It is a sad reality that people all around the world battle with depression at some point in their lives, with it affecting 17.3 million U.S. adults alone. Having access to agents that could help battle depression and present alternate ways to cope with the symptoms of a major depressive disorder (MDD) can make a huge difference in the lives of those who deal with this constant internal struggle.
Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness, and can also be deadly if left untreated. Sadly, depression is possibly the root cause of many suicides; research has shown that up to 60% of suicide victims suffer from depression symptoms. With that being said, finding ways for depression patients to access a wide range of potentially effective treatments is paramount for a myriad of researchers.
From major depression to moderate depression, the effects of psilocybin therapy sessions can’t be understated when it comes to treating depressive symptoms.
In recent years, more studies like those done by organizations such as FDA, Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris have shown that in patients dealing with mental health problems like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (also known as PTSD), psilocybin could be a helpful tool along with prescribed antidepressant medications for the treatment of these issues.
In combination with psychotherapy, it shows potential in aiding several mental health conditions. Depending on where a patient falls on the depression rating scale, this could be a great form of treatment.
What is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is one of the main compounds found in the psychedelic mushrooms, sometimes known as “magic mushrooms” in social circles. Taken in moderate to large doses, this substance can cause sensations of euphoria, hallucinations, and introspective feelings. People experienced with magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances often call these experiences “trips”.
Psilocybin is able to help someone take a look at themselves, anything that might be troubling them, and allow them to shift their perspective on just about any topic. With enough thought, one could see how this could be a potential help in the battle against depression and other mental conditions.
The enhanced ability to view one’s own troubles from a different perspective can even assist those with life-threatening cancer and other terminal illness to come to terms with their disease.
So, psilocybin could potentially be effective in aiding problems like depression, but what does the research say about how it all fits together?
Psychedelic Therapy: A Look at the Science
It is important to remember that psilocybin is still a federally illegal substance, and anyone who is receiving it for aid in treatment is doing it under special conditions. These treatments, or experiences, are performed in a controlled environment, usually led by a trained psychotherapist. In these sessions, some patients are given a hallucinogen, while others are given a placebo.
Why use psilocybin instead of just dive right into a therapy session, then?
Psilocybin and other psychedelic substances are known for their introspective abilities, providing the brain with serotonin and allowing the user to think about things in completely different ways and at different levels than they normally would.
This type of experience is something that has the potential to mix in well when under the supervision of a trained psychotherapist who can help guide the patient through their trip and understand at a deeper level the things they are thinking during the experience.
The psychological support expert can help the patient think about past traumas, understand more clearly issues that could be contributing to their depression symptoms, and more.
The psychotherapist can also help guide the patient to a calmer state if they begin experiencing a bad trip, or allowing themselves to be overwhelmed during the experience. After all, the biggest concern on everybody’s mind should be making sure the experience is a helpful one, one that not only helps the patient better understand themselves and their condition, but perhaps even furthers the research on how magic mushrooms can potentially help in treating such conditions.
At the end of the day, it is not about the psychedelic experience that the patient is going through but the possibility that the experience could be a fruitful one. There is often meaning to be extrapolated from a trip, and when guided by a professional, a patient is sure to get something out of their session.
The process itself is relatively simple. If a patient is selected to participate in a psilocybin depression study, they will be briefed on what to expect and how everything is going to work. The patient will be led into a comfortable environment, and given a low dose of the substance by a professional.
When all of this is done, the patient and therapist will work together as the patient has their psychedelic experience. The patient will be able to voice what they are feeling as they discuss their condition with the therapist, and the psychopharmacologist will have the ability to help them understand what they are thinking and feeling.
Psychedelic experiences are often known to be spiritual and reflective, allowing one to really see things from other angles, and come out of the trip thinking about things in entirely different ways. Some folks have even credited psychedelics for helping them kick bad habits, such as drug abuse.
