A new study published in March 2023 has reviewed the current evidence on using magic mushrooms to cure depression.
This study specifically looked at the use of psilocybin alongside psychotherapy, and highlights eight studies that examined this condition.
Some of them dealt with treatment-resistant depression (where people diagnosed with depression have been prescribed anti-depression medication and not seen an improvement in their symptoms) while other studies dealt with depression due to a life-threatening disease such as cancer.
Psilocybin, microdosing, and depression
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms.
It has been used in traditional cultures for spiritual and medicinal purposes for thousands of years.
During the twentieth century, many people reported feeling happier and more centered, following the consumption of magic mushrooms in a recreational setting.
Lots of us will have heard about the rise of microdosing in the technology sector, used by ambitious Californians seeking to maximise their focus, creativity, and productivity.
Amidst the 2022 legalisation of psychedelic therapies in Oregon and Colorado in the United States, there is a growing interest, acceptance, and wave of research to consider how psilocybin can help with a range of mental illnesses, like depression.
Can magic mushrooms cure depression?
The authors of this study found 12 relevant studies that met their inclusion criteria, and involved an overall total of 233 participants with depression who received psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.
The authors found that most of the studies reported significant reductions in depression symptoms following psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. Some of the studies also reported improvements in anxiety, quality of life, and spiritual well-being.
The conclusion is that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy shows promise as a treatment for depression, but further research is needed to establish its safety, efficacy, and long-term effects. They also emphasized the need for rigorous methodological standards in future studies to address the limitations of the existing research.
Importance of psilocybin assisted psychotherapy
The research emphasised the importance of the therapist’s role in this therapy.
Building a strong relationship with the patient is super important to help them to feel safe and comfortable as they undergo the unfamiliar psilocybin therapy for depression. A good therapist will forge a bond of trust and closeness with the patient from the start.
As the patient enters the spiritual realm, the therapist provides guidance and support, enabling safety and well-being. This support needs to involve helping patients integrate the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that arrive during the experience.
As you may know, the setting is really important when using cannabis or psychedelics.
The ideal environment is a quiet and peaceful space where the patient can relax in a reclined position, wear an eye mask, and engage in music therapy.
Doing so will better facilitate the exploration of a spiritual and psychological inner landscape, making it easier to uncover and work through emotions.
Limitations of the research into magic mushroom for depression
It is important to note that more research is needed before psilocybin can be considered a mainstream treatment for depression.
The studies included in this particular were quite small, and the quality of the evidence varied. There is a need for larger, well-designed clinical trials to further explore the efficacy and safety of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.
That said, it did cite some well known and respected studies conducted at Johns Hopkins University. Founded in 1876, its America’s first research university and home to nine world-class academic divisions.
Risks of using magic mushrooms
The review also highlighted some potential risks associated with psilocybin use. These included the risk of adverse psychological reactions, such as anxiety, paranoia, and psychotic-like experiences.
The overall incidence of adverse events during psilocybin treatment for depression is relatively low, and no serious adverse events were reported in any of the studies included in the review.
Some wild strains, like the infamous ‘flying saucer mushroom’ are incredibly strong. As always, stay safe folks and don’t go out picking random mushrooms. There’s so many which are poisonous, and unless you know what you’re doing, you could end up seriously ill.
Guided use of alternative medicines by a trained practitioner, in a specifically designed setting, will also greatly mitigate the potential risks of harm.
This gets to the heart of the legalisation debate; is it better to criminalize and seek to eradicate the use of illicit substances whilst accepting the increased risk of harm through improper practice? Or, could we accept that people will turn to these substances to treat their depression, and ensure that we properly guide and support them to get better, and to reduce harm risk?
Next steps on using magic mushrooms for depression
Conditions like depression are incredibly damaging to our society, economy, and overall human experience. The nature of the condition can be so unpredictable, toxic, and downright insidious, that the search for greater support for sufferers must be seen as a noble cause.
Studies will continue to grow the evidence base, and ensure that treatment is safe and effective.
Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy could also offer a new approach to treating depression, particularly for people who have not responded to other treatments.
Alongside use of ketamine and cannabis, there is an increased recognition of the usefulness of these so called ‘drugs’ to cure illness, and promote wellbeing.
The anti drug brigade will revile in horror at the use of magic mushrooms for any kind of treatment, given the stories and perceptions of madness being caused by their use. With any part of life there is risk, and the introduction of new treatments should be done with due consideration.
At the same time, there are potentially huge benefits to using these drugs for depression, and so it’s worth us trying, even if we accept a level of risk. The ‘do nothing’ option will certainly condemn existing and future sufferers of depression to total misery.
The question for the naysayers is, do you want to:
a) potentially help lots of people with new treatments for depression, but risk harming a very small amount? or;
b) continue definitely harming lots of people by not helping them with severe depression?