The Sanctuary Wellness Institute does not offer Psilocybin Therapy. This web page is meant for informational use only.
Evolving insights into brain anatomy inform how doctors and researchers understand the causes and effects of chronic diseases. This information then guides research into new therapies. Psychedelics, or psychoactive drugs that cause altered perception and openness to new ideas, are proving effective at treating several persistent and severe conditions. Some of the most widely used psychedelics throughout recent history include LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin (also known as psilocin).
Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in “magic mushrooms,” is at the forefront of this research. Neuroscience researchers at institutions such as Johns Hopkins University use this psychedelic drug to help “rewire” brains, allowing patients to establish new behavioral patterns and manage the symptoms of various conditions. While psilocybin therapy is a relatively recent advancement, humans have safely consumed psilocybin for thousands of years in religious practices and for recreation.
If you suffer from a physical or mental health condition that alters your daily life and limits your ability to function, psilocybin therapy could greatly improve your well-being. This article discusses how psilocybin affects the brain, the health benefits of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, and the relevant risks and side effects to consider when taking psilocybin.
How Psilocybin Affects the Brain
Decoding brain function is a relatively new scientific endeavor. The medical understanding of its anatomy and processes has improved by the day thanks to new insights and advanced diagnostic technologies. Various pilot studies and clinical trials involving psilocybin mushrooms and other hallucinogens have revealed how microdosing psilocybin impacts the brain.
The compound is molecularly similar to serotonin, the hormone that regulates mood, sleep, hunger, and other biological and emotional processes. Psilocybin binds to serotonin receptors, creating uplifting to euphoric feelings, giving it some of its depression-fighting ability.
In addition, the compound slows function in the area of the brain that compartmentalizes thoughts and prioritizes information. This change in regulation opens the mind, creating elevated awareness and openness that feed into the transcendent insights and creativity experienced during a “trip.”
Psilocybin also connects areas in the brain that do not normally communicate, enhancing reflection and perception. The compound forges new neural pathways. Researchers speculate it also helps with neurogenesis, the development of new brain cells, but their investigations are in their earliest phases.
Conditions Psilocybin Can Address
Psilocybin is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but many advocates and professionals involved in psychedelic research expect “shrooms” to receive a federal endorsement soon.
In low doses, psilocybin effectively manages treatment-resistant depression/major depressive disorder and end-of-life anxiety, such as for patients with life-threatening cancer. Clinical trials were so strong that the FDA deemed psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for depression in 2018, allowing further study. Studies have shown that the effects of psilocybin on depression can last up to one year, qualifying as remission.
The compound is also a promising intervention for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Clinical research has evinced the drug’s therapeutic effects for patients with anxiety and indicated psilocybin may help them process their experiences and gain new insights into their lives.
Psychedelic mushrooms have also emerged as a viable treatment for epilepsy and migraines. Healthcare researchers believe the compound reroutes pathways to bypass the connections that may be responsible for seizures and chronic headaches.
Psilocybin-assisted therapy also treats compulsive behaviors and addictions by helping patients establish new behavioral patterns. The treatment shows promise for smoking cessation, alcohol use disorder, and other addiction issues. Doctors also use it to manage obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia nervosa, and other conditions with driving impulses.
Risks of Psilocybin Use
Psilocybin is a non-toxic compound that the body breaks down into benign metabolites and excretes. An excessive dose will not be physically harmful.
The primary risk of psilocybin use is a “bad trip.” The nature of the psychedelic experience results from your biochemistry, the dose of psilocybin, and the environment where you consume it. Taking too much of the compound or using it in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable space may result in upsetting hallucinations.
Psilocybin can sometimes cause anxiety, paranoia, and trouble differentiating between reality and hallucination. Without someone to help you stay calm and orient you to reality, you may take dangerous actions in response to your altered perception that could harm yourself or others.
These situations usually occur with the recreational use of psilocybin. When used clinically, patients can still experience anxiety or fear, but they have a trained professional nearby to talk them through their thoughts and guide them back to reality.
The compound also raises blood pressure, alters heart rate, and may cause gastric upset, including nausea and diarrhea. These physical reactions are temporary and resolve within a few hours after the body processes the psilocybin.
What is Psilocybin Therapy?
Psilocybin therapy is a combination intervention in which providers first administer a dose of the drug. After waiting for the patient to digest and absorb the compound, they initiate a course of therapy. The session may include conventional talk therapy, psychotherapeutic techniques focusing on particular thoughts or emotions, or passive treatment in which the patient lets their mind wander, guiding their experience.
The exact nature of the therapeutic component depends on the disorder and treatment goal. The session occurs in a comfortable and secure space designed to maximize calm. Establishing a sense of security helps prevent a bad trip and enhances the patient’s receptiveness. Typically, the patient lies down. The therapist may provide an eye covering or play soothing music to enhance the experience.
As of February 2023, the only operational psilocybin treatment centers are in Oregon. Colorado is actively establishing rules and regulations for their medical program. Several other states are in various phases of passing legislation to legalize psilocybin therapy.
How to Participate in a Psilocybin Clinical Trial
The best and safest way for most people to receive psilocybin therapy in the U.S. is by enrolling in a clinical trial. These studies are vital components of psilocybin’s acceptance by the public and eventual FDA approval.
Clinical trials are studies in which a group of participants receives psilocybin therapy. Sometimes, a second group receives a placebo. Investigators then study responses to assess the treatment’s effectiveness. You will not know which group you are in while the study is active.
You can search for open clinical trials near you using the U.S. National Library of Medicine database. You can also check with your state’s department of health, nearby universities, or primary care provider about opportunities.
Clinical trials are subject to strict oversight. Researchers abide by high ethical standards and must maximize participant safety. When enrolling, be sure to ask questions about risks, the scope of the study, and psychedelics. Beyond providing you with psilocybin therapy, your participation helps drive the case for societal acceptance and legalization.
John DiBella is a medical marijuana advocate, owner of The Sanctuary Wellness Institute, and a writer. When he’s not writing blogs about medical marijuana, he enjoys hiking, camping and sailing.