Magic Mushrooms Showing Promise in Treating Depression, Mental Illness
© AP Photo / Peter DejongMushrooms containing the active ingredient psilocybin are seen in a grow room
© AP Photo / Peter Dejong
Various studies have been done showing that psilocybin, the primary psychoactive chemical in magic mushrooms, can greatly reduce the symptoms of major depressive disorder for most patients.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine demonstrated that two doses of the psychedelic along with psychotherapy had a great effect on patients. Psychedelics rose in popularity among the psychotherapy community in the early 60s, showing great promise. But as the drugs became associated with the growing drug culture of the mid and late 60s, the stigma around them increased, they were eventually outlawed and research ground to a halt.
Over the past two decades, things have started opening up. In 2000, Johns Hopkins University received approval to research psychedelics and since, researchers in the United States and around the world have been looking deeper into psilocybin, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) commonly known as acid, and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) commonly known as molly or ecstasy.
More than half of the early participants from the 2000 study that was the first in the United States since the 1960s, now say that it was among the most meaningful experiences of their lives.
Another study performed by Compass Pathways last year, showed that by most measures, psilocybin outperformed the common antidepressant escitalopram, more commonly known as Lexapro.
Scientists are unsure why the psychedelic seems so effective in treating depression but they think it may have to do with neuroplasticity. Depressed brains become rigid, with pathways to different parts of the brain being cut off from other parts resulting in a spiral of self-loathing that can be difficult to break. “You get stuck in negative self attribution, negative self thoughts” said Frederick Barrett, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at John Hopkins School of Medicine via Changing America.
A previous study at John Hopkins University used brain scans to show that psilocybin enabled greater interconnectivity between parts of the brain that typically become isolated in depressed patients. It has been theorised that other mental illnesses are exacerbated by the same segregated brain issue, giving researchers hope that psychedelics could be used to treat symptoms like PTSD and addiction.
Still, some researchers hypothesise that the benefits might be due to the actual “trip” and what is learned, more so than the chemical reaction. Psilocybin has been shown to be most effective when combined with psychotherapy as it was in the most recent Johns Hopkins University studies. Since the experience causes people to look at their recent behaviour and events in a new light, it may simply be that the insights they discover about themselves is what improves their overall mental health.
Research into psychedelics and psilocybin and its potential for mental health continue. Currently, Johns Hopkins University is searching for participants with early Alzheimers, depression and anorexia to see how those diseases may be treated with psilocybin.