Everything You Need To Know About Psilocybin, Mushrooms, And Microdosing
If you’re like most people, when you read the words “psilocybin, mushrooms, and microdosing” you might immediately feel outside your comfort zone. I can relate to this. I’ve never been a recreational drug user, I barely drink alcohol, and the idea of hallucinating seems more scary than it does liberating — at least to me personally.
That said, in recent years, so much new research has come out about these topics that even I, a natural skeptic of these ingredients, had to listen up. These therapies have the potential to help a lot of people, and it’s time we all paid attention to emerging science with an open mind.
Keep reading for your functional medicine introduction to psilocybin, mushrooms, and microdosing.
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What are hallucinogenic mushrooms?
Hallucinogenic mushrooms are, just as the name suggests, mushrooms that cause hallucinogenic effects. They’re part of a large group of mind-altering substances called psychedelics. Psychedelics include other recreational drugs like LSD and peyote that cause changes in mood, perception, and the way the brain works.
Psychedelics are different from other drugs in that they do not lead to addiction or dependence; psychedelic use is typically experimental, episodic, or short-term, which is likely because they do not have (1) reinforcing properties or produce drug-seeking behaviors like other drugs or even alcohol and tobacco.
Psychedelics work by targeting the brain chemical serotonin. More specifically, they are partial or full agonists (1) of the 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A receptors, which is why psychedelics are often called serotonergic hallucinogens. Psychadelic mushrooms grow naturally in Mexico, South America, and even parts of the United States, the most common of which is the gold cap mushroom.
What is psilocybin?
You often hear the words hallucinogenic mushrooms and psilocybin in the same breath, and that’s because psilocybin is the main active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. So, much like THC is the ingredient in cannabis that gets you high, psilocybin is what hallucinogenic mushrooms can thank for their mind-altering effects. It has a similar structure to lysergic acid diethylamide, which is also known as LSD.
As a quick recap, hallucinogenic mushrooms are the whole ingredient found in nature and psilocybin is the chemical of interest found within them. In other words, without psilocybin, hallucinogenic mushrooms would just be...well...mushrooms.
What is microdosing?
You may have heard chatter about “microdosing,” especially if you’ve done any research on psychedelics. Microdosing is the practice of taking very small amounts of drugs with the goal of hopefully gaining the benefits of these drugs without getting high. Proponents of microdosing psilocybin say it makes them more creative, productive, focused, and calm.
Of course, microdosing psilocybin is not legal in the U.S. except in very specific research or therapeutic settings and microdosing psychedelics is not approved by the FDA. That said, the research that has been done on therapeutic psilocybin has revealed some pretty exciting benefits that are worth paying attention to, which is what we’ll be tackling next.
What are the benefits of psilocybin, mushrooms, and microdosing?
Psilocybin has been studied in a wide range of contexts, but some of the most interesting have to do with mental health and well-being. Here are just a few benefits that, as a functional medicine expert with a love for natural remedies, I’m keeping my eye on.
1. Quality of life for cancer patients
Some of the most interesting studies on psilocybin have been done at Johns Hopkins and NYU on patients suffering from cancer-related psychosocial distress. These studies, which were large, placebo-controlled phase 2 trials in humans reported remarkable results. In fact, the results of one study 64% of volunteers indicated that the experience increased well-being or life satisfaction. (2)
2. Cluster headaches
Targeting your eyes and the sides of your head, cluster headaches are some of the most painful types of headaches. They are also often extremely hard to treat, leaving people in pain with no viable treatment options. One study found that psilocybin was effective for both preventing and treating cluster headaches and migraines. (3)
Psilocybin has been studied as a complementary therapy to help with addictions of all kinds, tobacco (4), alcohol, and cocaine. One study on volunteers with alcohol dependence showed that psilocybin use was correlated with fewer cravings and an increase in abstinence self-efficacy. Plus, there were no significant treatment-related adverse events associated with psilocybin use (5).
In one small study (6) researchers gave psilocybin to nine volunteers with obsessive-compulsive disorder. They had them take the drug and then sit in a comfortable room for 8 hours, listening to specific music chosen by the researchers. As strange of a therapy as this may seem, the results showed significant improvements in OCD-related depression. In fact, the improvements lasted several months and in certain cases, the participant’s OCD went away entirely.
5. Quality of life and life satisfaction
Other studies on psilocybin involve lifes satisfaction and quality of life. For example, a 2011 study (7) showed that 205 doses of psilocybin led to lasting positive changes in personality more than a year later. These changes included increased sensitivity, imagination, appreciation for beauty, and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints and values. Another study showed (8) that two months after psilocybin treatment, 79% of participants reported being happier and less anxious and depressed. A year after that, 64% of patients reported continued higher life satisfaction and happiness.
And now for the final question I get asked most often: Is psilocybin safe? A 2011 study ranked psilocybin as the safest common recreational drug, followed closely by cannabis. That said, it still has some risks including anxiety and paranoia while on the drug and last visual perception changes, which are extremely rare. All in all, compared to even legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, hallucinogenic mushrooms have a surprisingly good safety profile.
So while they may be out of our comfort zones at first, once we learn more, we see that in just a few short years, these substances could be standard therapy for a wide range of health issues.
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- Aronson, J. K. (2014). Meyler’s Side Effects of Drugs 15E (p. Pages 1048-1051). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978044453717100158X
- Griffiths, R., Richards, W., Johnson, M., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2008). Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 22(6), 621–632. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881108094300
- Andersson, M., Persson, M., & Kjellgren, A. (2017). Psychoactive substances as a last resort-a qualitative study of self-treatment of migraine and cluster headaches. Harm reduction journal, 14(1), 60. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-017-0186-6
- Johnson, M. W., Garcia-Romeu, A., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse, 43(1), 55–60. https://doi.org/10.3109/00952990.2016.1170135
- Bogenschutz, M. P., Forcehimes, A. A., Pommy, J. A., Wilcox, C. E., Barbosa, P. C., & Strassman, R. J. (2015). Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: a proof-of-concept study. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 29(3), 289–299. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881114565144
- Ballenger, J. C. (2008). Safety, Tolerability, and Efficacy of Psilocybin in 9 Patients With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Yearbook of Psychiatry and Applied Mental Health, 2008, 242–243. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0084-3970(08)70820-x
- MacLean, K. A., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2011). Mystical experiences occasioned by the hallucinogen psilocybin lead to increases in the personality domain of openness. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 25(11), 1453–1461. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881111420188
- Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187(3), 268–283. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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