Mushroom Therapy - Is This The Future?

Explore the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and its role in the future of mental health treatment. 

Summary: Magic mushrooms have been in use for thousands of years. Forgotten for generations, psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient of magic mushrooms, reemerged in the 60s, only to be outlawed again in 1970. Since the early 2000s, a revival of psychedelic research has occurred. While still illegal, clinical research has demonstrated psilocybin’s potential for treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and other conditions, when administered alongside supportive psychotherapy. However, more research is needed to fully understand the safety and effectiveness of psilocybin as a treatment. Psilocybin works on the body’s serotonin system, and brain imaging studies have shown that it affects the way certain brain networks behave and interact. Though magic mushrooms are considered physically very safe, their use does come with psychological risks. It is recommended to use magic mushrooms in a controlled and comfortable environment to enhance safety and the overall quality of the experience. The set and setting, which includes your mindset and physical surroundings, can significantly impact the outcome of a psychedelic journey.

Introduction to Magic Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms are fungi containing psilocybin - a potent psychoactive compound. The psychedelic effects of these mushrooms bring on altered states of consciousness which when administered in combination with supportive psychotherapy, show potential for treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and other health conditions.

Evidence from Africa, Europe, and the Americas suggests the use of magic mushrooms has been occurring for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples, most notably perhaps the Mazatec peoples of Oaxaca, Mexico, have long used psilocybin mushrooms for healing, divination, and transformation. 

In the 60s, there was great interest in the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, but after recreational use took off, psychedelics became illegal in 1970. Now, modern research is rediscovering these long-banned substances. In 2004, the University of Los Angeles did a pilot study of psilocybin for people with advanced-stage cancer. Shortly after this, John Hopkins professor Roland Griffiths published research showing that psilocybin could trigger mystical experiences, and subsequent health benefits.

Published results have sparked a reevaluation of psychedelics and opened the doors to research the fascinating effects of psychedelics around the world.

Understanding Psilocybin Containing Mushrooms

Psilocybin is a chemical compound that exists naturally in over 200 types of fungi. To date, there is no other known natural source of psilocybin. Psilocybin is classified as a tryptamine alkaloid, which is a type of organic compound with specific chemical properties

Magic mushrooms occur in many parts of the world and vary in potency. The psilocybin content of dry mushrooms is roughly 0.1 - 2%. A common dose of dried psilocybin mushrooms is in the range of 1.5 to 2 grams. This dose is often considered a moderate level and can produce a psychedelic experience that typically lasts around 4 to 6 hours. 

Common psychedelic effects of magic mushrooms include:

  • Perceptual distortions (geometric patterns, popping colors, “breathing” surfaces)
  • Intensified sensations
  • Heightened appreciation of music
  • Amplified emotions
  • Euphoria
  • Changes in thought patterns
  • A greater sense of connectedness to the universe and people
  • A sense of transcending time and space
  • Ego dissolution (loss of the sense of self) 

It's important to note that the effects and duration can also depend on the setting and the individual's mindset when consuming magic mushrooms.

How Does Psilocybin Work?

Psilocybin is a prodrug, which means it is converted into its active form, psilocin, in the body. Psilocin is the compound responsible for the psychedelic effects associated with consuming psilocybin-containing mushrooms. Once ingested, enzymes in the body break down psilocybin into psilocin, which can then interact with serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to altered perceptions and experiences.

Currently, researchers attribute the effects of psilocin to its role as a 5-HT2A receptor agonist. Scientists have shown that if psilocin is blocked from interacting with the 5-HT2A receptor, psychedelic effects do not occur. Psilocin also binds to a variety of other receptors which may also contribute to the wide ranging effects of mushrooms.

Research using neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown that psilocybin has been shown to increase connectivity between different brain networks, allowing for novel and less constrained thoughts and perceptions.

At the same time, psilocybin can lead to a decrease in the activity of certain brain networks, like the default mode network (DMN), which is associated with self-referential thoughts and the sense of ego. Neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris has conducted brain imaging studies that revealed a significant reduction in the activity of the DMN when individuals were under the influence of psilocybin.

This discovery has captured the attention of researchers due to the connection between heightened DMN activity and conditions like depression, anxiety, and OCD. This finding has given rise to the hypothesis that when the DMN is less active, it becomes easier for new perspectives and self-reflection to emerge.

This state of “unconstrained cognition” may also play a role in enhancing “psychological flexibility,” a trait associated with improvements in mental well-being and creative thinking.

It's important to note that the effects of psilocybin on the brain are complex and not fully understood. Ongoing research is aimed at unraveling the specific mechanisms underlying these changes in brain activity and how they relate to the potential therapeutic applications of psilocybin.

Therapeutic Potential of Psilocybin

Roland Griffiths' research exploring the connection between psilocybin and mystical experiences, and their subsequent impact on mood and well-being, marked a pivotal moment in reframing psilocybin within the scientific community. 

In the years following this groundbreaking research, the body of evidence supporting psilocybin's therapeutic potential has continued to grow. These findings are particularly noteworthy, as they demonstrate sustained improvements even a year after several psilocybin sessions.

