Answered on this page:
- How do magic mushrooms work?
- Do magic mushrooms help with mental health?
- Can magic mushrooms help with anxiety?
- Can magic mushrooms be used to treat depression?
- Can magic mushrooms help treat addiction?
- Can magic mushrooms help me quit smoking or drinking?
- Do magic mushrooms help with cluster headaches?
- Are magic mushrooms addictive?
New research is revealing that magic mushrooms could play a role in the future of mental health treatment for Canadians.
After decades of little or no investigation into the clinical potential of mushrooms, scientists are conducting exploratory research into magic mushrooms as mental health therapy, targeting common conditions like depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Some of these studies were so compelling that Health Canada recently granted 24 special medical exemptions allowing Canadians to receive psilocybin therapy.
If you’re excited to learn more about the potential of magic mushrooms as a treatment for some of the most common mental health issues, we’ve got you covered. We’ve created this guide to bring you the most up-to-date information on what we’re learning about magic mushrooms and mental health.
We’ll start with a basic overview of magic mushrooms, explaining what they are and how they work. Then, we’ll talk about some of the latest research we’ve uncovered on the treatment potential of magic mushrooms for depression, anxiety, addiction, and more. We’ll also share what we’ve learned about whether mushrooms are addictive or safe to use.
<Hey Reader! Just want to remind you that we’re not your doctor, we’re not diagnosing you, and we’re not prescribing your magic mushrooms. This article is for educational purposes and should not be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned about your mental health, please talk to your doctor.>
Let’s get started!
What are Magic Mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms are a family of naturally-occurring psychedelic mushrooms. There are over 180 different known varieties of magic mushrooms, with names such as:
- Psilocybe cubensis – the easiest magic mushroom to cultivate indoors, there are now 60+ different strains of P. cubensis.
- Psilocybe semilanceata – also known as Liberty caps, they grow commonly all over the world.
- Psilocybe azurescens – also known as flying saucers, blue runners, blue angels, or azzies.
- Psilocybe tampanensis – they produce yellow-brown, psilocybin-containing truffles.
- Psilocybe cyanescens – also known as wavy caps, they grow in Central Europe and the Pacific Northwest.
- Psilocybe mexicana – the species of magic mushrooms used ceremoniously by the Aztec people and called “Teonanacatl”, meaning “flesh of the gods”.
Magic mushrooms contain a chemical compound known as psilocybin that gives them their hallucinogenic properties. In clinical research, psilocybin is extracted from magic mushrooms before being administered to patients. This allows researchers to carefully control the dosages of psilocybin received by patients in the study.
Magic mushrooms grow naturally on all six continents, but little was known about them before the 1960s when Westerners first experienced magic mushroom ceremonies while visiting Mexico. Consuming magic mushrooms is known to produce effects that include hallucinations, dilated pupils, relaxed muscles, altered experiences of time and space, altered perceptions of tactile stimulation and sensory perception, and reduced concentration.
How Do Magic Mushrooms Work?
Like we just mentioned, the medicinal or “active” ingredient in magic mushrooms is a compound called psilocybin.
Psilocybin is also known as 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine. It is classified as an indole-alkylamine in the tryptamine family. Other drugs in this family include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and N,N-dimethyltryptamine, the dream-inducing compound known as DMT or the “spirit molecule”.
On a physiological level, psilocybin in the brain interacts with the serotonin system. It has a high affinity to bind with specific types of serotonin receptors in several areas of the brain, including the thalamus and the cerebral cortex. The thalamus is involved in the regulation of consciousness and alertness, as well as relaying sensory and motor signals, while the cerebral cortex acts as the main site of neural integration and plays a role in sensory, visual, and motor processing.
Some researchers believe that interactions with serotonin receptors in areas of the brain responsible for visual processing are the physiological cause of hallucinations when taking psilocybin, and there’s a growing body of evidence that these same interactions could provide relief for individuals with mental health issues.
Let’s now take a closer look at the connection between magic mushrooms and mental health.
