FaceBook Discovery and Uses of Psilocybin | The Sanctuary Wellness Institute

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

History of Discovery and Uses of Psilocybin

Psilocybin (also known as psilocin) is the psychoactive compound found in psilocybe or "magic" mushrooms. While widely associated with recreational use for most of the 20th century, humans have consumed the hallucinogenic substance for thousands of years. Ancient cultures such as the Aztecs and Mayans used magic mushrooms (or, as they referred to them, “teonanácatl, which translates to “flesh of the gods”) for religious and medicinal purposes.

Researchers recently restarted their examination of the psychedelic drug, which began in the 1950s, to find reliable treatments for conditions that lack effective ones. Today, psilocybin therapy is an emerging intervention with broad applications for many chronic conditions that negatively affect patients’ emotions, behavior, and neurological functioning.

A societal reassessment of how psilocybin is understood and regulated is underway due to the promise of new research. This article covers the history of psilocybin use, the potential benefits of it, and current laws regarding the compound. Familiarizing yourself with the timeline of psilocybin and its evolving role in society will help you decide whether it’s an appropriate treatment option for you.

Psilocybin Therapy

When Were Psilocybin Mushrooms Discovered?

There is evidence of hallucinogenic mushroom use by indigenous people in Africa dating back to 9,000 BC and in Europe dating back to 6,000 BC. People in Central America and elsewhere likely used other psychedelic substances like mescaline and peyote too. The modern discovery of psychedelic mushrooms by Western society dates back to the 1950s.

American R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur mycologist, observed and documented a Mazatec magic mushroom ceremony in 1955 and brought samples back to the United States. Life magazine published a photo essay and story detailing Wasson's experiences. Additional articles on psilocybin and its effects followed over the next decade.

By this time, psychedelics were already a new field in medicine. Researchers at Harvard began studying psilocybe mushrooms, branching off from prior research into LSD. Psilocybin was first identified and extracted by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman in 1958. He determined the compound was the source of magic mushroom's psychoactive effects.

Through the 1960s, neuroscience researchers began studying psilocybin and exploring its potential clinical applications. Early trials assessed the compound as a treatment for mental health conditions like depression, as well as alcohol use disorder.

A Brief History of Psilocybin Use

Psilocybe mushrooms grow across the world. There are more than 180 species of magic mushrooms, also known as “shrooms.” They develop varying concentrations of psilocybin based on their genetics, exposure to light and moisture, and substrate. The indigenous people in ancient Africa, Europe, and the Americas left cave paintings that many anthropologists believe indicate the ceremonial use of the mushrooms.

Psilocybin emerged as a potentially transformative treatment in the United States and Europe during the mid-20th century after scientists extracted psilocybin from samples collected in Mexico. Psychiatry researchers embraced the use of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating psychological and behavioral conditions that detracted from patients’ quality of life.

Research continued through the 1960s. The backlash to political unrest and the rise of the counterculture led to a reassessment of many drugs toward the end of the decade. President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, classifying psilocybin and other psychedelics as Schedule I narcotics.

This label criminalized the compound and established stiff legal penalties for possession and use. This action ended all research into therapeutic applications of psychedelics because doctors could no longer legally obtain the compound or administer it for clinical trials.

Illegal recreational use continued through the 20th century, and many patient advocates lobbied lawmakers to reclassify psilocybin due to its ability to improve people’s well-being. In 2000, researchers at Johns Hopkins secured regulatory approval to begin new studies on psilocybin.

Their early successes sparked a renaissance. Over the next 20 years, the understanding of psilocybin and its effect on the brain grew. Subsequent discoveries led to new interventions and, eventually, clinical trials.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now considers one form of psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression a breakthrough therapy. Many expect the treatment to secure FDA approval soon. Additional clinical trials of psilocybin therapy are underway at academic and pharmaceutical institutions such as Harvard University.