While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the conditions where psilocybin may be effective include:

  1. Depression: In treating depression, psilocybin has shown comparable results to the antidepressant pharmaceutical drug Escitalopram. 
  2. Anxiety: Multiple studies have indicated that certain patients, especially those dealing with anxiety related to terminal illnesses, have found relief through psilocybin-assisted therapy.
  3. Addiction: Several studies have documented instances where participants successfully overcame addiction to substances like tobacco and alcohol with the assistance of psilocybin sessions combined with therapy.

Risks Associated with Psilocybin Mushrooms

While psilocybin-containing mushrooms are generally considered physically safe, it's important to acknowledge that they do carry a range of psychological risks. These risks should not be underestimated or taken lightly when considering their use.

The state of consciousness produced by psilocybin is very powerful. Unusual perceptual changes and challenging realizations about one's life situation can lead to discomfort, confusion, distress, or even fear. The processing of insights can sometimes be challenging, which is why the controlled context and the guidance of therapists play a vital role in psilocybin studies.

In one survey, 40% of participants reported having "challenging experiences" with psilocybin. These experiences often included feelings of fear, a sense of being trapped, or even fear of losing their sanity.

Many individuals described these challenging encounters as the most difficult of their lives. Interestingly, some studies have also linked these challenging experiences to positive outcomes, suggesting that, with the right support, difficult trips can ultimately lead to personal growth and transformation.

Another essential consideration is one's mental health. Profoundly shifting one's brain chemistry and experiencing a profoundly different state of consciousness can be destabilizing for some individuals. Psilocybin has the potential to initiate or worsen psychotic reactions, especially in individuals with a predisposition to such conditions. It's important to note, however, that such occurrences are exceptionally rare.

Psilocybin can also present physical health risks for some individuals. Specifically, people who have underlying health conditions such as cardiac concerns are strongly advised to consult a medical professional before consuming magic mushrooms. Clinical trials screen carefully for cardiac conditions and complications like arrhythmia and valvulopathy

Safe Usage of Psilocybin and Magic Mushrooms

As magic mushrooms can have powerful and sometimes unusual effects, it is crucial to learn how to use them safely.

Understanding the importance of preparation and integration, as well as considering your mindset and the environment you're in, are fundamental aspects of responsible psilocybin use. Studies that have demonstrated positive outcomes in treating mental health conditions always emphasize the importance of therapy both before and after a psychedelic experience.


  • Research: It's crucial to thoroughly research the substance you intend to use. Understanding the effects, potential risks, and proper dosing is essential.
  • Expert Guidance: Consulting with an experienced professional, such as a therapist or psychedelic guide, can provide valuable insights and support for the experience.
  • Choosing the Right Environment: Selecting a safe and comfortable physical setting is crucial. This includes ensuring you won't be disturbed, controlling temperature and lighting, and having access to essentials like water and blankets.
  • Exploring Trip Expectations: Having some understanding of what to expect during a trip can reduce anxiety and help you navigate the experience more effectively.
  • Setting Intentions: Setting intentions or goals for your psychedelic experience can give it a sense of purpose and help you focus on what you hope to gain from it.

Set and Setting:

Set (Mindset):

  • Expectations: Understanding that psilocybin is not a magic cure-all and having realistic expectations for your experience is important.
  • Mood and Emotions: Your emotional state and mindset leading up to the experience can influence the trip. Being in a calm and positive mental state is generally advisable.

Setting (Environment):

  • Safety and Comfort: Ensure your environment is physically safe and comfortable. Remove potential hazards, and have a trusted sitter if needed.
  • People and Music: Choose your company carefully; being around supportive, trusted individuals can enhance the experience. Music and other sensory inputs can also greatly impact the journey.
  • Clothing and Physical Comfort: Dress in comfortable clothing and have items like blankets or cushions to enhance physical comfort.


  • Post-Trip Reflection: After the psychedelic experience, it's important to reflect on what you've learned and experienced. Journaling can be a helpful tool for this.
  • Incorporating Insights: To make the most of your experience, it is recommended to actively work on integrating the lessons and new perspectives gained into your daily life.
  • Professional Assistance: Some experiences may be challenging to integrate without guidance. Professional therapists who specialize in psychedelic integration can be invaluable in this process.

The combination of these elements - preparation, integration, set, and setting - can maximize the benefits of a psilocybin experience while minimizing potential risks. Responsible and intentional use of psychedelics can lead to profound personal insights and therapeutic benefits.

To Sum Up

In conclusion, magic mushrooms have a rich history of use, and recent research suggests that psilocybin may possess significant therapeutic properties. However, to fully comprehend the benefits and risks of this fascinating substance, more extensive clinical trials with larger sample sizes are needed.

The growing interest in psilocybin is evident, with recent decriminalization efforts in some U.S. states. With continued research, mushroom therapy could become a valuable therapeutic option in the future.

In the meantime, it's essential that further research and education is prioritized, enabling individuals to safely explore the potential of magic mushrooms for personal use outside of clinical settings, while also better preparing patients engaging in psilocybin therapy.

The potential for magic mushrooms to serve as tools for enhancing the quality of life is promising, but this path requires careful planning and responsible use. The realization of psilocybin’s potential underscores the need for responsible, educated exploration, further research, and evidence-based knowledge. 

Girl with Plant
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Dr. Ana Holmes, Physican, Philadelphia, US

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