Magic Mushrooms and Mental Health
The connection between magic mushrooms and mental health is an emerging area of science. We’ve seen a few promising studies so far, but there’s a lot more work to be done before we can fully understand the impact of magic mushrooms on mental health.
Below, we’re going to explore and highlight the most significant investigations that have taken place so far into the clinical potential of magic mushrooms for treating anxiety, depression, addiction, cluster headaches, and epilepsy. We’ll give a brief overview of each illness, then highlight the latest research into how magic mushrooms and psilocybin can help.
Magic Mushrooms and Anxiety
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety can be simply described as a feeling of fear or apprehension that may or may not have an environmental trigger. Symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Generalized feelings of fear and worry
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or feeling faint
Anxiety is part of how humans respond to stressful situations, acting as a precursor to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response to environmental dangers or threats. When we experience life events that make us fearful or nervous, we may experience temporary anxiety.
An anxiety disorder occurs when feelings of anxiety begin to emerge at inappropriate times, and when those feelings are so severe and intense that they interfere with an individual’s daily life and activities. Anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Anxiety?
So far, there have been just a handful of studies done on magic mushrooms and anxiety.
The first such study was published in the Archive of General Psychiatry in 2010 by a group of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and titled “Pilot study of psilocybin treatment for anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer”. The research participants were a group of twelve late-stage cancer patients who had also been diagnosed with anxiety.
Researchers started by measuring the anxiety of each participant using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Then, researchers administered a dosage of psilocybin to each participant according to their body weight. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory was administered to patients one, three, and six months after the treatment to measure any changes or improvements in mood.
Ultimately, researchers found that psilocybin treatment resulted in a significant mood improvement and decreased anxiety at both one month and three months after treatment. The effect seemed to drop off by the six-month follow-up, indicating that additional rounds of psilocybin therapy would be needed to sustain the positive effects.
The original pilot study on psilocybin and anxiety was replicated in 2016 by Roland R Griffiths and a group of hallucinogen researchers from Johns Hopkins University. The new study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology with the title “Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial”.
This time, research participants included 51 late-stage cancer patients that were also diagnosed with either depression or anxiety. Participants received two psilocybin therapy sessions with two different dosages – a high dose and a low dose. Patients were evaluated after each session and 6 months after the end of the treatments to assess the benefits. Researchers also rigorously documented the behaviour and mood of patients during the treatment.
Research participants reported significant positive mood changes after participating in the psilocybin treatment and at the six-month follow-up. Overall, 82.6% of participants said that the treatment increased their well-being or life satisfaction either “moderately” or “very much”.
Magic Mushrooms and Depression
<We’ve already written the definitive guide to magic mushrooms and depression – you should check it out! We go into even more detail exploring the many studies on magic mushrooms and depression.>
What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes the affected person to experience persistent feelings of sadness, despondence, hopelessness, and/or disinterest. It is one of the most common emotional disorders, affecting more than 250 million people worldwide.
Some people may be unsure whether their emotional experiences count as depression. It is normal to feel sad, tired, or lonely sometimes in response to challenging life events. Depression becomes a disorder when those feelings persist over time, sometimes even when there’s nothing materially wrong.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Increased irritability or restlessness
- Unpredictable mood swings
- Erratic sleep patterns
- Loss of energy or initiative
- Shallow affect
- Lack of productivity and low self-esteem
Researchers have identified many potential causes of depression, including early childhood trauma, structural differences in the brain, certain medical conditions, and a family history of mood disorders.
Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Depression?
In just the past five years, researchers have learned a lot about the impact that magic mushrooms can have on treating depression.
Check out our guide, Magic Mushrooms and Depression: Everything You Need to Know 2021 for a full exploration of the currently available research on magic mushrooms and depression.
Magic Mushrooms and Drug Addiction
What is Drug Addiction?
Addiction sometimes called “substance use disorder”, is a complex mental health issue that can be described as compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. Addiction is rooted in the dysfunction of chemical systems in the brain that regulates reward, motivation, and memory.
