Magic Mushrooms Do The Opposite of Anti-Depressants, But That May Be Why They Work

“I felt so much lighter, like something had been released.”


psychedelic therapy is going through something of a revival right now, and we may now know how one such hallucinogenic drug is seemingly able to alleviate symptoms of depression.


Psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, has long been known to deliver therapeutic effects to people with depression, and researchers think this is because the drug helps to revive emotional responsiveness in the brain.

What’s so remarkable is this kind of mechanism is actually the opposite effect of a major class of antidepressants used to treat the condition, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

“Psilocybin-assisted therapy might mitigate depression by increasing emotional connection,” neuroscientist Leor Roseman from Imperial College London explained to PsyPost.

“[T]his is unlike SSRI antidepressants which are criticised for creating in many people a general emotional blunting.”

The new study examined 20 patients diagnosed with moderate-to-severe treatment-resistant depression, to investigate what kinds of effects psilocybin would have on their brain activity and depressive symptoms.

A previous study by some of the same researchers had shown that the drug seems to ‘reset’ brain circuits in depressed people, with patient-reported benefits lasting up to five weeks after treatment.

This time around, the team wanted to examine what impact psilocybin might have on the amygdala – the part of our brain that helps process emotional reactions, including fear – in addition to its effects on participants’ depression.

Before taking the drug, the participants underwent fMRI brain scans, then, in two separate sessions one week apart, they took doses of psilocybin, before again being scanned via fMRI the morning after receiving the second dose.

During the fMRI scans, the group were shown images of faces with either fearful, happy, or neutral expressions, and the researchers wanted to investigate what effect these faces had on the participants’ amygdala after taking psilocybin.

After the experiment, the majority of patients reported that the psilocybin had eased their depressive symptoms, with almost half the group still seeing benefits from the treatment five weeks later – in line with the kinds of benefits other depression studies using the drug have shown.

More intriguingly, the fMRI scans showed the drug heightened activity in the right amygdala, with increased responses to both fearful and happy faces – and the increases to fearful faces were predictive of clinical improvements in depressive symptoms one week after the experiment.

What’s striking is the alleviation of depression occurs from emotional receptivity being enhanced – the opposite of SSRI antidepressants.

“It has been proposed that decreased amygdala responsiveness to negative emotional stimuli under SSRIs is a key component of their therapeutic action,” the researchers explain, “but the present study’s findings suggest that this model does not extend to the therapeutic action of psilocybin for [treatment-resistant depression].”

The researchers don’t know for sure why that is, but after the experiment the patients reported “a greater willingness to accept all emotions post-treatment (including negative ones)” (original emphasis), whereas they felt their previous depression treatments worked to “reinforce emotional avoidance and disconnection.”

“I felt so much lighter, like something had been released, it was an emotional purging, the weight and anxiety and depression had been lifted,” one participant said.

“I have felt a sense of acceptance; more acceptance of agony, boredom, loneliness,” commented another.

“[A] willingness to try to accept the negative times – but also an appreciation of the wonderful times.”

The team acknowledges their study has a number of limitations, including a small sample size, and a lack of controls – including one for SSRIs.

But they say their next trial will try to address those shortcomings, as well as looking further into how this mysterious compound alleviates depression – while seemingly forcing people to confront their emotions, whether good or bad.

“I believe that psychedelics hold a potential to cure deep psychological wounds,” Roseman told PsyPost.

“[A]nd I believe that by investigating their neuropsychopharmacological mechanism, we can learn to understand this potential.”

Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in trial

Magic Mushrooms
Psilocybin, which is found in magic mushrooms, was administered to depression patients in a pill 

Ahallucinogenic chemical found in magic mushrooms has successfully lifted severe depression in previously untreatable patients.

Scientists at Imperial College London induced intense psychedelic trips in 12 people using high doses of the banned substance psilocybin.

A week after the experience all the volunteers were depression-free, and three months later five still had no symptoms of the condition.

I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking magic mushroomsDr Robin Carhart-Harris, Imperial College London

Published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, the study welcomes the results as “promising, but not completely compelling”.

Its authors are now seeking further funding from the Medical Research Council and other bodies to carry out fuller trials.

They conceded, however, that the use of a placebo control, a crucial component of thorough clinical trials, would be difficult as it would be obvious who was having a hallucinogenic experience and who was not.

The psilocybin is believed to cause relief from depression by targeting receptors in the brain and disrupting the Default Mode Network, which is responsible for sense of self and is overactive in depressed people.

However, the scientists did not rule out that the psychedelic trip could have caused an “awakening”, of the kind achieved by spiritual teaching, which also helped lift the depression.

Professor David Nutt
Professor David Nutt said current regulations made clinical trials extremely difficult

An estimated 350 million people worldwide are affected by the disease and the annual cost to the economy in England is thought to be around £7.5 billion, according to government figures.

About one in ten patients are resistant to treatment.

Despite the promising results, the researchers urged people not to try magic mushrooms themselves as a cure for depression.

Lead author Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, said: “Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support.

“I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms.

“That kind of approach could be risky.”

The volunteers in the trial had the psilocybin administered orally in capsules and were then closely monitored.

 Professor David Nutt, who also took part in the research, criticised the “Kafkaesque” tangle of regulations and licencing requirements that had forced the team to wait 32 months before being allowed to conduct the trial.

“It cost £1,500 to dose each person, when in a sane world it might cost £30,” he said.

“It is important that academic research groups try to develop possible new treatments for depression as the pharmaceutical industry is pulling out of this field.

“Our study has shown psilocybin is safe and fast-acting, so may, if administered carefully, have value for these patients.”

Professor Nutt, who was sacked as the Government’s drugs advisor in 2009 for his outspoken views, urged the Home Secretary to re-designate psilocybin from Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act to better enable further clinical trials.

Amanda Feiling, from the Beckley Foundation, which also took part in the research, said: “For the first time in many years, people who were at the end of the road with currently available treatments reported decreased anxiety, increased optimism and an ability to enjoy things.

“This is an unparalleled success and could revolutionise the treatment of depression.”


The Dose Will See You Now: The Astonishing Life-Saving Potential of Psychedelic Therapy in Modern Medicine

What is your impression after reading the results of this recent study on the potential of a promising new treatment for depression?

‘The main takeaway is that the effects are well-tolerated in this population, and not just that—the antidepressant potential of the treatment seems to be pretty considerable,’ […] ‘All 12 of the patients reported a reduction in the severity of their depression for one week after the psilocybin experience, and for most this was true after three months. At week one, eight patients met standard criteria for remission, with five remaining in remission at three months.’

Encouraging results, no? On the surface, it seems like more people could benefit from a treatment like this.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, they can’t. They’d be considered criminals, for the chosen treatment in this study is currently illegal. In fact, it’s a Schedule 1 substance as classified by the DEA, with “no accepted medical value,” “a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” and “a high potential for abuse”.

The study was conducted using psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, when given to patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression.

Despite seeing encouraging results such as the above study more frequently, psychedelic therapy remains a taboo topic in both general society and the medical community at large, partially due to the many myths still surrounding the psychedelic experience.

