Psilocybin - A Brief Overview
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychoactive prodrug and the active ingredient found in over 150 mushrooms of the Psilocybe genus. These gilled mushrooms are found around the globe from the tropics to the tundra, and have been intertwined with humanity for millennia. Our species has revered these mushrooms using them to induce spiritual insight and creative epiphany since antediluvian times. Imagery found on prehistoric rock paintings in modern day Algeria and Spain has been dated to approximately 9,000 B.C.E. Ancient cultures around the world from tribal Mesoamerican's to advanced civilizations like the Greeks and Mesopotamian's realized the power of this fungi and wrote, drew, and carved many tributes to "magic mushrooms", in some cases even worshipping them.
In the 11,000 years of human consumption, there has not been a single recorded instance of a Psilocybin overdose resulting in death. It has been undisputedly proven to be THE safest mind altering substance, demonstrated by the figure below. It rates even safer than cannabis, and an order of magnitude below alcohol, opiates and amphetamines.
While it has been known for millennia that psilocybin causes drastic psychological and emotional changes, our modern scientific understanding can help quantify the pharmacokinetic process behind these effects. When psilocybin enters the body it is dephosphorylated (the removal of a phosphorus molecule) by the liver into psilocin. Contrary to popular belief the compound responsible for magic mushrooms mind-altering effects is not psilocybin, but psilocin. Psilocin bears a molecular structure very similar to serotonin (an important neuromodulator known to be involved in brain development, perception, cognition, and mood). Psilocin acts as a serotonergic antagonist,
binding with serotonin receptors (specifically the 5 hydroxytryptamine (5HT) receptor group).
When Psilocin binds to a 5HT receptor it causes many changes in neural function, primarily the stimulation of neurogenesis through the increased production of Glutamate and Brain derived Neutrophic Factor (BDNF), the dampening of activity in the Default Mode Network (a brain network that is overactive in patients with depression) and the incitement of cross-communication between brain networks that do not communicate in the "sober" state of consciousness.
Glutamate is an vital neurotransmitter that accounts for over 90% of the synaptic connections in the brain, and is involved in crucial brain functions like cognition, learning, memory, and energy acquisition.
Brain Derived Neutrophic factor is a protein that helps to stimulate and control the process of neurogenesis, it also plays a key role in long-term memory, neural development, coordination, and the deciphering of sensory input by the brain.
Brain connections in a subject given psilocybin (right) and a placebo (left)
Despite being rated the most pharmacologically safe substance, the potential does exist to have a negative experience, however this risk can be mitigated by taking time to prepare for the experience. While a "bad trip" can be challenging in the moment, Studies performed at John Hopkins University have shown that 84% of study participants, when interviewed 6 months after the experience, said that they had benefited from the "bad trip" 34% of study participants said the bad trip was among the top five most personally meaningful experiences of their life, and 76% said that the bad trip had resulted in an improved sense of personal well-being or life satisfaction. Almost half said they would go through the bad trip again.
When compared to most other drugs, the risk profile of psilocybin is exceptionally low. Magic Mushrooms reduce anxiety, ease the intense pain of cluster headaches, aid in the prevention of Alzheimers, alleviate OCD symptoms, combat depression, re-wire the fear response neural circuits of PTSD victims, and boost the psychological state of terminal cancer patients. Aside from the treatment of severe psychological conditions psilocybin also offers immense benefit to the recreational "healthy" user. A 2006 double-blind study sponsored by the U.S. government found that about 80 percent of people who took psilocybin reported that their well-being improved and remained that way for months after their psychedelic experience (the control group did not). Even over a year later, participants said that it was one of the most meaningful experience of their lives and that they continued to see benefits of it.
of participants in a high-dose psilocybin session noted increases in their well-being or life satisfaction and positively changed their behavior at least moderately.
Said that a challenging experience was beneficial to their psychological health in the long term.
Rated psilocybin as the most meaningful experience of their lives
Of adults reported using magic mushrooms at lease one time during their lifespan
In modern western culture psilocybin is often used with one of two intents, recreational use or therapeutic use. Under therapeutic settings it has proven to be instrumental in lowering anxiety, treating depression, and breaking addictions. Aside from its therapeutic psychological benefits, it can also offer the 'recreational' user profound benefits, like increased perception, self-awareness, happiness, spirituality, and empathy, the stimulation of neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) and cognitive enhancement. It has been the subject of an ever increasing amount of accredited, scientifically rigorous studies. Researchers at the Heffter Research Institute, The Usona Institute, John Hopkins University, and MAPS are in the process of conducting clinical trials, meanwhile highly accredited Universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale, University of Toronto and many others are approved to begin clinical trials.
Some of the Universities currently studying Psilocybin
So, we have established that Psilocybin is one of the safest naturally growing psychoactive substances, and being seriously researched helping treat a host of conditions, but what exactly does a Psilocybin experience feel like? and how can it benefit you?
There’s a reason Psilocybin experiences are referred to as “journeys” or “trips.” It often produces expansive, immersive experiences that offer profound insights into your own psyche. It’s important to be ready for anything, give yourself permission to go with the flow — to surrender to an experience that could include confusion, hysterical laughter, an altered sense of time, spiritual or mystical feelings, out of body experiences, or even communication with otherworldly beings.
Psilocybin's effects can include -
Altered sense of time
Visual stimulation & hallucination
Unusual thought or speech patterns
Personal insight & reflection
Excitement & Euphoria
Spiritual or mystical feelings
A sense of peace and relaxation
Out of body experiences
contact with "otherworldly" entities
Recent studies conducted with scientifically rigorous controls have begun to recognize the multitude of psychological benefits associated with psilocybin. Despite its classification as an illicit substance in many areas, which greatly inhibits research, there are a plethora of studies underway on psilocybin's safety and efficacy in treating depression, PTSD, OCD, Alzheimer's, addiction, depression, and anxiety with extremely promising results. The Federal Drug Administration has recently given psilocybin a "Breakthrough Therapy" designation, declaring "we have never seen a safer drug, with such a dramatic impact, that requires such infrequent use".
The Breakthrough Therapy designation is reserved for treatments that show great promise in treating conditions which are resistant to other forms of therapy. This attempt by the FDA to fast track psilocybins clinical trial process shows the extent of its efficacy as a treatment. Numerous individuals have reported profound, lasting changes in their thought process allowing them to overcome negative or frustrating situations and have greater levels of compassion towards others, and their environment.
Here are some useful resources that you can browse to further inform yourself about Psilocybin and the myriad of benefits associated with it.
Additionally, Check out these scholarly, peer-reviewed articles detailing the benefits of psilocybin.