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Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic drug obtained from a number of mushroom species. Psilocybin, commonly used as a recreational drug, induces euphoria and sensory distortion similar to other hallucinogens like LSD. While it is classified as a Schedule I substance by the DEA. The story of Psilocybinis rapidly changing. Small clinical trials have demonstrated that one or two doses of psilocybin, administered in a therapeutic environment, can lead to significant and enduring improvements in individuals with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, a condition typically unresponsive to conventional antidepressants. This research has led the US Food and Drug Administration to label psilocybin as a breakthrough medicine, a significant recognition.

Psilocybin is also showing potential in treating various conditions including cluster headaches, anxiety, anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and different types of substance abuse.

Research has also shown that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin significantly influence brain neuroplasticity by helping neurons grow new dendrites, which enhances communication between brain cells. This process is distinct from neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, and is vital for developing and strengthening new neural pathways. Professor David Nutt, a prominent researcher in this field, points out that while these neuronal changes don’t necessarily increase brain connectivity, they assist individuals in retaining insights gained from psilocybin experiences, especially regarding depression. Psilocybin can interrupt negative thought patterns and create more positive perspectives through neuroplasticity.

A study conducted in 2022 revealed that psilocybin is more effective in enhancing brain connectivity and overall well-being compared to escitalopram, a commonly used SSRI. Users of psilocybin reported feeling more connected and less encumbered by negative thoughts. The effectiveness of psychedelics varies from person to person but has been particularly notable in treating PTSD, depression, and addiction. The long-term effects of these treatments are still being researched. Some patients have shown long-lasting improvements from a single dose, while others may experience a resurgence of symptoms after a few months. Future treatment strategies might include repeated psychedelic doses or a combination of psychedelics and SSRIs to maintain mood improvements.

Professor Nutt emphasizes the need for further research to optimize the use of psychedelics for sustained mental health benefits.

With this in  mind, while not considered addictive, psilocybin can lead to disturbing hallucinations, anxiety, and panic. The effects of psychoactive drugs, such as magic mushrooms, can vary significantly based on a person’s mood and environment. The ‘set,’ or the individual’s mental state, encompasses their mindset, past experiences with psychedelic drugs, and expectations about the drug’s effects. For instance, feelings of stress or anxiety prior to using magic mushrooms might lead to an unpleasant experience, commonly referred to as a bad trip.

The ‘setting’ refers to the environment where the drug is consumed. Factors like the familiarity of the place, the company of trusted friends, whether the setting is indoors or outdoors, and the type of music and lighting all play a role. Consuming magic mushrooms in a serene, comfortable environment can contribute to a positive experience, while taking them in a chaotic and crowded space may lead to negative outcomes.

The effects of psilocybin can vary widely among individuals, influenced by factors such as the user’s mental state, personality, and environment. Those with mental health conditions or anxiety about using psilocybin are more susceptible to negative experiences, including psychological distress, which can manifest as extreme anxiety or even short-term psychosis.

Key points about psilocybin include

  • It can cause both positive and negative physical and psychological effects.
  • Psilocybin is not naturally addictive but can trigger a range of psychotic episodes.
  • People with a family history of psychosis are at increased risk of adverse psychiatric reactions.
  • Psilocybin activates serotonin receptors, primarily in the prefrontal cortex, affecting mood, cognition, and perception. It can alter the perception of objects and people without causing active hallucinations.
  • The drug’s effects typically start within 30 minutes of ingestion and last 4–6 hours, but some sensory and thought pattern changes may persist for days.
  • The potency of psilocybin varies based on the mushroom’s species, origin, growing conditions, harvest period, and whether the mushrooms are consumed fresh or dried. Dried mushrooms tend to have a tenfold higher psilocybin content than fresh ones, as noted by the EMCDDA.

Current Research in Psilocybin

In treating depression, researchers are exploring the use of psilocybin and similar hallucinogens. Studies have shown potential for psilocybin to alleviate depression symptoms while preserving emotional responsiveness, particularly with psychological support. Psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs might aid in treating depression by promoting neural connections in the brain. However, further research is needed to fully understand this mechanism and to determine if these benefits can be achieved without the hallucinogenic side effects.

There is increasing interest in the potential of Psilocybin-assisted therapy as a treatment for various mental health issues, including addiction. Studies indicate that Psilocybin may aid those with addiction by promoting deep introspection, diminishing cravings, and boosting motivation for change. Historically, Psilocybin-containing mushrooms have been utilized in Indigenous cultures for spiritual and medicinal purposes, but it was only in the mid-20th century that Western medicine began exploring their therapeutic potential.

In contemporary addiction recovery, Psilocybin is viewed as a promising aid in treating substance use disorders, credited for its ability to address underlying psychological problems, enhance self-awareness, and create positive behavioral change. However, it is essential to conduct Psilocybin-assisted therapy under professional supervision in a controlled, safe setting. The therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and experiences with it can vary significantly from person to person.

Is Psilocybin Legal?

Globally, the legal status of psilocybin varies, but in many countries, they are classified similarly to other controlled substances under the influence of the worldwide “war on drugs” instigated by the United States. Thus still classified as a Schedule I drug, making their possession, sale, or distribution illegal, with significant legal consequences.

There is a growing movement advocating for change, driven by emerging research on the potential health benefits of psilocybin. This has led to the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms in a few cities, where residents are not criminally charged for possessing small amounts. These shifts reflect a broader global understanding of drug policies, particularly concerning substances with possible therapeutic benefits. As research continues and more information becomes available, it’s possible that other regions and countries may consider revising their laws regarding psilocybin.

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