Psilocybin therapy is an emerging intervention that provides effective therapy for many mental health conditions that currently lack effective treatments. Recent clinical trials have demonstrated promising results, and patients have reported life-changing transformations regarding their quality of life and functional ability.
While not yet federally legal, most observers predict psilocybin therapy is on the verge of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as an intervention for treatment-resistant depression. It has gained much broader acceptance in the medical community than other psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline. Studies assessing psilocybin for many other neurological and physiological conditions are underway nationwide.
As with every substance, psilocybin carries side effects and risks. Patients considering psilocybin therapy or participating in a clinical trial should learn as much as possible. Many misconceptions that led to the compound’s 1970 prohibition remain widely held today. This article covers the benefits, adverse effects, and potential risks of psilocybin use.
Positive Effects of Psilocybin
A legislative and societal reassessment of psilocybin (also known as psilocin) is underway. High-quality clinical trials are shedding light on psilocybin mushrooms’ clinical applications.
For example, the psychedelic drug effectively treats severe, treatment-resistant depression. Studies have shown a single dose of psilocybin has lasting effects, improving depression symptoms by helping rewire the brain. The use of psilocybin is also effective for patients coping with depression and anxiety symptoms related to life-threatening conditions and terminal illnesses.
Studies are ongoing, but hallucinogenic mushrooms (also known as “shrooms) have the ability to help patients with substance abuse disorders. Psilocybin therapy helps patients reorient their thinking toward illicit drugs and establish new behavioral patterns. The treatment involves combining the psychedelic effects of psilocybin with conventional therapeutic techniques for substance use disorders.
The psychoactive drug’s rewiring effect is also proving effective at treating conditions characterized by compulsive behaviors. Researchers are actively studying psilocybin therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia, and other medical conditions related to compelling impulses.
Patients with epilepsy and migraines may also benefit from the use of magic mushrooms. Researchers and healthcare professionals are assessing how psychotherapy’s impact on neuroplasticity may help eliminate the possible underlying anatomical causes that trigger seizures or headaches and thereby improve patients’ well-being.
Side Effects of Psilocybin
Physical side effects of psilocybin are temporary and usually mild. As with any substance, the dose and individual biochemistry affect their severity and longevity. The compound dilates the pupils, increases heart rate, and elevates blood pressure.
Some researchers speculate that the cardiac side effects result directly from anxiety and engagement due to altered perception. Most researchers do not believe the swings are pronounced enough to be dangerous. Some people experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The primary adverse side effect of psilocybin is a “bad” trip. Sometimes, the altered perception and hallucinations can lead to anxiety and unease. The resulting stress can scare patients and lead to agitation. One’s surroundings and comfort level strongly influence their psychedelic experiences. Taking psilocybin in an unfamiliar place may prime an individual for a bad trip.
When used clinically, providers take steps to reduce the risk of bad trips. Psilocybin therapy occurs in secure and comfortable surroundings. The provider is present to reassure the patient and guide them to reality if they begin feeling anxious or scared.
While bad trips do not alter the brain or typically cause lasting effects, unsupervised individuals could take potentially harmful actions in response to their anxiety and fear, harming themselves or others.
Health Risks of Taking Psilocybin
The federal prohibition of psilocybin, enacted as part of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, ended all research into the therapeutic uses of the compound. It also stopped researchers from learning about the health risks. Complicating matters, much of the panic that led to the compound’s criminalization came from misconceptions about the substance.
One possible risk of psilocybin use is hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD), in which patients experience flashbacks to their hallucinations that can persist for years.
Researchers have limited data on this condition because the ongoing illegality of the compound impacts their ability to collect quality data. Many researchers hypothesize this condition arises from long-term recreational use of high doses of psilocybin.
The most significant health risk is consuming toxic mushrooms. While “magic” mushrooms, those containing psilocybin, are safe to ingest, many other species are poisonous. It is only safe to consume mushrooms obtained from reputable sources or ones grown yourself using verified psilocybe spores.
Identifying mushrooms is challenging for even experienced botanists because environmental factors, hydration, and physical trauma alter how mushrooms develop. Their appearances are not consistent. Additionally, many psilocybe and harmful mushrooms have similar physical characteristics. Toxic mushrooms can cause permanent liver and kidney damage or even death.
Should You Take Psilocybin?
When considering psilocybin, it’s important to remember the substance is only legal in Oregon and Colorado. Several localities have decriminalized the drug’s possession and use, though. In addition, though it shows strong promise and many observers anticipate FDA approval, the treatment is not yet recognized as an intervention for any condition.
The best way to learn about psilocybin is by visiting an authorized treatment center in Oregon or enrolling in one of the many clinical trials conducted around the U.S. Experts oversee psilocybin use in these environments, thereby maximizing your safety. These professionals can answer questions about psilocybin, advise you about the benefits and risks, and rule out possible contraindications.
Participation in a clinical trial is the only practical way for most people to legally and safely receive psilocybin therapy. It’s also important to remember that many psilocybin interventions involve a dose of the compound and some form of conventional therapy.
If you have a persistent medical condition without an established treatment, psilocybin could be life-changing. However, attempting to self-treat is unsafe.
How long does psilocybin stay in your system?
Your biochemistry and the dose determine how long psilocybin stays in your system. Usually, the effects wear off within six to eight hours. The compound remains detectable in your body for up to 24 hours without causing hallucinogenic effects.
Is psilocybin safer than other hallucinogenic drugs?
This question is challenging because safety largely hinges on where you consume psychedelics. Most natural hallucinogens are generally considered safe and cannot cause fatal overdoses. The primary risk of most of them, including magic mushrooms, LSD, and ayahuasca, is confirming their purity.
The compound’s illegality makes it challenging to obtain them from reputable sources. Many synthetic hallucinogens are dangerous compared to their natural counterparts. The safest way to use psilocybin is in a supervised clinical setting.
Can you get addicted to psilocybin?
No. While excessive use of high doses of psilocybin can lead to a condition where differentiating between reality and hallucinations becomes difficult, the compound is not considered addictive. However, frequent users can develop tolerance and require higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects.
The doses and frequency used for psilocybin therapy are unlikely to result in tolerance.
Can you overdose on psilocybin?
Most doctors agree that psilocybin is non-toxic and does not cause organ damage. The compound does not affect the brain or anatomy in a way that causes death. Deaths related to psilocybin occur due to dangerous actions performed during bad trips, but these situations are unlikely in a clinical setting.
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.