Is Psilocybin the Supplement of the Future?
Currently, federal and state laws prohibit the use of psilocybin, which is the psychotropic compound in "magic" mushrooms. Following over a decade of FDA-approved medical research, some states began legalizing psilocybin for medical use in 2020. In this post, you'll learn how psilocybin acts on the brain and why it's gaining attention as a low-risk treatment for various mental health issues.
What Is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a naturally-occurring hallucinogenic compound found in over 180 species of mushrooms. Most mushrooms containing psilocybin are small in size and tan in color. Psilocybin mushrooms can be taken in supplement form, typically as a dried powder you can add to smoothies or in capsules. Whole magic mushrooms are sometimes brewed as tea or even eaten, but psilocybin supplements make dosing safer.
The Medical History of Psilocybin
Psilocybin-rich mushrooms were used more than 5,000 years ago, according to archeological evidence. Shamans in many Native American cultures used magic mushrooms in religious ceremonies to induce altered states of consciousness. Historical accounts of 16th century Spain reveal a significant understanding of psilocybin use by Aztec healers. These records, in turn, inspired medical research on psilocybin that began in the 20th century and continues to the present day [source].
What Are the Benefits of Psilocybin?
As research institutions continue unearthing psilocybin's effects on the brain, its mental health benefits have become increasingly clear. Here are the best-known reasons a person can benefit from psilocybin supplements:
Provides Anxiety Relief
Psilocybin's ability to boost serotonin levels may also help with anxiety. Clinical trials on anxiety patients have found psilocybin improves symptoms, including in patients who hadn't responded to conventional treatments. In fact, a single dose of psilocybin has been shown to produce anti-anxiety benefits for up to a year. Patients with phobias and post-traumatic stress sometimes feel they experience epiphanies while undergoing psilocybin therapy. This likely corresponds with the increase of serotonin and dopamine in the region of the brain responsible for habit formation — the medial prefrontal cortex.
Research suggests that when "on" psilocybin, the brain can break patterns and form new ones in an expedited time frame. While there's no "magic pill" for psychological disorders, psilocybin shows great promise as adjunctive therapy for patients with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [source].
Helps You Break Bad Habits and Addictions
Psilocybin is shown to improve one's ability to break free from habits and even suspend the brain from addiction. It's been studied as a potential treatment for substance use addiction. Long-term drug use typically causes deficiencies in both serotonin and dopamine. By elevating serotonin and dopamine levels, especially within the region of the brain responsible for habit formation, psilocybin could potentially help addicts fight cravings and recover from drug use.
In an eight-month study on alcoholism involving 93 participants, psilocybin intervention reduced heavy drinking by 83 percent compared to a placebo. Forty-eight percent of the participants treated with psilocybin stopped drinking altogether by the end of the study, compared to 24 percent in the placebo group.
May Help with Depression
Psilocybin stimulates serotonin receptors in the frontal lobe, increasing the cellular uptake of serotonin — known as the "happiness hormone." Chronically low serotonin levels are linked to depression. Another way psilocybin has been shown to improve symptoms of depression is by increasing neural communications between different regions of the brain.
It works in cases of both "reactive depression" and long-term depression. One study from Johns Hopkins on participants confronting terminal cancer diagnoses found that psilocybin reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. By the end of a four-week study on women with long-term depression, more than half the participants experienced a full remission of symptoms.
Additional research from Johns Hopkins found that just one psilocybin treatment can reduce symptoms of depression for up to a month. Whereas pharmaceutical anti-depressants must be taken daily over a long period, psilocybin can take effect sooner and not require follow-up treatment for at least a week.
Micro dosing: How to Take Psilocybin Safely
You might be wondering how psilocybin can be consumed safely. As with other psychedelic substances, a practice called "micro dosing" is the key. Micro dosing makes it possible to reap the mental health benefits of psilocybin without experiencing the psychedelic effects like hallucinations and paranoia. The best micro dose for psilocybin is 0.35 grams, which is a tenth of the average dose taken for psychedelic effects. If it's your first time trying psilocybin, start with just 0.1 grams. Add 0.05 grams each treatment until you reach 0.35 grams, or, stop when you feel you have the right dose for you.
Psilocybin Risks and Side Effects
Stacked up against other psychedelic substances, psilocybin is reported to have the best safety profile. Avoid foraging your own psilocybin mushrooms in nature because they look nearly identical to several poisonous mushroom species. Psilocybin can cause adverse effects at higher doses, including paranoia, confusion, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Other potential side effects may include elevated heart rate, dizziness, headaches, and tremors. The effects of mixing psilocybin with pharmaceutical drugs are unknown, so unwanted interactions may occur.
Will Psilocybin Ever Be Legal?
Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession in 1973. In 2020, it became the first state to both decriminalize psilocybin and legalize it for medical use. If psilocybin follows a similar trajectory to marijuana, psilocybin could eventually become a legal therapeutic in the United States. It helps that psilocybin is non-addictive, but the psychotropic side effects could potentially delay its legalization in some states. Despite state laws, the possession, sale, and use of psilocybin is still federally outlawed.
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