Why is this the case? Let’s dig deeper.

What Is Psychedelic Therapy?

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy offers us an unparalleled medical opportunity. Currently, it is typically reserved for ‘treatment-resistant’ illnesses (when standard methods of therapy or medical treatment have previously proven unsuccessful).

The term ‘psychedelic’ comes from a Greek term, essentially translating to ‘mind-revealing’. For anyone suffering from unfamiliar mental illness or trauma, the definition is seemingly self-explanatory.

However, for the uninitiated, it’s helpful to refer to N. Crowley’s definition of ‘psychedelics’ as noted in The British Journal of Psychiatry (“A role for psychedelics in psychiatry?”):

The difference between psychedelics (entheogens) and other psychotropic drugs is that entheogens work as ‘non-specific amplifiers of the psyche,’ inducing an altered or non-ordinary state of consciousness (Grof, 2000). The content and nature of the experiences are not thought to be artificial products of their pharmacological interaction with the brain (‘toxic psychoses’) but authentic expressions of the psyche revealing its functioning on levels not ordinarily available for observation and study.

Psychedelic therapy combines traditional psychotherapy sessions with a trained practitioner, and injects selected sessions with a measured, monitored dose of a psychoactive substance. A placebo is used for some sessions if necessary, and not all sessions are paired with a psychedelic experience.

As with all entheogenic experiences, preparation and post-experience integration are just as, if not more important, than the experience itself.

A typical treatment may look like:

  1. 2-3 regular therapeutic sessions with the doctor.
  2. Preparation (discussion or low-dose introduction) for the experience.
  3. 1 session with a measured dose, under medical supervision/guidance with therapeutic discussion using points derived from preparation stage.
  4. Post-experience discussion and integration.
  5. The cycle of psychedelic session > integration session, can continue as necessary based on the therapist’s recommendation. This is also called psycholytic therapy.
  6. Post-treatment follow-up and monitoring of habits/insights integrated into daily life afterward.

The value of psychedelic therapy is that it can induce in patients a state of being where they can make genuine progress with their struggles. That might mean being able to discuss deep-rooted trauma without judgment or fear, feeling self-compassion for the first time, or removing the general anxieties associated with mental illness.

Remember that at this point in time, these treatments are being used only on patients who have already resisted all other forms of treatments, such as medication, therapy, or some combination thereof.

Psychedelic therapy is proving itself to provide effective treatment for patients who have already been deemed untreatable.

Many patients of these experiences have rated them “the most important [of their lives], or if not, in the top 5 most important experiences of their lives.”

The Unorthodox State of Psychedelic Therapy In Modern Medicine

The state of psychedelic therapy in modern medicine can best be summarized in one word: Taboo.

Taboo as defined as ‘a social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.’

In many countries around the world, particularly North America, entheogens are classified as a ‘Schedule 1’ substance. This means that they are considered “highly dangerous to user/society” and have “no applicable medical value”.

As we’ll continue to see, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, studies have shown that psychedelics are not linked to the development of mental health issues or suicidal behavior.

As a result, it’s deceptively difficult to begin studies into any potentially applicable values. Scientists, doctors, and therapists, excitedly exploring these treatments, can be ostracized, shunned, disbanded, or fired.

Without valid study opportunities, psychedelic therapy cannot move away from its current taboo state into a more socially and medically viable option to increase a patient’s overall quality of life.

As a result, previous work has happened in the shadows—in therapists’ homes for private, under-the-table sessions.

This coercion to the outer edges paints psychedelic therapy as a dark art, akin to voodoo from witch doctors, instead of the valid and tangible treatment it should be recognized as.

Recently, however, psychedelic therapy has begun to move out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Recognition from notable figures and interest from major institutions like John Hopkins Universityhave started to emerge. One organization at the forefront of these efforts is MAPS (The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies), which is spearheading fundraising and medically-valid studies into the value and treatment of entheogens as a whole. The New York Times, Vice, The Guardian, and many others have begun to openly analyze the practice, and a more general discussion is emerging.

Early-stage results have come to fruition from initial studies, with outstanding results. Treatments are being shown as successful, and patients are retaining the benefits long-term.

Patients are getting their lives back.

No accepted medical value?

The successful treatment of ‘treatment-resistant’ patients should be considered outstanding medical value.

Of course, the psychedelic community at large has been saying this for years. Impressive anecdotal reports can be found by the hundreds from psychonauts online and in-person. Users who have effectively combatted depression, OCD, and persistent negative thought patterns.

So what exactly are these entheogens patients are using? How are they administered, and what do they address? The following are some of the substances being studied or advocated for in the psychedelic community currently.

Psychedelic Therapy

The Psychedelic Family and Their Therapeutic Applications

There are a plethora of entheogens with promising practical applications. The entheogens in point include psilocybin, ibogaine, LSD, and ayahuasca.

There are other, less prominent, psychedelics also being looked into on a smaller scale. These include DMT, mescaline, and 2C-B.

As each substance is unique in its biochemical composition, it fits that they each have their own neuropsychological effects. We can take a closer look at the proposed or proven benefits of each psychedelic in its therapeutic context.


Psilocybin is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. It is quickly claiming its stake as one of the most important substances to pair with traditional therapeutic techniques, due to its proven success at tackling treatment-resistant cases.

 Promising scientific and anecdotal evidence is emerging promoting the ability of psilocybin to alleviate or lessen the symptoms of depression, general anxiety, end-of-life anxiety, and trauma.

Coincidentally, psilocybin can also be effective in the context of couples therapy. It may be possible to save a marriage, or provide a deeper connection to your loved one if this was re-scheduled and introduced to society properly.

Who knew, magic mushrooms might just save your marriage!

Psilocybin is the focus of many emerging studies, and the results are beyond promising (see image below). The quote shared at the beginning of this article was in reference to terminal patients who had undergone their first treatment sessions with psilocybin.

Many ranked it as their most important life experience to date, with some putting on the same level or above the birth of their own child.

Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy has helped to reduce symptoms and onset of chronic depression, with the effects for most patients lasting between 6-12 months after the experience. This can be extended with effective post-experience integration techniques and follow-up sessions.


Ibogaine hasn’t had it’s big break yet. It remains on the outer edges to this day, even in the psychedelic community. However, ibogaine is shaping up to be one of the most promising treatments available for patients suffering from opiate addiction or withdrawals.

A single treatment of ibogaine can eradicate the addiction completely, with little to no withdrawal symptoms.

This is something no medical treatment or pharmacological approach has been able to replicate to date.

Ibogaine outperforms any approach to intense addiction currently known to modern science.

And yet it remains a Schedule 1 drug.

Let that sink in.

Despite its unparalleled efficacy, the persistent unpopularity of ibogaine may be due to the fact that the experience is intense. A visceral, multi-day exploration that surfaces key decisions and moments of an addict’s life can be profoundly jarring; it is not something to be taken lightly.

This isn’t your average club drug or even a casual full-day trip in the forest with your friends.

