There is a significant overlap between psilocybin and cannabis users. Photo credit: Cannabis_Pics.
Efforts to decriminalize psychedelics like psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in “magic mushrooms,” are gaining traction throughout the U.S.
Psilocybin, exactly like cannabis, is a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But despite the government’s disapproval, studies show that psilocybin can be an effective tool in treating anxiety, depression, and others from a family of psychiatric and substance use disorders.
Surprisingly, over the last few years, a bunch of U.S. cities managed to decriminalize psilocybin. They made it possible either through city council votes or ballot initiatives. For example, in 2019, Denver became the first in the country to decriminalize psilocybin and to give psychedelic mushrooms the lowest arrest priority, according to The Guardian.
Not so long ago, California also joined the movement. Psychedelic advocates there have filed a petition for the 2022 ballot, aiming to make the state the first in the country to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms for any use.
What Exactly is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a psychoactive compound found in certain types of mushrooms which are native in tropical and subtropical parts of the U.S., Mexico, and South America, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.
Psilocybin affects the body by activating serotonin receptors. These receptors are mostly located in the prefrontal cortex, explained Medical News Today. Mood, cognition, and perception are all influenced by this area of the brain. Hallucinogens also affect other parts of the brain that control arousal and panic reactions.
To induce significant psychedelic effects, one can take psilocybin in large doses. Consumers only need a small amount (often 0.1 to 0.3 grams) to treat mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Medical use and Research
This month, Compass Pathways, a clinical-stage UK-based organization creating a version of psilocybin for use in combination with therapy, released successful outcomes from its phase IIb clinical study.
Researchers found that people who received a single 25 mg dose of psilocybin in combination with therapy experienced an almost immediate and significant reduction in depressive symptoms, compared to patients who received a 1 mg dose, which is so small that it’s essentially a placebo.
George Goldsmith, one of the co-founders of Compass Pathways, told Forbes that the study’s results surprised him very much. “These people are very ill; this isn’t someone who gets the blues and wants to stay in bed one morning. This is a really big deal to see an immediate benefit in any kind of depression.”
Another report published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology discovered that psilocybin can reverse the feeling of the psychiatric distress that people who have gone through cancer treatment often experience. In such difficult cases, antidepressants may not be effective, and psilocybin may be the only treatment that can help.
In the Johns Hopkins study, researchers gave 51 adults with advanced cancer a small dose of psilocybin over a period of five weeks. At the end, researchers saw substantial progress treating depression, anxiety, and post-cancer psychological disorders. The overall rates of clinical response were: 78% progress on depression and 83% on anxiety symptoms.
An Overlap Between Psilocybin and Cannabis Users
Recently, Brightfield Group made a very interesting study. It showed that 4% of American consumers report that they have used psilocybin in the past 6 months. That is twice the number of consumers currently using echinacea. Echinacea is one of the most popular herbs worldwide, reports Healthline. Many use it to treat infections and the common cold.
Also, the study reported that 20% of people say they will use psilocybin once it is legal in their state. And the most interesting discovery was that there is a significant overlap between psilocybin and cannabis users.
But that’s not the only research to find such overlap. According to another 2006 study on polysubstance usage among university students, approximately 60% of the 149 surveyed students regularly used cannabis and psilocybin together.
There is no clinical research on this question. But Netherlands-based cannabis seeds producer and blog, Royal Queen Seeds, has a possible reason for this. CBD-rich strains of cannabis in combination with psilocybin mushrooms may double the medical effect on the body.
Not only European seed producers have such assumptions. For example, Healthline reports that combining psilocybin with THC-rich strains can intensify the trip, making it “more interesting and intense visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as more intriguing thought patterns.”
Is Psilocybin safe?
According to the Global Drug Survey, psilocybin sends the fewest users to the emergency room of any drug.
“Perhaps the most dangerous thing about psychedelic mushrooms,” noted Popular Science, “is that they are easily confused for the poisonous kind.”
“You can overdose on mushrooms, but you are not likely to die,” said Desert Hope Treatment Center. In this case, the biggest risk is eating the wrong kind of mushroom, the poisonous one. Some of them can even be hallucinogenic, resembling psilocybin mushrooms. Symptoms of such poisoning can include: excessive sweating, stomach-ache, muscle-ache, and slow heart rate.
Another risk is taking mushrooms that don’t contain psilocybin in them. Recent analysis of products that are sold on the market showed that oftentimes “magic mushrooms,” turn out to be usual mushrooms from the grocery store loaded with PSP, LSD, and other substances which could fabricate the trip.
An 11-year study from 1985 examined 886 psilocybin-allegedly-contaminated samples. Just 28% of the samples were psilocybin; 35%were other drugs, primarily LSD or PCP, and 37% had no psilocybin at all.
More Research is Underway
A Toronto-based company, Tassili Life Sciences, has recently provided $1.624 million in research funding for the University of Miami Medical School to explore the benefits of combining psilocybin and CBD in treating traumatic brain injuries and PTSD.
If the two substances are shown to perform well together, they might be firstly used to treat war veterans who suffer disproportionately from traumatic injuries and stress disorders.
Dr. Michael Hoffer, the chief scientist leading the study, told Inventum: “our goal is to develop a prescription pill with these ingredients that treat mTBI [mild traumatic brain injury] and PTSD. This is a new and increasingly exciting area.”
“CBD has the potential to treat the sequelae of traumatic brain injury, including hearing loss, memory and other cognitive issues. It has the ability to treat these disorders and prevent them from becoming significant issues after the concussion,” Hoffer also said.
All in all, psilocybin is definitely getting more attention these days. The substance might actually have a big and useful future, with all of the upcoming studies and decriminalization movements.