Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Psilocybin: From magic mushrooms to the doctor’s office?

Mexico has more psilocybin-containing mushrooms than any other country. The history of use in Indigenous medicine/spiritual practices is widely known and the legal status is moving toward legalization, at least for medical uses. Here are some areas in which psilocybin is gaining respect from users and medical practitioners: 

Psilocybin for treating depression and anxiety

Clinical studies have shown promising results regarding the use of psilocybin in treating depression and anxiety disorders. Research conducted at Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London has demonstrated that a single dose of psilocybin, when administered in a controlled therapeutic setting, can lead to significant and enduring reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Patients have reported profound experiences, increased emotional openness and a sense of connectedness.

A 2021 study conducted on 59 patients with major depression by the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, in the United Kingdom, compared the efficacy of the antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro) with psilocybin. The study revealed that just two doses of psilocybin appeared to be at least as effective as daily escitalopram pills when administered alongside psychological therapy. Patients receiving psilocybin experienced greater improvement, with double the number achieving remission compared to the antidepressant group. While researchers consider these findings encouraging, they emphasize the importance of further research to understand the role of psilocybin as a therapy for depression. It is strongly advised not to self-medicate with psilocybin, as professional psychological therapy is an integral part of the treatment process.

Psilocybin alleviating end-of-life distress

Psilocybin-assisted therapy has shown promise in addressing the psychological and existential distress often experienced by individuals facing terminal illnesses. Studies have found that psilocybin can facilitate a shift in perspective, helping patients confront their mortality and find meaning and acceptance in their circumstances. 

A 2021 study conducted on 59 patients with major depression by the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, in the United Kingdom, compared the efficacy of the antidepressant escitalopram with psilocybin. (Unsplash)

Psilocybin for managing addiction

Research suggests that psilocybin may hold potential in the treatment of addiction, particularly for substances such as tobacco and alcohol. Studies conducted at New York University and Johns Hopkins University, have shown that psilocybin-assisted therapy can lead to higher rates of smoking cessation and reduced alcohol consumption. The psychedelic experience induced by psilocybin may help individuals break free from habitual thought patterns.

Psilocybin boosting creativity and well-being

Psilocybin has also been linked to enhanced creativity, increased openness and improved overall well-being. Research has indicated that psilocybin can induce a state of heightened perception, increased sensory awareness, and novel cognitive insights. This altered state of consciousness can unlock new perspectives, stimulate creativity, and facilitate personal growth and self-exploration.

Psilocybin’s potential to boost neuroplasticity and neurogenesis

Emerging studies suggest that psilocybin may have the capacity to promote neuroplasticity and neurogenesis — the growth and development of new neural connections and brain cells. These findings have implications for the potential treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and cognitive decline. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and long-term implications of psilocybin on brain plasticity.

Psilocybin to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Preliminary studies have indicated that psilocybin could have a positive impact on reducing symptoms of OCD. Further research is needed to understand this potential use better. 

It’s important to emphasize that while these preliminary findings are promising, more research, including larger and well-controlled clinical trials, is necessary to establish the safety and efficacy of psilocybin for these medical uses. Additionally, psilocybin should only be used under the guidance of trained healthcare professionals in controlled and supervised settings.

*This article is part of a series about psilocybin and its uses, both traditional and modern. We will also discuss its legal status around the world and explore the physical and mental health benefits that these mushrooms offer.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal or medical advice. Individuals should always consult with qualified professionals regarding the use of psilocybin or any other substance for medical purposes, taking into account the applicable laws and regulations of their jurisdiction.

Camila Sánchez Bolaño is a journalist, feminist, bookseller, lecturer, and cultural promoter and is Editor in Chief of Newsweek en Español magazine.

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