Using Psychoactive Plants and Fungi for Long-Term Mental Wellness

By Raley Anne James

According to a mental health organization, one in five adults in the U.S. experience having a mental illness each year. These include serious mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, major depressive episodes, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite the various organizations trying to counter these issues to increase mental health awareness and acceptance, only 50 percent of U.S. adults with mental illnesses have received the proper medical treatment. Shame, a lack of awareness, and stigmas attached to mental health are some of the reasons why people refuse to get treated for their mental health issues.

In addition, some have apprehensions or bad experiences with the pharmaceutical treatments available for mental illnesses. Pharmaceutical medications used to treat mental health issues are known to have side effects and long-term health impacts such as weight gain, loss of sex drive, sleep problems, and mood swings. Thankfully, medical researchers are constantly on the lookout for innovative treatments. One such approach is the use of psychoactive plants and fungi to help maintain long-term mental wellness.

Discoveries in the world of psychoactive plants and fungi

Plants and fungi with psychoactive compounds are being put through meticulous assessments in scientific and clinical models. One example is psilocybin mushrooms (known as magic mushrooms), which have shown potential in helping treat those who suffer from depression. Recent studies reveal that psilocybin is able to reduce depressive bouts among patients. This compound heightens the neuronal crosstalk between regions of the brain that don’t usually connect, which may be the reason why psilocybin stimulates the brain to generate a psychologically transformative state where the sense of self is altered. While the studies are still in their early stages, they show how potentially beneficial fungi-derived psychoactive compounds are for those with mental health issues.

A plant-derived formulation that has been studied for its beneficial effects on mental wellness is the concoction made from combination of the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine with the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrub. Also known as Ayahuasca, this brew that is often consumed as a tea has shown promise in treating depression and substance abuse. Compelling data by health researchers points out that those who consume Ayahuasca have significantly reduced depressive symptoms. In another study, 65 percent of respondents reported that they’ve consumed less alcohol since first taking Ayahuasca.

Photo: bryn beatson

Uses in professional healthcare settings

Mental health professionals have shown an openness and acceptance towards psychoactive plants and fungi. In fact, Medical News Today reports that some doctors have been prescribing psychedelic therapy to their patients. These therapies use psychoactive plant and fungi compounds that can induce hallucinations to treat mental health diagnoses. While this kind of treatment can be prescribed on its own, it is often combined with other forms of mental health therapies.

Andrew Penn, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, has gone on record to talk about how more mental health professionals should explore integrating psychedelics in their patients’ treatment programs. Nurse practitioners with a doctorate degree in nursing and a focus on mental health are more than qualified to conduct research and explore other options that will improve patient outcomes. This pushes them, as well as other professionals such as researchers and psychiatrists, to conduct and propose studies that drill down into the human-to-human element of psychedelic therapy and the efficacy of psychoactive plants and fungi.

More research needed

While preliminary results show the potential of psychoactive plants and fungi in treating mental health issues and promoting long-term mental wellness, it should be highlighted that these results should be interpreted with caution. Some of the studies are observational, which means that they cannot prove cause and effect. Thankfully, more controlled studies and trials on psychoactive plants and fungi are well underway, which will pave the way for the mass acceptance of plant and fungi-derived hallucinogens in healthcare settings.

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