Current Research on Psilocybin Mushrooms
Psilocybin, the active ingredient found in “magic” mushrooms is a powerful psychedelic that, despite being 100 times less potent than LSD, is still capable of altering perception of space and time, causing visual distortions, euphoria, and mystical experiences.
Certain cultures have been known to use the hallucinogenic properties of some mushrooms for centuries, but psilocybin was first isolated in 1958 By Doctor Albert Hoffman, also discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Although now often used as a recreational drug, psilocybin has a number of potential medical benefits. Because of this, there’s ongoing research to show that it has the potential to treat a wide range of psychiatric and behavioral disorders.
With this post, we’ll look at some of the current research on psilocybin for conditions like Depression, Anorexia, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Before looking at the research, however, we’ll first look at exactly what psilocybin is and where it comes from.
What Is Psilocybin
Psilocybin is a hallucinogen that works by activating serotonin receptors, primarily in the prefrontal cortex that affects mood, cognition, and perception. It doesn’t always cause active visual or auditory hallucination, and instead distorts how people perceive objects or other people already in their environment.
As the name “magic mushrooms” suggests, it is found in certain types of mushroom that grow in regions of Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States. Because of its psychoactive properties, it’s typically used as a recreational drug and it provides feelings of euphoria and sensory distortion that are common to other hallucinogenic drugs.
Users typically consume psilocybin as a brewed tea or prepare it with a food item to mask its bitter taste. Manufacturers also crush the mushrooms into a powder and package it in a capsule form while other users who consume these mushrooms even cover them with chocolate.
Although psilocybe cubensis is the most well-known psilocybin mushroom, the most potent of the drug are the psilocybe azurescens, psilocybe semilanceata, and psilocybe cyanescens species.
Despite this, the potency of psilocybin depends on:
- the species of mushroom
- its origin
- it’s growing conditions
- it’s harvest period
- Whether a user eats them fresh or dried
The legality relating to psilocybin and mushrooms varies wildly. Both psilocybin and psilocin are listed as Schedule 1 drugs under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Psilocybin mushrooms, however, are not regulated by any UN treaties, but many countries have some level of regulation or prohibition of psilocybin mushrooms, like the US Psychotropic Substances Act, The UK Misuse of Drugs Act, and the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Because psilocybin mushroom spores contain neither psilocybin nor psilocin, they are not illegal to sell or possess in many jurisdictions. There are, however, some jurisdictions that have specifically prohibited the sale and possession of psilocybin mushroom spores, while others will prosecute users under broader laws prohibiting items that are used in the manufacture of drugs.
“Because psilocybin mushroom spores contain neither psilocybin nor psilocin, they are not illegal to sell or possess in many jurisdictions.“
For this reason, and where it is allowed, many vendors will sell psychedelic mushroom spores, magic mushroom spores or mushroom spore syringes. It is, however, advised to make sure of the legality in the particular state or country at any time when there are mushroom spores for sale or mushroom spore syringes for sale.
The prohibition of psilocybin mushrooms has come under criticism from both the general public and researchers who see therapeutic potential in the use of psilocybin for various conditions, especially mental health disorders. The question of when it will be approved by the FDA, if ever, is an open one. Despite all the promising and positive research, there’s no indication if psilocybin will ever be approved. Despite this, some are optimistic that it may follow in the footsteps of MDMA therapy and that there will potentially be approval within the next 5 to 10 years.
A realistic timeline, however, is difficult to estimate because, although the research has been very positive and encouraging, there hasn’t been enough research to date. For this reason, there should be more FDA-approved research with psychedelics that explores both how to optimize its therapeutic potential but also to get a better understanding of the range of its medical benefits.
With this in mind, let’s look at some of the recent research on the use of psilocybin.
Psilocybin And Major Depression
In a recent study of adults with major depression, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers report that two doses of psilocybin, given with supportive psychotherapy, produced large reductions in depressive symptoms. In this study, most participants showed improvement and half of the participants showed a complete remission after a four-week follow up.
Because of the fact that Major Depressive Disorder is a substantial public health burden, the objective with the study was to investigate the effect of psilocybin therapy in patients with Major Depressive Disorder. This is even more important considering that current treatments for Major Depressive Disorder have limited effectiveness and adherence by patients.
