As we have reported numerous times in the past, psychedelic mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular in the US as a possible treatment for psychiatric disorders, with their main active ingredient, psilocybin, moving from the fringes of medicine, to become increasingly mainstream.
Roland Griffiths, a professor who studies the neuropsychopharmacology of consciousness at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, received approval in 2000 to carry out the first experiments on psilocybin since the 1960s. He found in a survey of early study participants that more than half regarded it as one of the most meaningful experiences of their life.
“The mystical experience itself does seem to be really important for therapeutic effects, but we published survey data to suggest it’s not actually the mystical experience itself, but the personal insights you can encounter or gain during that mystical experience that actually lead to therapeutic change,” Barrett said.
“The idea here is that mystical experience can create the opportunity for personal insights."
Since then, for example, studies in recent years have shown promise in using psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat psychiatric disorders like depression. Some have been used to identify their usefulness in smoking cessation (alongside talk therapy). They have also shown some usefulness in alleviating anxiety in people with terminal cancer.
But the big question for researchers now is: how can they show conclusively that hallucinating leads to alleviating symptoms in people suffering depression or other chronic ailments.
Frederick Barrett, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, explained how depression works and how mushrooms help to disrupt these pathways.
"One common feature of depression is something you can think of as cognitive or psychological inflexibility,” Barrett said.
"You get stuck in a rut of rumination. You get stuck in negative self-attribution, negative self-thoughts, and this is a kind of characteristic of depression that helps people develop and maintain their depression," he said.
"It all boils down to a reduced capacity to think creatively or to think openly, and to think differently about yourself and your condition, situation and behavior. If it can increase our cognitive flexibility, if it can increase our neural flexibility, we think that essentially it gives people back the capacity to think broadly about how they fit into the world and reassess or reappraise things that might happen to them.”
A separate paper published just last week in Nature Medicine by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and Imperial College London echoed similar findings, although Barrett notes there are several caveats associated with the study’s findings.
“What we’re seeing in these data after psychedelics is that there’s an increase in the connectivity between systems, such that they are becoming less segregated from each other,” Robin Carhart-Harris, former head of the Imperial Center for Psychedelic Research who is now based at the University of California, San Francisco, told Changing America.
With more psychologists and psychiatrists suspecting that mushrooms do have a medical benefit, consumers should expect to see more cities/states legalize the drug for medical and/or recreational use.