When talking about psychedelics, most people think of the two most common types: LSD and magic mushrooms. They also think about the hallucinating effects that these drugs cause. However, most people don’t associate these drugs with medical research, but that’s exactly where science is going. It’s asking the question, can this type of drug be the center of the next cure for mental health?
Well according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, “Psilocybin or magic mushrooms are naturally occurring and are consumed for their hallucinogenic effects. They belong to a group of drugs known as psychedelics, because of the changes experienced to perception, mood and thought.” These drugs are known for altering one’s mental state, does science really think it could help with mental illness?
John Hopkins University is currently undergoing a study of psilocybin induced six-hour long intense therapy sessions, to see the effects the drug has on participants suffering from addiction, anxiety and depression. As of right now the study focuses on a number of participants, who range from having an illness to actually being in good health. The university claims that, “Our research has demonstrated therapeutic effects in people who suffer a range of challenging conditions including addiction (smoking, alcohol, other drugs of abuse), existential distress caused by life-threatening disease, and treatment-resistant depression.”
The University continued to state, “Studying healthy volunteers has also advanced our understanding of the enduring positive effects of psilocybin and provided unique insight into neurophysiological mechanisms of action, with implications for understanding consciousness and optimizing therapeutic and non-therapeutic enduring positive effects.” The university calls their participants volunteers, but who would want to undergo a 6 hour-long hallucination as a form of treatment?
CBS News recently published an article by Anderson Cooper called, ‘Psilocybin Sessions: Psychedelics Could Help People with Addiction and Anxiety’. In the article Cooper interviews leading scientists Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson, but also a handful of ‘volunteers’ who underwent the treatment.
The first woman that Cooper talks to, Carine McLaughlin actually tells him, “People ask me, ‘Do you wanna do it again?’-I say, ‘Hell no. I don’t wanna go do that again.’
To which Cooper responds by asking, “It was really that bad?” Carine McLaughlin goes on to explain her experience to Anderson Cooper that for her, the experience was hard to deal with because, “other than the very end and the very beginning, I was crying.” McLaughlin who claims to have been a smoker for over 40 years, says that since taking the psilocybin she has not smoked a cigarette since.
Cooper goes on to speak with Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson who tells him, “We tell people that their experiences may vary from very positive to transcendent and lovely to literally hell realm experiences.” To which Cooper asks, “Can you tell who is going to have a bad experience and who’s gonna have a transcendent experience?”
In response, Johnson says, “About a third will– at our– at a high dose say that they have something like that, what folks would call a bad trip. But most of those folks will actually say that, that was key to the experience.”
Cooper later goes on to ask about the results of the study in which Griffiths states, “The red light started flashing. This is extraordinarily interesting. It’s unprecedented and the capacity of the human organism to change. It just was astounding.” However, Griffiths also tells Anderson Cooper that this study is not for everyone.
“Yeah, let’s be really clear on that. We are very aware of the risks and would not recommend that people simply go out and do this.”
While this course of treatment is not for everyone, the study currently has 350 ‘volunteers’, and the growing number of people has caused huge changes at the university. As a result of these growing studies, the university has opened The Center of Psychedelic and Consciousness Research which plans to conduct more psilocybin studies that could focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Lyme disease, opioid addiction and even Alzheimer’s.
So, maybe magic mushrooms are but a small stepping stone in science’s better understanding of mental health.