In the randomized clinical trial conducted by the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, 27 adults age between 21 and 75 with a Major Depressive Disorder diagnosis participated in the study. None of the participants were currently using antidepressant medications, and had no histories of psychotic disorder, serious suicide attempts, or hospitalization.
As interventions, two psilocybin sessions were given in the context of supportive psychotherapy and participants were randomized to begin treatment immediately or after an 8-week delay.
Of the participants, 24 completed the intervention and took part in the week 1 and week 4 post session assessments. In the overall sample, 17 participants at week 1 and 17 at week 4 had a clinically significant response to the intervention, and 14 participants at week 1 and 13 participants at week four were in remission.
These findings suggest that psilocybin combined with supportive therapy is effective in treating Major Depressive Disorder and extends the results of previous studies of psilocybin intervention in patients with cancer and depression and of a nonrandomized study in patients with treatment-resistant depression.
Psilocybin And Smoking Cessation
The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is currently conducting a study examining psilocybin administration combined with a structured smoking cessation treatment program in order to provide preliminary data on the effectiveness of this combined treatment for smoking cessation.
This study is done pursuant to investigations for the therapeutic use of hallucinogens in the 1960s and 1970s for drug dependency. Smoking is a good model for studying drug dependence because users are less likely to be challenged by the many social and economic impairments that often accompany dependence on other drugs like cocaine, heroin, or alcohol.
In this interventional study, started in September 2008, researchers propose to study the efficacy of either psilocybin or transdermal nicotine patches under highly supportive conditions to individuals who are nicotine dependent and who have had many unsuccessful attempts to quit and who continue to desire to quit smoking.
Participants will be enrolled in the randomized groups to either psilocybin or nicotine patch treatment. The participants will then receive a 13-week course of cognitive behavioral therapy for smoking cessation with a target quit date set for the 5th week. After several preparation meetings, participants will have either a single day long psilocybin session using a high dose or a standard 8-to-10-week course of nicotine patch treatment. The participants’ smoking status will be assessed repeatedly for eight weeks after the quit date, including biological testing of smoking status through breath and urine samples. Smoking status will also be assessed approximately 3, 6, and 12 months after the quit date.
Currently, 15 participants have already completed a preliminary pilot study with no control conditions. The results are promising and the researchers report that these 15 participants have achieved an 80% abstinence rate over six months, compared to approximately 35% for patients taking varenicline, which is widely considered to be the most effective smoking cessation drug.
The study is expected to be completed by December 2022.
Psilocybin And Depression In People With Early Alzheimer’s
Johns Hopkins Medical Center is currently recruiting participants for a pilot study evaluating the potential efficacy of psilocybin in the treatment of depression in people with Mild Cognitive Impairment or early Alzheimer’s Disease. The study will be an open label trial of up to 20 treatment seeking participants with a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment or early Alzheimer’s Disease.
Participants will complete an 8-week course of treatment including two psilocybin sessions of 15mg/70kg in week 4 and 15 or 25mg/70kg in week six, with follow-up assessments up to six months after the final psilocybin session. The study will then assess changes in the participants’ depressed mood at one week after the second psilocybin session compared to the pre-treatment phase and will measure the quality of life in participants from pre- to post-treatment.
The measurements of the outcomes will be done in accordance with the Change in Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia (CSDD) and the Change in Quality of Life Alzheimer’s Disease scale score (QOL-AD). CSDD is administered through patient and informant interviews to assess the presence and severity of depression and behavioral symptoms during the past week. Likewise, QOL-AD is a 13-item measure administered through patient and informant interviews to assess the patient’s overall mood, physical and cognitive function, and quality of relationships in people with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The proposed starting date for the study is 15 March 2021 and the expected completion date is 30 September 2022.
Psilocybin And Depression With Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study which is planned to start on 1 April 2021, researchers at John Hopkins University are planning to study whether psilocybin is effective in reducing depressive symptoms and the amount of drinking in patients with co-occurring Major Depressive Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder.
