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  • Are magic mushrooms just the start of a really weird trip?

  • Or are they the solution to the world’s growing mental health crisis?

  • This year saw the first ever trial that directly compared hallucinogenic fungi to traditional medications for depression,

  • and the results mean that our future might be about to get lots more fungus-y.

  • Globally, rates of mental illness are surging.

  • And the existing medications we have to treat things like depression aren’t perfect

  • some people experience crappy side effects or just don’t find them effective at all,

  • so having more tools in our toolbox to treat mental health issues would be great.

  • And researchers have found a pretty cool tool inmushrooms.

  • Magic mushrooms, that is.

  • Nowshrooms can actually be any of over 180 species of mushroom that contain these hallucinogenic compounds.

  • You may have heard of psilocybin as the active compound in shrooms but actually, your body breaks psilocybin down into psilocin.

  • This is actually the chemical that affects your brain

  • it’s what induces increased sensory perception, heightened emotions, even euphoria, and hallucinations.

  • And it’s very interesting to neuroscientists because structurally, it’s very similar to serotonin.

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that controls a bunch of things all over your body.

  • And apparently, the serotonin system in your brainhow it’s taken up by your neurons

  • and how it helps different parts of your brain communicate with each otheris really complex, and we still don’t fully understand it.

  • But generally, the consensus seems that low levels of serotonin are linked to depression and anxiety.

  • This is why one of the most commonly prescribed medications for depression and anxiety

  • are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

  • These drugs boost the levels of serotonin in the brain, improving the symptoms of these mental illnesses.

  • The scientific community has been looking at hallucinogens for therapeutic use in mushrooms specifically

  • because their potential side effects are generally considered less extreme than LSD or ecstasy.

  • There’s less of an extreme peak and then crash, and research shows they have less potential to be addictive.

  • Which is why, in 2021, researchers at Imperial College London used it in their study,

  • comparing it to SSRIs as a treatment for depression.

  • A group of 59 participants with major depressive disorder, was divided in two.

  • Some received: 25 mg dose of psilocybin, a daily placebo pill, and psychotherapy.

  • The rest received: 1 mg dose of psilocybin, a daily dose of an SSRI, and psychotherapy.

  • The participants were grouped totally randomly, and everyone was told they would be receiving psilocybin.

  • This was to make sure that the participantsexpectations didn’t affect their outcome

  • like, “I was told I would be receiving mushrooms and that’s why I felt weird."

  • These two aspects are what make this study what scientists call a ‘randomized controlled trial’.

  • Sohow’d it go?

  • Participants self-reported their mental wellbeing via standardized forms, and the results were pretty trippy.

  • Overall, 70% of the psilocybin-only group responded positively to the treatment, compared with 48% of the SSRI group.

  • The psilocybin group felt the effects of treatment more quickly, showed a much greater reduction in suicidality,

  • and more improvement in their ability to feel pleasure.

  • Now, it’s important to note that even with these differences,

  • both groups did experience improvement in their symptoms,

  • and SSRIs can take several weeks or even months to make a noticeable difference.

  • So the fact that the study was only six weeks long may mean that the full effect of the SSRIs wasn’t measured by this study.

  • None of the participants experienced any major adverse side effects, which is great.

  • But this is at least partially because the study screened out people with preexisting psychiatric conditions like psychosis,

  • which might make an adverse event like a ‘bad tripmore likely.

  • Another study, the largest trial yet of psilocybin’s positive impact on depression,

  • was published in 2021 with equally encouraging results.

  • Many more studies are currently underway worldwide to keep assessing the efficacy and safety

  • of hallucinogenic mushrooms for therapeutic uses.

  • Because were really just starting to understand how they work.

  • Thanks to tools like functional MRIs, weve found that mushrooms affect the activity of brain areas like the claustrum and the amygdala.

  • We think the claustrum connects the parts of our brain that take in sensory information

  • and it plays a role in consciousness.

  • Psilocin’s alteration of claustrum function may change our brain’s connectivity and alter our perception of the world around us.

  • In the amygdala, psilocin ramps up the activity, allowing for increased emotional processing.

  • This could be one of the reasons mushrooms can improve depressive symptoms.

  • But psilocybin is highly restricted and criminalized in many countries.

  • Even though it’s not considered addictive, it’s in the same restrictive category as other narcotics with ‘a high potential for abuse’,

  • like heroin.

  • Many indigenous cultures have used them in spiritual, physical, and mental well-being practices for centuries,

  • but the mainstream is gonna need some more convincing.

  • So the more data we have on its therapeutic activity in the brain

  • and how the heck the brain works in the first place

  • the more we could see mushrooms on the menu for mental health.

  • If you want more on mental health topics, then check out our series Mindset, hosted by Dr. T on Seeker's TikTok.

  • Keep coming back to Seeker for your fungus 411 and as always, thanks for watching. I’ll see you next time.

Are magic mushrooms just the start of a really weird trip?

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A1 psilocybin serotonin depression mental brain study

How Psychedelic Mushrooms Could Treat Depression

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    Summer posted on 2021/12/01
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