Psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, is undergoing extensive research for its potential as a treatment for various mental health conditions. One of the primary reasons for this is, amidst America’s current mental health epidemic, psilocybin has demonstrated an ability to provide relief for depression, anxiety, fear of death and more.
Traditional methods of treatment such as pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy are not as effective as patients need them to be and it’s changing the narrative around how we approach mental health.
A psilocybin-assisted therapy protocol is a therapeutic process in which an individual receives controlled doses of psilocybin. Let’s dive a little deeper into psilocybin, its history, and the science behind this compound that could revolutionize how we approach mental health.
Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that’s naturally occurring in over 200 kinds of mushrooms, and what gives these mushrooms their “magic” nickname. When in the body, psilocybin is quickly metabolized into a compound known as psilocin, which reacts with serotonin receptors to produce mind-altering effects similar to those of DMT, Ayahuasca, LSD, and other psychedelic compounds.
Some evidence suggests psilocybin mushrooms have had us in their consciousness-enhancing orbit since 10,000 B.C.E! Psilocybin has been used by ancient civilizations throughout time – and grows freely in a range of climates.
Psilocybin mushrooms were often thought of as a tool for communicating with the gods in ancient and advanced societies. Central America is home to a variety of intriguing indigenous artwork that honors mushrooms as a way to speak with the divine. The names of these mushrooms further provide a glimpse into the extent of their significance. The Nahuatl language, spoken by the Mayan and Aztec, referred to psilocybin as Teonanácatl, which translates to “flesh of the gods.”
Mushrooms are also prominently represented in ancient Egyptian art. Because mushrooms do not sprout from seeds, it was believed that the god Osiris embedded them into the earth. This story resulted in psilocybin having the nickname “food of the gods.” Because they were believed to be divine, only the priesthood and upper class could consume them.
Despite its prevalent use in some ancient cultures to produce spiritual experiences, psilocybin is currently listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs, which include heroin and LSD, are claimed to have a high potential for abuse and serve no legitimate medical purpose in the United States.
According to a study performed by drug harm experts, psilocybin has an incredibly low potential for abuse (the lowest of all illegal drugs) and should be reevaluated and recategorized, if not legalized at the federal level considering all the promising research and data pointing to their efficacy in treating mental health issues. Many cities across the USA have voted to decriminalize and legalize psilocybin and other plant-based medicines.
Studies to date have shown that psilocybin therapy is effective at treating treatment-resistant depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental health problems. Psilocybin has also been shown to reduce fear and anxiety in people with terminal cancer. Not only does psilocybin have a higher efficacy rate than pharmaceuticals, but there are also no side effects or dangers of addiction
When taking psilocybin in therapeutic doses, users report experiencing mystical experiences, time distortion, altered perception, mental and visual hallucinations, and euphoria. Having profound experiences like these can challenge many people’s sense of reality. This can sometimes be uncomfortable, but the result is usually reported as being incredibly positive by users.
Many report experiencing death of the ego, a sense of “oneness” and feeling connected to everything, being overtaken by or full of love, being comfortable with death/dying, making contact with loved ones that have passed on, and so much more. All these experiences tend to lead the user to seeing things from a new perspective, healing emotional traumas on some level, and freeing them from negative mental conditions such as depression and anxiety.
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Deep within the brain’s cortex lies a thin sheet of neurons called the claustrum. The origin of its name comes from the Latin word for ‘hidden or secluded.’ The claustrum’s true function remains hidden from scientists, with researchers speculating about its many possibilities. Francis Crick, the founder of DNA discovery, believed that the claustrum was the seat of consciousness and what controls the ego.
What is not hidden is the fact that the claustrum contains many receptors that are targeted by psychedelic compounds like psilocybin and LSD. Researchers as Johns Hopkins Medicine performed brain scans, comparing the scans of people on psilocybin versus a placebo. The scans of psilocybin users showed less activity in the claustrum, which means the part of the brain that is believed to be responsible for task switching and attention setting was turned down while affected by the psychedelic compound. Researchers confirmed that this correlates with what many psychedelic users report, including the feeling of oneness or connectedness to everyone and everything and a dissolution of the ego.
In addition, brain scan studies indicate that depression seems to activate brain circuits associated with negative feelings and deactivate circuits associated with positive feelings. Psilocybin appears to provide coherence and return the system to balance.
Researchers believe it is the combination of these effects, including profound hallucinatory and mystical experiences, that create long-lasting and profound changes in those using psilocybin therapeutically.