Specifics of the trip aside, the profound efficacy of ibogaine should not be passed up, and fortunately, there are a few organizations (here and here) around the world working to surface these incredible results. Ibogaine is not illegal around the world and is, in fact, a right of passage for some youth in select African countries.

With effective post-experience integration and therapy, addicts who just a few weeks ago had succumbed to the sensual allure of serious drugs are now able to move forward successfully and reclaim the life they may have lost.

Ibogaine can help a user take their lives back from the deathly, devilish clutches of addiction.


LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), more commonly referred to as acid, has been in the spotlight for some time. Known to most people as a substance that brings beautiful visual benefits and a deep sense of interconnectedness, when applied in a therapeutic setting, LSD can overhaul cemented opinion structures, altering the individual’s outlook on life and the potential they have in the future.

Due to the incredible introspection, openness, and lucidity LSD provides, there are a plethora of illnesses or vindications that LSD-assisted psychotherapy can effectively combat.

Among these illnesses are: alcoholism, quitting smoking, depression, and general/end-of-life anxiety.

As with the aforementioned substances, LSD is proving both in scientific studies and anecdotal reports to offer profound, life-altering benefits to the user.

Follow the white rabbit, reclaim your life.

A pretty good trade-off if you ask me.

A common report of LSD is its ability to offer a ‘third-person’ perspective on yourself. To sit outside of yourself as a spectator, rather than exist as the voice inside your head. Viewing life from this perspective can pull you away from self-destructive patterns, open your eyes to new ways of living, and bring about a level of acceptance you may not have experienced before.

To dismiss psychedelic experiences as childish, or without practical medical applications, is to say that reclaiming a firm hold on your life has no value.

All life has value. We should enable everyone to take hold of it again.


Ayahuasca is finding its footing now in modern culture. This ‘jungle juice’ has been growing in popularity amongst psychonauts, consciousness explorers, or even just the ever-explorative startup employee on their vacation to South America.

The active ingredient in Ayahuasca is DMT, commonly referred to as the ‘God molecule.’ In a similar fashion to the ibogaine experience we discussed earlier, Ayahuasca teleports users back to critical moments in their lives, often in their formative years of childhood, to come to terms with and face highly traumatic or unresolved issues in their lives.

In being able to approach highly traumatic experiences with love, sensibility, and receptiveness, patients can quite literally change their past.

What does this mean?

Jason Silva does a great job at explaining this. Your past, your personality, your life story, are made up of two things: the memories you have, and the language you use to describe them.

Ayahuasca, and the psychedelic experience in general, allows you to revisit experiences of your past and change the internal dialogue of these moments. In re-framing trauma as a catalyst for growth, or being able to view abuse as misdirected love, patients can heal deep-seated wounds that they could not tackle through traditional therapy.

Why are users able to do this in psychedelic therapy, but not in traditional sessions? Because the experiences are often blocked off, regressed, or the individual is hesitant to reopen these wounds through discussion. They are unable to arrive at an appropriate emotional state to effectively re-frame the problem and re-direct these misplaced emotions. Through no fault of the individual or the therapy structure, this is just a limitation we as a society face.

Psychedelics offer us a solution.

By inducing a state of profound love and tolerance, incredibly damaging experiences can be reframed and addressed at a level significant enough to allow for true therapeutic breakthroughs to occur.

This is the value of Ayahuasca, and this is why it is quickly becoming so popular in Western psychonautic culture. As a result, Ayahuasca is being studied in the treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), persistent negative thought patterns, and chronic depression/suicidal tendencies.

Being able to re-frame personal problems and come to a place of unconditional self-acceptance is a goal of most therapy. Why then, are entheogens that are being proven to allow this, still so taboo in modern and medical culture?

Everyday Improvement: The Magic of Micro-dosing

Closely related to the value of psychedelic therapy are the potential upsides presented by micro-dosing.

 Micro-dosing is the act of taking sub-perceptual doses of a psychedelic substance on a recurring schedule to promote overall vitality and quality of life. You can read more on micro-dosing here.

Just as important, if not more important than the experience itself, is being able to integrate the learning and progress made on the psychedelic journey into everyday life.

One of the incredible potential upsides to psychedelic therapy is that unlike modern pharmacological approaches, the user need not take a daily pill or participate in the experience on a recurring schedule.

One or two single experiences can provide enough revelatory insight to fundamentally change the habits and performance of the patient.

There is, however, a way to derive the profound benefits of the psychedelic experience on a smaller scale in everyday life: micro-dosing.

Simply, micro-dosing is taking a sub-perceptual dose and going about your day as normal. Sub-perceptual means the experience does not cross the threshold of conscious perception. Though you experience the benefits of the substance, you do not ‘feel’ different than your default state.

The benefits of micro-dosing are endless; you can read some of the effects on users here.

Reports from users who have been micro-dosing on a set schedule indicate elevated mood, increased strength, a deeper connection to others, increased endurance, lessened anxiety/fear, and improved communication, just to name a few benefits. Although the direct experience is sub-perceptual, its benefits find their way into everyday life when applied correctly.

Micro-dosing is incredibly important because it can help maintain euthymia or what is known as ‘normal mood’ in the medical community.

In addition to micro-dosing, meditation and mindfulness training can help you maintain a regular, consistent mood. For patients suffering from mental illness, reaching a normal, functional state is the end goal of therapy and treatment, as depression and anxiety are negative deviations from this norm.

Once again, post-experience integration and maintenance are just as important as the experience itself, micro-dosing can be a valuable tool for self-regulation and sustaining the benefits derived from psychedelic therapy.

MDMA: A Notable, Non-Psychedelic Opportunity

As we know, “psychedelic” refers to the altered state of consciousness reached by ingesting or imbibing these different entheogens. MDMA does not fall into the psychedelic category, as it only amplifies existing characteristics, behaviors, and biochemical levels. It is often included by many publications as a psychedelic, but renowned psychedelic explorer James Fadiman, when speaking with Tim Ferriss, offers a succinct differentiation here:

It’s not exactly a psychedelic because you don’t leave your identity behind, but it is the single best way to overcome intractable post-traumatic stress disorder.

Known on the street as the ‘love drug’, MDMA can put users into an unconditional state of love and respect for themselves and for others. Legalization could be a pivotal moment. As we noted with Ayahuasca, this can be instrumental when working to address traumatic experiences, from depression, to rape, to PTSD.

MAPS is also funding research into MDMA, and it is currently moving into Stage 3 trials. Successful Stage 3 trials allow the drug to be administered by credentialed parties, a monumental leap for patients and therapists alike. This is incredibly promising, and users who have participated in the early trial studies came out with remarkable results.

Integrating Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Into Current Psychiatric Care

We’ve shown that there are multiple entheogens available today that are proving, under scientific scrutiny, that they provide value and effective treatment to patients and situations that have already been deemed ‘treatment-resistant.’

According to the authoritative definition of “Schedule 1 drug,”, these experiences have “no applicable medical value.”


Do we, as a society, consider the effective treatment of treatment-resistant illnesses lacking any practical value?

At the very least, this should be up for discussion and intelligent debate in academia and modern psychiatric care.