Drug addiction is a major public health issue. Below are listed the ten types of drugs most often implicated in substance use disorders in North America:
- Painkillers like oxycontin, codeine, and vicodin
- Cocaine and its variants
- Benzodiazepines like valium and xanax
- Stimulants like methamphetamine and adderall
- Sedatives, including sleeping pills like ambien and lunesta
Symptoms of substance use disorder may be grouped into four categories:
- Drug Effects – Addicts increase their tolerance to their substance of choice over time. Eventually, they require larger amounts to get the same effects. They may experience withdrawal symptoms when losing access to the drug.
- Impaired Control – Addicts experience cravings and strong urges to engage with their drug of choice, often resulting in failed attempts to quit.
- Risky Use – Addicts may take risks to acquire or use their drug of choice. They may continue to engage in risky behavior despite knowledge of the potential consequences.
- Social Problems – Addicts may find that drug use interferes with their ability to function in society, including holding down a job and maintaining relationships with friends, colleagues, and family members.
Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Addiction?
While no single treatment is appropriate for every person suffering from depression, there has been some evidence that psilocybin therapies could be useful for some individuals trying to quit smoking or reduce their dependence on alcohol.
Studies in this area have been extremely limited so far, but we’re hoping that future research will look more closely at how magic mushrooms can trigger behaviour changes that lead people away from addiction.
Can Magic Mushrooms Help Me Quit Alcohol?
A 2015 study conducted by Michael P Bogenschutz and colleagues at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center was the first to investigate the efficacy of psilocybin for alcohol dependence. The study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology under the title “Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: a proof-of-concept study”.
The study involved 10 research patients with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence. The participants were given 8 weeks of motivational enhancement therapy and received two doses of psilocybin – one after the fourth week, and one after the final week of therapy.
Researchers found that the participants all showed increased rates of alcohol abstinence after receiving the psilocybin treatment. The intensity of their psychedelic experiences during week 4 of the study correlated strongly with a reduction in alcohol consumption during weeks 5-8. These preliminary findings seem to suggest that psilocybin therapies can actually help reduce alcohol dependency in chronic drinkers.
Can Magic Mushrooms Help Me Quit Smoking?
So far, we’ve seen just one small study that investigates whether magic mushrooms could be used to help quit smoking.
This study was conducted by Matthew W Johnson and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology with the title “Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction”.
This study included 15 participants who had been smoking an average of 19 cigarettes per day for an average of 31 years, with an average of 6 previous attempts to quit smoking. The participants were given 15 weeks of structured smoking cessation therapy, during which they received moderate or high doses of psilocybin. At the 6-month follow-up, a biomarker assessment demonstrated that 12 of the 15 participants had abstained from smoking over the prior seven days.
This study shows a lot of promise that magic mushrooms could be used in the future in therapies that help people quit smoking, even after they’ve smoked for decades and failed to quit multiple times.
Magic Mushrooms and Cluster Headaches
What are Cluster Headaches?
Cluster headaches are not very common, as they seem to affect just 0.1% of the population. Still, cluster headaches are considered one of the most painful and unpleasant types of headaches. They are characterized by intense pain localized around one eye or on one side of the head.
Cluster headaches may occur in cyclical patterns known as cluster periods. A cluster period lasts between one week and one year, during which the patient experiences headaches almost every day, or even multiple times per day. A cluster period may be followed by a period of remission where the individual experiences no headaches for a period of months or years.
Common symptoms of cluster headaches may include:
- Severe pain on one side of the head or around one eye
- Teary eyes, facial sweating, or runny nose
- Swelling around the eye, redness of the eye, or a droopy eyelid
Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Cluster Headaches?
If you’re currently suffering from cluster headaches, the available evidence suggests that magic mushrooms might be the solution to your problems.
One of the first research papers on the medicinal properties of magic mushrooms was written in 2006 by R Andrew Sewell and colleagues at Harvard University and published in the journal Neurology with the title “Response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD”.