The Safety of Psilocybin
One of the major concerns anyone has when it comes to trying hallucinogenics that have gotten a bad reputation over the years, such as ketamine, psilocybin and magic mushrooms, is their overall safety. It’s a great thing if someone who has been suffering with depression, PTSD, or other issues finds a way to cope with these problems, but doing it safely should always be at the top of the list of concerns.
Thankfully, when it comes to psilocybin, it is virtually unheard of for anyone to overdose on psychedelic mushrooms. Though there are a few side effects that one could experience depending on how many magic mushrooms they took, they are normally very mild symptoms of nausea, headaches, and similar symptoms.
The worst side effect one could experience from psilocybin would be the potential of a bad trip.
In this state, one might feel overwhelmed by feelings of paranoia, visualize things they don’t want to see or think about, and face dark and morbid thoughts.
While rare, bad trips are something that should be considered for anyone who is undergoing a psychedelic experience, especially for the first time. Thankfully, this issue is much easier to manage under the supervision of the trained psychotherapist and in a controlled environment.
It should be also be known that hallucinogens and psychedelic drugs have the potential to bring out psychosis in some folks, so they should understand their history and mental state before deciding to undergo psilocybin therapy.
When researchers are granted permission to study psilocybin and other controlled substances, they will be stringent and careful about the dosage they give any patient. This is for the sake of safety and making sure the patient does not become overwhelmed by the effects of the substance.
In this case, a patient participating in a psilocybin depression clinical trial study would be given a small dose of magic mushrooms or another hallucinogen, one that will allow them to feel the effects without the potential of it being something they can’t handle. The patient may be given a placebo at times for study’s sake. At low doses, psilocybin easily has the potential to allow a patient to open up and allow themselves to feel and express themselves, finding a sort of integration between therapy and the experience.
Typically, a lower dosage of psilocybin as found in magic mushrooms is around half a gram to one gram. This is a good range for the patient to get the feel for the substance to see if they like it, and if not, they can voice any concerns they have about the drug without being feeling overwhelmed by any effects it may present. If the therapist deems it prudent, the dosage can always be increased in the event that the patient might react well to it in a follow-up study.
Taking psychedelics in low doses for its antidepressant effects isn’t something that is brand new, either. It has been popularized for some time, and it is a practice known as microdosing.
What is Microdosing?
Microdosing has picked up steam among folks looking to be a little more productive, clear minded, and even to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Some people have used microdosing as a practice to aid them in a quest to reduce or stop the amount of tobacco they use or alcohol they drink, while others have even reported success of kicking prescription pills and other illegal drugs thanks to the practice.
The practice of microdosing itself is one where a person takes a small amount of a psychedelic substance such as psilocybin or LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in order to gain some benefits throughout the day.
These low doses of psilocybin do not provide hallucinations or any trips, merely feelings of clarity, more energy, increased feelings of productivity, and for many, less symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The idea of microdosing mushrooms is that the antidepressant effects presented by lower doses of psilocybin could really help those who deal with major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression issues.
While it is not recommended to do so without the proper oversight by a psychopharmacology professional because of the illegalities of psychedelic substances, microdosing can be a great form of psilocybin therapy for patients to possibly find some relief from the feelings of depression, or help with other mental conditions. It is advisable not to go seeking out psychedelic drugs from unscrupulous characters you don’t know.
The best choice for anyone looking to see how a psychedelic therapy session or microdosing could help them would be to see if any studies are being done nearby and inquire about becoming a participant. When done properly, you will know that the psychedelic substance you end up with will be pure and natural, and not laced with any other substances, like so many street drugs can be.
Is Microdosing Safe?
Microdosing can be perfectly safe if handled in a safe and professional manner. Some folks, especially in Silicon Valley, have reported microdosing while on the job for its apparent boost in productivity and creativity. However, for safety’s sake, one should always be mindful before taking any amount of a mind-altering substance and driving.
At any rate, microdosing magic mushrooms or other psychedelic substances could prove useful in many circumstances where psychedelic therapy research is being conducted, as a couple examples show.
