OK, so we all know that magic mushrooms are illegal and I have to begin this blog by stating that I am not suggesting that any of you go out and take magic mushrooms in the hope of attaining enlightenment. Saying that, I am going to give you some pretty interesting research based information. The media is increasingly documenting the use of psychedelics. The Guardian and even Conde Naste traveler have published articles on the increased use of reportedly mind expanding substances. I am nearing the completion of my MSc in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology and my research project is based on the experiences of individuals who microdose psilocybin (the main active ingredient in magic mushrooms).
My first experience of mushrooms was during my time at university in Birmingham. At this time (and yes this is going to do me no favours when it comes to showing my age), magic mushrooms could be bought at the local ‘Zen’ shop. Packets of them with descriptions from ‘gives you the giggles’ to ‘more intense psychedelic experience’. We used to put them in some bread in the hope of making them more palatable and swallow them as fast as we could. It would take around half an hour before the sofa began to breath, where I began to see things from the corner of my eyes leading to fits of giggles and writing my name with the stars at the end of my fingers. These events led to feelings of connectedness and finally realising that I figured out the meaning of life. In this case the meaning was that everything was concentric circles (yup, that was my conclusion and wow was I proud of myself). Mushrooms then became illegal in the UK and that was the end of that for my journey at that time.
THE SHORT STORY OF PSYCHEDELICS
The word psychedelic comes from ‘Psyche’ meaning the mind/soul and the Greek word ‘Delos’ meaning to reveal. it is thought that psychedelics allow the unconscious mind to become conscious. There have been three waves associated with the use of psychedelics. The ‘First Wave’ describes the use by indigenous cultures all over the world. By putting a person in a state of altered states of consciousness, many religions believe that the user can see beyond the boundaries of reality. The ‘Second Wave’ relates to what you and I may know as the ‘free love’ era of the 60’s. Albert Hoffman accidentally discovered LSD in the 50’s while attempting to produce a respiratory and circulatory stimulant. After accidentally ingesting the substance Hoffman encountered an eye opening (or mind opening) experience which led to much excitement in the medical world, the general public and high profile celebrities. Many scientists and psychedelic researchers claimed that this could be a major change for society and the medical and psychiatric world. Unfortunately, this excitement led to misuse of the substances and although there were many benefits shown in mental health, creativity and open mindedness a few cases of attempted suicide led the government to ban psychedelics for 42 years. Unfortunately, this ban included any research into the potential benefits.
Decades past and although LSD, mescaline, ayahuasca, magic mushrooms and a number of lesser known psychedelics are still used, it is all done illegally in many countries. The good news is in recent years the ‘Third Wave’ has arisen and legislation has changed so that research on humans is allowed in certain cases. The reintegration into global society is being looked at based on science and rational evidence.
HOW DO MAGIC MUSHROOMS WORK AND WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE BENEFITS?
So, the science.. Psilocybin is classed as a seretonergic psychedelic. This means that it works on the serotonin receptors of the brain, the ‘feel good’ receptors. It has also been found that psilocybin encourages the release of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that assists with cognition. There has been an explosion of research in the last few years that has shown some rather exciting results. Dr Nutt and Dr Carhart-Harris have been leading some progressive research at Imperial College London relating to treatment-resistent depression with 45 percent of participants still in remission 3 months after psilocybin treatment. Depression is on the rise with an estimated 350 million sufferes worldwide. It has been well documented that the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is suicide, only 50 percent of patients respond to anti depressants and 20 percent of patients do not respond to any treatment. If further research at Imperial College supports these findings a significant percentage of people can potentially be helped.
Another aspect of psychedelic therapy that inspired my research is that of microdosing. One of the first people to bring this to light was James Fadiman in his book ‘The Explorers Guide to Psychedelics.’ Fadiman suggests that micorodosing of any psychedelic should be practiced in three day cycles and the dose should be a tenth or even a twentieth of the usual amount. In the case of mushrooms, this would ideally be 0.1 to 0.5 grams. Microdosing does not cause the user to experience any hallucinogenic effects of larger doses and is though to have a number of potential benefits. Research has shown improved energy, mood and levels of cognition, reduced negative attitudes, increased wisdom, open-mindedness, wellbeing and improved mental health. It has been well documented that Steve Jobs attributed many ideas to microdosing LSD.
SHOULD WE ALL BE MICRODOSING?
The use of psychedelics is still illegal, although it is highly likely that legislation will be looked at for therapeutic settings in the hopefully not too distant future.
The increased awareness of such interventions is exciting. As a yoga teacher and a Transformational Coach in training I strongly believe in the ways in which we can hack our bodies and our brains. Neuroplasticity has received a lot of attention recently and rightly so. We can change our brains, even if just slightly. As addiction, depression, OCD and other mental disorders become increasingly part of many lives surely ways in which we can release ourselves from the mental prisons will be welcome. There has been a huge increase in personal development, bio hacking and higher states of consciousness in the western world. Maybe it is time we begin to look further into the ancient practices of plant medicine because, lets face it. What we have done for the last 40 years isn’t showing much progression. The paradigm might well be shifted.