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Magic mushrooms have overtime acquired a relatively bad name in the U.S. having been outlawed and deemed a “schedule I” drug in July of 2005. Drugs coined the term “schedule I” are defined as drugs with a high potential of abuse or drugs that have no recognized medical uses. However, recent studies show that this group of psychedelic fungi may prompt humans into producing new, creative ideas without the high risk that many other psychedelic drugs have been proven to be associated with. In addition, several studies have shown that the mushrooms could potentially have many unaccounted therapeutic applications, such as treatment for cluster headaches, obsessive compulsive disorders, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
A recent study in the Springer-branded journal Psychopharmacology which was led by Luisa Prochazkova was done to investigate the cognitive-enhancing effects of minute doses of truffle mushrooms on the human brain functions. The experiment took place in a natural setting and tested the effects of the truffles on 36 participants, organized by the Psychedelic Society of The Netherlands. Each participant was given three tasks to complete before and after they had consumed approximately 0.37 grams of dried truffles. The experiment tested their convergent thinking (the identification of a single solution to a problem), their fluid intelligence (the capacity to reason and solve new problems) and their divergent thinking (the ability to recognize many possible solutions). In addition to this portion of the experiment, the researchers also did work to determine the active substances within the truffles that were consumed by the participants. From the results of the experiment researchers found that after the microdoses were consumed by participants, they showed signs of having an increase in the number of ideas that they were able to come up with for a proposed task, and were also more fluent, flexible, and original in the ideas that they generated. Furthermore, the participants’ ability to produce even a single solution was improved. In summary according to the results of the study, both the divergent and convergent thinking of the participants was enhanced by the psychedelic substances they had consumed. According to Prochazkova, the results “suggest that consuming a microdose of truffles allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem, thus providing preliminary support for the assumption that microdosing improves divergent thinking. She adds that the researchers “observed an improvement in convergent thinking, that is, increased performance on a task that requires the convergence on one single correct or best solution.”
Prochazkova also stated that “apart from its benefits as a potential cognitive enhancement technique, microdosing could be further investigated for its therapeutic efficacy to help individuals who suffer from rigid thought patterns or behavior such as individuals with depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.” I did some additional research on exactly how magic mushrooms could serve such therapeutic purposes. I found another study which was also published in the journal Neurophrmocology relating to the effects of magic mushrooms on mental health. The experiment consisted of 20 participants who had all been diagnosed with moderate to severe depression that conventional treatment which the participants underwent had not alleviated. The research team used functional MRI to scan the brains of the participants while they looked at pictures of emotive expressions before and after they had taken a dose of the magic mushroom compound. This process was repeated with the same participants in another session as well. The scans revealed an overall stronger brain response to emotive faces. The scientists identified from the scans that more activity was detected in the amygdala of the brains of the participants, which is the emotion-processing center in the brain associated with depression. After the psychedelic treatment, the participants reported feeling “emotionally reconnected, and accepting.”
These studies along with many others leave us with very little doubt concerning the actual effectiveness of magic mushrooms on the brain and their potential benefits, but what about the risks? One of the most common potential risks of all hallucinogenic drugs is known as a “bad trip”. This term refers to an unpleasant experience of hallucinogen intoxication that occurs because of how dramatic such drugs can change an individual’s perception of the world. As far as magic mushrooms go, studies show that this particular psychedelic group carries a much lower risk of “bad trips” than other psychedelic drugs do, while in the meantime allowing the user to experience the benefits of the drugs as previously discussed. But what is that magic mushrooms contain that make them “magic”? The mushrooms contain a compound known as psilocybin which act upon neural highways in the brain. Psilocybin affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex which regulates thinking and plays a key role in mood and perception. This relates to how psilocybin could help ease depression. Under the influence of psilocybin, some areas of the brain become more pronounced while others become muted- including the part of the brain that is thought to maintain our sense of self. Imperial College London neuroscientist David Nutt believes that in depressed people the connections between this sense of self and other brain circuits is too strong. Therefore if psilocybin loosened these connections, it could provide relief for people who deal with depression.
These studies along with many more may be one step towards putting magic mushrooms into use in the medical field, however many details about this group of about 200 fungi are yet to be known and research is obviously ongoing. We are far from being able to determine if the benefits of these plants outweigh the risks, and if so how their use should be regulated. But for now, you should probably stick to traditional magic for your entertainment.