The opioid epidemic in America has reached unspeakable heights in recent years, with drug overdose now surmounting firearm and motor vehicle deaths as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. President Donald Trump recently classified the opioid epidemic as a “public health emergency”, and rightly so as the United States remains the world leader in opioid consumption, abuse, and opioid-related death. As this trend of the overuse and abuse of prescription drugs plagues our world, many more people are beginning to seek out and research different natural alternatives to treating various ailments and conditions. Psilocybin is an example of a naturally occuring substance that is emerging as a possible treatment for ailments such as addiction, depression, and PTSD. Psilocybin is the active ingredient in psilocybin mushrooms, which are a type of mushroom that produces psychedelic effects when ingested.
Psilocybin has been used for medicinal and spiritual purposes since the dawn of civilization, with the estimated first use to be around 4,000-7,000 BCE(Austin). This molecule, grown by a tiny mushroom, was used by the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America for thousands of years and was considered alongside LSD as a “miracle drug” until the rise of the counterculture in the 1960’s. This counterculture stemmed from the tremendous publicity of the bad sides of psychedelics in reference to psychotic breaks, bad trips, and flashbacks; this in turn gave way to moral panic and society turning sharply against them. The US government recognized the new experimentation, abuse, and growing opposition associated with the fungi and stepped in, outlawing the use and production of this drug in 1968, and making it a schedule 1 substance in the same category as drugs such as heroin and peyote.
Despite being scheduled alongside some very deadly drugs, psilocybin has been named the safest “recreational” drug; according to the Global Drug Survey, an independent drug safety research group based out of London, they were only responsible for 0.2% of all drug related hospital visits (Nield). The healing properties this chemical is believed to have lie in its ability to cause neurogenesis, meaning the creation of new nervous tissue and pathways in the brain. Along with its capability to create new pathways, it is astoundingly able to repair old ones as well. The use of these mushrooms has been shown to temporarily cure disabilities such as speech impediments and deafness which commonly occur as a result of a blocked or broken synapse and pathway in the brain. In the book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence”, Berkeley Journalism Professor Michael Pollan states that psilocybes, “brought us out of the animal mind and into the world of articulated speech and imagination” ( Pollan 4). Michael Pollan goes into extreme depth about the historical and modern use of psilocybin in this book, and at the root of his argument believes that psilocybin mushrooms essentially accelerated the evolution of mankind.
The argument for psilocybin’s ability to treat addiction, especially in the case of opioids, stems from hundreds of experiments that have occurred in the last decade. For example, a study was conducted to test psilocybin’s effect on participants who struggled with cigarette addiction. According to The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, twelve out of fifteen participants abstained from nicotine consumption for at least 6 months after receiving psilocybin treatment (Bogenschutz 1). This experiment along with many others show promising results that remove doubts about its value in this world.The most distinct factor about this type of research is that it is not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself that procures these results, but the mental experience that it occasions. This mental experience involves the temporary dissolution of the person’s ego and may be the key to changing one’s mind. While its style of treatment is quite unorthodox, the concept of how psilocybin can also treat depression and anxiety is compelling and revolutionary. Instead of tricking the brain to remove symptoms, the goal in use of this drug is to change the perspective of the patient. It is important to state though that despite this substance being an extraordinary tool, it is not for everyone. Though there are no recorded deaths or fatal overdoses associated with psilocybin mushrooms, this does not necessarily mean that these mushrooms are totally harmless. In terms of the individual experience, the “trip” is not necessarily predictable, and it can in rare instances produce negative results in those patients who have a history of mental illness. Additionally, some may be uncomfortable with the forced self reflection and reduction in ego that tends to occur during the experience.
Many states in the west are recognizing the potential benefit that psilocybin has for medical use, as Colorado and Oregon are geared to have the legalization bill on the ballots for 2020. Many people have some level of knowledge of psilocybin mushrooms based on their reputation as a psychedelic drug that is commonly experimented with and heavily stereotyped, but the feats psilocybin is capable of still remain unknown to most people. The scope of potential for this drug is extremely profound, and its capabilities are wildly misunderstood; in order for the world to discover its true importance much progress will be needed to dissolve the negative stigma surrounding the drug.