The bulk of William Richards life’s work was spent dosing people with a variety of psychedelics to research the therapeutic benefits for treating a number of conditions — or even to enrich the lives of perfectly healthy people.
Richards helped to co-found a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine program 15 years ago, through which hundreds of people have had life-changing experiences. He credits the “sacred molecules” in such chemicals for causing the beneficial effects. While many psychedelics are employed, psilocybin — found in ‘magic’ mushrooms — is most often used by the researchers for its reliable and promising indication in the treatment of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other conditions.
Albert Garcia-Romeu, a researcher at Hopkins, working on a study to use psilocybin for smoking cessation, said of Richards, “Bill was part of the pioneering team here in the U.S. doing psychedelic research and psychedelic therapy model,” according to The Guardian.“ Basically, you give someone a really high dose and they have a really transformative experience. And you’ve prepared them for that,” he explained about the program. “And then after the fact, you help them integrate it, and they get on with their lives.”
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In 2006, the Hopkins group published their first study of psilocybin, titled “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance” — which Charles R. Schuster, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, described as “noteworthy both for the rigorousness of its design and execution, as well as the clarity of its results.” In a commentary about the study, Schuster stated:
“It is striking that majority of participants reported 2 months later that the psilocybin-induced experience was personally very meaningful and spiritually significant. Indeed, most of them rated the psilocybin-induced experience as one of the top five most important experiences in their life. It is especially notable that participants reported that the drug produced positive changes in attitudes and behaviors well after the sessions, and these self-observations were consistent with ratings by friends and relatives [...]
“The term psychedelic, when applied to drugs, implies that the drug experience is ‘mind-expanding.’ The paper [reporting the study findings] illustrates the accuracy of this description for psilocybin, and I hope that this landmark paper will also be ‘field-expanding.’”
Richards, who had his first personal experience with psychedelics “in a laboratory basement in Germany, in 1963,” when he received an injection of liquid psilocybin — an experience about which he described, “‘Awe’, ‘glory’, and ‘gratitude’ were the only words that remained relevant.” Recently, Richards published a new book, “Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experience” — in which he claims he and his colleagues“ have so reliably been able to induce mystical experience that they have empirically proven Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious — the idea that there is archetypal imagery we all share, regardless of our culture,” reported The Guardian.
Research into psychedelics wasn’t without difficulty; in 1977, Richards led the last legal study before such research was shut down in, as The Independent noted, “the worst case of censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Galileo.” But, 22 years later, he regained permission to begin again, with a comparison study between psilocybin and Ritalin — with results so astonishing, even 14 months after it ended, participants continued to report “enduring positive life changes.” One of the study’s participants even “ended up resigning from his job in weapon design and became a Zen monk.”
Richards opts for a different term than psychedelic drugs, instead choosing “entheogens” — meaning “generating god within.” With such extraordinary results, that description isn’t surprising — nor is the government’s concerted effort to squash research into such a promising field.