History & Uses Over Time
Many entheogenic plants, such as peyote, ayahuasca, and iboga have been used by indigenous tribes for religious and sacral purposes for centuries. Overtime, entheogens have been used in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to help reduce symptoms of treatment-resistant depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, PTSD and anxiety. They’ve also been proven to increase quality of life and optimism in cancer patients.
Other substances that have similar psychoactive effects but don’t fall under the category of “entheogens,” such as cannabis, ketamine, LSD and MDMA, have also helped reduce symptoms of mental and physical illnesses.
Cannabis, the only known source of psychoactive cannabinoids THC and CBD, has been used for thousands of years in textiles, medicine, and spirituality. Despite its proven therapeutic benefits, both physiological and psychological, cannabis has been prohibited in most parts of the world since the 20th century, setting research back decades. In more recent years, cannabis has been decriminalized and legalized in several states in the U.S. and other parts of the world and created a massive market for medicinal cannabis-based products.
Listed as one of the most essential medicines in the field, ketamine, a medical anesthetic, has been used to treat heroin addiction and alcoholism. In the 1980s, Evgeny Krupitsky tested ketamine injections on extreme alcoholics. His results showed that 66% of the participants abstained from alcohol for one year, compared to 24% in the conventional treatment control group. Since then, ketamine has been studied at Yale for heroin addiction and depression. With ketamine already being legal and regulated, pharmaceutical companies don’t need to jump through big hoops to apply for research or studies. In 2018, pharmaceutical company Janssen applied to the FDA for a patent on a nasal spray of a related compound: esketmine. Today, there are thousands of ketamine clinics world-wide.
Lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD, was discovered by Albert Hofmann in 1938, but its effects were not known until he accidentally tested it on himself five years later. Its discovery led to a deeper understanding of the brain’s neurochemistry and helped therapists effectively treat a wide range of illnesses. Unfortunately research, despite promising results, came to a halt due to LSD’s influence in the counterculture movement, making it illegal in most parts of the world. Now, more than 50 years after LSD was banned, it’s resurfaced as a potential therapeutic drug and is being studied by highly accredited hospitals and foundations. One of the most notable foundations backing these studies is the Beckley Foundation, which has funded many ground-breaking studies into LSD’s effects on the brain. In 2019, Johns Hopkins opened the first research facility dedicated to psychedelic drug studies in the U.S.: Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
In the 1970s, MDMA was a popular drug of choice for treating depression. Following a similar fate as LSD, MDMA was used and abused by emerging rave scene in the 80s and was eventually banned in 1985 as a Schedule 1 drug. Fast-forward to the early 2000s when MAPS put on the first clinical study using MDMA as a treatment for PTSD. Today, pure crystal MDMA (the only form that can be legally administered) is in Phase III of clinical trials for PTSD and has been granted “Breakthrough Therapy” status by the FDA. Some doctors even predict that MDMA could be prescribed to patients as early as 2022.
Psilocybin, aka “magic” mushrooms, has a very rich cultural history. From indigenous tribes, to the counterculture movement and medical research, magic mushrooms have been through it all.
These psychedelic mushrooms can be traced back thousands of years, depicted in art across multiple continents and cultures. They were associated with ceremonial traditions, spiritual enlightenment, and holistic healing practiced by indigenous tribes from all over the world before they became synonyms with the counterculture movement and ultimately outlawed.
In 1957, R. Gordon Wasson, the Vice President of J.P. Morgan at the time, published his famous essay, “Seeking the Magic Mushroom,” where he recounted his experience using the substance under the guidance of a well-known and highly respected shaman, Maria Sabina. Wasson’s essay inadvertently kick-started the psychedelic movement, taking the hallucinogenic mushroom from a sacral fungi to a worldwide sensation.
Today, despite magic mushrooms classification as a Schedule I drug, the psychedelic fungi has become more accepted and researched in the medical field. In recent years, psilocybin has been clinically studied and tested by highly accredited institutions and foundations to treat physical and psychological ailments, ranging from PTSD to addiction.
With further education, research, and testing, we can expect to see the continuation of decriminalization, demystification, and overall acceptance of the healing and spiritual effects of psilocybin.
Psilocybin is primarily known for its psychoactive effects on the brain, but since the 60s it’s been studied for its medicinal properties and its role in the treatment of various illnesses and disorders, including cluster headaches, psychological stress, and addiction.
