Psilocybin Side Effects
The Sanctuary Wellness Institute does not offer Psilocybin Therapy. This web page is meant for informational use only.
Researchers began exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin mushrooms (also known as “shrooms), MDMA, mescaline, and LSD in the 1940s. After a federal prohibition on the compounds halted research in the 1970s, doctors and researchers reopened their investigations in the 1990s. Today, psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in “magic” mushrooms, is emerging as a viable treatment for countless chronic conditions.
Doctors and neuroscientists are unlocking how psilocybin affects the human brain using advanced imaging technologies and clinical trials. Researchers believe the compound helps rewire the brain, creating new neural pathways to help patients modify their behaviors.
While psilocybin therapy is not yet FDA-approved, the positive outcomes in clinical trials and its effectiveness at treating conditions without effective conventional treatments are promising.
Every drug you ingest causes its own brand of psychological and physical effects. And psilocybin, like many drugs, carries the potential for drug abuse. Understanding how the body reacts to psilocybin will help you decide if the therapy is a good option for you. This article covers how psilocybin affects the brain, its benefits, and its potential adverse side effects.
What is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring chemical found in psilocybe mushrooms that gives them hallucinogenic properties. When ingested, the body converts it into psilocin, which then enters the brain, inducing the euphoric feelings and openness associated with “tripping.”
Humans have consumed psilocybin for thousands of years as part of religious rituals and for recreation. Current research shows that combining the psychedelic effects of psilocybin with traditional psychotherapy techniques leverages the altered state of consciousness to treat an array of disorders and illnesses.
Psilocybin causes auditory and visual hallucinations by breaking down the partitions in the part of the brain that processes sensory stimuli. This expansion leads to transcendent experiences commonly reported during “trips” in which people undergo altered perceptions and novel thinking.
Biochemistry, history of psychedelic use, and the dose all influence how an individual reacts to psilocybin. The effects of the compound wear off once the body fully metabolizes it, but the benefits of the therapy can be permanent.
How Psilocybin Affects the Brain
Scientists are continually unraveling the mysteries of the brain and trying to better understand the hallucinogenic effects of magic mushrooms and other hallucinogenic drugs.
Recent studies show that psilocybin maximizes interconnectivity between disparate areas of the brain. The compound also enters the prefrontal cortex, which controls focus and attention. As a result, psilocybin breaks down walls, expanding the mind as thoughts break out of compartmentalization. This liberation creates transcendental feelings and openness that are hallmarks of most psychedelic experiences.
Psilocybin also bonds to receptors for serotonin, the “feel good” hormone that influences mood, sleep, and memory. By simulating its effects, psilocybin induces uplifting and euphoric feelings. Researchers theorize that the compound also spurs the development of additional receptors, enhancing the capacity to use the neurotransmitter.
Studies have shown that psilocybin begins impacting brain connections in just thirty minutes. Further study is needed, but researchers speculate that psilocybin can induce neurogenesis, causing the brain to form new synapses. This level of neuroplasticity gives the compound the potential to fight degenerative neurological conditions and the effects of traumatic brain injuries.
Positive Effects of Psilocybin
Psilocybin helps create new neural pathways by forming connections between brain cells. These connections and one’s resultant sense of receptivity to new ideas enable the compound to treat emotional and behavioral disorders and degenerative conditions that compromise the mind.
What Conditions Can Psilocybin Treat?
It is essential to remember that, despite its promise, psilocybin is not yet FDA-approved to treat any health condition. However, there is strong evidence it can effectively treat many ailments and improve patients’ mental health drastically.
For example, psilocybin can help patients with treatment-resistant depression. The results of initial studies were so compelling that the therapy has earned breakthrough status from the FDA. Similarly, psilocybin can also help with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia nervosa.
Doctors have successfully used psilocybin to help patients quit smoking. Psilocybin is also a promising intervention for treating substance use disorders because of its ability to help patients establish new behavioral patterns.
Researchers also believe dried mushrooms can help manage epilepsy and other seizure disorders by “rewiring” the brain or bypassing altered connections responsible for the condition.
While studies are in their earliest stages, psilocybin may be able to treat neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. Doctors are also exploring how to manage the effects of traumatic brain injuries using psilocybin.
Though the FDA is still treating psilocybin as a controlled substance, its positive effects on patients’ well-being in clinical trials could change that very soon.
Negative Effects of Psilocybin
The primary harmful effect of psilocybin is a “bad trip.” A bad trip’s adverse reactions occur when taking mushrooms leads to anxiety, fear, and/or paranoia. One unpleasant long-term effect can be flashbacks in which the patient relives their bad trip well after experiencing it for the first time.
These emotions can be mild or intense, possibly leading to harmful actions in response to hallucinations. While a bad trip can happen in a clinical setting, they usually occur during unsupervised or recreational use.
Psilocybin can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other forms of gastric distress. Some people experience elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, or raised body temperature. Depending on the dose and the patient’s tolerance, psilocybin can alter coordination and cause drowsiness.
Habitual use of high doses of psilocybin can lead to a disorder in which individuals cannot differentiate between reality and their hallucinations. This condition will not result from supervised therapeutic use of the compound.
The body effectively breaks psilocybin into harmless metabolites over time. While the short-term effects of a bad trip (such as psychosis) can be intense and potentially dangerous, you cannot overdose on psilocybin.
How to Use Psilocybin Responsibly
The safest way to take hallucinogenic mushrooms is by signing up for a clinical trial. These psychopharmacology studies that involve the use of psilocybin are subject to rigorous oversight, thereby maximizing patient safety. Using psilocybin under these conditions ensures you consume the compound with supervision from trained healthcare personnel who can guide you through your experience and monitor for signs of a bad trip.
If you cannot join a trial but psilocybin is legal where you live, the next best option is to obtain mushrooms from a trustworthy source or grow your own using spores purchased from a reputable vendor. When engaging in psilocybin mushroom use, having a friend or family member nearby who is not “tripping” is critical. They can ground you in reality and offer reassurance if you experience adverse effects.
It is never safe to consume mushrooms you find in the wild or ones obtained from an unknown source. Mushrooms are notoriously hard to identify because their physical appearance is sensitive to environmental conditions. While psilocybe mushrooms are not life-threatening, many similar-looking types of mushrooms are toxic. Some of these poisonous mushroom species can cause permanent liver damage or even death.
Jake Peter received his journalism degree from Emerson College and has been writing content for the Sanctuary Wellness Institute since 2021. He is passionate about all things cannabis.