hendricks said. “Think of Saul on the road to Damascus, a great persecutor of Christians, has some sort of experience and transforms him overnight.”

Whether entheogenic substances are a causative factor in creating change has yet to be scientifically proven, but there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that these substances, when used in a therapeutic environment, can and do provide opportunities for long-term life change and positive personal transformation.