By Sandra Nomoto
Prehistoric art in Europe shows that psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as psychedelic/hallucinogenic mushrooms, magic mushrooms, or “shrooms,” may have been used thousands of years ago. In 1958, scientist Albert Hofmann discovered psilocybin and psilocin, the active compounds in the plant. The use of psychedelic drugs including psilocybin mushrooms followed in the 1960’s, and has continued in subsequent decades.
Psychoactive effects of psilocybin mushrooms can be felt 20 minutes following ingestion, and can last from three to eight hours, depending on the individual. In more recent decades, studies have been done to explore the healing applications of psilocybin.
A 2006 study of nine patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder in the USA resulted in a decrease of symptoms during one or more of the administration sessions.
Results of a 2016 UK study of self-treatment of migraine and cluster headaches reported that those who used psilocybin as a last resort reported high effectiveness and a lessening of the frequency and intensity of attacks.
More trials have been done to explore the effects of psilocybin as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
A clinical trial led by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Prof. Roland Griffiths on patients with life-threatening cancer resulted in an increase in the quality of life, decreased depression, and decreased death anxiety in up to 83% of participants six months following a life-threatening diagnosis.
Griffiths characterized the effects is as the inverse of PTSD, including spiritual or mystical experiences.
There were also no serious or long-lasting adverse effects of the drug.
More recently, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved a trial by COMPASS Pathways to use various doses of psilocybin in 216 participants with treatment-resistant depression across 12-15 research sites in North American and Europe. The study is estimated to complete in Spring 2020.
COMPASS Pathways’ Co-Founder & CEO George Goldsmith hopes that the trials will reveal how an approach using psilocybin mushrooms might help the 100 million people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression worldwide.
Other agencies have approved trials in Canada and other parts of Europe.
Studies have also been done to explore psilocybin as a treatment for substance addiction.
A 2015 proof-of-concept study of 10 people in the USA with alcohol dependence reported increased abstinence nine months following treatment. As with the studies on depression, there were no adverse effects of the drug.
In a multi-year research study by Dr. Matthew Johnson at JHU, 80% of the 15 participants who used psilocybin to quit smoking were successful six months following treatment. 60% were still smoke-free more than a year later.
Johnson and his colleagues have begun a larger study comparing psilocybin to the results of the nicotine patch.
They’re hoping that psilocybin mushrooms may be reclassified by the FDA from a Schedule I to a Schedule IV drug, which would still have restrictions against take-home use.
Since 2014, the NYU School of Medicine has been conducting phase II clinical trials on Psilocybin-assisted treatment of alcohol dependence. The study completion date is Fall 2020, and if successful, they will begin phase III studies.
In a 40-patient study currently underway at the University of Alabama, the first 10 patients using psilocybin for cocaine addiction treatment have reported significantly more days of abstinence; no adverse effects have been reported so far.
Here in Canada, the BC Centre on Substance Abuse is preparing for a phase III trial for the treatment of substance disorders, but more funding is required. The University of Toronto Centre for Psychedelic Studies is completing a Health Canada application for the acquisition of medical-grade psilocybin to determine if microdosing works (UniversityAffairs.ca).
Negative mental effects of using psilocybin mushrooms may also arise, and physical effects may be attributed to mold or mildew, which occurs when the fungi are not grown in sterile growing environments.
Psilocybin mushrooms are illegal in many countries, though certain jurisdictions are decriminalizing possession, cultivation, or use. In Canada, psilocybin is a Schedule III controlled substance, and possession requires a licence or prescription.
Magic truffles, which are the sclerotia of psilocybin mushrooms, contain psilocybin. They are not necessarily illegal in many countries where psilocybin mushrooms are illegal.
You can find a list of places where psilocybin mushroom consumption is legal here, but ensure that you search for updates to international laws.