One dose of Magic Mushrooms relieves depression in the terminally ill

Culture / Health / News

A single dose of psilocybin can bring clarity and reduce stress for the dying according to a new study.

Dec 9, 2017

Magic Mushrooms can help treat depression, and it doesn’t even take much more than a single dose according to a 2017 study published in the journal Nature, and conducted by Imperial College in the UK.

The study conducted pre and post-treatment tests monitoring 19 patients using fMRI scans to examine the real-time effects of the substance on the brain. Participants received two doses of psilocybin one week apart at 10 and 25mg, which is considered to be a less than the normal recreational dose.

After being dosed with psilocybin, 19 participants exhibited a decrease in symptoms of depression after just one week, while nearly 50 percent experienced a continuous decrease in symptoms after five weeks.

The test is thought to have proven the effects something known to psychonauts as the “after-glow” in which users report feelings of clarity and stress relief in the days following a psychedelic experience.

As with fMRI tests on LSD, they showed increased connectivity in the Default Mode Network. In essence, brain scans have shown that psychedelics like psilocybin break down the brain’s rigid default wiring allowing parts of the brain which wouldn’t normally be connected to communicate.

GettyImages 161358499 What needs to happen for Vermont to legalize marijuana
CD MEMORY–BOULDER, COLORADO–JULY 12, 2007 – University of Colorado doctoral candidate Brendan Depue looks over functional magnetic resonance images (FMRI) of the brain that highlight areas (in red) that control our cognitive behaviors and in his studies have been shown to actively help suppress emotional memory. The study may help clinicians develop new therapies for those unable to suppress emotionally distressing memories associated with disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive syndrome, he said. He studies these scans in a lab in Boulder. Depue is a neuroscience and cognitive psychology doctoral candidate at Professor Marie T. Banich’s cognitive neuroscience lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Photo By Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

During the after-glow, researchers discovered that after these psychedelics break down the brains barriers, the brain recovers its original wiring with a greater level of effectiveness. In other words, psychedelics offer us a ‘reset’ button for our brain.

This is only one of many studies recently conducted and currently underway which look at the effects psilocybin on mental health. In part, these results replicate work that has already been done at NYU and Johns Hopkins University.

Those trials looked at 80 cancer patients with understandable anxiety and found that about 80 percent of participants experienced an improvement in their mental health after a single dose.

One of the participants, Sherry Marcy, told  LiveScience,“Before [the treatment], I was sitting alone at home, and I couldn’t move.” And that psilocybin helped her get, “back in touch with my family and kids, and my wonder at life.”

Like Marcy, others reported being more sociable with family and friends and higher levels of energy. They then went on to show signs of improvement in their mental health for the following seven months. The dose of psilocybin administered in this case was similar to that of the Imperial College study.

Despite these encouraging results, some in the medical community aren’t as excited about the prospect of using psychedelics medicinally. Among them is Dr. William Breitbart of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who appears to believe that medicinal use of mushrooms is part of a larger conspiracy to legalize the substance which grows naturally in the South-Western US.

“Medical marijuana got its foot in the door by making the appeal that ‘cancer patients are suffering, they’re near death, so for compassionate purposes, let’s make it available,’” Breitbart told the New York Times, adding that it was a slippery slope to recreational use.

But those who have more intimate knowledge of the research and the substances used insist that there is a major difference between tightly controlled therapeutic use and recreational trips.

GettyImages 134944430 What needs to happen for Vermont to legalize marijuana
Synthetic psilocybin is displayed within a restricted closet at the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research (BCCR) at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. New research in psychedelics such as psilocybin, the main ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms,’ aims for therapeutic uses, such as treatments for anxiety, headaches or quitting smoking. Photo by Paul Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

To be clear, these studies refer to psilocybin administered in conjunction with psychotherapy, so researchers aren’t suggesting that a gram of shrooms and a hike in the woods could cure your depression.

In this proper therapeutic environment, a mushroom trip is not being advertised as a cure for boredom but an effective tool to treat end-of-life anxiety. That’s something cancer patients have to deal with regardless of how legal their medicine is.

“A life-threatening cancer diagnosis can be psychologically challenging, with anxiety and depression as very common symptoms,” Dr. Roland Griffiths professor of behavioral biology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said in a statement, “People with this kind of existential anxiety often feel hopeless and are worried about the meaning of life and what happens upon death.”

Aside from the urgent need for this sort treatment among cancer patients, perhaps the most significant takeaway from these studies is that patients only required what is considered a threshold dose (.25g) – the level at which the psychedelic effects are felt. Where critics theories fall apart – aside from their attempt to police an individual’s state of mind – is that clinical trials don’t even use a typical recreational dose. At the end of the day, it’s medicine.

Dec 9, 2017