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The Potential of Magic Mushroom Therapy

Authored by Pat Li

Art by Sammie Lee


The infamous “magic mushrooms'' responsible for giving people hallucinations are becoming more widely established as a treatment for those struggling with mental illness. Psilocybin is a hallucinogen found in these magic mushrooms [1]. The benefits of psilocybin had been broadly researched during the 1950s to 1960s, prior to the ‘War on Drugs’ that antagonized such practices during the 1970s and afterward. Psilocybin remains a banned drug according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA. These hallucinogens are categorized as Schedule I drugs, or treatments that are not recognized as having valid medicinal benefits and are subject to drug abuse [2].


In spite of these legal barriers, there remains evidence that psilocybin could beneficially affect the brains of those who suffer from depression. According to findings from a study conducted at Weill Cornell Medicine, people with depression have brains that promote a physical landscape of rigidity. These deep wells forming in the brain make it more difficult for someone to move between their distinct thought processes [3]. They utilized a specific clustering algorithm to identify standard activity patterns in the fMRI data. Additionally, they created a model of the primary connections between different regions in the brain using a structural imaging technique called diffusion MRI on data from healthy volunteers. The two sets of data were then combined to determine the minimum amount of energy required to switch between activity states while under the influence of LSD, psilocybin, or a placebo [3]. They discovered that psychedelic drugs decreased the typical energy barriers, making it easier for the brain to switch between states.


From there, the scientists charted the serotonin 2a receptors' arrangement in the brain by utilizing data from PET research. Although LSD and psilocybin affect various receptor types in the brain, serotonin 2a receptors are believed to be their primary targets [3]. By simulating how these receptors' heightened activity due to the drugs could alter the typical energy barriers in the brain, the team discovered a similar barrier-lowering shift to the one detected between the placebo and psychedelic groups in the fMRI examination.


There is more support behind the benefits of psilocybin at other universities. A randomized clinical trial conducted by Johns Hopkins revealed that approximately 71 percent of their patients had undergone a noticeably positive response, indicating that their mental health was better a minimum of four weeks following this treatment [4]. One potential hypothesis for why people experience such relief when undergoing these trips could be attributed to psilocybin’s ability to encourage practical and structural neuroplasticity, allowing our brain to form better connections due to its ‘flattening’ of the neural landscape [5]. 


US government funding agencies have not yet backed research on the therapeutic use of psilocybin, likely due to the complicated social history of classic psychedelics and their association with cultural changes during the 1960s and early 1970s. However, as more evidence emerges supporting their safety and effectiveness, it will become important for the government to support careful and scholarly research on the therapeutic use of these substances. Recent studies on psilocybin have shown long-lasting therapeutic effects that could alleviate suffering for various disorders, suggesting that psychedelic therapy could become an important new field of medicine.












References

  1. Psilocybin—Alcohol and drug foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2023, from https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/psilocybin/

  2. Drug scheduling. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling

  3. Singleton, S. P., Luppi, A. I., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Cruzat, J., Roseman, L., Nutt, D. J., Deco, G., Kringelbach, M. L., Stamatakis, E. A., & Kuceyeski, A. (2022). Receptor-informed network control theory links LSD and psilocybin to a flattening of the brain’s control energy landscape. Nature Communications, 13(1), 5812. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-33578-1

  4. Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., Finan, P. H., & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 78(5), 481–489. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3285

  5. Psilocybin rewires the brain for people with depression | uc san francisco. (2022, April 11). https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2022/04/422606/psilocybin-rewires-brain-people-depression

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