Sewell and his colleagues interviewed 53 cluster headache patients who had self-medicated using either magic mushrooms or LSD. Their findings can be summarized as follows:
- 85% of psilocybin users who were interviewed said that taking magic mushrooms allowed them to abort cluster headache attacks at their onset.
- 52% of psilocybin users reported that using magic mushrooms resulted in the termination of a cluster period and the onset of a remission period.
- 95% of psilocybin users reported that using magic mushrooms extended their remission period, effectively increasing the length of time between cluster headache attacks by months or years.
One follow-up study involving 496 patients found that psilocybin was either comparable or more effective than conventional treatments for treating cluster headaches.
Are Magic Mushrooms Addictive?
Short answer: NO!
The war on drugs in North America began in 1971 and was characterized by the suppression of research into psychedelic medicine and the widespread distribution of misinformation about drugs like psilocybin. This climate has created big misconceptions that need to change if Canadians are going to benefit from psilocybin treatments in the future.
According to Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., Professor at Johns Hopkins University and career researcher into magic mushrooms, the biggest misconception about magic mushrooms is that it’s highly addictive.
In fact, Johnson said in a 2019 interview that magic mushrooms don’t really have the same addictive properties as other drugs that are more commonly abused (like the kind we listed under the “What is Addiction?” header in this article). Johnson also points out that magic mushrooms don’t interact with the dopamine system, so they’re not producing a reliable feeling of euphoria or the typical dopamine response you see with a smoker or an alcohol abuser.
Based on this understanding, researchers at Johns Hopkins are now recommending that psilocybin be reclassified from Schedule I to Schedule IV in the controlled substances act. This change would acknowledge its low potential for abuse and accepted medical uses, opening the door to future clinical investigation.
Are Magic Mushrooms Safe?
Magic mushrooms can only be used to treat mental health issues if they don’t cause other kinds of harm. Unfortunately, there are widespread misconceptions about the kinds of harm that magic mushrooms can cause.
A 2011 literature review analyzed pooled data from 8 different studies involving psilocybin administration to assess the short-term and long-term safety concerns. In total, the analysis included data from 110 research participants who received a total of 227 doses of psilocybin.
This review found that more research participants reported pleasurable, enriching, and non-threatening experiences while under the influence of magic mushrooms. While there were some adverse reactions reported, they were generally related to the highest dose conditions and successfully managed using interpersonal support.
Follow-up questionnaires with research participants revealed that none of them had experienced:
- Any subsequent issues with substance abuse,
- Any persisting disorders of perception,
- Any symptoms of prolonged psychosis,
- Any long-term functional impairment.
Based on these results, it appears that psilocybin is quite safe to use in the clinical context. This is great news for both clinicians and mental health patients who are excited about the therapeutic potential of magic mushrooms for mental health.
Thanks for checking out our ultimate guide to magic mushrooms and mental health in 2021!
Here’s a quick summary of what we covered in this article:
- Exciting new research is showing that magic mushrooms might be helpful in treating a variety of mental health conditions
- Research into magic mushrooms and anxiety showed that participants do experience increased levels of well being and life satisfaction after receiving psilocybin therapy
- Research into magic mushrooms and depression has found that therapies involving psilocybin do result in mood improvements for patients.
- Early experimental results have shown that psilocybin therapies might help to elevate the success rate of addiction therapies, including tobacco cessation therapies and motivation enhancement therapy for recovering alcoholics.
- Many people who suffer from cluster headaches have reported significant relief after taking magic mushrooms.
- Leading psilocybin researchers say that magic mushrooms and other psychedelics do not share the same addictive properties as alcohol and tobacco.
- Magic mushrooms are being used safely in clinical research, with participants reporting generally positive experiences and no long-term negative side effects.
Based on everything we’ve shared here, we’re excited about the future of magic mushrooms as a treatment for mental health disorders in Canada. We hope the next generation of Canadians will benefit from interventions for depression, anxiety, and addiction that harness the therapeutic power of magic mushrooms – a power we’re just beginning to understand.