Psilocybin Assisted Therapy: Revolutionizing the World of Mental Health

For older folks, the word Psilocybin may possibly conjure up youthful memories of carefree tripping on “magic mushrooms.” It may remind them of a profound mystical experience. Of course, in the 60s wild mushrooms and fungi containing psychedelic compounds were used all over the world for recreational purposes. Especially by the youth. They have also long formed part of traditional Native American rituals. These mushrooms are also used by many other indigenous peoples around the world. Lately, people seem to be turning toward using this Psilocybin for its possible mental health benefits. This is probably why Psilocybin assisted therapy has become an extremely popular topic for discussion.

Recent studies indicate that the active ingredient of the mushrooms, known as Psilocybin, could be a very effective treatment option for depression and other mental illnesses. Serious research is now underway to fully investigate the therapeutic potential of Psilocybin.

Psilocybin Assisted Therapy Explained

Currently, Psilocybin Assisted Therapy is not legal in the USA. However, there are healing centers in other countries that offer it. Many individuals have personally experimented with controlled micro-doses of the drug with beneficial results. We should not, however, condone or encourage the use of psychedelic drugs outside of a controlled and approved situation.

Psilocybin Assisted therapy is basically used to reboot the brain. One single micro-dose of psilocybin can break down the connections within the brain that are most often responsible for causing depression and negative emotions. After this “breakdown” new, more positive connections are allowed to form.

Brain scans reveal that the area of the brain that is associated with depression is more stable after treatment. Also, the areas associated with stress, fear, and emotional processing display a reduced flow of blood.

What is Psilocybin?

Psilocybin (O-phosphoryl-4-hydroxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is the active ingredient of “magic mushrooms” and “psychedelic truffles”. Psilocybin is known as a psychoactive medicine as it affects the way in which the brain functions resulting in changes in perception, thinking and behavior. It is also classified as a classic hallucinogen.

Psychedelic Medicine

Psychedelic medicines are known to shake up the brain. The most commonly used Psychedelic Medicines are Psilocybin, LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) (Acid), Mescaline (Peyote), and DMT (dimethyltryptamine) (Ayahuasca).

Psilocybin Effects

Sometimes, the brain develops unhealthy thought patterns which can be reinforced by other influences. These patterns can become more and more entrenched and unchangeable and they can cause debilitating behaviors and emotions.

When you take Psilocybin, these unhealthy connections and patterns are broken. For a while there is a sense of disorder, but then the brain naturally seeks to restore order to promote health and happiness. Your brain will instinctively redefine connections which are positive and beneficial.

The positive mental health effects of taking psilocybin are reinforced when it is used along with psychotherapy. A trained therapist can help someone to modify their destructive thought patterns or misguided beliefs. This can assist them in maintaining the positive effect of their re-configured brain.

Medical vs Recreational Use of Psilocybin

A psychedelic dose of psilocybin for recreational use is typically about 3.5 grams of dried mushrooms for the average person. A therapeutic micro-dose, on the other hand, is about 0.35 grams which is a mere one tenth of the recreational dose.

A hallucinogenic dose of psilocybin disrupts certain receptors in the brain. In short, this enhances divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility along with promoting creative insights. Moderate to high doses can generally enhance someone’s mood, perception, motivation, and their overall consciousness.

Micro-dosing aims to harbor the same positive effects without the risk of experiencing hallucinations and a possible “bad trip.” It creates a feeling of well-being, as opposed to uncontrolled euphoria along with optimism and openness towards other people. Basically, this substance allows people to reconnect with their emotions.

What is it Used for in Therapy?

Psilocybin is used in therapy to help people with depression and other mental disorders to reprogram their brains.

Breakthrough Therapy

Due to some very promising initial studies, the FDA has given a Psilocybin-based drug the designation of a “Breakthrough Therapy” which enables the fast completion of trials. This makes it possible for Psilocybin Assisted therapy to be offered as quickly as possible as an alternative treatment for patients with depression who have not responded to other treatments. The approval could be put through as soon as 2021.

Psilocybin Assisted Therapy

Treatment-Resistant Depression

Many people suffering from depression do not respond to the currently available drug treatments and therapies. Treatment-resistant depression leaves thousands of people stuck without effective treatment options, lost in the dark world of depression and at an increased risk of potential suicide.

Moreover, many of the existing drugs used for treating depression produce unwanted side effects. These less than welcome effects can cause patients to drop out of treatment. Commonly used Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for instance, frequently produce a feeling of decreased global mental functioning as well as a loss of interest in sexual activity.

The Need for Alternative Treatments

Investigating alternative treatments for mental illnesses is vital, as currently, many people are suffering and they have no hope of relief using available drugs and therapies.

Numerous substances that have been used for recreational purposes in the past are now being investigated for their therapeutic potential. One example is Epidolex which is an epilepsy treatment derived from cannabis. It obtained FDA approval last year. Esketamine is another alternative treatment for depression that is derived from Ketamine. It is also currently seeking FDA approval.

