(CBS) Will "magic mushrooms" become the next medical marvel?
A groovy new study shows that even a single dose of the shrooms' active ingredient, psilocybin, can enhance people's sense of "openness." That's a term researchers use to mean imaginative, broad-minded, and sensitive to feelings and aesthetics.
The personality change seen in the study has researchers thinking psilocybin could be used to ease depression and anxiety in cancer patients, or maybe help longtime cigarette smokers kick the habit.
"There may be applications for this we can't even imagine at this point," study leader Dr. Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a written statement.
The study - published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology - showed that nearly 60 percent of 51 participants given psilocybin exhibited greater openness upon completing two to five eight-hour sessions with the hallucinogen. During each session, participants were encouraged to lie on a couch, listen to music through headphones, and wear an eye mask to block visual stimulation - and to direct their thoughts inward.
Not bad work if you can get it.
The personality change was seen in participants who had undergone what they considered a "mystical experience." Griffiths said such an experience involves "a sense of interconnectedness with all people and things accompanied by a sense of sacredness and reverence."
Maybe that's why the mushrooms - which grow in tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Mexico, and the U.S. - are sometimes called "God's flesh."
But not everyone mellowed out on the mushrooms. Griffiths said some participants reported strong fear or anxiety during their daylong trips, although no one experienced any lasting negative effects.
Most of the study participants said they participated regularly in religious services, prayer, or meditation, according to the statement. Would psilocybin prove beneficial for people who are less "spiritually active?"
"We don't know whether the findings can be generalized to the larger population," Griffith said.
And then there are the cops to consider. According to the website of the U.S. Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center, psilocybin is an illegal drug, classified as a Schedule I substance, along with heroin and LSD.