Now, of course, we aren’t advocating to make these available at every corner store in each major city. No, not at all. We are discussing psychedelic therapy, and the use of psychedelics to augment therapeutic treatment when administered by an accredited, accomplished therapist or doctor.

In these environments, studies are showing that psychedelic therapy can be incredibly effective, and in the case of ibogaine, able to accomplish things previously unseen in the medical community.

If it is worth giving psychedelics their well-deserved shot in society, how do we go about doing this? MAPS can point you in the right direction here. What we need is for psychedelics to be re-scheduled away a Schedule 1 substance. This indicates that there are applicable medical values. This is similar to what is happening with marijuana across various states right now.

Additionally, we need entheogens to enter the rigorous scientific study and scrutiny that all other therapeutic treatments and drugs receive.


We need to validate and replicate the original studies that are happening now and move them along the stages of scientific and medical study to the point where they can be prescribed and administered by the appropriate parties. Just like you can be prescribed Lithium if you are diagnosed with depression, we should move entheogens to the point where you can be prescribed MDMA-assisted psychotherapy if you are diagnosed with PTSD.

To make a tangible impact in these initiatives, you can refer to the resources at MAPS, make a donation, and even consider hosting your own psychedelic dinner!

We must move quickly to bring the medical community up to speed, and to be able to provide patients with the care that could truly save their lives.

Being a superhero isn’t difficult. Sometimes it’s as simple as correcting a mistake that has been made in the past. Helping the past to catch up with the present.

Magic mushrooms are helping cancer patients deal with the fear of dying 

A single dose works in a profound way.


Dinah Bazer was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the spring of 2010. The Brooklyn resident, an ice skating teacher and former bank IT programmer in her 60s, was devastated.

Luckily, doctors were able to successfully treat her disease with chemotherapy, but the dread of a reoccurrence just wouldn’t go away. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. “I was totally consumed with fear and anxiety,” she said on a recent call with a group of reporters.

 So in 2011, Bazer enrolled in a trial at New York University, where researchers were looking to test a substance that they hoped would have a seemingly “mystical” ability to lift depression and anxiety connected to fear about life’s end.

The drug they were testing wasn’t one dreamed up in a lab. It’s the essential component of psychoactive magic mushrooms, psilocybin.



In a living-room-like setting at the Bluestone Centre at the NYU College of Dentistry, accompanied by trained therapists, Bazer took a pill. At first she couldn’t know whether it was the drug or a placebo, but once the effects started to come on, it would be clear.

Sure enough, within about 40 minutes, she started to ‘trip’.

“I visualised my fear as physical mass in my body,” a black concentration, she said. She became angry, volcanic. She screamed. “Get the f- out!”

And then this woman who said she had been an atheist her entire adult life – and still is – had a strange sensation.

“I was bathed in God’s love, and that continued for hours,” she said. “I really had no other way to describe this incredibly powerful experience.”

The feeling faded, but so did her fear, depression, and anxiety. They have not returned.

Spring for psychedelics

Bazer was a participant in one of two controlled clinical trials of the effects of psilocybin on patients dealing with depression and distress related to facing the end of life.

Aside from a few smaller pilot studies, these two trials – one by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the other, which Bazer participated in, at NYU – were the first major ones of their kind.

The results from both studies were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology on December 1, along with 10 commentaries by prominent experts in the field of psychiatry.

The results from both trials were encouraging enough that the scientists involved hope they’ll be able to get consent from the Food and Drug Administration to move forward to a large-scale Phase 3 study, the third and final set of human trials that is needed before the FDA considers approving a new drug.

“This is a potential pathway to clinical approval,” said Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at JHU School of Medicine, who led the JHU study and is one of the pioneers in the modern era of psychedelic research.

“But that [approval] requires the next step of going to the FDA and getting permission to move forward.”

The recent announcement that the FDA would allow trials using MDMA – the chemical name for the drug commonly known as Molly or Ecstasy – to treat post-traumatic stress disorder to move to Phase 3 gives him hope, too, especially since he says MDMA might have even more ‘baggage’ than psilocybin when it comes to getting approval.

In a certain sense, this is a renewal of research into the power of psychedelic substances, according to Griffiths and Stephen Ross, an associate professor at NYU’s School of Medicine, who led the NYU study.

In the 1950s and 60s, psychiatrists were enthralled by the power of LSD, psilocybin, and other hallucinogens – substances that seemed able to reorganise the way that patients viewed the world and, they say, appeared to help them overcome struggles with alcoholism and other addictions.

But the drug prohibition era put an end to that research for decades.

Scientists have only recently begun to experiment again with these substances. Griffiths told Business Insider he started looking into experiments with healthy volunteers around 2000, at a time that such a suggestion shocked review boards, which thought it would be far too dangerous.

But slowly, he was able to convince them. He began to recruit volunteers who hadn’t tried LSD or magic mushrooms.

This was one of the hardest parts, he says, since he wanted people naive to psychedelics, but most of the people he found who weren’t scared of the idea had already experimented some.


Psilocybe Pelliculosa mushrooms. 

A single dose

After the researchers studied a number of healthy people, certain things about psilocybin’s effects became clear. In a therapeutic setting, they didn’t find any serious, long-lasting adverse effects of the drug. That doesn’t mean that they found it to be totally risk-free, however.

Griffiths is also the senior researcher on another paper published December 1 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that surveyed people who took hallucinogens outside a clinical setting about their worst experiences.

Some people said they had gone through difficult or dangerous experiences, some of which caused them to seek psychological treatment later. (That’s a small percentage of psychedelic use cases, and many of those same people still said their experiences were important and meaningful, but it’s worth being aware of.)

But in a clinical setting, a high percentage of volunteers reported that the experience was one of the most meaningful they’d had in their life, calling it spiritual – something that inspired reverence and increased their overall life satisfaction.

Most compelling was that this substance appeared capable of reliably and consistently inducing what are known as “mystical experiences”.

These profound effects were so powerful that eventually Griffiths and other researchers tried psilocybin on people struggling to cope with anxiety about the end of life because they’d been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or disease like cancer.

We don’t have a good way to treat the existential anxiety and depression that’s prominent in cancer patients who don’t respond well to traditional treatment, Griffiths told Business Insider.

Yet a single dose of psilocybin did seem helpful, in a profound way.

The researchers gave patients a dose that was about 20 milligrams of psilocybin for a person weighing 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds. Griffiths’ previous work has shown that people who have ‘bad trips’ frequently take more – a median of 30 mg, which is approximately 4 grams of dried mushrooms.

It takes about 20 to 40 minutes for people to start feeling the effects. Patients listened to music during their experience.

Griffiths says their playlist included a mixture of classical music, including Henryk Gorecki, Bach, and Beethoven; Indian chant, including Russill Paul’s “Om Namah Shivaya”; new age works; and world music, so the researchers could study the ‘best’ music for the experience.

The effects of psilocybin fade after about four hours – one of the reasons researchers like to work with that drug instead of LSD, which can last up to 12 hours.

Afterward, patients talked and wrote about what they’d gone through.