The exact ways in which of many of the drugs used to treat mental illnesses (including the drug of choice for bipolar disorder called Lithium) work, is still unclear. To this day, we still have a very limited understanding of how the brain functions and what causes mental illness. Therefore, we do not really know which treatments actually work.

However, alternative drug treatments can be considered based on their potential for alleviating symptoms and reducing mental illness. This can be the case if patients experience symptomatic relief and the substance has been tested to rule out any major detrimental side effects, .

Psilocybin Assisted Therapy for Depression Treatment

Psilocybin Assisted therapy uses a synthesized form of psilocybin in capsule form, not the actual mushrooms.

What Happens During a Session?

Depressed patients normally receive drug-free psychotherapy sessions both before and after receiving a dose of Psilocybin. During these sessions, patients are given a standardized dose of synthesized Psilocybin in a safe clinical environment where they are observed and their reactions are noted. They are usually accompanied by a professional mental health worker throughout the therapy process.

Normally, the the therapist will encourage the patient to be introspective and to concentrate on their thoughts, feelings and memories. Although if they want to, they can communicate with the person accompanying them.

In subsequent sessions, the therapist will encourage the person to verbalize their experience. They will also be taught ways in which they could reinforce and maintain the newfound insights and understanding regarding themselves.

Psilocybin Assisted therapy can be effective after just one dose, but more commonly two doses are administered with a short interval in between the two.

Does it Work?

Most people who participate in Psilocybin Assisted therapy say that they feel better and that they experience a lasting relief from the negative symptoms which they were previously bothered by. They tend to feel more positive and optimistic and they generally have more energy. These people are also able to experience deeper feelings of empathy.

Which Other Kinds of Concerns is Psilocybin Assisted Therapy Good For?

Studies have shown that Psilocybin Assisted Therapy can also help people who have very rigid thought patterns or people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and addictions.

Risks and Benefits of Psilocybin Assisted Therapy

People with a family history or personal history of psychotic behavior may not be the best candidates for Psilocybin Assisted therapy. The substance could exacerbate psychotic disorders in those with a predisposition.

Both human and animal studies have shown that it is very unlikely for Psilocybin to provoke abuse and it is, in fact, a useful tool for overcoming substance addictions. Also, it won’t cause physical dependence.

Clinical Trials

In the “Psychedelic 60s”, some experimentation was done into the potential therapeutic effects of Psilocybin. However, with the widespread recreational use of LSD, these mind-altering substances were soon made illegal and investigations were stopped. In 1959, the drug company Sandoz, isolated the structure of Psilocybin. As a result, in 1961 they launched a drug called Indocybin for the treatment of depression and anxiety. This was withdrawn from the market in 1965 after incidences of misuse in the light of a growing anti-drug culture.

It was not until the late 1990s that experimentation began again with the so-called “psychedelic renaissance”.

A study using psychedelic truffles was conducted in Holland by the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands in a natural setting in 2018. The effect of a micro-dose, of 0.33 grams on 36 volunteers was measured using accepted standardized techniques and control subjects. The subjects were able to identify a single solution to a problem as well as to discover many possible solutions after receiving the dose. It is hoped that further placebo-controlled studies will confirm that controlled psychedelic use can optimize the balance between cognitive flexibility and persistence.

A small study done on nineteen people last year, at Imperial College London, showed promising results for psilocybin. The study discovered that patients who were suffering from depression (and who had not responded to traditional treatments) showed improvement for up to five weeks after receiving two doses of psilocybin.

Last October, the FDA gave a psilocybin-based drug (which is being tested by COMPASS Pathways), a “breakthrough therapy” designation. COMPASS Pathways is a consortium founded in 2016 whose aim is to accelerate the access of new evidence-based innovative mental health treatments to patients.

Studies clearly show that Psilocybin therapy can produce an immediate and sustained decrease in depressive symptoms after just one treatment. During the next year to eighteen months COMPASS will be running the first clinical trial on a large scale, with more than 400 patients from North America and Europe. The aim of this clinical trial is to investigate the potential of using Psilocybin Assisted therapy as a treatment for depression.

Psilocybin: Ancient Medicine to Modern Marvel

Psychedelic drugs have long been used in shamanic medicine around the world. Ancient cultures have also traditionally employed the medicinal potentials of the plants in their surroundings. These natural remedies were used to promote mental health and to achieve transcendental and meditative states as well as spiritual enlightenment.

Clinical studies will hopefully prove the potential that Psilocybin has for healing to make it available for sufferers of depression. As more serious research is conducted, it is possible that we will discover many more beneficial substances contained within traditionally used medicines and recreational drugs. Psilocybin Assisted therapy could revolutionize the way we treat mental illness and provide relief for thousands of people.


author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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