Can psychedelics be the next big game changer in the field of mental health?
Writer: Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram
Editor: Zoe Beketova
Artist: Summer Chiuh
Psychedelics, specifically “shrooms” or magic mushrooms, have always been at the forefront of controversy for their reality-altering effects. From feelings of euphoria to dizziness and blurred vision, these types of fungi hold a lot of power over one’s body. Recent studies have found that psychedelics can help with mental trauma and are actively being considered for legalization under medical conditions. So, how do these magic mushrooms work? Can they really help with mental trauma?
Firstly, it is not the mushrooms themselves that cause the hallucinations, but a chemical within them called psilocybin that is found in certain strains of fungi. These types of mushrooms are used as recreational drugs and can cause distortion in a way that’s similar to other hallucinogens as well, like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Psilocybin mostly targets the prefrontal cortex of your brain, where it engages your serotonin receptors. This area is in control of your mood, cognition and perception, so when the psilocybin enters your system, all three of these can be altered, thereby bringing about the numerous effects that are associated with magic mushrooms. These effects are wide-ranged and depend on various factors like your history with the drug, the amount entering your system, and even your height and weight. Some examples of psilocybin’s positive side effects are more elated emotions and a sense of relaxation, and the negative ones would be vomiting, irregular breathing, and blurred vision.
So, how could they help with mental trauma?
This brings us into the concept of psychedelic therapy. For context, people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or those overcoming other forms of trauma responses often require some form of treatment to help with their mental health struggles. PTSD is a condition in which someone experiences a traumatic event and has difficulty recovering from it, thereby making it hard for them to function in their daily life. It can cause anxiety, nightmares, and even severe emotional distress when something reminds them of the traumatic event, amongst other symptoms. As such, people suffering from it are presented with two options for treatment: the first route is psychotherapy, which is the use of psychological methods to help the affected person process the trauma and look at different options for moving forward from it, and the other is with medication, like antidepressants.
While both methods have had tangible results, they do still have their flaws. For instance, medication often fails in aiding with chronic PTSD, or with those suffering from multiple traumas over a period of time. This is where psychedelics could come in.
Research has been conducted to understand the use of psychedelics as a new form of therapy for PTSD, especially given their long-term effects on the mind. A study on mice concluded that psilocybin can help activate nerve cell regrowth (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls traits like emotions and memories. In the study, the psilocybin was injected into the mice and then trace fear conditioning was used, which was measured as the amount of time the mice were immobile. The results showed that psilocybin helped the mice overcome their fear better as compared to the mice with a placebo, which would be crucial for people with PTSD as it could potentially help them with their fear as well.
Another study conducted on terminally-ill cancer patients also showed that a single use dose (0.3 mg/kg, which is roughly a microdose of shrooms) of psilocybin brought them relief from distress. The participants stated that after the dose they felt their quality of life improve—they became more energetic and active in their communities. Although one dose was able to have such an impact, the effect is short-term, so microdosing on a daily basis will bring about a more long-term effect. Based on these results, researchers believe that psilocybin-based products (like magic mushrooms) can be used to treat numerous other psychological medical conditions as well.
The legalization of magic mushrooms for mental trauma
Given these promising results and the potential seen in psychedelic therapy, it would be ideal for magic mushrooms to be legalized for such forms of therapy. However, the concept is still a sharp double-edged sword: while there are a lot of positives with the idea of legalization, psychedelics still can have harsh and adverse effects on one’s mind, which may not necessarily be the safest method. If taken in a high dosage, magic mushrooms can induce anxiety attacks and panic attacks, or even facilitate visions that could remind patients of their trauma instead. Clinical trials are therefore the only way to determine whether psychedelics should be legalized for mental trauma. There are many variables that can’t be accounted for with the given information, so deeper investigation is necessary.
With that said, 2022 is being called the “Year of Psychedelic Legalization”. Various states across the United States have already begun decriminalizing these drugs in January, and Canada has also made progress towards the same goal. The United Kingdom is not too far behind, with Boris Johnson announcing in October 2021 that he will start examining the latest scientific advice on the legalization of psilocybin.
Whether it is now or in a couple of years, magic mushrooms are promising to be revolutionary in the field of mental health, especially given how effective their usage can be. The next few years will be crucial in determining how psychedelics’ potential will be maximized, and it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which they can be legalized. Maybe one day you could buy shrooms just like any other medicine!