Psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in some mushrooms, is currently being studied as a potential treatment for various mental health conditions. Here’s everything you should know about psilocybin therapy.
What is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a classical psychedelic, or hallucinogen. The effects of psilocybin are similar to those of LSD, mescaline, and DMT. Psilocybin and its cousin psilocin are classified as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. This means they’re considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in the United States.
The Effects of Psilocybin
The effects of psilocybin vary widely depending on the amount taken, the setting in which it’s taken, and the experience, expectation, and disposition of the user. A “bad trip” (a frightening, chaotic, or otherwise unpleasant experience) is possible with any dose, but is more likely at higher doses. The onset typically occurs within 20 minutes when taken by mouth and lasts between four and six hours. Effects include visual and auditory hallucinations that may be pleasant or disturbing; changes in mood ranging from euphoria to anxiety; and distortions in time perception accompanied by sensations such as depersonalization or derealization.
Examples Of Psilocybin Producing Mushrooms
Over 200 species of mushrooms contain psilocybin, the psychedelic compound that produces the “magic” effect. The most common psilocybin-containing mushrooms are:
- Psilocybe cubensis: A common, widely distributed species. This mushroom contains the highest concentration of psychoactive alkaloids and is, therefore, the most potent.
- Psilocybe semilanceata: Commonly known as “liberty cap,” this mushroom is found in grassy fields, particularly after rain. It is one of the most potent psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
- Psilocybe cyanescens: Known by many names, including wavy caps or gold tops, this mushroom can be found in wood chips or mulch, or on woody debris with bark.
Can Magic Mushrooms Treat PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which severe physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, and military combat.People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. People with this condition can relive the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks, and are often in a state of heightened alert. These symptoms cause significant distress or disrupt their daily lives.
PTSD Traditional Treatment
While there is no cure for PTSD, treatment with psychotherapy includes cognitive behavioral therapy or trauma-focused psychotherapy. Certain medications are effective for some people. But many people with PTSD do not experience relief from these treatments. Psilocybin may offer a new approach to treating treatment-resistant depression.
What Other Conditions Can Psilocybin Potentially Treat?
Psilocybin is one of the most common psychedelic drugs in the USA. There are multiple studies that demonstrate psilocybin’s efficacy in treating various conditions, such as:
- post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans;
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in children;
- alcohol dependence;
- nicotine addiction;
- severe depression and major depressive disorder;
- schizophrenia and psychosis;
- substance use disorders (SUD) (including alcoholism, cannabis abuse, cocaine abuse, methamphetamine abuse, opioid abuse, stimulant abuse, tobacco abuse and others).
Psilocybin therapy’s potential benefits are drawing new attention from medical researchers who once feared its popularity as a street drug could derail their studies. Clinical trials are underway to test psilocybin as an antidepressant and in treatments for addiction, depression and anxiety, as well as an aid for end-of-life therapy for patients with terminal cancer diagnoses. Psilocybin therapy is only given in a therapeutic context by highly trained clinicians. It’s important to note that the use of psilocybin outside of a controlled, clinical environment can be risky.
How Psychedelics Work for Therapy
So far, the results of a recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been promising. In the study, psilocybin was given to cancer patients who were dealing with anxiety and depression. The results were clear: eighty percent of the participants reported positive changes in their moods and behavior.
Psilocybin Research Is Promising
The researchers concluded that psilocybin is effective at reducing anxiety and depression in people with life-threatening cancer. The authors also noted that there were no reports of serious adverse events during the study period. This suggests that psilocybin may be safe for use as a treatment for anxiety and depression in people with cancer. Clinical studies have shown that psilocybin produces immediate, substantial and enduring improvements in mood and anxiety that last weeks to months after a single dose is taken.
What Psychedelic Therapy Session Looks Like
Psychedelic or psilocybin therapy for depression refers to the use of psychedelic drugs in a therapeutic setting. It is administered by a trained therapist and with therapeutic goals in mind. not for recreation or to achieve a spiritual experience, as is sometimes the case with other contexts such as ayahuasca ceremonies.
Therapy Duration and Setting
The experience itself can last between 4-6 hours, and the effects may be felt for several hours afterward. Participants spend the entire session lying down on a couch or bed, and wear an eye mask to prevent visual stimulation. They listen to music through headphones; typically classical or instrumental music chosen to match the participant’s tastes. Some sessions will have two therapists present (one male and one female) while others will have only one therapist. The therapist(s) help guide the participant throughout their experience by providing reassurance, support, suggestions if they become anxious, etc.
Experiences During Therapy Session
After ingesting psilocybin, participants report feeling relaxed and at peace with themselves. As their brainwaves slow down, participants often experience deep introspection and may feel like they are reliving memories from their past. They also tend to become increasingly aware of certain patterns that play out in their life – relationship patterns, for example – and may come to realize how these patterns have been negatively affecting them. After a psilocybin session, people often report feeling more optimistic about their lives and their ability to effect change. However, the effects of psilocybin are variable and depend on an individual.
Contraindications & Dangers Related to Psilocybin Therapy in Psychiatry
The current literature on the treatment of psilocybin suggests that when a person is under the influence of psilocybin, they are more likely to experience hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms. The dangers of psilocybin therapy for patients with schizophrenia include:
- increased risk of suicide;
- increased risk of suicidal behavior;
- increased risk of self-harm;
- increased risk of violence towards others;
- increased risk of harm to others.
Worsening of Existing Conditions
There are other health conditions that may be exacerbated by psilocybin use. It is important to speak with a healthcare professional before taking psilocybin if you have any of the following conditions:
- anxiety disorders;
- bipolar disorder;
- psychosis, particularly in individuals with a family history of psychosis or schizophrenia.
Does Psilocybin Therapy Have a Potential in the Future?
Although there are reported significant health improvements in some people after a psilocybin therapy, more research is needed to better understand the long-term effects of psychedelics like psilocybin on mental health. Psilocybin should not be used in therapy without the supervision of a healthcare professional, and they may cause adverse effects.
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