In the realm of mental health, there’s a new player that’s causing quite a stir: magic mushrooms. But we’re not talking about full-blown psychedelic trips. Instead, we’re focusing on the practice of microdosing. This involves taking small, sub-hallucinogenic doses of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.
The Science Behind Microdosing
Microdosing is a practice that has its roots in Silicon Valley, where tech workers have been using it to enhance creativity and productivity. But recent research suggests that it could have profound implications for mental health treatment.
Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has a similar structure to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, cognition, and memory. When taken in microdoses, it’s thought to enhance brain connectivity and promote neuroplasticity, potentially helping to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Psilocybin Therapy: A New Frontier in Mental Health
Psilocybin therapy is a form of treatment that involves guided sessions where patients take larger doses of psilocybin in a controlled environment. This form of therapy has shown promise in treating a range of mental health conditions, from depression to PTSD.
Microdosing could offer a more accessible and less intense alternative to full-dose psilocybin therapy, allowing more people to benefit from the therapeutic effects of psilocybin.
Magic Mushrooms and Depression: A Ray of Hope
Depression is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Current treatments, such as antidepressants and psychotherapy, are effective for some but not all.
Microdosing magic mushrooms could offer a new avenue for treatment. Preliminary research suggests that it could help to alleviate symptoms of depression by promoting emotional resilience and enhancing cognitive flexibility.
The Power of Microdosing: A Closer Look
A recent study published in Nature-Scientific Reports found that people who reported microdosing psilocybin saw “small- to medium-sized” improvements in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress over a 30-day follow-up, compared to those who did not. This study, which included over 900 people who reported microdosing psilocybin during the past month, and a control group of 180 people who did not engage in microdosing psychedelics, is the largest of its kind to date.
Microdosing involves consuming psychedelic substances in amounts too small to impair daily functioning. The dosage may vary but could be taken 3 to 5 times per week. The 2021 Global Drug Survey (GDS) found that 1 in 4 people who used psychedelics reported microdosing psilocybin mushrooms or LSD in the past 12 months. These two substances are the most widely used for microdosing, but the survey also found that about one-third of people who used psychedelics microdosed another psychedelic substance.
The Challenge of Defining a Microdose
Although most people have a sense of a microdose as being very small, one challenge for this kind of research is accurately defining the size of that dose. The appropriate microdose may vary from person to person and situation to situation. In the new study, participants reported on their recent use of microdosing psychedelic mushrooms and completed a number of assessments on their mood and mental health, noting a number of improvements.
Potential Psychomotor Benefits
In addition to studying mental health outcomes, researchers took a smartphone finger-tapping test that has been used to assess psychomotor symptoms of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. People 55 years or older who microdosed psilocybin experienced improvements in psychomotor performance, as measured by this tapping test.
The Stacking Phenomenon
Researchers also assessed whether combining psilocybin with a non-psychedelic substance, a process known as “stacking,” changed the outcomes. Combining psilocybin with lion’s mane (a non-psychedelic mushroom) and niacin (a B vitamin) did not affect the changes in mood or mental health, the researchers found. However, older individuals who microdosed and combined psilocybin with both of these substances were more likely to have improved psychomotor performance.
The Need for More Research
While the new study is the largest of its kind to date, it’s important to note that it’s still observational rather than a randomized controlled trial (RCT). As such, researchers were unable to fully account for other factors that might affect the outcomes, such as age, gender, mental health prior to the study, and other types of treatment. Factors such as these may also affect how people respond individually to psilocybin.
The Power of Expectancy
Due to the way the new study was designed, the researchers were unable to control for “expectancy,” an effect in which people know they are taking psilocybin, so they expect to experience positive benefits. This is a common problem in psychedelic research, as well as with other research in which a treatment is difficult to mask from the participants.
The Future of Psychedelic Research
Psychedelic research has historically been challenging because psilocybin, LSD, and other psychedelics are currently illegal in the United States under federal law. Although prior clinical trials on psychedelics have been challenged in the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since granted “breakthrough therapy” status for psychedelics and is now encouraging scientific research.
Despite the potential therapeutic potential for psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, the adverse risks are not fully understood, hence the need for more rigorous research. One concern with psilocybin mushrooms is that long-term use might lead to valve damage or cardiac valvulopathy. When ingested, psilocybin is metabolized by the liver and converted to the pharmacological compound psilocin, which binds to serotonin receptors in the heart.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is microdosing magic mushrooms legal?
A: The legality of microdosing magic mushrooms varies by country and state. In some places, psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to possess or use.
Q: Is microdosing safe?
A: While microdosing is generally considered safe, it’s important to remember that everyone’s body reacts differently to substances. Always start with a small dose and monitor your body’s response.
Q: Can I microdose magic mushrooms for mental health without a doctor’s supervision?
A: It’s always recommended to seek professional guidance when using substances for mental health treatment. Self-medicating can lead to unforeseen complications and risks.