History and effects of a very special substance
Decades after Psilocybin Mushrooms were rendered illegal, their therapeutical potential is now being acknowledged by an ever increasingly interested scientific community, supported by healing workers who have maintained their connection to the sacred medicine. From helping with depression, over exploring consciousness to being more connected to nature, the massive body of medically framed research has since few years started to pour itself into modern societies.
The Netherlands never banned the fungi in sclerotium form (truffles). For that matter, a legal retreat for psilocybin users, that combines traditional ceremonial practice with modern science on psychedelics and current methods of psychotherapy, is now possible.
What happens in the brain - the neuroscience of psychedelics
What happens in the brain when a person takes psychedelics? How is one substance able to create all these diverse, deeply awe-filled and often life-changing effects? While the science on this is also still very new, several findings have been made that might explain some of that.
The material aspect of cognition, perception or consciousness in the brain is related to the enormous amount of neurons, that are communicating with each other. Based on genetics and experience, these neurons are wired together and communicating in a certain way. With these connections, the sensory stimuli that are entering our brain are processed and the reality that we perceive is created by our brain and our neuronal pathways. What we perceive as normal reality is actually a very specific point of view, shaped by evolution and experience, heavily influenced by our evolutionary need to survive.
The healing potential of psilocybin
With the prohibition of psychedelics in the 1970, clinical research was no longer possible and psychedelic therapy disappeared in the scientific community. It was only in recent years, that governments slowly started to allow administering psychedelic substances for research trials. So although the body of research is growing quickly, it is still relatively small and consists mainly of early-stage trials. Nevertheless, the results are very impressive and in line with the experience of psychedelic facilitators and the results of the 1950s and 1960s.
Current studies show promising effects of psilocybin for a wider range of mental health benefits. One example that has been researched recently was humans with terminal cancer or other life-threatening illnesses. A psilocybin session significantly reduced anxiety and depression regarding the coming death. Patients with major depression also showed great improvement in their symptoms after one or two sessions in pilot studies.
Studies with participants that were no mental health patients showed positive effects as well. Participants reported having a very meaningful experience on mushrooms, which most classified as mystical or spiritual, which lead to increased positive effects in mood, attitudes and behavior even 14 months after the experience.
Regarding addiction (Bill Willson - Belladonna), a pilot study found impressive results on treating tobacco addiction with administered psilocybin sessions. Respondents of survey studies also showed a significant lower risk of opioid or alcohol addiction when they have also be taking psychedelics. Most alcohol users reported that during a session on a moderate or high dose of LSD or psilocybin, they had a highly meaningful and insightful experience, which lead to a significant decrease of alcohol use in most participants. These results are in line with a big body of research of the 1950s and 60s on the effects of LSD on alcoholism that has shown those insight as a very effective form of treatment.
Risks and safety
Another important aspect of the current research is not only regarding the positive effects of the psilocybin mushrooms but also its safety. Since the research is done with a drug that is currently illegal in most parts of the world, researchers need to not only show that the drug is promising, but also not harmful. While physical side-effects are limited to some reporting nausea and headaches during the experience, psychological side-effects could be possible.
The chance of negative side-effects is dramatically reduced (and the positive effects enhanced) in safe, controlled clinical settings where therapists and facilitators are present. While you are more open to spiritual and self-revealing breakthrough during the experience, you could also be more vulnerable to negative outside influences or some challenging thought patterns.
We strongly recommend you to only take psychedelics in a safe, curated environment.
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Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: Immediate and persisting dose-related effects. Psychopharmacology, 218(4), 649-665. Griffiths, R.R., Johnson, M.W., Richards, W.A., Richards, B.D., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2011).
Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187(3), 268–283 . Griffiths, R.r., Richards. W.A., McCann, U., Jesse, R. (2006).
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Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study. Lancet Psychiatry, Carhart-Harris, R. L. et al. (2016).
Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 28(11), 983–992. Johnson, M. W., Garcia-Romeu, A., Cosimano, M. P., & Griffiths, R. R. (2014).
The association of psychedelic use and opioid use disorders among illicit users in the United States. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 31(5), 606–613. Pisano, V. D., Putnam, N. P., Kramer, H. M., Franciotti, K. J., Halpern, J. H., & Holden, S. C. (2017).
Cessation and reduction in alcohol consumption and misuse after psychedelic use. Journal of Psychopharmacology. Garcia-Romeu, A., Davis, A. K., Erowid, F., Erowid, E., Griffiths, R. R., & Johnson, M. W. (2019).