These natural substances have been criminalized and demonized for decades, but these days psilocybin seems to be a revolutionary psychiatric breakthrough. There is no doubt that the need for more effective mental health drugs is urgent, especially given the rise in suicides combined with opioid abuse.
Psilocybin’s therapeutic benefits have been recognized by the medical industry too. The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research has invested in a psychedelic and psilocybin therapy and research center, thanks to $17 million in funding, so that researchers can learn more about psychedelics, how they can help treat illness, and develop new treatments for behavioral disorders.
Magic Mushrooms Treats Depression
Depression is one of the most widely studied cases that magic mushrooms has been shown to be promising for.
The World Health Organization estimates that some 5% of adults suffer from a depression, adding that it is a leading cause of disability around the world. While there are numerous types of pharmaceutical drugs that have already been developed to address depression, many simply cannot find relief. The most widely used pharmaceutical antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, though their side effects are many and include insomnia, sexual problems, nervousness, agitation, headache, diarrhea, and vomiting among others.
Psilocybin has shown to be a safe alternative. There are many studies proving its safety and efficacy though one of the latest which was released in April 2021 revealed that among 59 patients who suffered from moderate to severe depression, over a course of 6 weeks, the results of those who took high dose psilocybin compared to the group who took a SSRI called Lexapro, were not much different. But the group that took psilocybin revealed a quicker improvement in the primary measure of depression. “It’s very clear that psilocybin therapy has a faster antidepressant onset than escitalopram. And psilocybin was consistently superior on the ancillary outcomes, but it wasn’t different on the primary,” explained lead author Robin Carhart-Harris, PhD.
There are other renowned studies to back it up, including one from Johns Hopkins Medicine. “The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” explains Alan Davis, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins. “Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials.”
Hope For Addiction
Addiction is a silent killer that plagues people worldwide. No one is spared from addictions of any type, whether it’s tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or any other type.
Anyone who’s ever tried to quit a bad habit can tell you that it’s much easier said than done. But magic mushrooms can help. Dr. Matthew Johnson, an associate director of the Johns Hopkins Medical Center, and associate professor at the Department of Psychiatry, explains that he and his team have already seen success rates using psilocybin for addiction as well as depression.
“We had incredibly high success rates,” he said. “Eighty-percent of people were biologically confirmed as abstinent from smoking six months after the fact. And then at two and a half years on average, 60% of people were biologically confirmed as abstinent from smoking. That just completely dwarfs the best success rates that are out there.”
“The most promising potential is for addiction – smoking, alcoholism, cocaine,” he adds. “There’s a very good case that psilocybin can treat the psychology of addiction, not just alleviate the withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.” Scientists still are unsure of what exactly psilocybin does to the brain to treat addiction, though it is known that the brain responds to psychedelic drugs differently compared to how it was originally programmed to.
Psilocybin Is A Safe Recreational Drug
Aside from its significant health benefits, the recreational use of magic mushrooms is also increasing.
Researchers have found that it’s the safest of all types of recreational drugs used worldwide. A 2017 Global Drug Survey of 120,000 people who were using psilocybin the year before revealed that only 0.2% of respondents said they required emergency medical care. This rate is 5 times less compared to those who used cocaine, LSD, and MDMA.
“Magic mushrooms are one of the safest drugs in the world,” explained Adam Winstock, founder of Global Drug Survey and a consultant addiction psychiatrist. He explains that the actual risk involved is when people pick the wrong mushrooms to use. “Death from toxicity is almost unheard of with poisoning with more dangerous fungi being a much greater risk in terms of serious harms,” he tells The Guardian. In addition, 28,000 of them said they took magic mushrooms at least once in their life, and 81.7% of them said they were after a “moderate psychedelic experience” as well as the “enhancement of environment and social interactions.”
However, Winstock adds that using mushrooms recreationally should be done in caution. “Combined use with alcohol and use within risky or unfamiliar settings increase the risks of harm most commonly accidental injury, panic and short lived confusion, disorientation and fears of losing one’s mind,” he says. To avoid panic attacks, he says to plan “your trip carefully with trusted company in a safe place and always know what mushrooms you are using.”
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to psilocybin research and its benefits. We hope to see more solid evidence and wider acceptance of the drug in the near future.
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