THE EXAMINATION ROOMS IN THE BLUESTON CENTER FOR CLINICAL RESEARCH at the New York University College of Dentistry are exactly what you might expect of a facility that conducts trials of dental and medical therapies. There are reclining exam chairs, linoleum floors, fluorescent lights. The rooms are smartly professional and nondescript—with one exception.

If you were to walk through a certain door, you would find yourself standing on an Oriental carpet. You would also see a stereo system, abstract paintings, a Buddha head sculpture and a bookshelf whose titles include William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience and Aldous Huxley’S The Doors of Perception. Replacing the exam chair is a well-cushioned sofa. This room is not for people with toothaches. It’s where participants in a certain clinical trial take psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in what are popularly known as magic mushrooms.

According to federal law, psilocybin has no medical uses, and in New York, possessing the substance may merit a year’s imprisonment. But researchers at NYU, along with teams at Johns Hopkins and the University of California, Los Angeles, have permission to study the drug. More than half a century earlier, psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide—LSD—had been the subject of intense clinical interest, until recreational abuses and their connection to antiestablishment sentiment made them taboo for serious research. A handful of researchers from the early studies remembered the drugs’ promise, while others—including psychiatrist Stephen Ross, head of the NYU study, who was born after the Summer of Love and unscarred by the culture wars that engulfed psychedelics—heard the old stories and found themselves fascinated.

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