There has been a recent surge in the US with people microdosing psilocybin. Microdosing means you take a fraction of a normal dose, so you experience certain benefits like increased focus and elevated mood, but without experiencing any of the psychedelic effects. For example, people taking a recreational dose of psilocybin would take somewhere around 3.5 grams. A microdose is considered anywhere between .15-.4 grams. Everyone is different, as is each strain of mushroom, so most people need to experiment with what dose works best for them. It’s a fine line between microdosing and feeling trippy, as most who microdose will discover!
Some of the benefits of microdosing include:
Unlike other forms of therapy, psilocybin therapy is not based on traditional talk therapy or medication; rather, it is based on the idea that by experiencing the powerful perception shifts that psilocybin can provide, patients can confront their fears and traumas with a therapist present, and ultimately overcome them to be totally freed from them.
Psilocybin therapy is performed in a controlled and very comfortable setting and can last several hours. During therapy, the person takes psilocybin and conveys their experience to the therapist. The therapist then helps the person to understand why they may be experiencing certain things, correlating them with past events or trauma.
Because psilocybin allows for a “window of opportunity” with relaxed defenses and elevated sense of connectedness, the user is more easily able to process memories and emotions that would otherwise produce more resistance, or more guarded or stress response.
If everything goes well with the FDA approval process, Psilocybin Therapy will be available to treat treatment-resistant depression, substance abuse, and major depressive disorder by January of 2023, specifically in Oregon to start.
In conclusion, psilocybin therapy, in addition to other psychedelic medicines, are extremely promising and wildly beneficial. Not only do they offer a new way to treat mental health disorders, but they also help people (re)connect with their emotions and provide a highly effective alternative to traditional Western medicine.
Many of the patients we treat arrive mentally, emotionally, and physically drained from their conditions, yet remain hopeful. We are excited and so very grateful to be able to offer psychedelic therapies that will result in not just the alleviation of symptoms for so many, but total wellness and transformation. Contact us today to get started!
Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy, as it’s defined by clinical trials, “combines the pharmacological effects of psilocybin with psychological support.”
Some of the earliest studies with psilocybin treatment in some of the preeminent academic centers have shown signs that this substance could be an effective and safe medicine for those suffering from addiction, anxiety, depression, end of life fear, and various other mental health issues when it is administered alongside professional psychological support.
“At this point, the data suggest that the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin therapy are real, and of potential medical and public health significance.” – Matthew W. Johnson, Roland R. Griffiths, Peter S. Hendricks, & Jack E. Henningfield
“This is the largest controlled study of psilocybin to date. The results of the study are clinically reassuring and support further development of psilocybin as a treatment for patients with mental health problems that haven’t improved with conventional therapy, such as treatment-resistant depression.” – James Rucker NIHR Clinician Scientist
“Nearly one in fifteen people in the US experiences an episode of major depression each year*, significantly lowering their ability to function at work, to enjoy life, and to live out their full life potential. At Usona, our goal is to contribute to well-being by demonstrating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin as a treatment for depression. This goal fuels us to carry out research of the highest standard, with an aim toward FDA approval for a treatment that could change lives.” — Malynn Utzinger MD, Co-Founder & Director of Integrative Medicine
A typical session lasts around eight hours. However, therapists and researchers have often opted to leave a significant amount of time in between each session. Also, it’s important to note that if one is taking a microdose a session will take far less time to complete.
The clinical trials have often started out with therapists talking with patients in order to build trust and a sense of calm before any drugs are administered. Some standard medical preparation might include the completion of a medical history questionnaire as well as offering some key information about the mushroom itself. When the time comes, the patient will receive a pre-prescribed and controlled dose of psilocybin. While experiencing the effects of the mushroom, the patient will talk to the therapist about what they’re feeling.
With only a few clinical trials having been conducted, it’s tough to say for certain what patients will feel during a psilocybin assisted psychotherapy session. However, there is some reporting regarding specific cases.
For example, a MAPS study testing the efficacy and safety of Psilocybin Assisted Psychotherapy in managing anxiety reported that the therapy was expected to produce feelings of depersonalization and derealization along with some rapid positive changes in mood and visual perception.
Because psilocybin-assisted therapy is still undergoing clinical trials, the exact cost of this treatment isn’t known. If approved by the FDA, it’s safe to assume that it will cost significantly more than traditional treatments. Even after it’s approved, it will take a considerable amount of time before it’s widely available. This gives the first established psilocybin clinics the ability to charge more.
The infancy of research into psilocybin therapy makes it difficult to say if this treatment will be eligible for insurance coverage for PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorder and more. Of course, psilocybin therapy will first have to be approved by the FDA before insurance companies can offer coverage.
Currently, there’s simply not enough information out there regarding Psilocybin Assisted Psychotherapy to answer this question accurately. It’s always advisable to talk with your primary care physician or mental health professional when undergoing new treatments, especially when you’re already receiving other treatments.