Psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance, is the primary psychoactive component in certain species of mushrooms, commonly known as “magic mushrooms.” Here is the latest scientific research on psilocybin.

Introduction – The latest scientific research on psilocybin

Scientific interest in psilocybin has significantly increased in recent years, particularly in the context of its potential therapeutic applications. The aim of this article is to review the latest research on psilocybin, its impact on mental and physical health, and its potential therapeutic uses.

History and context

Psilocybin has been used for thousands of years in various cultures for ritualistic and spiritual purposes. The Aztecs referred to it as “teonanácatl,” meaning “divine mushroom.” The use of psilocybin held significant importance in religious and spiritual ceremonies, facilitating contact with spirits, gods, and ancestors. The ritual consumption of these mushrooms aimed to gain insight, achieve healing, and strengthen social bonds within communities.

Contemporary scientific interest in psilocybin began in the 1950s and 1960s, during a period when psychedelic research was widely conducted. Numerous clinical and experimental studies during this time demonstrated the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin in treating mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

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However, in the 1970s, rising concerns about the abuse of psychoactive substances led to the implementation of strict legal regulations, which halted further research. Psilocybin, like other psychedelics, was classified as a controlled substance, complicating its study and application in medicine. It wasn’t until the past two decades that research on psilocybin regained momentum, with numerous new clinical studies being initiated worldwide.

The increase in interest in psilocybin is due to both changes in legal regulations in some countries and the growing recognition of the potential of this substance in treating various mental health conditions.

Mechanisms of action of psilocybin

Psilocybin works by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain, particularly the 5-HT2A receptors. After ingestion, psilocybin is rapidly metabolized into psilocin, the active compound that affects the central nervous system. Psilocin acts on serotonin receptors, leading to changes in brain activity.

One of the most important mechanisms of action of psilocybin is its ability to increase connectivity between different areas of the brain. Imaging studies, such as MRI and fMRI, have shown that psilocybin enhances communication between brain regions that are not typically strongly connected. This increased connectivity may explain the changes in perception and thinking characteristic of psychedelic experiences.

Additionally, psilocybin can induce temporary changes in the activity of the brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is associated with self-awareness, introspection, and reflective thinking. Disruption of normal DMN activity can lead to a state of “ego dissolution,” often described by individuals who take psilocybin.

Psilocybin in the treatment of mental disorders

One of the most promising areas of research on psilocybin is its therapeutic potential in treating various mental disorders.

Depression

Clinical studies have shown that psilocybin can be effective in treating treatment-resistant depression. In a study published in “The Lancet Psychiatry” in 2016, Carhart-Harris and colleagues conducted an open-label trial where patients with treatment-resistant depression received psilocybin under controlled conditions. The results indicated a significant reduction in depressive symptoms that persisted for several weeks after psilocybin administration.

Subsequent studies have confirmed these findings, indicating long-term therapeutic benefits. For example, a study by Griffiths and colleagues in 2020 found that the therapeutic effects of psilocybin could last up to a year post-administration, making it a promising alternative to traditional antidepressants.

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Anxiety disorders

Psilocybin also shows promising results in treating anxiety, especially in patients with terminal diagnoses. In a 2016 study by Griffiths and colleagues, patients with advanced cancer who received psilocybin reported significant reductions in anxiety and depression, with effects lasting for several months. Psilocybin can help patients accept their health condition and reduce the fear of death, improving their quality of life in their final months.

PTSD

Research on the use of psilocybin in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is still in its early stages, but preliminary results are promising. Psilocybin may help patients process traumatic memories and reduce anxiety associated with those memories. Initial studies suggest that psilocybin-assisted therapy can lead to lasting changes in how patients process their traumatic experiences, potentially reducing PTSD symptoms.

Addiction

Psilocybin is also being studied for its effectiveness in treating addictions, including alcoholism and nicotine dependence. Research conducted by Johnson and Griffiths has shown that a single session with psilocybin can significantly reduce alcohol and cigarette consumption in addicted individuals, with long-lasting effects. Psilocybin-assisted therapy can help patients gain new perspectives and motivation to change their behavior, which is crucial in the process of addiction treatment.

Psilocybin and neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new synaptic connections. Laboratory studies have shown that psilocybin can stimulate neuroplasticity. Experiments on animals and cells indicate that psilocybin increases the growth of new neurons and synapses. Clinical studies suggest that in humans, psilocybin can lead to lasting changes in brain function, which may underlie its long-term therapeutic effects.

Research indicates that even a single dose of psilocybin can induce significant neuroplastic changes in the brain. Experiments conducted on mice have shown that a single administration of psilocybin leads to an approximately 10% increase in the number of neuronal connections (dendritic spines) and an increase in their size, resulting in stronger connections between neurons.

These changes were observable within 24 hours after administering psilocybin and persisted for at least a month. In the context of clinical research on humans, various doses of psilocybin have been used. Studies suggest that doses ranging from 0.3 to 0.6 mg/kg can induce brain changes associated with increased neuroplasticity. These changes include the growth in the number and size of dendritic spines, which may be crucial for improving symptoms of depression and other mental disorders. Research on humans also shows that psilocybin administration leads to an increase in auditory evoked theta power, a marker of neuroplasticity. These effects were observed even up to two weeks after administration, suggesting long-term changes in the brain following a single dose.

In summary, a psilocybin dose sufficient to induce neuroplastic changes in the brain typically ranges from 0.3 to 0.6 mg/kg. These effects can be visible at both the structural and functional levels for an extended period after administration.

Long-term Effects of psilocybin use

Long-term studies on the effects of psilocybin are still limited, but available evidence suggests that psilocybin can lead to lasting positive changes in perception and behavior. The benefits include increased creativity, better self-understanding, and improved interpersonal relationships. However, there are also risks, such as the possibility of psychotic episodes in individuals predisposed to psychotic disorders.

The legal status of psilocybin varies by country. In many countries, including the United States, psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I substance, meaning it is considered a drug with no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse. However, some states, such as Oregon, have introduced initiatives to decriminalize or legalize psilocybin in a therapeutic context.

In Europe, the situation is similarly diverse. For example, in the Netherlands, “truffles” containing psilocybin are legally available and can be purchased in specialized shops, while in Poland, these substances are illegal.

The ethical aspects of psilocybin research include issues related to human studies, such as ensuring the safety of study participants, informing them of potential risks, and obtaining informed consent. It is also important to monitor the long-term effects and potential risks.

The Future of psilocybin research

The future of psilocybin research appears promising. New research directions include the application of psilocybin in the treatment of other mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia, as well as studies on its impact on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

Potential therapeutic applications of psilocybin may include the development of new treatment methods that combine pharmacotherapy with psychotherapy. Psilocybin may also find a place in recreational medicine, provided that appropriate legal regulations and safety procedures are developed.

Conclusions

Recent studies on psilocybin show that it may have significant therapeutic potential in the treatment of various mental disorders. While further research is needed to fully understand its mechanisms of action and long-term effects, the results so far are promising. Psilocybin could revolutionize the approach to treating mental disorders, offering new therapeutic possibilities for patients who do not respond to traditional treatment methods.

Bibliography

  1. Carhart-Harris, R. L., et al. (2016). Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(7), 619-627.
  2. Griffiths, R. R., et al. (2016). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(12), 1181-1197.
  3. Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Potential therapeutic effects of psilocybin. Neurotherapeutics, 14(3), 734-740.