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Psilocybin from ‘Magic Mushrooms’ Can Help People Manage Depression
When people think of magic mushrooms, they usually imagine a scene from Alice in Wonderland or perhaps a bunch of young adults at a music festival on a trip. Fewer people seem to recognize that these unusual mushrooms may actually have a profound and beneficial impact on the mental health of some people.
In fact, while there has been very little clinical research on the use of psilocybin from psychoactive mushrooms for mental health purposes, what little research exists is very promising. Before we delve into that topic, however, let us first clarify our terminology here.
Psilocybin specifically refers to the active compound found in a family of known psychedelic mushrooms, including Psilocybe, which boasts at least 116 different unique mushrooms. The most commonly used and grown is Psilocybe cubensis, but there are many others (and actually several other families of mushrooms that also produce psilocybin).
Although there are certain other mushroom families, including the often poisonous Amanitas, that produce psychedelic effects, psilocybin is the most widely used and trusted psychedelic mushroom compound, as it has an incredibly high LD50, much like cannabis. In other words, you would have to eat an absurd amount to suffer fatal poisoning. There are no deadly variants within the Psilocybe family, like there are in the case of Amanitas.
In other words, most people who take psychedelic mushrooms for psychedelic or medical purposes consume dried mushrooms from the Psilocybe family or medicines made from these mushrooms. All the current research on psychedelic mushrooms focuses on the active compound psilocybin.
In one study focusing on cancer patients with depression and anxiety, taking a low dose of psilocybin followed by therapy resulted in improved depression and anxiety symptoms in patients for up to eight months after that one dose. Other studies have shown that the compound has a positive long-term impact on the mental health of its users. Unfortunately, because of the dearth of research, scientists do not yet understand how a single dose of this naturally occurring substance could impact the mental health of patients for such a long period of time.
Some doctors posit that the active compounds, including psilocybin, may bind to or even activate a sub-type receptor for serotonin. Until there is additional research to validate that claim, anecdote and speculation are all people have to go on.
Another theory involves the way that psilocybin impacts the connections in your brain. Much of your personality and memory recall relates to how information flows through the connections in your brain. Scans of individuals under the influence of psilocybin found that these connections deteriorate while under the influence of the compound.
Some people think that this loss of neural connectivity during the active phase of psilocybin is one of the reasons that people experience an “ego death” during their psychedelic experience. Many individuals under the influence of psilocybin will report a feeling of connectedness with the world around them, a decreased focus on themselves as an individual, or even loss of awareness of themselves as an individual.
This unique state often opens people up for drastic shifts in future thinking or offers a creative leap forward in some cases. The potential for increased creativity is one reason why microdosing with psilocybin has become increasingly popular among entrepreneurs and power players in Silicon Valley.
What is it incredibly fascinating about the effects of psilocybin is that that lack of connection does not persist. Scanning the brains of individuals after the psilocybin wears off shows that they have developed more connections overall when compared to before their experience.
Effectively, psilocybin lets your brain reset or rewire those critical connections. That can help some individuals with a history of trauma move on from unhealthy thought patterns. It can also help those with depression or anxiety in developing healthier lifestyles and new connections in their brain that benefit their overall mental health.
Individuals struggling with chronic depression and anxiety, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, may benefit significantly from either microdosing psilocybin or taking larger doses that produce psychedelic experiences. As with any psychedelic, it is important that individuals experimenting with psilocybin and hallucinogenic mushrooms ensure that they are in the care of someone who is sober. Ideally, that person will also be there to help facilitate discussions or processing of issues and emotions that arise during the experience.
The potential benefits of psilocybin are completely ignored by the federal government. These harmless mushrooms are classified as a Schedule I substance. In fact, some people still get arrested and prosecuted just for picking them when they grow naturally. It is typically also illegal to cultivate them and sell them, though possessing spores is not illegal. This failure of the War on Drugs is keeping people with mental health issues from accessing a safe and natural resource that could offer profound benefits.
Hopefully, as more research and anecdote helps illuminate the mental health benefits of psilocybin, more people will start supporting descheduling or legalizing this compound and the mushrooms that produce it.
For previous Ladybud articles about psilocybin, click here.
Photo Credit: Jatlas1 via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0