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Psychedelic Mushrooms: Just another Drug or a Powerful Medicine?

An article about the medical benefits of psychedelic mushrooms.



Psychedelic Mushrooms: Just another Drug or a Powerful Medicine?

by GumbyDude

My interest in mushrooms first began when I was a small child. I remember wandering through the forests of Switzerland searching for any type of fungus I could find. As I grew older, my interest in mushrooms faded. I became preoccupied with social life and didn’t have much time for other hobbies. Surprisingly enough, my interest in mushrooms was rekindled by my social life when my friends started talking about using “shrooms.” It worried me when my friends started trying new drugs, so I made a habit of researching each new drug they brought up. My main intentions behind the research were to see what kind of potential trouble my friends were getting themselves into, and offer them advice if I thought taking the drugs they were considering was a bad idea. My quest for knowledge about psychedelic mushrooms took me to an internet site called The Shroomery. This website had information ranging from how to grow or find psychedelic mushrooms to the chemistry involved in the mind altering effects of the mushrooms. I ventured onto The Shroomery’s forums and quickly became hooked. I took particular interest in the mushroom hunting forum, perhaps as a result of my fascination with mushrooms as a child. I bought several field guides and continued to learn about all mushrooms, not just psychedelics. Eventually I became friends with the administrators of the site and they realized that they could use my general knowledge of mushrooms, and appointed me as a moderator of the mushroom hunting forum. The majority of my time in the hunting forum is spent making proper identifications on mushrooms which people believe to be psychedelic. Accurate identification is critical when dealing with psychedelic mushrooms; it could mean the difference between life and death.

I am still an active member at The Shroomery and currently moderate 3 forums. I have met and talked with several very knowledgeable people at The Shroomery including: John W. Allen, an enthomycologist who has written several books, discovered several species of mushrooms, and done research with some of the top names in mycology (Guzman, Stamets, Gartz) and several prominent members in various mycology clubs. I’ve developed several new interests as a result of my work at The Shroomery. Mushroom hunting is one of these interests. It has become one of my favorite past times. I hunt mainly for edible mushrooms, but I will collect psychedelic mushrooms on occasion. After reading so much about psychedelic mushrooms, I began to wonder what was so amazing about the experience and decided to give them a try. My first psychedelic experience provided me plenty of valuable insight. Over time I came to realize that when psychedelic mushrooms are used properly, they can be a powerful tool that has many beneficial effects on the mind.

Psychedelic mushrooms have been used by various cultures for thousands of years for their mind-altering properties. According to Erowid.org, the first records of mushroom usage were encountered around 5000 B.C., in Northern Algeria. There are also records of various Central American cultures using psychedelic mushrooms. One of the most important ancient cultures in which mushroom usage was prevalent was the Mazatecs. The Mazatecs are particularly important because their culture still exists and they are able to express what their ancestors’ reasons for using psychedelic mushrooms were.

In “The Mushrooms of Language,” Henry Munn discusses mushroom usage in the Mazatec culture. In the past, psychedelic mushrooms were used by almost everyone in a particular culture at some point in their life. The people were given mushrooms by shamans. Shamans were considered to be experts in dealing with mental and physical ailments. They would “prescribe” mushrooms to their people for various reasons. Their reasons were always related to some sort of self improvement, whether it be mental or physical. Munn stated “For the Mazatecs, the psychedelic experience produced by the mushrooms is inseparably associated with the cure for illness.” In the past, psychedelic mushrooms were viewed as a powerful medicine, not just a drug (87-99).

In order to comprehend how psychedelic mushrooms may be beneficial, it is essential to understand some basic concepts over how these mushrooms “work.” The active chemical found in psychedelic mushrooms is called psilocybin.