Cluster headaches, sometimes referred to as suicide headaches, are extremely painful and desruptive headaches. They can occur several times a day for weeks or months, followed by a period without headaches before the cycle starts over. When taken at a sub-hallucinogenic dosage, psilocybin can abort attacks, terminate a cycle, or extend the sufferer’s remission period, proving to be an effective treatment for those who are treatment-resistant.
Additional studies demonstrate how psilocybin can increase quality of life in terminally ill patients. In a pilot study from 2011, patients with advanced-stage cancer and end-of-life anxiety reported improved depression and pain up to six months after their second psilocybin treatment.
Another prevalent area of psilocybin treatment research is drug and alcohol addiction. Various studies show that when alcoholics include psilocybin as part of an assisted treatment plan, they are more likely to reduce the amount they drink or completely abstain. Tobacco smokers who include psilocybin in their treatment plan experience similar results.
Those who use psilocybin as a way to connect with the world around them, report feeling a renewed appreciation for life and nature, as well as feelings of bliss and interconnectedness with the universe. The mystical experience of psilocybin has been described as transcendent and sacred, often creating a grand sense of unity. It’s believed that if one feels this sense of peace within themselves, they will spread it to the rest of the world.
The spiritual and mystical journey one experiences on psilocybin can be incredibly profound and lasting, both for healthy adults and those who suffer from psychological disorders. When taken in the appropriate dosage, with the right intention, and in the proper setting, the psychoactive effects of psilocybin can create a mystical, ineffable experience unlike any other.
According to archaeological evidence, magic mushrooms are a religious symbol used in ceremonies celebrating rites of passage and religious rituals. In pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Aztecs and the Maya, magic mushrooms helped establish contact with deities and brought them closer to spiritual enlightenment.
Today, in an effort to keep these practices alive and pay respect to indigenous cultures, a myriad of organizations put together psilocybin mushroom retreats. The goal of these retreats is to practice spiritual enlightenment in a safe and respected environment. More often than not, modern shamans or psilocybin therapists oversee these retreats and help facilitate the journey of others.
Although these retreats serve an excellent purpose, research into these organizations is just as important. In order to get the most out of your journey, you’ll want to make sure the organization you choose respects psilocybin mushrooms and the cultures it derives from.
One of the reasons psilocybin-assisted treatment is so effective is because it impacts the brain’s neuroplasticity. This is the brain’s ability to learn, grow, and change. Most people who participate in psilocybin-assisted therapy have fully developed brains or their wires are not properly crossed. By impacting the neuroplasticity, psilocybin allows the brain to reset and “cross-talk” between regions, ultimately changing the brain in ways it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
The psychological health benefits of psilocybin-assisted therapy cannot be overstated and have proved to be effective in various studies, especially for treatment-resistant patients. If done properly, the results can be life-changing.
Dozens of anecdotal reports, epidemiological studies, and decades of psychoanalysis have shown that psilocybin is incredibly effective at cluster headaches, addiction, and mood disorders. It also increases quality of life in patients with severe depression and end-of-life anxiety.
As with any substance, however, there are some things we have yet to learn from studies. The main concern is if the activation of 5-HT2B receptors causes heart disease. This concern comes from a study done on a weight loss drug from the 90s, fenfluramine. The main reason it’s toxic is because it activates the 5-HT2B receptors every day in a continuous regimen, much like microdosing. However, studies have shown that a typical microdosing regimen is several thousand times less than fenfluramine and therefore much less harmful. That’s not to say heart disease isn’t possible, as anything is possible and everyone’s body reacts differently.
Overall, studies have demonstrated that psilocybin is a very safe and relatively harmless natural remedy that can be used to treat a wide variety of ailments. As with any psychedelic substance, proceed with caution and keep an open mind.
On TV shows like The Goop Lab and Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, they explore the psychological effects of psilocybin firsthand and share their personal experience. In many cases, people report coming to terms with psychological trauma, healing from past wounds, feeling spiritually connected to the world, and have an overall deeply profound experience.
For others, psilocybin is the only remedy that cures their pain. Those who suffer from cluster headaches, sometimes referred to as suicide headaches, find immense peace when they participate in a psilocybin-assisted treatment. Many sufferers report an extended remission period or never experience a headache again, thus allowing them to feel hopeful and happy again.