The Science Behind Psilocybin
Peer Reviewed Studies
The study of Psilocybin is entering a new "renaissance", propelled by philosophical motivation and adherence to rigorous scientific standards on the part of numerous institutions, . Researchers have been approved by the FDA to study the many functions that psilocybin mushrooms exert on human consciousness, and their effectiveness in treating a host of psychological conditions. Some of these conditions include depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD, PTSD, and eating disorders. In addition to its therapeutic benefits, psilocybin also carries an extremely low potential for addiction, and by toxicological standards, is one of the safest substances known to humankind as demonstrated in the figure below.
Although it is a biologically safe substance with no known LD-40 (lethal dose required to kill 40% of a sample size), risks are still present with psilocybin use. It can, with improper dosage or preparation, cause uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, confusion, and "ego death". In predisposed individuals it has the potential to be the catalyst for a psychotic episode or even prolonged psychosis. It is important to note that approximately 1% of the population carries a hereditary predisposition to schizophrenia and therefore should not use psilocybin.
Psilocybin's molecular structure is similar enough to serotonin that it acts as a serotonergic antagonist, binding to various derivatives of 5HT2 receptors and stimulating the production of Glutamate and BDNF, two important neurotransmitters associated with cognition, learning, and memory. It also drastically changes neural informational paths, by attenuating the default mode network, an area of the brain which is overactive in patients with depression. Additionally it interacts minimally and indirectly with dopaminergic system, unlike Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor's (SSRI's). These properties culminate in psilocybins ability to re-wire fear condition responses, alleviate anxiety, deepen emotion, increase focus, and stimulate creativity.
Naturally occurring psychoactive substances have a long history of human use, from tribal hunter/gatherer bands to advanced ancient civilizations, most notably the ancient Greeks. Despite this integration with human evolution we currently understand little about the psychopharmakinetics of tryptamine compounds.
This lack of understanding is due primarily to the U.S. governments 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which placed the "classic psychedelics" into schedule 1 designation. This defined them as having "no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse". However, the flurry of research conducted between psilocybin's official discovery in 1957 and the Drug act of 1970 showed quite the opposite. Many of these studies showed promise for the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in treating numerous psychosomatic disorders.
In the decades since the turn of the century public attitude has positively shifted towards the free and open-minded research of psilocybin. Now, in 2019, governments are beginning to follow suit. The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) has designated psilocybin a breakthrough therapy for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a condition affecting over 300 million people worldwide. Over a dozen accredited institutions, a few of which include Harvard, Stanford, Yale, The Usona Institute, The Heffter Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Toronto are in the process of clinical trials/studies to determine the potential of psilocybin as a therapeutic aid, and there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that cannot be discounted.