Even six months after the experience, 80 percent of the 51 participants in the JHU study showed significant decreases in depression and anxiety, as measured by what’s considered a gold standard psychiatric evaluation.

The NYU team says that between 60 percent and 80 percent of its 29 participants had similarly reduced anxiety and depression six and a half months after a single psychedelic trip.

These findings correspond with results from other pilot studies on psilocybin so far.

These studies on treating depression and anxiety related to cancer have been promising enough that researchers began small studies on using psilocybin to treat more common forms of depression. And so far, those results have been encouraging.

Traditional medicine for these conditions is taken over time, has side effects, and often isn’t much better than a placebo. In this case, one dose seemed able to make a huge difference.

Griffiths says one way psychedelic researchers have characterised this is as the inverse of PTSD. With PTSD, one terrible experience can change the way a person’s brain causes them to perceive the world, with long-lasting effects.

This is like the opposite of that – a single meaningful experience that people highly value and has transformational, enduring effects.

“I don’t think we have any models in psychiatry like that,” Griffiths said on the call with press. “It’s more like a surgical intervention.”

Still, it’s early in the research process. Hundreds of people have now safely received doses of psilocybin, but the drug is still considered a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, meaning it legally has no accepted medical use.

Any researcher will tell you that before they can truly say psilocybin is a safe and effective drug, it needs to get through the strenuous FDA approval process.

And with psilocybin and other psychedelics, there’s still a massive unanswered question, one that we may be far away from understanding: how do they work?

1730-psyco-3Human Connectome Project, Science, March 2012

Mystical experiences in the brain

We know that people who take psilocybin and other hallucinogens – in these studies, participants consumed synthetic psilocybin, not the mushroom form – report that they have mystical or spiritual experiences, things they consider significant. But we don’t know what causes those experiences.

As Griffiths explained to me, we still don’t know what in the brain is responsible for consciousness itself. We don’t really have a good way to scientifically characterise the things that transform consciousness.

“We’re at very primitive levels of understanding deeper experiences of this type,” he said.

We have theories. One interesting one has to do with a network in the brain known as the default mode network, something we associate with self-referential thought – thinking about ourselves. In depressed people, activity in this brain network goes way up, perhaps because of some sort of self-obsession or rumination associated with depression.

But at certain times, this activity drops. Meditation seems to be associated with a strong drop in brain activity in this network, which seems to correspond with the idea of ego dissolution that is the goal of some meditative practices, according to Griffiths.

He says he actually became interested in studying psilocybin because of his long-standing meditation practice, which made him think about consciousness and the meanings of spiritual experiences (though he says he was initially a skeptic about hallucinogens).

Psilocybin seems to cause a drop in default mode network activity that’s very similar to that induced by certain meditators.

But the induced mystical experience is so profound that Griffiths thinks that decrease in activity can’t be all that’s going on.

“I’m very suspicious of simplistic stories,” he said.

Even people who don’t really find the experience ‘mystical’ still seem to undergo a reorganisation in the brain that changes their perception of the world, something that seems beyond explanation so far. Even harder to understand are the long-term changes caused by the drug.

1730-psyco-1Visualisation of the brain connections in the brain of a person on psilocybin (right) and the brain of a person not given the drug (left). Credit: Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Looking forward

The patients in the studies published December 1 were all dealing with cancer-related end-of-life anxiety, and it should be stressed that, for now, those are the only people whom we have some idea of how psilocybin affects in a clinical sense.

The two studies had relatively similar designs, though there were some differences. The NYU study had more of an organised psychotherapy component, and the people who observed the participants were trained therapists.

In the JHU study, which involved more participants, some of the observers were psychologists, while others had no formal training.

In both studies, participants had two interventions: one with a full dose of psilocybin, and another with a sort of placebo. NYU used niacin, a form of vitamin B, as a placebo. JHU gave participants psilocybin both times, but one was a very low non-psychoactive dose: 1 mg/70 kg instead of 20 mg.

Griffiths says that since participants knew they would get psilocybin both times, they had some ability to distinguish the difference between when they expected to feel better because they’d “taken psilocybin” and when they actually had the full psychedelic experience.

And while these are the largest studies of their type so far, they’re still pretty small.

Researchers say they’ll need to see similar results in a larger number of patients dealing with end-of-life anxiety, most likely from cancer at first.

Griffiths and Ross both said they expect other studies will then look at patients dealing with terminal illnesses and existential anxiety – though there is definitely a chance that if psilocybin proves effective in these cases, it could work for other cases of depression and other kinds of anxiety. They’re beginning to design trials for that research now.

“This is just a long and continuing process,” Griffiths said. “When I initiated this research, most of my colleagues were skeptical … people thought I had gone a little nuts. … Now I get calls all the time from students who are familiar with what I’m doing and say, ‘I want to do that’.”

“I would think in time, whether it’s 10 years or 20 years, we’re going to have learned how to optimise the use of these compounds, and we’re going to have really good models for using them therapeutically,” he said. “Some of this past baggage will fall away.”

First Ever Human Trial Finds Magic Mushrooms Beat Severe Depression.

Get ready world, “magic” mushrooms, which contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin, may soon become the standard go-to for reversing what the World Health Organization says is the number one cause of disability on the planet: depression.

A brand new first of its kind study published in The Lancet reports that psilocybin mushrooms were able to lift the severe depression of all twelve human volunteer participants, even though they had been struggling with the disease for an average of over seventeen years and despite that fact that none of the subjects had found relief with multiple rounds of standard anti-depressant medication.

“This is the first time that psilocybin has been investigated as a potential treatment for major depression,” says lead study author Dr Robin Carhart-Harris of the Imperial College London, where the study took place. “Treatment-resistant depression is common, disabling and extremely difficult to treat. New treatments are urgently needed, and our study shows that psilocybin is a promising area of future research.”

Via: The Lancet

Via: The Lancet

What is most remarkable about the study is that the depression symptoms lifted considerably following just a single treatment dose of psilocybin for every participant in the study, and for a majority of them the antidepressant effects of the mushrooms were still in effect three months after the dosing.

Amazingly, five of the original twelve severely depressed patients were in complete remission from depression three months after the study took place, even though they were following no other treatment plan.

“Previous animal and human brain imaging studies have suggested that psilocybin may have effects similar to other antidepressant treatments,” says Professor David Nutt, who co-authored the study. “Psilocybin targets the serotonin receptors in the brain, just as most antidepressants do, but it has a very different chemical structure to currently available antidepressants and acts faster than traditional antidepressants.”

Depression is usually treated with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which not only have a long list of negative side effects associated with them, including dizziness, insomnia, headaches, and even lower birth weights in infants, but need to be taken on a daily basis as well.

Psilocybin mushrooms, on the other hand, are entirely natural and do not need to be taken every day in order for one to experience their profound anti-depressive properties. They can be consumed when needed, and their benefit can last for weeks, months, or even years after each session.

“The key observation that might eventually justify the use of a drug like psilocybin in treatment-resistant depression is demonstration of sustained benefit in patients who previously have experienced years of symptoms despite conventional treatments, which makes longer-term outcomes particularly important,” says Professor Philip Cowen, a clinical scientist at the University of Oxford, in a linked comment on the study.