In The pharmacology of psilocybin, Passie et al., the pharmacology and history of psilocybin is explored. The chemical name of psilocybin is 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Psilocybin is a chemical that acts strictly on the mind; it does not do physical harm to the organs. Psilocybin’s chemical structure is very similar to serotonin, a neurotransmitter naturally found in the brain. In fact, psilocybin binds with the same receptor sites in the brain that serotonin does, the 5-HT1 and 5-HT2 receptor sites. In saying that psilocybin binds with 5-HT1 and 5-HT2 receptor sites, it is understood that it also binds with all subtypes of these receptor sites (i.e.: 5-HT2A). Psilocybin was first isolated from Psilocybe mexicana in 1957 by Albert Hoffman, the Swiss scientist famous for accidentally discovering LSD.  In the 1960s psilocybin was synthesized by the pharmaceutical company Sandoz who marketed it as Indocybin®. Indocybin® was distributed for research and psychotherapeutical purposes (357-62).

 The psychedelic drug LSD is similar to Psilocybin in that it also binds with the 5-HT1 and 5-HT2 receptor sites (Barrett et al. 559). As a result of their similarities, LSD exhibits many of the same beneficial properties that psilocybin does and vise-versa. The immediate psychological effects of psilocybin can vary greatly, but are generally characterized by extreme emotions, a feeling of energy throughout the body, visual/auditory hallucinations, profound or deep thinking, and occasionally paranoia and/or confusion. The psychedelic experience is often referred to as a “tripping.” A trip can last from four to six hours, depending on dosage. Psilocybin is found in over one-hundred species of mushrooms from several different genera. Psilocybian mushrooms can be found on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. Currently, psychedelic mushrooms are illegal in the United States; psilocybin is a controlled substance.

Psychedelic mushrooms have a wide variety of medical uses. One of their most important medical uses is their ability to cure obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. Their ability to cure OCD symptoms was first documented by Francisco Moreno, MD and Pedro Delgado, MD. A patient by the name of “Mr. A” had suffered from obsessive-compulsive-symptoms since age six. Mr. A experimented with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and psychedelic mushrooms. While most of the drugs he used either had no effect on or exacerbated his symptoms, psychedelic mushrooms seemed to lessen them. Upon making this realization, Mr. A consumed psychedelic mushrooms on a daily basis for four years as a method of self-treatment for is his obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Upon cessation of eating psychedelic mushrooms, his symptoms slowly returned over a period of two years (1037-38).

Doctors Delgado and Moreno submitted their findings to the FDA, who approved them for the first research involving the use of psilocybin on humans in 25 years (MAPS.org). The purpose of their study is “to evaluate the effects of oral administration of psilocybin on the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in 10 subjects with this condition. The long-term objective is to evaluate the safety and therapeutic potential of serotonin (5-HT)-2A/2C receptor agonist treatment of OCD” (Moreno, Delgado, and Gelenberg). This study is currently being preformed; as of August 7, 2003 a total of seven patients have been treated (MAPS.org).

Another area in the medical field where psilocybin can be useful is in the treatment of body dysmorphic disorder. In Serotonin, Psilocybin, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder: A Case Report, Karl Hanes provides an overview of BDD as well as a report of a patient using psilocybian mushrooms to treat his disease. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness which is closely related to OCD. Patients with BDD become obsessed with the belief that something is wrong with their physical appearance. In a case similar to the one studied by Moreno and Delgado, a 27 year old patient by the name of Mr. A (not the same Mr. A from the OCD report) had the obsessive belief that his cheeks looked emaciated. He visited many plastic surgeons and dermatologists looking to improve his physical appearance just to be told that his appearance was normal. His obsession with his appearance prevented him from finishing his education and seeking a romantic relationship. Mr. A recalled that while he was under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms, his appearance changed and his deformities had disappeared. This made him question whether or not his deformities really existed and he agreed to undergo treatment of fluoxetine. Fluoxetine is an antidepressant drug which acts on the 5-HT receptor sites (188-89). It might be possible that psilocybin is a better treatment for diseases that are specific to the 5-HT receptor sites because it has such a high affinity for these sites.

A recent area of interest is the use of psychedelic mushrooms to treat cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are a type of migraine headache that come and go in “clusters.” A sufferer of cluster headaches may have sporadic, intense, disabling headaches for a few weeks and then a long period of remission with no headaches.

