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What Is Psilocybin and Can It Help With Depression?

Right now, the world is in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance. That’s because researchers and the general public are becoming aware of psychedelics’ healing potential.

Much of this focus is on psilocybin—the main hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms. That’s because psilocybin has been found to relieve severe depression and anxiety.

You’re probably wondering—what exactly is psilocybin, how does it work, and can it actually help with depression? If you’d like to find out all that and more, then continue reading below.

What Is Psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic compound that is found naturally in magic mushrooms. When psilocybin is ingested, it causes an altered perception of reality.

That altered perception can manifest itself through images and sounds that seem real but don’t exist. These hallucinations can be subtle at low doses and cause colors to be more vibrant, vision to become sharper, and for objects to appear like they’re breathing.

At high doses, the effects can become intense. One might see incredible visions, fractal patterns, geometric shapes, and even whole worlds unfolding.

Besides hallucinations, psilocybin can also cause someone to experience:

  • Elevated energy and excitement

  • Complete euphoria

  • Uncontrollable laughter

  • Openness and connection to others and nature

  • Deep thinking (introspection)

Most of the time, psilocybin is taken by using magic mushrooms. However, in clinical trials and research, pure psilocybin is used.

Psilocybin and Depression

Now you might be thinking—how can psilocybin be useful for anything other than recreation? Well, the answer lies in psilocybin’s extended historical use.

Magic mushrooms, and psilocybin by extension, have been used across various societies for thousands of years. It was often used as a spiritual and medicinal tool that helped people psychologically and socially.

This historical use is actually what got modern researchers interested in psychedelics, to begin with. They found out that psilocybin can indeed heal the mind, but in a way that surprised them.

Psilocybin and Depression Clinical Trials

In one of the most important studies so far, researchers looked at the effects of psilocybin on major depressive disorder (MDD). Major depressive disorder is a type of depression that can’t be helped with traditional therapy and medication.

In the experiment, 27 people with MDD were given therapy for three weeks and then two doses of psilocybin a week apart. The researchers found that all of the participants had reduced their depression directly after their second dose.

The researchers checked up on the participants a month later and found that 71% of them had their depression relieved significantly.

In another groundbreaking study, scientists looked at the effects of psilocybin and people with life-threatening cancer. It may come as no surprise that those with a life-threatening illness often develop anxiety and depression.

In this study, the patients were also given two doses of psilocybin and some therapy. The most exciting result is that even 6 months later, 80% of the patients had their anxiety and depression relieved.

How Does Psilocybin Help With Depression?

Researchers know that psilocybin can help with depression—but how? That’s a question that’s a little more complicated, and scientists don’t know for sure.

However, the main idea is that a high-dose psilocybin trip can trigger a mystical experience. Basically, a mystical experience is a spiritual one.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean religion, but to feel that you are one of a greater whole. This experience can lead to someone feeling purpose and meaning in their lives.

Psilocybin can also help us reflect and view our thoughts naturally and without emotion or can help us face trauma that is buried deep down.

It’s also thought that psilocybin can decrease negative emotions and help our brains break out of negative thinking habits.

All this together means that psilocybin can help us open our minds, recognize problems, connect with others and something greater, and find meaning in life. Through the psychedelic experience, people can recognize and face the issues that might be at the root cause of their depression.

The Legality of Psilocybin

Unfortunately, magic mushrooms and psilocybin are banned under the Controlled Substances Act. Luckily, as the perception of psilocybin is changing, the laws in the United States seem to be shifting as well.

In 2020, Oregon was the first state to legalize medicinal magic mushrooms, which won’t begin until 2023. Other cities around the US have decriminalized the use of magic mushrooms, such as:

  • Santa Cruz and Oakland, CA

  • Ann Arbor and Detroit, MI

  • Denver, CO

  • Sommerville, Cambridge, and Northampton, MA

  • Washington D.C.

Most of the clinical trials that are taking place are due to research organizations such as Johns Hopkins, MAPS, and the Heffter Research Institute. These institutions have fought hard against restrictive laws to make their trials a reality.

Unfortunately, it seems like we’re a long way off from legalizing psilocybin. Hopefully, as more research comes out and the laws change, then people will begin to embrace the medicinal use of psilocybin, and we can start healing our minds in more natural ways.

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