Humans have been eating hallucinogenic or “magic” (enigma mushrooms) mushrooms in ritual and spiritual contexts since at least 3,000 BCE. Despite how long we’ve known about magic mushrooms, we actually barely know anything well, about magic mushrooms. Or, more specifically, about psilocybin, the molecule that makes these mushrooms so special. enigma mushrooms
There’s over 200 species of fungi that produce psilocybin, which makes them hallucinogenic. But this molecule itself isn’t the one that causes hallucinations in humans. The body strips off a phosphate molecule from the psilocybin to form a different molecule called psilocin. And it’s psilocin that actually sends people on a trip.
It binds to one of the same receptors as serotonin. Which is the molecule involved in things from sleep, blood pressure to mood regulation and depression. The receptor is 5HT2A, which is also targeted by other psychedelic drugs like LSD, MDMA, and mescaline.
Scientists still don’t know how or if molecules binding to the 5HT2A receptor result in hallucinations. They think it’s related to how parts of the brain communicate with each other. And in some way they think that psilocybin is doing this is by strengthening the connections between brain networks.
Even for areas that weren’t strongly connected before taking psilocybin. In mice, for example, psilocybin may actually be creating entirely new connections. In people, psilocybin increases the strength of the connections responsible for how you sense the world. While also decreasing the connections responsible for how we understand signals from our environment.
Some scientists think this mix match on how we sense and understand signals from our surroundings is what may cause an altered state of consciousness. One of the side effects of magic mushrooms. But right now, this research about connectivity is still fuzzy and sometimes conflicting. In large part because research into the effects of psilocybin is so new.
Policy changes in the last 10-15 years have let researchers finally start studying not just the basic effects of psilocybin. But also the possible therapeutic benefits. These studies typically involve giving one or two moderate to high doses of psilocybin in the presence of at least one psychiatrist. The idea is for the patient to have a good trip experience,where the lines between themselves and the world around them break down. This lets them feel connected with the world.
One of the areas of therapeutic interest is for people with treatment-resistant depression. This type of depression occurs in about 10 to 30 percent of people with depression. It’s people whose depression either doesn’t respond or keeps coming back after they start taking anti-depressants.
In one early study, researchers treated participants with treatment resistant depression and about 2/3 of them responded to psilocybin one week after treatment. 60% still showed improved depression scores three months later. Only a few studies have been done so far, but they seem to suggest that psilocybin can improve depression scores pretty dramatically. There are pretty large improvements when compared to a placebo.
Compared to traditional antidepressants, which require a daily dose, hallucinogens can show months of benefit after just one. It also seems like, when it’s combined with therapy, psilocybin can be pretty good at helping treat addiction too. Researchers have looked at alcohol and cigarette addiction also. Again, all of these studies are pretty preliminary. enigma mushrooms
A study of people with alcohol dependence, participants drank less frequently and had fewer heavy drinking days. For up to two months after getting psilocybin treatment. Which is less compared to just doing traditional therapy once a week.
For smoking cessation, one study showed that 80 % of participants were smoke-free after six months.
60 % were still smoke-free up to 57 months later after just two or three doses of psilocybin. That’s almost five years. But one big question for future psychedelic research is whether it’s possible to get the benefits without actually tripping.
So scientists looked into micro-dosing, which involves regularly taking super-small doses of psychedelics. Small enough not to trip, but enough to feel a positive mood boost. And a team of researchers has been exploring the possibility of a non-hallucinogenic psilocybin-like molecule. That also binds with the 5HT2A receptor that might give the antidepressant benefits without the high. enigma mushrooms
While it might seem feasible to have some of the good effects without the trip. Other researchers aren’t sure that a trip-less psychedelic will work as well. That’s because there’s some evidence that people with more intense tripping experiences have better therapeutic responses.
On the other hand, getting the benefits without the trip would be great, because while psilocybin is non-addictive and really difficult to overdose on, there can still be side effects. Things like paranoia and anxiety while tripping can put people at risk of physical harm. Sometimes, even more long-term psychological problems.
But it’s hard to really draw any firm conclusions, because of the drug laws that make psilocybin hard to study. Which means there just hasn’t been a lot of research done. And the studies that have been done tend to be pretty small.
Importantly, the clinical trials of psilocybin that have been done, they involve having a therapist present for the entire trip, and then more therapy in the days that follow .It seems that research on psilocybin bodies have a promising future, but only time will tell if it will go mainstream as a formal therapeutic.