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Mushroom Magic Could Help Treat Depression

Mushroom magic could help treat depression, but do not try this without medical supervision.

Mushroom magic could help treat depression, but do not try this without medical supervision.

Controversial new research has suggested that psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, could be helpful in treating depression. The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and funded in part by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that psilocybin enhanced the “openness” of nearly 60% of the psychologically healthy participants.  Moveover, these personality changes towards greater imagination, broadmindedness, and sensitivity to feelings and to aesthetics were still present 14 months after exposure.  “There may be applications for this we can’t even imagine at this point,” wrote study leader Dr. Roland R. Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Volunteers completed two to five eight-hour sessions where they were encouraged to lie down and direct their thoughts inward.  Eye masks were provided to block visual stimulation, and peaceful music was available through headphones.  Psilocybin was administered at “moderate to high” levels only once during the sessions, and participants and session monitors were unaware of which session the psilocybin was administered.   Griffiths reported that many participants felt “a sense of interconnectedness with all people and things accompanied by a sense of sacredness and reverence.”

The majority of study participants were already “spiritually active”, participating in some form of religious services, meditation, or prayer.  Researchers were unsure of whether this contributed to the study’s positive results.  And while “openness” was increased following exposure to psilocybin, many other essential parts of the participants’ personalities remained the same.  In particular, the drug was noted to have no effect on neroticism, extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Psilocybin mushrooms have been used throughout human history in religious ceremonies promoting divination and healing, particularly in Mesoamerica.  At present, the US Food and Drug Administration lists psilocybin as a hallucinogenic substance under Schedule I, which contains drugs with a high potential for abuse with no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Griffiths stressed that the participants in his study were screened specifically for characteristics that might make them more vulnerable to side effects.  Despite this, some participants did report strong fear or anxiety after psilocybin exposure, he said, although none reported any lasting negative effects.  “Certainly we want to
underscore do not try this at home,” Griffiths said.  “It appears to be a change that people value in a positive way. But certainly more research needs to be done.”  Griffiths suggested that psilocybin could have other therapeutic uses besides depression, such as helping cancer patients cope with anxiety or helping chronic smokers quit.  Fellow researchers have called this study a “landmark” for hallucinogen research.

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Darina has played sports at a semi-professional level, and is a personal trainer with extensive experience in the sports, nutrition and general health areas.

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