Humans have been reaping the benefits of psilocybin for much of history. In fact, many believe that psilocybin, and other psychedelic plant medicine, played a key factor in how civilization and culture developed so rapidly. There was a huge leap in evolution which just so happened to occur around the time that we can see proof of psychedelics being used in various ways. Using psychoactive plants/fungi assisted in advancing our hunting and gathering skills. This allowed us to survive and gifted us the gift of the present day. The future of humans may not have been possible without the history of humans using psychedelics.
Not only have we relied on plants to help us survive, but we also have an intriguing history of utilizing natural compounds, such as psilocybin, to treat intangible scars. At this point in history, it is becoming pretty undeniable that magic mushrooms harness great healing power. Thanks to psychedelic research starting back up again, we are beginning to solidify previous claims that substances, such as magic mushrooms, can expand andrewire the brain. If this is the case, then this can lead to some truly magical results for the once-damaged human psyche.
Many individuals around the Globe have documented their success in treating severe mental complications with psilocybin. To name the most commonly reviewed cases, psilocybin has worked as an effective treatment for depression, addiction, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] in some individuals. Although there are many powerful plant medicines worth analyzing, we will be taking a look at the sacred and beloved compound psilocybin.
What is psilocybin?
In short, psilocybin is a naturally occurring compound that is found in over 200 species of psychedelic fungi, commonly referred to as magic mushrooms. The most potent members of the genus Psilocybin may be P. semilanceata, P. cyanescens and P. azurescens.
What may be a surprise to some, psilocybin isn’t exactly what you may have estimated it to be. Psilocybin is biologically inactive, meaning that it does not get you high. However, upon ingestion, your body quickly converts psilocybin to psilocin, which is the compound responsible for the famous magic mushroom high. Although psilocybin gets all the hype, it isn’t technically the compound that gets you high.
Psilocybin and psilocin fall into the Tryptamine category. Other well-known substances, such as DMT and mescaline, also fall into the same category. All Tryptamines mediate specific serotonin-receptor activities which are responsible for producing hallucinations. In larger doses, these substances will include effects of immense euphoria, mental/visual hallucinations, distortions in perceptions, and often spiritual experiences. All of your 5 senses will elevate to unimaginable heights while your sense of time and reality will likely dissolve. Tryptamines are not only potent substances but also totally life changing! Let’s move on to how and why compounds, such as psilocybin, are so incredibly effective when treating mental complications.
What is psilocybin therapy? How does it work?
Psilocybin therapy is (yup, you guessed it!) therapy that is assisted by incorporating psilocybin into the session! Using psilocybin in a medical setting is relatively new and we are still trying to work out the fine-tuned protocol. While each facility will have its own twist on how they go about it, many clinics that offer this unique therapy method follow a similar guideline.
The patient is to be vigorously analysed before the health care professional believes that psilocybin therapy would be a good route. They usually develop a schedule for their sessions before having the first one. For example, a health care professional may believe that one of their patients only needs 3 sessions while another patient may be predicted to require 4-5 sessions.
You can isolate psilocybin in a lab, which is what is usually done when producing the doses for the psilocybin sessions. That being said, the patient is usually given the compound in the form of a capsule, filled with the psilocybin isolate. The doses can look slightly different for each clinic/patient.
The patient is often left alone for the majority of the session in a comfortable room with their caretaker nearby in case any assistance is necessary. During their experience, patients listen to a very specifically designed playlist of therapeutic music/melodies. They are also given a comfortable eye mark to wear while they listen to the playlist, which helps them focus internally instead of externally. This way, they won’t get taken off track with outward distractions.
Psilocybin typically lasts between 5-8 hours. The therapist is not to interfere during these sessions with questions or remarks. They are only there to observe and be present in case the patient requires guidance. The way clinics set up the environment for these sessions is very meticulously orchestrated with the motive to avoid (or lessen) the chances of something going wrong. The goal is for the patient to be as relaxed as possible so they can be openly vulnerable.
One thing that makes individuals hesitant about taking magic mushrooms is the fear of the unknown. While the list of effects can be experienced by most individuals who embark on the magic mushroom trip, the list of effects on a paper sheet does absolutely nothing to reflect the complexity of each psychedelic experience.
When you take a psychedelic substance, you can never be totally prepared as each experience is completely unique, unpredictable and can never be recreated. While you can prepare for your trip to an extent and decrease the chances of having a ‘bad trip’, the experience is 100% out of your control. This is both the beautiful and scary part of the psychedelic experience. Being in a setting that is carefully created, such as psilocybin therapy rooms, you are more likely to have a ‘smooth’ trip.
We do have a lot to learn about how to provide the most effective psychedelic therapy that we can, but this is a fantastic start if you ask me!
The benefits of psilocybin therapy
While most of the ‘magic’ of the therapy is experienced during the trip, a huge part of this therapy is the work done afterwards. Consuming psychedelics can help you digest and process past events and much of our troubling thought patterns in a more productive way. Many mental illnesses, such as addiction and PTSD are neurological conditions, making them very tricky to treat.
PTSD is the result of going through something so traumatic that the aftermath results in a physical change in the structure of your brain. This is absolutely devastating for the individual involved. You can only imagine how difficult it must be to heal from something when your body has physically changed its structure as a way of coping with the event long after it has happened. Essentially, it causes your brain to be stuck in danger mode. It can be years after the event, however, your mind and body remain on high alert, also known as ‘survival mode’. Your body continues to send out stress signals, which leads to PTSD symptoms. This can result in an individual reliving the traumatic event again and again over time. Each time a PTSD episode occurs, it becomes increasingly hard to rewire the automatic bodily signals caused by the event.
There is some evidence showing that psychedelics may have the ability to drastically spike neuroplasticity in the brain. In short, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change, restructure and reorganise itself. When you are a child, your neuroplasticity is at its peak. Your brain is extremely elastic and can bend and change with little to no effort. As we get older, this ability diminishes greatly, making it harder to grow and make new neural connections. When it comes to mental illnesses such as PTSD and addiction, it can feel nearly impossible to change the activity in your brain because it is more of a physical disruption than a chemical imbalance.
If psychedelics can promote neuroplasticity in the brain, then that single effect of the psychedelic experience may be one of the key factors in the healing potential of these substances. One of the more vital factors in healing mental illness’ is trouble with processing. If our brains are given the space and ability to process traumatic events, then it makes sense for us to continue using psilocybin therapy. Psychedelics will not fix all of your problems for you, but they can likely help you process what you cannot process on your own, allowing you to move on to the next step in your healing journey. A lot of the true work happens outside of the psychedelic experience(s).
Psychedelics are famously known for ‘expanding the brain’ and ‘rewiring the brain’. For years, hippies have been telling us about the positive mind-altering and expanding effects of psychedelics. Thanks to the recent data that psychedelic research has given us, we know that they were indeed onto something!
As always, the research is ongoing. Right now, we do not really understand exactly how psilocybin and other hallucinogens assist in the healing process. We know that it works a lot of the time, now we just need to figure out exactly how it works. When we travel closer to the root mechanisms of psychedelic therapy, we will be able to adjust our protocol and application. This will allow us to gain better results with our psychedelic treatments. We may be paving the path for using psychedelics as standard practice for specific mental illnesses.
We have a long way to go but at least we are on our way!