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Unpacking one of magic mushroom’s oldest wive’s tales.
It’s been reported (multiple times) that psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, is one of the safest recreational substances on the planet. It’s non-habit forming, almost impossible to overdose on, has yet been found to negatively interact with the cardiovascular system, quickly eliminated from the body— and could cause psychosis?? It seems counterintuitive that the drug with the world’s highest safety index— often used to help soothe some of the most common mental illnesses and issues— could, in fact, wind up making you legitimately crazy.
However, it’s an idea that gets passed around more often than the common cold. It’s purportedly one of the reasons that the drug is still classed as a Schedule I narcotic and is often cited as to why the research into psychedelic therapy got shut down in the late 1960’s to begin with. But can mushrooms cause psychosis? Can LSD cause schizophrenia? What link do psychedelics and psychosis have? Does it actually ever happen? And if it does— why?
The Link Between Magic Mushrooms and Psychosis
In the 1960s when psychedelics were really enjoying their public and recreational heyday, reports of psychotic breaks after using psychedelics began to surface. Newspaper articles talking about increased rates of teen suicide, jumping from windows, or becoming locked up in a psych ward after taking magic mushrooms, LSD, or mescaline because of standard news.
In the ’50s doctors had allegedly used classic psychedelics like LSD to treat intense psychiatric disorders— like schizophrenia— and found that instead of addressing the problems, psychedelics made it worse. Suddenly, a psychedelic epidemic was upon North America. Not much different from the villainization of marijuana just a few decades before, psychedelics soon became the prime suspect in the unrest felt by most young people during the 1960s and 70s. Firmly placing themselves in the crosshairs of President Reagan and his war on drugs.
The validity of these claims— and a number of others made by the Reagan administration at large— are still under hot debate. Where many instead see psychedelic use as a type of social dissonance, using these substances to expand their minds and promote peace in times of war. The Vietnam war was indeed a societal turning point for many Americans, as veterans returned to few useful social and health programs after being involved in one of the country’s most horrific and damaging wars. Others who stayed behind vehemently protested the US government’s choice to be involved, creating a hugely divided society.
For some, psychedelics offered a way to help to better process all of the intense emotional and social states they were involved in— for others, it was just another teenage dalliance into hard drugs and a sad life. However, despite the widespread, and largely negative, media coverage and highly vocal concerns, no scientific study was ever performed to confirm that classic psychedelics were behind this “new wave” of suicidality and psychiatric disorders. Not until 2015, that is.
New Research, New View
In 2015, researchers and clinical psychologists Pål-Ørjan Johansen and Teri Suzanne Krebs performed a massive meta-study of data collected over the years, as well as collected data from the general population of people who had used psychedelics. Questioning whether the use of classic psychedelics (magic mushrooms, LSD, and mescaline) could increase the risk of developing any of the 11 indicators of mental health issues. This like depression, anxiety, suicidality, and even schizophrenia were assessed. What they found was not what was expected. The Norwegian team found no link between classic psychedelic use and increased risk of psychiatric disorders. Instead, suggesting that because these issues were (and still are) incredibly common— roughly 1 in 50 people suffer from them— but perhaps misunderstood, “correlation was mistaken for causation.” Which is basically saying that these people that reported adverse psychiatric events following psychedelic use probably had intense mental health diseases to begin with.
In fact, a study published in 2019 suggests that microdosing mushrooms or other psychedelics could actually serve to improve mental health, potentially lowering rates of suicidality and other adverse mental health effects. Meaning that not only are psychedelics unlikely to cause you to go crazy, but they could also reasonably be expected to alleviate some of that “crazy” you might feel on a day-to-day basis. Especially when it comes to microdosing— as these sub-hallucinogenic doses are unlikely to mess with your visual perception or cause you to “trip”, which can be an extreme source of comfort to many who don’t feel up to having the full-on psychedelic experience; but still hope to reap the benefits that psychedelics can offer.
What Does Microdosing Do to Your Brain?
As research has confirmed that there are no links between psilocybin and psychosis, they have also been looking into psilocybin benefits— specifically when it comes to psychedelic microdosing for anxiety or microdosing mushrooms for depression. Microdosing— a system made popular by Silicon Valley, but a practice that has been used for centuries— has become hugely popular globally within the last ten years. Anecdotal reports have been pouring in, purporting the beneficial effects of taking small doses of these hallucinogens regularly. These “microdosing schedules” have been reported to improve mood, boost energy, and combat common mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Clinically, researchers have been using psychedelics to treat PTSD, end-of-life anxiety, and even alcoholism with excellent initial results.
However, because most reports have been gleaned from personal experiences or polls and forums, much of it cannot be used in scientific inquiry. This is why the medicinal mushroom dispensary is so incredibly important, specifically when it comes to microdosing. Mushroom capsule benefits range far and wide, but perhaps their most obvious benefit is the fact that they each contain an exact amount of psilocybin, enabling microdosers a more exact way of measuring exactly how much psilocybin they are ingesting. While you can still buy shrooms, Canada and other forward-thinking nations are making the process much more simplified and easier to track. All through the sales of mushroom capsules. With more specific doses and stringent microdosing schedules, lay microdosers could effectively provide better data for future studies— as well as see better results for themselves. This is because of the way that psilocybin interacts with our serotonin and dopamine systems. This still presents a great many unknowns for the scientific community, meaning that the more data they can collect on systems of administration and associated benefits, the more likely it is that psychedelic therapies could become a more relevant (and legal) option in the future.