Could Psilocybin (aka Magic Mushrooms) be the next substance legalized for use in the medical field? Has medical marijuana paved the way for other illegal substances to enter the medical field?
What are Psychedelics?
To understand Psilocybin, we must first understand the category that Psilocybin falls under - Psychedelics. Psychedelics are defined as relating to or denoting drugs that produce hallucinations and apparent expansion of consciousness. The most common types of psychedelics are mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT.
What is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic prodrug compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms, collectively known as psilocybin mushrooms or magic mushrooms. And this particular majestic mushroom is this articles' topic of focus.
Is Psilocybin safe?
“Since the early 1990s, approximately 2000 doses of psilocybin (ranging from low to high doses) have been safely administered to humans in the United States and Europe, in carefully controlled scientific settings, with no reports of any medical or psychiatric serious AEs, including no reported cases of prolonged psychosis or HPPD (Studerus et al., 2011).”
Psilocybin has no known legal dose. These are not toxic substances and do not stay in your body very long.
These drugs are incredibly disarming to the mind. Meaning, if you have mental constructs set up, this drug helps remove those barriers. While this sounds like a bad thing, it actually becomes useful in helping you get out of your own set ways and think more openly and creatively.
If you have mental illness in your family, these drugs can be dangerous as they can trigger the equivalent of a traumatic experience that would also trigger a response in someone who has schizophrenia.
Panic attacks are common but if administered under the supervision and care of a guide, most of the psychological side effects can be mitigated.
Psilocybin mushrooms are NOT addictive nor can you develop a high tolerance for it. This means once you determine the optimal dose for you, that dose can consistently produce the desired effect without the need to continue to up the dose as with many other drugs and substances.
Fun Fact: According to US government statistics, magic mushrooms have been used by 22.8 million Americans at least once (roughly 7% of the population).
What can Psilocybin help with?
End of life anxiety
Reduce OCD symptoms
PTSD symptom relief
Okay okay okay, this sounds like a potentially helpful palliative care drug, but what do the trials show?
According to an article written by L. Anderson, PharmD,
"Although psilocybin has been used for centuries in rituals, modern medicine has recently reported uses, as well. In December 2016, a report was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology detailing two small studies that noted the ingredient in "magic mushrooms" - psilocybin - can reverse the feeling of "existential distress" that patients often feel after being treated for cancer. Reportedly, cancer can leave patients with this type of psychiatric disorder, feeling that life has no meaning. Typical treatments such as antidepressants may not be effective. However, use of a single dose of synthetic psilocybin reversed the distress felt by the patients and was a long-term effect. Some advanced cancer patients described the effect from the drug as if "the cloud of doom seemed to lift."
Two studies using psilocybin were completed: one at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center in New York City and one at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. For both studies, trained monitors were with patients as they experienced the effects of the drug, which can lead to hallucinations.
In the NYU study, 29 patients with advanced cancer were given either a single dose of psilocybin or the B vitamin known as niacin. After seven weeks, the patients switched treatments (a cross-over study). In 80 percent of the patients receiving psilocybin, a relief from distress occurred rapidly and lasted over six months. The long-term effect was evaluated by researchers looking at test scores for depression and anxiety.
At Johns Hopkins, the researchers treated 51 adults with advanced cancer with a small dose of psilocybin followed five weeks later with a higher dose. As with the NYU study, most patients experienced relief from their anxiety and depression that lasted up to six months.
Larger studies with psilocybin are expected. Researchers at NYU are waiting on the FDA to approve a Phase III trial. However, even if approved by the FDA, psilocybin would have to be reclassified by the DEA for it to be available for patients.
A study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore in 2011 involved small groups of patients in a strictly controlled and monitored clinical setting. The active ingredient found in "magic mushrooms" -- psilocybin, was administered randomly to patients. Researchers found that a single dose of the drug prompted an enduring but positive personality change in almost 60 percent of patients. One round of psilocybin exposure successfully boosted many individual's sense of "openness" and lasted at least a year in some cases."
What does the future hold for Psilocybin and psychedelics as a whole?
There are many individuals working hard to help finance the research and other efforts to legalize the use of Psilocybin in a clinical setting. Founded in 1986, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) (link below) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana. Other prominent thought leaders in the field are Michael Pollan, author of a popular recent WSJ article (link below) and Tim Ferriss who has helped facilitate funding for further research and clinical trials for the drug.