Their hypothesis is that a single high oral dose of psilocybin would lead to reductions in depressive symptoms, as measured by the clinician-rated grid version of the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, and the amount of drinking, as measured by the Time Line Follow Back procedure compared to the placebo in patients with both Major Depressive Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder.
90 volunteers between the ages of 21 and 65 who meet the criteria for my Major Depressive Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder will be recruited and complete all the study procedures. They will be randomized in groups to either a psilocybin group or a placebo group, and will complete a drug administration session combined with a brief Motivational Interviewing intervention for alcohol use.
To measure the results, volunteers will undergo assessments of depression and alcohol use before and after treatment and after primary endpoints are measured, all volunteers will receive a second, unblinded intervention with a single high dose of psilocybin to test the researchers’ secondary hypothesis that two doses of psilocybin are more effective in treating Major Depressive Disorder with co-occurring Alcohol Use Disorder than a single dose.
The estimated completion date for the study is 31 August 2026.
Psilocybin And Anorexia Nervosa
In an open-label pilot study that started on 26 August 2019, researchers are investigating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in persons with chronic anorexia nervosa.
Because psilocybin has previously been shown to decrease depression and anxiety and increase long term positive behavior change in other populations, the researchers want to determine whether similar changes can be safely produced in any anorexia nervosa patients when psilocybin is administered in a supportive sitting with close follow-up.
The main hypothesis in this study is that psilocybin is safe to administer in people with anorexia nervosa, that it will reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and that it will lead to a better quality of life. Participants will undergo up to four moderate to high dose psilocybin sessions and dosing will start at 20mg. Subsequent doses will either be at the same dose, or will be increased by increments of 5mg, up to a maximum of 30mg.
Apart from these studies by the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, there are also several other studies in process that investigate the efficacy of psilocybin for various conditions.
Psilocybin For Major Depressive Disorder
In this study by the Usona Institute, 80 participants age between 21 and 65 who meet the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder will be randomized with a one-to-one allocation under double-blind conditions to receive a single 25mg dose of psilocybin or a single 100mg dose of niacin.
The aim of this study is to test the efficacy of a single oral dose of psilocybin compared to the active placebo and assess the difference between the two groups in changes to their depressive symptoms from baseline to the 8th day after the dose.
The study’s estimated completion date is October 2023.
Psilocybin In Cancer Patients With Major Depressive Disorder
This Phase II study by Maryland Oncology Hematology, PA, aims to explore the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of a 25mg dose of psilocybin in cancer patients with Major Depressive Disorder. The study, which started on 1 September 2020 will study both male and female participants, aged 18 years and above with Major Depressive Disorder and who were diagnosed with a malignant neoplasm. The researchers aim to show that psilocybin improves the symptoms of major depressive disorder in cancer patients.
It’s expected that the study will be completed in October 2023.
Psilocybin In Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Yale University started this study on 13 November 2018 to investigate the effects of psilocybin on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms and provide the first evidence of the neural mechanism that may mediate the drug’s therapeutic effect on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
In investigating the effects, the researchers have two aims. The first aim is to investigate the effects of psilocybin on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptomatology. Here, symptom severity will be assessed before treatment and 24 and 48 hours after treatment, one week after treatment, two weeks after treatment, one month, three months, and six months after treatment. The hypothesis is that a dose of 0.25mg/kg of psilocybin will lead to greater symptom reduction than niacin at all assessment points.
The second aim is to explore the relationship between psilocybin-induced brain connectivity changes and neuronal activation following symptom provocation in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Resting-state brain activity will be assessed before and 48 hours after treatment and neuronal activation will be assessed 48 hours after the treatment. The hypothesis is that psilocybin will normalize abnormal fronto-striatal functional connectivity in patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and that it will decrease activation of interior cingulate cortices, amygdala, and putamen in response to symptom provoking stimuli. These will correlate with an improvement in symptoms after psilocybin treatment.
It’s expected that this study will be completed by July 2022.
From the above, it’s clear that there he’s currently a multitude of studies in the works that aim to show the efficacy of psilocybin for a range of conditions. Keep in mind, though, that this is just a small sample of the current research and that there are many other studies underway.
The key takeaway is that scientists are doing their part to show that psilocybin has various medical benefits and can be helpful for a variety of, sometimes serious, conditions.
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