The truth is that a fast-acting and completely natural single dose anti-depressant that actually has higher remission rates than any other current treatment available could totally revolutionize the way depression is currently handled in mainstream medicine. Mother Nature has proven herself superior to chemical cocktails once again.

The only thing standing in the way is the law of course, as psilocybin mushrooms are still classified under Schedule I, despite this study, other similar findings, and their long history of medicinal and sacred use in indigenous cultures.

11 Odd Facts About ‘Magic’ Mushrooms

Psilocybin is found in mushrooms such as Psilocybe mexicana.
Psilocybe mexicana, the mushroom from which psilocybin was first extracted.

At first glance, Psilocybe cubensis doesn’t look particularly magical. In fact, the scientific name of this little brown-and-white mushroom roughly translates to “bald head,” befitting the fungus’s rather mild-mannered appearance. But those who have ingested a dose of P. cubensis say it changes the user’s world.

The mushroom is one of more than 100 species that contain compounds called psilocybin and psilocin, which are psychoactive and cause hallucinations, euphoria and other trippy symptoms. These “magic mushrooms” have long been used in Central American religious ceremonies, and are now part of the black market in drugs in the United States and many other countries, where they are considered a controlled substance.

How does a modest little mushroom upend the brain so thoroughly? Read on for the strange secrets of ‘shrooms.

1. Mushrooms hyperconnect the brain

An artist's image shows neurons sending signals within the human brain.

The compounds in psilocybin mushrooms may give users a “mind-melting” feeling, but in fact, the drug does just the opposite —  psilocybin actuallyboosts the brain’s connectivity, according to an October 2014 study. Researchers at King’s College London asked 15 volunteers undergo brain scanning by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. They did so once after ingesting a dose of magic mushrooms, and once after taking a placebo. The resulting brain connectivity maps showed that, while under the influence of the drug, the brain synchronizes activity among areas that would not normally be connected. This alteration in activity could explain the dreamy state that ‘shroom users report experiencing after taking the drug, the researchers said.

2. Slow it down

‘Shrooms act in other strange ways upon the brain. Psilocybin works by binding to receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Although it’s not clear exactly how this binding affects the brain, studies have found that the drug has other brain-communication-related effects in addition to increased synchronicity.

In one study, brain imaging of volunteers who took psilocybin revealed decreased activity in information-transfer areas such as the thalamus, a structure deep in the middle of the brain. Slowing down the activity in areas such as the thalamus may allow information to travel more freely throughout the brain, because that region is a gatekeeper that usually limits connections, according to the researchers from Imperial College London.

3. Magic mushrooms go way back

Central Americans were using psilocybin mushrooms before Europeans landed on the New World’s shores; the fantastical fungi grow well in subtropical and tropical environments. But how far back were humans tripping on magic mushrooms?

It’s not an easy question to answer, but a 1992 paper in the short-lived journal, “Integration: Journal of Mind-Moving Plants and Culture,” argued that rock art in the Sahara dating back 9,000 years depicts hallucinogenic mushrooms. The art in question shows masked figures holding mushroomlike objects. Other drawings show mushrooms positioned behind anthropomorphic figures — possibly a nod to the fact that mushrooms grow in dung. (The mushroom figures have also been interpreted as flowers, arrows or other plant matter, however, so it remains an open question whether the people who lived in the ancient Sahara used ‘shrooms.)

4. Magic mushrooms explain Santa … maybe

Amanita muscaria mushrooms

On the subject of myth, settle in for a less-than-innocent tale of Christmas cheer. According to Sierra College anthropologist John Rush, magic mushrooms explain why kids wait for a flying elf to bring them presents on Dec. 25.

Rush said that Siberian shamans used to bring gifts of hallucinogenic mushrooms to households each winter. Reindeer were the “spirit animals” of these shaman, and ingesting mushrooms might just convince a hallucinating tribe member that those animals could fly. Plus, Santa’s red-and-white suit looks suspiciously like the colors of the mushroom species Amanita muscaria, which grows — wait for it — under evergreen trees. However, this species is toxic to people. [8 Ways Magic Mushrooms Gave Us Christmas]

Feeling like you’ve just taken a bad trip? Not to worry. Not all anthropologists are sold on the hallucinogen-Christmas connection. But still, as Carl Ruck, a classicist at Boston University, told Live Science in 2012: “At first glance, one thinks it’s ridiculous, but it’s not.”

5. ‘Shrooms may change people for good

Psychologists say that few things can truly alter someone’s personality in adulthood, but magic mushrooms may be one of those things.

A 2011 study found that after one dose of psilocybin, people became more open to new experiences for at least 14 months, a shockingly stable change. People with open personalities are more creative and more appreciative of art, and they value novelty and emotion.

The reason for the change seems to be psilocybin’s effects on emotions. People describe mushroom trips as extremely profound experiences, and report feelings of joy and connectedness to others and to the world around them. These transcendent experiences appear to linger. (In the experiments, the researchers took great pains to assure their participants did not experience “bad trips,” as some people respond to psilocybin with panic, nausea and vomiting. Volunteers were kept safe in a room with peaceful music and calming surroundings.)

6. Mushrooms kill fear

Another strange side effect of magic mushrooms: They destroy fear. A 2013 study in mice found that when dosed with psilocybin, the animals became less likely to freeze up when they heard a noise they had learned to associate with a painful electric shock. Mice that were not given the drug also gradually relaxed around the noise, but it took longer.

The mice were given a low dose of psilocybin, and the researchers said they hope this animal study will inspire more work on how mushrooms might be used to treat mental health problems in people. For example, small doses of psilocybin could be explored as a way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, the researchers said.

7. They make their own wind

Mushrooms don’t just exist to get people high, of course; they have their own lives. And part of that life is reproduction. Like other fungi, mushrooms reproduce via spores, which travel the breeze to find a new place to grow.

But mushrooms often live in sheltered areas on forested floors, where the wind doesn’t blow. To solve the problem of spreading their spores, some ‘shrooms (including the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria) create their own wind. To do this, the fungi increase the rate that water evaporates off of their surfaces, placing water vapor in the air immediately around them. This water vapor, along with the cool air created by evaporation, works to lift spores. Together, these two forces can lift the spores up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) above the mushroom, according to a presentation at the 2013 meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics.

8. Many mushrooms

Scientists found a species of gilled mushroom in the northwestern United States submerged in the clear, cold, flowing waters of the upper Rogue River in Oregon. What makes Psathyrella aquatica distinct, and a member of this year's top 10, is that it was o

At least 144 species of mushroom contain the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin, according to a 2005 review in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to more than 50 species, and Mexico alone has 53. There are 22 species of magic mushroom in North America, 16 in Europe, 19 in Australia and the Pacific island region, 15 in Asia, and a mere four in Africa.