Benefits of Psilocybin Use

Psilocybin therapy is yet to obtain FDA approval, and researchers are learning more about the treatment every day. However, the results of clinical trials and patients' anecdotal reports about their experiences are promising.

Psilocybin is non-toxic, and its effects end within a few hours after the body fully metabolizes it. Researchers hypothesize that psilocybin's positive effects are multi-layered. Doctors believe psilocybin engages receptors for dopamine, the body's "feel-good" hormone.

The compound mimics the neurotransmitter, helping to bolster and stabilize mood. This action makes it a viable treatment for depression and other psychiatric conditions that lack reliable conventional interventions.

Researchers also believe the mind-opening effects that highlight recreational use are deeply therapeutic when clinically harnessed. Neuroimaging shows that psilocybin slows down the part of the brain that partitions thought.

This effect allows communication between disparate parts of the mind. While further study is needed, researchers believe creating this new network helps manage some conditions by laying the pathways for new habits and behaviors.

Researchers also propose psilocybin spurs neurogenesis and creates more connections between neurons. This growth may be the key to managing degenerative neurological conditions, like Parkinson's disease and dementia, as well as treating brain damage, like stroke or traumatic head injuries.

Modern Psilocybin Laws

Researchers discovered that the risk of abuse and long-term damage from psilocybin, two key arguments used to criminalize psilocybin in 1970, are exaggerated. History has revealed many of the claims used to discount psilocybin are myths or urban legends used to stoke fears.

Voters and lawmakers are reassessing the legal status of psilocybin as new reports about patient success stories and scientific breakthroughs emerge. In the United States, change began at the local level. Cities in Massachusetts, California, and Michigan have revised their laws to decriminalize psilocybin possession and use.

Advocates have also begun lobbying lawmakers to reconsider legislation on psychedelics and to open opportunities for further study. Oregon legalized psilocybin in 2020, and Colorado followed in 2022. The first treatment centers in Oregon opened in 2023. Colorado is building the regulatory apparatus necessary to oversee their program in the coming years.

More than 12 other states have committees formally exploring therapeutic applications or legislation. Several others are weighing decriminalization. This rapid shift reflects the promise of psilocybin therapy as a viable option for many chronic conditions that lack reliable, safe, and effective treatments.

Researchers discovered that the risk of abuse and long-term damage from psilocybin, two key arguments used to criminalize psilocybin in 1970, are exaggerated. History has revealed many of the claims used to discount psilocybin are myths or urban legends used to stoke fears.

Psilocybin legislation across the globe followed a similar trajectory as the United States. Countries prohibited the compound following the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. These laws ended research and recreational use. Indigenous populations and communities with a history of psilocybe practice were often exempt.

Psilocybin is currently decriminalized in some localities or quasi-legal in Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Jamaica, Thailand, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Canada. Western European nations, including the United Kingdom, allow psychedelic research and are actively debating legislation on psilocybin therapy.

What is Psilocybin Therapy and How Can You Participate in It?

Psilocybin therapy involves consuming a dose of psilocybin in a controlled clinical setting. Patients usually lay in a room or clinic designed to induce relaxation alongside at least one psychiatric professional.

According to your condition(s), a practitioner then guides you through a psychedelic experience using conventional therapeutic techniques that promote open-mindedness and the establishment of new patterns of thought.

As of April 2023, the only legal way to undergo psilocybin therapy in the United States is by visiting a treatment center in Oregon or participating in an authorized clinical trial. Clinical trials are tightly regulated studies in which doctors and researchers provide psilocybin therapy and document clinical outcomes and patient experiences.

When considering psilocybin therapy, it is essential to remember that it is not yet FDA-approved for any condition. However, there is strong evidence for its therapeutic value.

The National Institutes of Health has a searchable database of trials. Researchers abide by strict ethical standards and rigid safety protocols to protect patients. If you suffer from a medical condition that impacts your daily life and resists traditional interventions, psilocybin may be the answer.