Psilocybin in the Brain

Psilocybin in the Brain

The Sanctuary Wellness Institute does not offer Psilocybin Therapy. This web page is meant for informational use only.


Neuroscience researchers have continued to learn more about brain function and chemistry thanks to advanced diagnostic tools and their ever-evolving body of research. This knowledge helps explain how psilocybin and other hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and ayahuasca affect the human brain.

A nationwide reevaluation of how to treat cognitive conditions, emotional disorders, and chronic illness is happening due to the growing body of psychedelic research and patient success stories. Multiple states are formally exploring psilocybin legalization and treatment programs.

While previous studies conducted as early as the 1950s investigated the therapeutic value of psilocybin, modern imaging studies carried out at places like Johns Hopkins and the Imperial College London have illuminated the classic psychedelic’s wide-ranging effects on human well-being.

This article discusses how psilocybin affects the brain, its therapeutic applications, and ways to obtain psilocybin. Learning about psychotherapy and how psychedelics can impact your brain will help prepare you for potential discussions with your doctor. If you suffer from a debilitating condition and have not experienced relief through neuropharmacology, psilocybin therapy could be transformative.

How Does Psilocybin Affect the Brain?

Brain activity results from communication between neurons, which send and receive chemical messages to each other. These signals are responsible for memory, mood, cognition, stress regulation, and the anatomic process that keeps a person functioning.

Every brain develops differently. As a result, certain factors can impede the connections between the neurons, leading to conditions like depression and chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s. While scientists are still unlocking the intricacies of brain function, psilocybin has positive effects.

Doctors observe brain activity and how psilocybin influences function by conducting brain scans such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scans. One recent study showed reduced blood flow in the posterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortexes as a result of the use of the psychedelic drug.

These areas of the brain are responsible for focusing and partitioning thoughts, which researchers believe leads to the expanded consciousness associated with moderate doses of psilocybin.

The compound also enters the claustrum, a thin layer of neurons deep in the brain that branches out to nearly every other region. The claustrum routes information to divide attention. Psilocybin slows down its function, explaining the sense of openness and connectedness people report during psychedelic “trips.”

The compound also binds with serotonin receptors, mimicking the effects of the brain’s “feel good” hormone. This effect induces euphoria, which feeds into the state of connectedness created by psilocybin. Serotonin also plays a vital role in memory and attention.

While breaking down partitions in the brain, psilocybin treatment also spurs new neural connections. This action creates new pathways which help strengthen communication between discrete brain networks and bypass potentially abnormal “wiring” that may be responsible for an array of physical and mental health/psychiatric conditions.

What Conditions Can Psilocybin Treat?

Research studies into the therapeutic applications of psilocybin are ongoing. While the treatment is not yet FDA-approved, the strong results of initial trials indicate its promise for multiple physical and psychological disorders without reliable interventions.

One of the earliest uses was for smoking cessation. Patients treated with psilocybin were able to quit cigarette use. According to researchers, the openness created with psychedelics can modify compulsive behaviors when used alongside traditional therapy. Scientists believe the treatment can help with other disorders, including alcohol use disorder and OCD.

Psilocybin is also a viable intervention for treatment-resistant depression. The FDA granted it breakthrough status based on the results of a 2020 trial. Scientists believe psilocybin rewires the regions of the brain responsible for depression symptoms while engaging serotonin receptors.

Doctors are also exploring psilocybin as a treatment for epilepsy and chronic migraines because of its ability to establish new neural pathways. While in their early stages, investigations are exploring Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia interventions using psilocybin.

Side Effects of Psilocybin

Psilocybin carries the risk of side effects, as does any treatment. The intensity and longevity depend on the individual’s biochemistry, the size of the dose, and the nature of their psychedelic experience. The risk of side effects is generally much higher with recreational rather than therapeutic use.

Common physical side effects include pupil dilation, elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and nausea. These are temporary and resolve once the body fully metabolizes the psilocybin.

The most significant adverse effects are psychological. Participants in clinical trials sometimes report paranoia and anxiety. Clinicians work to quell these feelings by establishing a safe environment and calmly guiding patients through their fear and unease during sessions.

In recreational situations, panic and anxiety typically result from being in an unfamiliar environment or feeling unsafe. These cases, known as “bad trips,” can lead to the individual acting out in response to their hallucinations or panic, possibly harming themselves or others.

How to Obtain Psilocybin

Despite its promising future, the DEA considers psilocybin a Schedule I drug, making it federally illegal. Individuals can legally possess and use magic mushrooms in Oregon and Colorado. While these states are working to establish therapeutic programs, opportunities are limited.

Possession is decriminalized in Ann Arbor, Cambridge, Santa Cruz, Seattle, Somerville, and the District of Columbia. You can grow psilocybe mushrooms from grow kits for your personal use.

The safest way to obtain psilocybin is by participating in a clinical trial. You can locate opportunities using the NIH’s database. Due to psilocybin’s legal status, trials may not be offered near your home.

Mushrooms should only be grown using spores obtained from a trustworthy vendor or purchased from a reliable source. Wild mushrooms are notoriously hard to identify accurately. Consuming samples purchased from disreputable sources could lead to severe complications because many species are toxic.


Where does psilocybin affect the brain?

The compound primarily enters the prefrontal cortex, which guides cognition and processes sensory information. This effect causes the visual and auditory hallucinations associated with “tripping.”

What brain receptors does psilocybin affect?

Psilocybin engages serotonin 2A receptors. These neurons influence mood and memory. This action contributes to psilocybin’s ability to treat depression symptoms. It is also responsible for the uplifting or euphoric effects many individuals experience during their “trip.”

Does psilocybin heal the brain?

Neuroscientists recognize psilocybin’s ability to rewire and rebalance the brain. The current theory is that the compound binds to cells, activating neurotransmitter flow while forging pathways for new connections. This connectivity induces a transcendent experience and opens consciousness, paving the way for changes in behavior and neural connections.

While this is already proving effective at managing conditions like depression and epilepsy, further study is needed to assess its ability to heal the brain following damage like stroke, traumatic brain injury, and concussion.

Does psilocybin increase serotonin or dopamine?

By bonding to the same receptors as serotonin, psilocybin increases levels of the “feel good” neurotransmitter. It also prompts the brain to develop additional serotonin receptors, making the excess neurotransmitter usable.

Studies do not indicate that psilocybin engages dopamine receptors, but evidence shows that levels rise with psilocybin use.

Does psilocybin create new neurons?

Studies are in their earliest stages, but researchers hypothesize psilocybin may fuel neurogenesis, the process of creating new neurons. They are confident that psilocybin affects the hippocampus, the brain region tied to memory and mood.

Scientists speculate that the neurogenic effects of the compound contribute to its depression-fighting ability and may explain its potential as a dementia treatment. The scientific understanding of neuron creation in adults is still forming. Investigators continue to uncover new avenues to explain neurologic health and function.