Health Benefits of Psilocybin - What Recent Research Reveals

The renowned psychoactive mushrooms, psilocybin, have a long history of medicinal utilization. They were present in Central America around 1000-500 BCE in carvings, motifs, and ritualistic statues. In the West, the earliest report of psilocybin usage was in 1914, when a botanist ingested one for research purposes. Next was the Harvard Psilocybin Project, the brainchild of Harvard professors Richard Alpert and Dr. Leary. They studied various applications of the mushroom in an attempt to prove its psychotherapeutic uses.

There has to be a solid reason why psilocybin has such a rich history, and why people have researched it relentlessly across time. Clearly, the mushroom should have several essential benefits that are worth the effort. With the evolution of technology and the growing interest in alternative medical treatments, psilocybin has once again arisen as worthy research material. In the past years, multiple studies were performed on psilocybin to assess its therapeutic application. Here’s what we know!

Psilocybin – effective treatment for depression

By far, the neurological benefits of psilocybin in the fight against depression have taken the center stage among all other studies. In 2018, the FDA gave the “breakthrough therapy” designation to a psilocybin-based drug produced by COMPASS Pathways. This was a hefty victory for researchers all around the world who have been studying potential psilocybin therapeutic applications.

COMPASS Pathways, a life science organization committed to creating revolutionary treatments for mental health issues, has initiated a series of clinical trials in Europe and North America. The 400+ patients all suffered from treatment-resistant depression, which is a severe type of depression. During the study, which will last from 12 to 18 months, they will receive psilocybin capsules instead of raw mushrooms.

The initial tests were more than enough for the FDA to declare the psilocybin-based treatment to be more efficient and performant than traditional treatments. After a single treatment, the patients experienced immediate relief and a systematic reduction in their depressive predilections.

The Executive Chairman of COMPASS Pathways, George Goldsmith, had this to say: “This is great news for patients. We are excited to be taking this work forward with our clinical trial on psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression. The FDA will be working closely with us to expedite the development process and increase the chances of getting this treatment to people suffering from depression as quickly as possible.”

We’re looking forward to seeing what these clinical trials will unfold, though we already have a pretty good idea from their initial tests. People all around the world suffering of depression will have yet another, more efficient, alternative treatment to try. What’s not to like?

Stop smoking with psilocybin

Smoking addiction, just like other types of addiction, is incredibly hard to escape from once you’re a couple of years into it. There are treatments available (detox centers or nicotine patches) but they might not work for everyone. A 2018 study entitled “Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation) aims to fix this problem by providing alternative treatment methods.

The John Hopkins University spearheaded the study, which had a clear objective – to analyze the long-term influence of psilocybin over a person’s smoking addiction. The smoking cessation event was monitored over a period of 12 months. After those 12 months, 67% of the participants had stopped smoking. Out of those who chose to prolong their participation to 16 months, 60% had stopped smoking.

At the 12-month milestone, the study revealed something astounding as well – 13 out of 15 participants thought that the psilocybin experience ranked among their most spiritual and meaningful of their lives. The study reached a clear-cut conclusion – psilocybin has great, untapped potential in treating smoking addiction long-term.

Psilocybin mushrooms promote neurogenesis

A study performed in 2013 at the University of South Florida discovered something truly astounding about psilocybin. The psychoactive compound actually facilitated improved neural regeneration and the production of new neurons in fear-stricken mice. The test subjects consisted of mice who were conditioned to live in a constant state of fear.

The experiment itself sought to assess the effects of psilocybin on their behaviour. Apparently, many mice managed to overcome their fears via an injection with psilocybin. Moreover, the researchers assessed the neurogenesis improvements with the help of neuronal markers and through an unbiased count of brain cells. Especially at the level of the hippocampus, the neurogenesis showed a systematic increase with a lower dose of psilocybin.

Dr. Briony Catlow, from the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, spearheaded the study, and he said that “Memory, learning, and the ability to relearn that a once threatening stimuli are no longer a danger absolutely depends on the ability of the brain to alter its connections. We believe that neuroplasticity plays a critical role in psilocybin accelerating fear extinction.” This demands new studies performed on the effects of psilocybin on human neurogenesis, as well.

Psilocybin greatly alleviates OCD symptoms

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a regular occurrence in patients suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and several other psychiatric illnesses. Essentially, OCD manifests in uncontrollable thoughts, which represent the obsession part, and behaviours (compulsions) which a patient feels required to repeat constantly. Those who suffer from OCD can rarely enjoy a peaceful time either in society or in private.

A study performed in 2006 turned a new page in the OCD treatment agenda. Entitled “Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of psilocybin in 9 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder”, the double-blind study sought assessed the effects of very low, low, medium, and high doses of psilocybin on 9 subjects. The subjects had a DSM-IV-defined OCD and no other psychiatric disorders.

The very low (25 micro/kg), low (100 micro/kg), medium (200 micro/kg), and high (300 micro/kg) doses were provided randomly to the subjects in a double-blind procedure. All in all, the subjects received a total of 29 psilocybin doses over a period of 4 years. Throughout the experiment, all subjects manifested decreased OCD symptoms during the testing sessions for a period of 24 hours. Moreover, there were no significant side-effects identified, which further cements the anecdotal reputation of psilocybin as an efficient OCD treatment.