First cannabis and now magic mushrooms are slowly being introduced back into the vocabulary of medical scientists. Shamans have known for millennia that the benefits of psychedelics for human health far exceed any perceived risks which are close to none. The spiritual benefits are undisputed by those in shamanic practices, however the physical effects have been difficult to relay to the medical community. A first of its kind study on magic mushrooms shows it may be soon recognized as a viable treatment for depression. The trial aimed to test whether psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, could reduce symptoms of, or completely eliminate depression.
Psilocybin mushrooms are one of five powerful psychedelics that treat mental disorders and change human consciousness. They have long been studied for their spiritual effects. In 2006, Johns Hopkins University studied psilocybin in particular and found that one-third of all participants reported that the experience was the single most spiritually significant moment of their lives and more than two-thirds reported it was among the top five most spiritually significant experiences. Two months after the study, 79% of the participants reported increased well-being or satisfaction; friends, relatives, and associates confirmed this.
Hallucinogenic mushrooms have been part of human culture as far back as the earliest recorded history. Ancient paintings of mushroom-ed humanoids have been found in caves in the Saharan desert. Central and Southern America cultures built temples to mushroom gods and carved “mushroom stones”. These stone carvings in the shape of mushrooms, or in which figures are depicted under the cap of a mushroom, have been dated to as early as 1000-500 B.C.
There are approximately 190 species of psilocybin mushrooms and there is strong archaeological evidence for the use of psyilocybin-containing mushrooms in ancient times.
From the late 1950s to the early 1970s, research was carried out exploring the use of hallucinogens to treat the existential anxiety, despair and isolation often associated with advanced-stage cancer. Those studies described critically ill individuals undergoing psychospiritual epiphanies, often with powerful and sustained improvement in mood and anxiety as well as diminished need for narcotic pain medication.”
Roland Griffiths, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, US, and his colleagues believe there is a need to revisit the biological effects of psilocybin, which have been virtually ignored by the scientific community for about 40 years. “It so traumatized our society that we’ve demonized this compound,” he says.
As reported in The Lancet Psychiatry Each participant underwent two psychotherapy sessions, both conducted after doses of psilocybin. A week after the second session, all of them had reduced symptoms. After three months, five no longer met the clinical criteria for depression.
Enthusiasts have long believed that the drug’s ability to induce profound-feeling experiences could be therapeutically useful. Brain-imaging studies have shown that psilocybin targets areas of the brain overactive in depression.
Psilocybin is a serotonin receptor agonist that occurs naturally in some mushroom species. Recent studies have assessed the therapeutic potential of psilocybin for various conditions, including end-of-life anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and smoking and alcohol dependence, with promising preliminary results.
Psilocybin’s acute psychedelic effects typically became detectable 30-60 min after dosing, peaked 2-3 h after dosing, and subsided to negligible levels at least 6 h after dosing. According to the researchers, “this study provides preliminary support for the safety and efficacy of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and motivates further trials, with more rigorous designs, to better examine the therapeutic potential of this approach.”
While the psychedelic state has been previously compared with dreaming, the opposite effect has been observed in the brain network from which we get our sense of “self” (called the default-mode network or ego-system). Put simply, while activity became “louder” in the emotion system, it became more disjointed and so “quieter” in the ego system.
One study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, revealed decreases in brain activity after injection of psilocybin that were localized to the default-mode network.
This finding was exciting because it synced with the idea that psychedelics cause temporary “ego dissolution”, in other words diminishing one’s sense of having a firm and enduring personality. New research adds to our understanding about how this happens and how it can effective treat almost any mental disorder in human beings.
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