Tripping on magic mushrooms may have health benefits too. This is one of the revelations from separate studies last year which found how psilocybin, the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms, may hold the potential to significantly reduce depression and anxiety. Scientists also found out the effects from a single dose can last for several months.
For the uninitiated, psilocybin is a compound from magic mushrooms, i.e. Psilocybe cubensis, which can alter a person’s feelings and insights. Mankind has a relationship with psilocybin dating back thousands of years wherein magic mushrooms are used to alter the state of mind for healing and spiritual practices.
Classified as a natural hallucinogen, psilocybin’s effects are similar to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). It gained popularity as a recreational drug and it’s been observed to not lead to serious physical or mental health problems or dependent use.
Because of claims about psilocybin’s effects on improving a person’s well-being, significant research has been done to explore its potential medical uses and it may unlock the answer to how to get out of depression.
Can Depression Be Cured by Psychedelic Mushrooms?
Before answering this question, it’s best to understand how a healthy brain works.
Normally, the brain exchanges information across various circuits. On most of the brain’s “information highways,” there’s a steady stream of traffic. On some, there are few. Psilocybin seems to reroute traffic to some of these underused “highways” to free up some space along the more heavily-trafficked paths.
Robin Carhart-Harris, a leading researcher of the Center for Neuropsychopharmacology in the Imperial College London, presented his findings on the therapeutic potential of psilocybin as, “there was a definite sense of lubrication, of freedom, of the cogs being loosened, and firing in all sorts of unexpected directions.”
This could just be the spark a depressive mind needs.
A depressed, addicted, or obsessed brain gets locked into an unhealthy thinking pattern that’s difficult to unlearn by itself. These overly-strengthened thinking patterns can lead to persistent negative thoughts. To free someone from depression means opening pathways in the brain that are normally inhibited and diverting traffic from these congested highways. This is exactly what psilocybin does.
The Journal of Psychopharmacology published two studies that looked at people who had cancer or were in remission. They found that 83% of the respondents reported psilocybin increased their well-being and satisfaction. In addition, 67% of them said using psilocybin gave one of the most meaningful experiences in their lives.
The experience of being under psilocybin can vary from every person but several of the respondents describe they feel intense love. One of the participants claimed she saw her fear as a black mass inside her and as she screamed at it to get out, it disappeared. “I felt like I was being bathed in love and it was overwhelming, amazing, and wonderful,” she said.
Consider this story about a psilocybin research participant:
“Clark Martin is a retired clinical psychologist. Because of his profession, he is well acquainted with the traditional treatments for depression. When he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, he suffered through depression while he struggled through chemotherapy and other anti-cancer regiments. Counseling didn’t work on him. Neither did the antidepressant pills he tried.
Nothing had any lasting effect until he went through his first psychedelic experience at the age of 65. He left his home in Vancouver, WA to participate in a clinical experiment for psilocybin at the Johns Hopkins medical school.
After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, laid down on a couch, and listened to classical music as he contemplated the universe.
One year after the treatment, Dr. Martin credits the 6-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and transforming his relationships with his daughter and his friends. He also claims the 6-hour psilocybin high is one of the most meaningful events of his life. Dr. Martin’s story is just one of the stories heard in a growing club of experimental subjects of studies looking into psilocybin as a treatment for depression.
These results are encouraging but scientists are cautious not to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s when some scientists exaggerated their understanding of psilocybin’s risks and benefits.
Reactions to psilocybin depend so much on the setting. Experimenters and review boards have come up with guidelines to create a comfortable environment with expert monitors in the room to help deal with adverse reactions. These protocols were installed to gauge the drug’s effects more accurately.
An intriguing result of these studies is the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics. Neural imaging studies have been used to identify these similarities.
In another study, 36 people without serious physical or emotional issues were introduced to psilocybin. Researchers found out that it induced an experience that the experimental subjects described as profoundly spiritual with lasting positive effects. None of the participants had any experience with hallucinogens and none were even sure what drug was administered.
During these experiments monitors had to console people through some short periods of anxiety but these were short and none of the subjects reported any serious negative effects.
But the mental experiences and explorations that take place while taking these psychedelics seem more likely to be responsible for the long-term effects. This may be the reason why people who use psychedelics recreationally do not automatically experience the same benefits as individuals who use these substances in a controlled, experimental environment.
Two months later, the same subjects were revisited and surveyed. People who received psilocybin reported more improvements in their mood and behavior than the rest of the control group.
Another survey 14 months later after the experiment showed that most of the psilocybin subjects expressed more satisfaction with their lives and still rated the experience as one of the most meaningful ones in their lives.
The mental experiences that constantly arise seem to share similarities: feeling more connected to the universe, being able to openly face fears and challenges of life, seeing relationships more clearly, and feeling stronger. All of these seem to transform a person’s perspective on life.
Apart from the improvement of one’s mood, psilocybin may also hold the key to improving relationships. Some participants claim a higher awareness of themselves and of other people, and therefore had greater compassion and patience.
One participant said, “I feel that I related better in my marriage. There is more empathy – a greater understanding of people and understanding their difficulties and less judgment. Less judging of myself, too.”
Another said, “I have better interaction with close friends and family and with acquaintances and stranger… my alcohol use has diminished dramatically.”
Researchers hope to bring the study of psilocybin into the future. They want to build on the promises that some early research showed while avoiding the bad reputation and exaggerated claims made in the 1960s like world peace. In the next set of experiments, researchers also hope to test whether psilocybin can help smokers quit.
With such positive news surrounding magic mushrooms, people ask can depression be cured by using psilocybin recreationally. While magic mushrooms can improve one’s mood and state of mind, these results in improving mental health were done in a very controlled environment with investigators inside the room to monitor the subjects.
These clinical a very simple protocol. Participants are invited to come to a research room that was made to feel comfortable and they all take a dose of the psilocybin. A person from the research team sits with them and may talk with them throughout the experience, allowing them to follow their thoughts and feelings throughout the duration of the psilocybin’s effects.
Because psilocybin as a cure for depression is still in the experimental stages, it isn’t recognized as a treatment yet. However, one thing experts agree on is psilocybin’s ability to boost a person’s mood. This setup can be replicated at home. The only elements needed are time, a comfortable space, and an experienced trip sitter who can support you during the experience.