Psilocybin medical use expected to “mushroom”
Pardon the pun, but I just couldn’t resist it. OK, before you panic, allow me to modify the phrase “psilocybin use expected to mushroom.” It’s not only the recreational use of magic mushrooms I’m talking about, it’s the therapeutic use I’m referring to. Countless studies support the case for therapeutic usage of psilocybin (the psychedelic strains of mushrooms) to reduce anxiety and depression. In fact, one of the leading experts in the field is advocating making psilocybin available over the counter. But first, a little background before we plunge into the world of fungi.
Many cultures have used Psilocybin mushrooms as part of their religious rituals for thousands of years. The Aztecs called the mushroom teonanácatl, which roughly translates to “God’s flesh,” because they believed it had sacred power. LSD, on the other hand, has a much more modern beginning. Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman isolated psilocybin from the mushroom in 1957. In 1942, Hoffman experienced its psychedelic effects when he accidentally ingested LSD and had to leave work feeling dizzy. Sandoz, the pharmaceutical company Hoffman worked for, started selling psilocybin and LSD for research in medical trials in the 1960s. With the advent of the 60s counterculture and hippie movement, the substances soon became outlawed.
Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928 changed the medical world, but it wasn’t until World War II that demand for penicillin accelerated dramatically. Big Pharma was quick to jump on the bandwagon, producing two or three strains every year until recently. Today, it’s down to one strain every other year and dropping, according to Bill Bryson, author of The Body: A Guide For Occupants. Bryson argues that “we’re becoming resistant to antibiotics, and the money is drying up. Big Pharma would rather focus on drugs that hook us for life, such as statins and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).” I, for one, would never want to take a pill for life under some profit-driven medical program. But I’m digressing from the subject at hand.
Paul Stamets, widely recognized as one of the leading experts on fungi, was recently on the Joe Rogan Experience (podcast #1385 if you’re interested in listening) singing the praise of psilocybin. Stamets says that “early research is demonstrating that “the neurogenic benefits of microdosing are greater than the neurogenic benefits of macrodosing.” I’ve written before about the growing trend of primarily young people microdosing psilocybin and LSD to increase creativity and productivity in Silicon Valley and other places. And Paul Stamets agrees. According to Stamets, “Any new businesses populated in pinnacle by young people who are not doing microdosing are going to be at a competitive disadvantage.” But I’m digressing yet again. Let’s get back to the subject of using psychedelics to treat mental health disorders, such as depression.
Important aspect of cognition
A recent study has demonstrated that serotonergic psychedelics, a subclass of psychedelic drugs with a method of action strongly linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin, improve mental health by rebooting certain brain regions. Another recent study focused on creativity, which is an essential aspect of cognition and microdosing. When we’re depressed, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine us getting better. And this is where boosting creativity can help depressed individuals begin to visualize brighter outcomes to the problems they’re facing. Psychedelics are “tools for creativity because they enable different parts of the brain to work simultaneously, allowing for new combinations of ideas to come together,” according to Amanda Feilding, a well-known English drug-policy reformer.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is always on the lookout for more effective ways to treat chronic mental health problems, has called MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and psilocybin research a promising therapy for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) research. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA – while admitting they have potential) is downplaying the hallucinatory effects of these substances. Research continues on a broad front, however. Head of Imperial’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, Robin Carhart-Harris, thinks psilocybin could be a licensed medicine within five years, perhaps sooner. “By about that point,” Carhart-Harris says, “it would be like an irresistible force, and indefensible to ignore the weight of the evidence.” Carhart-Harris believes psilocybin could become a “powerful new therapy for a host of other mental illnesses, including anxiety and food disorders.”
Many researchers now believe that psilocybin, as opposed to antidepressants that dull emotions, works on our serotonin system, heightening emotional responses and encouraging people to confront their depression, which can bring about lasting shifts in mindset, prompt patients to rethink long-held beliefs and break compulsive thought patterns and behaviors. It will undoubtedly take years to settle the legal, scientific and commercial issues. There is, however, one thing that most researchers agree on: it’s only a matter of time before psilocybin and similar psychedelics will begin to have a significant impact on how we treat a variety of mental disorders, not to mention on understanding our minds.