In a correspondence between Dennis O’ Connor and Ethan Russo, MD, in the article Cannabis in Migraine Treatment Study, O’Connor states that there have been several reports of people using psychedelic mushrooms to treat and prevent cluster headaches on a popular internet-based cluster headache forum, clusterheadaches.com. When Russo was asked about this, he provided the following explanation:

The real reason the mushrooms may work is neurochemical. […] To treat migraine (and cluster) acutely, one desires a drug or plant that will stimulate serotonin type [5-HT] 1 (1A or 1D) receptors. To treat headaches preventively, one desires a drug or plant that will inhibit serotonin type [5-HT] 2A receptors. (MAPS.org)

This explanation seems very feasible as psilocybin is known to bind with 5-HT1 and 5-HT2 receptor sites. Due to psilocybin being a classified substance, there has not yet been research to support this idea. Nonetheless, people continue to report psychedelic mushrooms aiding in the treatment of cluster headaches.

            Psychedelic mushrooms also have a wide variety of usage in the field of psychiatry. Their use is particularly helpful in psychotherapy.  In Psychedelics as Catalysts of Insight Oriented Therapy, Lester Grinspoon and Rick Doblin explain the beneficial aspects of using psychedelics in psychotherapy. Patients under the influence of psychedelics are less depressed/anxious, more self-accepting, tolerant, or sensually alert and have reduced feelings of guilt. There are two types of psychotherapy that can be utilized with psychedelic mushrooms: psycholitic and psychedelic. Psycholitic literally translates to “mind-loosening.” This type of therapy involves low dosages of psychedelics; it is usually used to treat neurotic and psychosomatic disorders such as depression and anxiety. Psychedelic therapy is performed by giving the patient a high dosage of psychedelic drug. Psychedelic therapy is most often used to reform alcoholics and criminals (679-80).

The ability to treat alcoholism by means of psilocybin was studied in Hallucinogenic Drugs Attenuate the Subjective Response to Alcohol in Humans, Barrett et al. Drugs that act on the 5-HTP1 and 5-HTP2 receptor sites (like psilocybin) have been shown to alter alcohol intake and effects in rats. In a study done on the effects of mixing psilocybin and alcohol 60 percent of the subject involved reported diminished effects of alcohol while under the influence of psilocybian mushrooms (559-60). Perhaps with more research, psilocybin or a similar chemical can be used to “sober up” those under the influence of alcohol.

Research has also shown that psilocybin can be a valuable asset to hypnosis, as it increases people’s susceptibility to hypnosis (Van Nuys 34). Because of the wide variety of hypnosis uses, the possibilities of using psychedelic mushroom-initiated hypnosis ranges from curing alcoholism or cigarette addiction to curing eating disorders.

The mind altering effects of psilocybin have proved to be more desirable than those of other drugs in the field of psychopathology. In the article Psychopathological, neuroendocrine and autonomic effects of 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDE), psilocybin and d-methamphetamine in healthy volunteers, Gouzoulis-Mayfrank et al.,  psilocybin was compared to the drugs MDE (similar to MDMA, aka ecstasy), and methamphetamine. Psilocybin proved to have the strongest overall effect on the mind, ranking highest in most psychopathological categories studied. These categories included positive/negative symptoms, mania, melancholia, altered state of consciousness, hallucinogen, anxiety, and vegetative liability.  In percentage comparisons, psilocybin scored the highest in the positive symptoms category, and lowest in the mania category. While psilocybin also ranked highest in anxiety and melancholia, it is mentioned that when patients became disturbed they could easily be talked down (41-6).

Psychedelic mushrooms are not only beneficial for the mentally ill; the mentally healthy can benefit from them just as much, if not more. Alan Watts provides an excellent outline of how psychedelics can be beneficial for healthy people in Psychedelics and Religious Experience. Psychedelics allow one to disregard the stresses and inhibitions of everyday life. With inhibitions gone, one is able to examine the intricate details of objects that surround them. They are able to observe details that would not be seen by most people who are burdened with inhibitions. With a lack of inhibitions, one is able to pay attention the intricate details of everything that surrounds them. Psychedelics often provide an experience described as “ego death,” or a complete loss of ego. With the ego gone, one is able to see things from an unbiased point of view. Connections between two things that are completely opposite (i.e.: saints and sinners) are often made (75-7). A person under the influence of psychedelics would be able to forget all negative ideas they have about sinners and make a connection to things that they hold positive, such as saints. Bringing one’s self to a plane where no judgments are made allows them to better understand many elements of the universe. Watts also says that when the mind is altered by psychedelics one is able to see things on a “larger scale.” One is able to place themselves on different hierarchal levels and think about aspects of the universe from other perspectives. Watts provides an example of changing one’s perspective to that of a fruit fly:

I realize that fruit flies must think of themselves as people, because, like ourselves, they find themselves in the middle of their own world—with immeasurably greater things above and smaller things below. To us they all look alike and seem to have no personality—as do the Chinese when we have not lived among them. Yet fruit flies must see just as many subtle distinctions among themselves as we among ourselves (78).

The ego destruction involved with psychedelics enables one to look at the world from another person’s (or animal/plant’s) perspective. This level of understanding helps to create a better sense of unity with all of one’s surroundings. The ability to achieve new perspectives, levels of understanding, and ability to sense detail enables one to make connections in everyday life to their religious beliefs. The religious connections brought about by psychedelics aid in making life seem more purposeful and relevant.

            It is apparent that if psychedelic mushrooms are used in the proper manner, they can benefit the mind in many ways. Ancient civilizations have long known the capabilities of psychedelic mushrooms. Although current US laws prohibit research of psychedelic mushrooms without prior approval, current research has been enough to show that these mushrooms have proved useful in treating and/or preventing many serious mental afflictions. In addition, healthy people can also benefit from the use psychedelic mushrooms by expanding their understandings of the universe and religious beliefs. Perhaps with new research, the current laws will be revised and everyone will be able to experience the benefits of these powerful learning and healing tools.

Sources:

Barrett, Sean P., Jennifer Archambault, et al. “Hallucinogenic Drugs Attenuate the Subjective Response to Alcohol in Humans.” Human Psychopharmacology. 15 (2000): 559-565

Erowid. “Psilocybe Mushroom History.” Erowid Psilocybin Mushroom Vault : Psilocybe Mushroom History. 23 April 1999. Erowid.org. 23 Nov 2002. <http://www.erowid.org/plants/mushrooms/mushrooms_history.shtml>

Gouzoulis-Mayfrank, E., Thelen, B. et al. “Psychopathological, neuroendocrine and autonomic effects of 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDE), psilocybin and d-methamphetamine in healthy volunteers.” Psychopharmacology. 142.1 (1999): 41-50

Grinspoon, Lester and Rick Doblin. “Psychedelics as Catalysts of Insight-Oriented Psychotherapy. Social Research 68.3(2001): 667-695

Hanes, Karl R. “Serotonin, psilocybin, and body dysmorphic disorder: A case report.” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 16.2 (1996): 188-189

MAPS.org. “Cannabis in Migraine Treatment Study” MAPS: Cannabis in Migraine Treatment Study. Feb. 2000. MAPS.org. 22 Nov 2002. <http://www.maps.org/mmj/0200cluster.html>

MAPS.org. NEW FDA-APPROVED PSILOCYBIN RESEARCH NEEDS DONATIONS. 20 Aug. 2003. MAPS.org. 22 Nov. 2003. <http://www.maps.org/news/1099news.html>

Moreno Francisco, A., Pedro Delgado, and Alan J. Gelenberg. “Effects of Psilocybin in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” Psilocybin in the Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 20 Aug. 2003. MAPS.org. 22 Nov. 2003.  <http://www.maps.org/research/psilo/azproto.html>

Moreno, Francisco A., and Pedro L. Delgado. “Hallucinogen-Induced Relief of Obsessions and Compulsions” American Journal of Psychiatry. 154.7 (1997): 1037-1038

Munn, Henry. “The Mushrooms of Language.” Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Ed. Michael J. Harner. London: Oxford University Press, 1973. 86-122.

Passie, Torsten, Juergen Seifert et al. “The Pharmacology of psilocybin.” Addiction Biology. 7 (2002): 357-364

Van Nuys, David Whitman. “Drug use and Hypnotic Susceptibility.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 20 (1972): 31-37

Watts, Alan. “Psychedelics and Religious Experience.” The California Law Review. 56.1 (1968): 74-85

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