9. Experimenting with ‘shrooms

Recently, researchers have begun to experiment with psilocybin as a potential treatment for depression, anxiety and other mental disorders. This line of research was frozen for decades and is still difficult to pursue, given psilocybin’s status as a Schedule I substance. This means the drug is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

A woman covers her face with her hands.

In the past, though, psilocybin and other hallucinogenic drugs were at the center of a thriving research program. During the 1960s, for example, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary and his colleagues ran a series of experiments with magic mushrooms called the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Among the most famous was the Marsh Chapel Experiment, in which volunteers were given either psilocybin or a placebo before a church service in the chapel. Those who got psilocybin were more likely to report a mystical spiritual experience. A 25-year follow-up in 1991 found that participants who got the psilocybin remembered feeling even more unity and sacredness than they said they’d felt six months after the fact. Many described the experience as life altering.

“It left me with a completely unquestioned certainty that there is an environment bigger than the one I’m conscious of,” one told the researchers in 1991. “I have my own interpretation of what that is, but it went from a theoretical proposition to an experiential one. … Somehow, my life has been different knowing that there is something out there.”

10. The counterculture cultivator

Leary’s psychedelic experiments are part of hippie lore, but the man who did the most to bring magic mushrooms to mainstream U.S. drug culture was a writer and ethnobotanist named Terence McKenna. He had been experimenting with psychedelics since his teen years, but it wasn’t until a trip to the Amazon in 1971 that he discovered psilocybin mushrooms — fields of them, according to a 2000 profile in Wired magazine.

In 1976, McKenna and his brother published “Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide,” a manual for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms at home. “What is described is only slightly more complicated than canning or making jelly,” McKenna wrote in the foreword to the book.

11. Animals feel the effects

Psilocybin ‘shrooms grow in the wild, so it’s perhaps inevitable that nonhuman animals have sampled these trippy fungi. In 2010, the British tabloids were abuzz with reports that three pygmy goats at an animal sanctuary run by 1960s TV actress Alexandra Bastedo had gotten into some wild magic mushrooms. The goats reportedly acted lethargic, vomited and staggered around, taking two days to fully recover.

Siberian reindeer also have a taste for magic mushrooms, according to a 2009 BBC nature documentary. It’s unclear whether the reindeer feel the effects, but Siberian mystics would sometimes drink the urine from deer that had ingested mushrooms in order to get a hallucinogenic experience for religious rituals.

Magic mushrooms ‘less harmful than thought’ and should be reclassified, says leading psychiatrist .

Large trials of the drugs are ‘almost impossible’ due to ‘bureaucratic obstacles’, says psychiatrist Dr James Rucker

Promising medical research into psychedelics ground to a halt as long ago as 1967, when they were made illegal amid widespread concern about their psychological and social harms.

However, writing in the BMJ, psychiatrist Dr James Rucker, said that no evidence had ever shown the drugs to be habit-forming. There is also little evidence of harm when used in controlled settings, and a wealth of studies indicating that they have uses in the treatment of common psychiatric disorders, he said.

A drawing by Beatles star John Lennon called ‘Strong’, believed to be executed by Lennon while under the influence of LSD

A drawing by Beatles star John Lennon called ‘Strong’, believed to be executed by Lennon while under the influence of LSD (Getty)
Researchers are beginning to look again at how LSD and psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms – might be of benefit in the treatment of addiction, for obsessive compulsive disorder and even, according to one small Swiss study, to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in terminally ill patients.

However, larger trials are “almost impossible”, Dr Rucker argues, because of the “practical, financial, and bureaucratic obstacles” imposed by the drugs’ legal status.

In the UK, magic mushrooms and LSD are class A and schedule 1 drugs. Institutions that wish to conduct research require a licence of £5,000 to hold the drugs, and only four hospitals in the UK possess one.

The small number of manufacturers willing to produce the drugs must also comply with international regulations, leading to hefty charges for researchers wishing to acquire the drugs, with one manufacturer quoting a cost of £100,000 for 1g of psilocybin, according to Dr Rucker, of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience.

Doses of LSD, in the form of stamps, seized by French Customs authorities in 2008 (Getty)
“These restrictions, and the accompanying bureaucracy, mean that the cost of clinical research using psychedelics is five to 10 times that of research into less restricted (but more harmful) drugs such as heroin – with no prospect that the benefits can be translated into wider practice,” he writes.

National and international bodies should reclassify psychedelics as a schedule 2 drugs, he argues, “to enable a comprehensive, evidence based assessment of their therapeutic potential”.

In the UK, drugs regulations are the responsibility of the Home Office, which takes advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

A former chairman of the council, Professor David Nutt, who was dismissed after saying that LSD and ecstasy are less harmful than alcohol, is currently conducting research into psychedelics’ effects on the brain. His team at Imperial College London are the first in the world to conduct brain scans on people under the influence of LSD.

An outspoken critic of the restrictions around studies of psychedelics, Professor Nutt has compared the repression of such research to the censorship of Galileo and the banning of the telescope. Amid difficulty securing funding, his team recently announced they would have to crowd-fund the next stages of their research.

Minister for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Victims Mike Penning said: “Drugs are illegal where scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health.

“Psychedelic drugs destroy lives, cause misery to families and communities, and this Government has no intention of decriminalising them.

“We have a clear licensing regime, supported by legislation, which allows legitimate research to take place in a secure environment while ensuring that harmful drugs are not misused and do not get into the hands of criminals.”

LSD May Help Treat Anxiety For Terminal Patients: Are The Psychedelic’s Benefits Worth Revisiting?



Before research on LSD, or acid, was banned in the 1960s, it was widely used to help psychiatric patients. Now, a small study found that it reduced anxiety in terminally ill patients.

MarijuanaMDMA (ecstasy), magic mushrooms, and LSD (acid), are still considered Schedule I drugs under former President Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970, labeling them as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. But every one of them is beginning to enjoy a renaissance, as health care providers begin to see their therapeutic effects. Most recently, a group of Swiss psychiatrists found that the psychedelic LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) may ease the mental suffering of someone diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Their findings, published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, is the “first in more than 40 years to evaluate safety and efficacy of LSD as an adjunct to psychotherapy,” the researchers wrote. That is, 12 patients nearing the end of their life — most had terminal cancer — spoke with psychiatrist Dr. Peter Gasser while tripping on the psychedelic drug, which brings about various mental, physical, and sensory effects.

“I told them that each session would be right here, in a safe environment,” he told The New York Times. With the drug’s effects lasting up to 10 hours, each patient would sit on a couch in Gasser’s office for two or more sessions, while talking to Gasser or an assistant. “I said, ‘I can’t guarantee you won’t have intense distress, but I can tell you that if you do, it will pass.’”

Many of the patients experienced the feelings they had already been suffering through, albeit with more intensity. “I had what you call a mystical experience, I guess, lasting for some time, and the major part was pure distress at all these memories I had successfully forgotten for decades,” one patient, who only went by the name Peter, told the Times. “These painful feelings, regrets, this fear of death. I remember feeling very cold for a long time. I was shivering, even though I was sweating. It was a mental coldness, I think, a memory of neglect.”

