ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Most New Mexicans have probably heard of medical marijuana. But how about medical magic mushrooms?
Well, probably not. But the truth is, New Mexico has quietly been at the forefront of psychedelic research for more than two decades, and remains a key component in on-going studies of powerful psychedelic drugs.
"It's gratifying," said Dr. Rick Strassman, a psychiatrist who performed the first psychedelic experiments on humans in 20 years at the University of New Mexico. "I'm surprised more people haven't taken advantage of the work I did."
Strassman studied a drug called demethyltryptamine – also known as D-M-T – which is a hallucinogenic substance produced naturally by the body and found in hundreds of plants. D-M-T is similar in chemical composition to psilocybin, the hallucinogenic ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, Strassman said.
It took years for Strassman to gain permission from the U.S. government – specifically the Drug Enforcement Agency – to perform the study, he said. Then, between 1990 and 1995, he administered more than 400 doses of DMT to 60 test subjects at his UNM lab.
"(It was) just to demonstrate that it could be done," he said. "The next order of business was to characterize the response to DMT as carefully as I possibly could."
Andrew Stone, a 55-year-old Albuquerque resident, was one of those test subjects injected with a series of tightly-controlled doses of DMT in 1995.
"My entire body started tingling," Stone told News 13. "All of a sudden I was overwhelmed by what (Strassman) calls the curtain of colors."
Each trip lasted about 18 minutes, he said.
"I went into this space that I felt that has something very much to do with either being born or dying," Stone said. "I was just so terrified. It's so powerful. It's so overwhelming that the trouble becomes you're propelled into this alternate space. You experience it and you come back."
Now, 16 years after Strassman's groundbreaking study ended, New Mexico is still at the center of psychedelic research thanks to the Santa Fe-based Hefftner Institute. The non-profit has raised about $3 million since 1993 from private donors for research into psychedelic drugs. The institute also provides scientific review of psychedelic drug studies, said Dr. George Greer, a psychiatrist and the institute's co-founder and medical director.
"So when someone comes to us with a research proposal, we send it to the best experts we can find to make sure that it's the best science it can be before the research starts," Greer said.
While the Hefftner Institute helps fund the studies, most of the actual research is being done at places like UCLA, Johns Hopkins University and New York University, according to the Hefftner Institute's Web site.
And the research appears promising.
Clark Martin, a retired clinical psychologist, took part in one such study at John Hopkins in Baltimore. He told News 13 that he was given a psilocybin pill in 2009 to help him battle the depression he experienced while battling kidney cancer.
"It pops you out of your every day constructs you've been living in most of your life," Martin said.
He said the one trip he experienced jolted him out of his depression and improved his relationship with his daughter, his father and his friends.
Strassman – who now lives near Taos and continues to study and write about psychedelics -- said he's glad his pioneering research is being expanded upon, though he thinks there's much more to learn.
"I'm gratified that it did kind of crack open the door," he said. "But the flood gates certainly haven't been opened up."
Strassman produced a documentary based on his book "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," which is scheduled to be shown at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque on Jan. 25. For more information, click here.
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