- Repeated sessions could bring valuable results. Research has already shown positive results in how psychedelic experiences and supportive psychotherapy can possibly go hand-in-hand under the right conditions. It is also possible that repeated microdosing sessions over the course of a few days or weeks could prove useful, depending on each patient’s unique case.
- Microdosing could help a patient open up even more. The effects of psilocybin during a psilocybin treatment can make one feel more in tune with their emotions, and allow them to speak on those emotions with more confidence. If done properly, microdosing psychedelic substances could be a big aid in helping a patient connect with their therapist a little more, allowing them to really open up so they can explore, together, everything behind their severe depression issues.
Depending on how long a psilocybin session goes on, a patient might need to stop taking psilocybin for a short amount of time to allow for a tolerance break. If a patient takes too much psilocybin, or any other psychedelic drugs, in a certain window of time it could make their tolerance for the drugs shoot up, making them have to take more of the substance to feel the same effects as before.
In order to avoid increases in tolerance, the patient and psychotherapist should work together to come up with a treatment schedule that works best for them over the course of the study, with a specified amount of psilocybin administered to the patient at each psychedelic therapy session.
It is also well-known that cannabis is often used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions, and can be a natural antidepressant. Nowadays, it is easier than ever to acquire quality cannabis from reliable dispensaries thanks to so many states in the United States legalizing cannabis on medical and recreational levels.
Could microdosing cannabis go hand-in-hand with psychedelic therapy treatments?
It is very possible. Depending on the legality of cannabis where a patient lives, they could easily travel to the dispensary of their choice and pick up any cannabis strain they would like. If they live in a state where cannabis is only legal on the medical level, they will have to visit with an approved doctor to get a cannabis card to gain access to dispensaries and legally purchase their cannabis.
Making the Best of the Experience
The main thing that anyone under the influence of magic mushrooms or any other psychedelic substance will want to think about is avoiding a bad trip. While rare for many folks who have used a hallucinogen before, they are something that can happen to anyone, even the most experienced.
Anyone experiencing a bad trip should be comforted and told that everything is going to be okay. Being reminded that it is merely the effect of a substance and not reality is often helpful to the person dealing with a bad trip, but remember that it is not possible to simply stop. This is another reason why only undergoing a psychedelic experience while in the presence of a mental health professional to act as a guide can be a good idea.
To combat the possibility of bad trips, thought should always be put into the setting of the experience. Nothing potentially frightening should be in the room, and there shouldn’t be any off-putting music playing. The lighting in the room should be friendly and there should be plenty of comfortable places to sit. After all, this experience is supposed to be between the patient and the therapist, first and foremost.
With the right setting in place and some planning on the part of the therapist for how they will guide the experience, a psilocybin session could prove to be hugely effective in a patient’s life, helping treat depression and provide supportive psychotherapy. It will allow them to analyze their depression or other condition and what causes it, and work in concert with their therapist to find meaning in the experience and integrate what they learned from it in their daily life.
With any luck, such an experience will be a major turning point in the life of the patient! They could find themselves analyzing their thoughts in different ways, learning new methods to identify with and deal with feelings of depression or anxiety, and more. In the best case, a great psilocybin therapy session might even help someone who was thinking about the worse scenario change their mind about suicide, or help them stop drug abuse.
Where Will We Be in the Future?
It is highly possible that the future could be looking good when it comes to how well psilocybin and other psychedelic substances could have the potential to help those dealing with depression and other mental conditions. However, thanks to the research that is going on right now, more and more avenues than ever before are being explored in greater detail.
With the federal government granting researchers allowance to test these studies out under controlled supervision, there will only be more information found on the subject as time goes on. While it is unlikely that one will be able to go into the store and pick up some magic mushrooms for themselves anytime soon, progress is being made into the medical uses for psilocybin and substances like it, and that is something that should be celebrated.
Hopefully, as time goes on, we will only continue to see more evidence coming out about the benefits of psilocybin depression studies, along with how magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances have such potential to help in the treatment of people suffering from depression, PTSD, anxiety, and so many other debilitating mental conditions.