After two sessions, anxiety measures among the eight participants who had gotten full doses of the drug (200 micrograms) increased by 20 percent. Conversely, patients who took an active placebo (20 micrograms) got worse. None of the patients experienced drug-related adverse events, like a panic reaction, suicidal crisis, or psychotic state.

Acid’s History 

LSD was first made in 1938 by the chemist Albert Hoffman. Its effects, however, weren’t discovered until 1943, when he accidentally absorbed some of it through his fingertips. He described the effect as a “not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition,” according to Popular Science. He subsequently tested the drug on animals, finding that it could have some benefits for psychotherapy. For one, it could help some psychiatrists understand what it’s like to be a mentally ill patient. He also saw it as a good way of freeing patients’ minds, and allowing them to speak more candidly.

The next 30 years saw multiple trials showing how LSD helped mental health — between 1950 and 1963, there were an estimated 40,000 people tested around the world. One study, from 1953, tested high doses of LSD on alcoholics, expecting them to be scared into sobriety. Instead, many of them reported mystical experiences that convinced them they had to stop. A 1964 paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journaldescribes four years’ worth of research, finding that about two-thirds of the 150 patients who underwent treatment with the drug were helped by it. These patients had a range of psychiatric disorders, from depression to schizophrenia to personality disorders.

While the use of LSD in psychotherapy is still far from available, and the results of Gasser’s study were too small to be conclusive, psychiatrists in the U.S. and abroad are starting to see that the drug may be worth revisiting — the patients certainly think so. “It’s a proof of concept,” Dr. Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, told the Times. “It shows that this kind of trial can be done safely, and that it’s very much worth doing.


Could “Magic” Mushrooms Be Used to Treat Anxiety and Depression?

Emerging research indicates that low doses of the active chemical psilocybin can have positive psychiatric effects.

Could Magic Mushrooms Be Used to Treat Anxiety and Depression
In the 1960s and early 70s, researchers such as Harvard’s Timothy Leary enthusiastically promoted the study of so-called “magic” mushrooms (formally known as psilocybin mushrooms) and championed their potential benefits for psychiatry. For a brief moment, it seemed that controlled experiments with mushrooms and other psychedelics would enter the scientific mainstream.

Then, everything changed. A backlash against the 1960s’ drug culture—along with Leary himself, who was arrested for drug possession—made research nearly impossible. The federal government criminalized mushrooms, and research ground to a halt for over 30 years.

But recently, over the past few yearsthe pendulum has swung back in the other direction. And now, new research into the mind-altering chemical psilocybin in particular—the hallucinogenic ingredient in “magic” mushrooms—has indicated that carefully controlled, low doses of it might be an effective way of treating people with clinical depression and anxiety.

The latest study, published last week in Experimental Brain Research, showed that dosing mice with a purified form of psilocybin reduced their outward signs of fear. The rodents in the study had been conditioned to associate a particular noise with the feeling of being electrically shocked, and all the mice in the experiment kept freezing in fear when the sound was played even after the shocking apparatus was turned off. Mice who were given low doses of the drug, though, stopped freezing much earlier on, indicating that they were able to disassociate the stimuli and the negative experience of pain more easily.

Psilocybe cubensis is the most common species of psilocybin mushrooms - Could “Magic” Mushrooms Be Used to Treat Anxiety and Depression

Psilocybin, the active chemical in hallucinogenic mushrooms. (Black = carbon atoms, white = hydrogen, red = oxygen, blue = nitrogen, and orange = phosphorus.)


It’s difficult to ask a tortured mouse why exactly it feels less fearful (and presumably even more difficult when that mouse is in the midst of a mushroom trip). But a handful of other recent studies have demonstrated promising effects of psilocybin on a more communicative group of subjects: humans.

In 2011, a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry by researchers from UCLA and elsewhere found that low doses of psilocybin improved the moods and reduced the anxiety of 12 late-stage terminal cancer patients over a long period. These were patients aged 36 to 58 who suffered from depression and had failed to respond to conventional medications.

Psilocybin the active chemical in hallucinogenic mushrooms (Black carbon atoms, white hudrogen, red oxygen, blue nitrogen and orange phosphorus)- 3D - spacefill

Each patient was given either a pure dose of psilocybin or a placebo, and asked to report their levels of depression and anxiety several times over the next few months. Those who’d been dosed with psilocybinhad lower anxiety levels at one and three months, and reduced levels of depression starting two weeks after treatment and continuing for a full six months, the entire period covered by the study. Additionally, carefully administering low doses and controlling the environment prevented any participants from having a negative experience while under the influence (colloquially, a “bad trip.”)

A research group from Johns Hopkins has conducted the longest-running controlled study of the effects of psilocybin, and their findings might be the most promising of all. In 2006, they gave 36 healthy volunteers (who’d never before tried hallucinogens) a dose of the drug, and 60 percent reported having a “full mystical experience.” 14 months later, the majority reported higher levels of overall well-being than before and ranked taking psilocybin as one of the five most personally significant experiences of their lives. In 2011, the team conducted a study with a separate group, and when members of that group were questioned a full year later, the researchers found that according to personality tests, the participants’ openness to new ideas and feelings had increased significantly—a change seldom seen in adults had increased.

As with many questions involving the functioning of the mind, scientists are still in the beginning stages of figuring out whether and how psilocybin triggers these effects. We do know that soon after psilocybin is ingested (whether in mushrooms or in a purified form), it’s broken down into psilocin, which stimulates the brain’s receptors for serotonin, a neurotransmitter believed to promote positive feelings (and also stimulated by conventional anti-depressant drugs).

Imaging of the brain on psilocybin is in its infancy. A 2012 study in which volunteers were dosed while in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine, which measures blood flow to various parts of the brain, indicated that the drug decreased activity in a pair of “hub” areas (the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex), which have dense concentrations of connections with other areas in the brain.

“These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly,” David Nutt, a neurobiologist at the Imperial College London and lead author, said at the time“We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange.” It’s unclear how this could help with depression and anxiety—or whether it’s simply an unrelated consequences of the drug that has nothing to do with its beneficial effects.

Regardless, the push for more research into the potential applications of psilocybin and other hallucinogens is clearly underway. Wired recently profiled the roughly 1,600 scientists who attended the3rd annual Psychedelic Science meeting, many of which are studying psilocybin—along with other drugs like LSD (a.k.a. “acid”) and MDMA (a.k.a. “ecstasy”).

Of course, there’s an obvious problem with using psilocybin mushrooms as medicine—or even researching its effects in a lab setting. Currently, in the U.S., they’re listed as a “Schedule I controlled substance,”meaning that they’re illegal to buy, possess, use or sell, and can’t be prescribed by a doctor, because they have no accepted medical use. The research that has occurred went on under strict government supervision, and getting approval for new studies is notoriously difficult.

That said, the fact that research is occurring at all is an obvious sign that things are slowly changing. The idea that medicinal use of marijuana would one day be permitted in dozens of states would have once seemed far-fetched—so perhaps it’s not entirely absurd to suggest that medicinal mushrooms could be next.

Source: Smithsonian Mag