magic mushrooms for depression & anxiety USA

Sunday, 12 June 2022 Can a Psilocybin Mushroom Trip Really Help Ease Anxiety?

Heard the recent hype around magic mushrooms as a potential mental health treatment? Maybe you’re wondering exactly how they might work to improve anxiety and depression

After all, they’re known to cause hallucinations and other changes in perception. So, wouldn’t that mean they’re more likely to increase anxiety than relieve it? 

It’s certainly true that some people notice anxiety and paranoia when taking mushrooms. Yet more and more research suggests psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in mushrooms, may have long-lasting benefits when it comes to reducing anxiety and depression.

Psilocybin shares some similarities with serotonin, a chemical messenger that plays an important part in mood regulation. Low or imbalanced levels of serotonin can lead to anxiety and depression. But mushrooms act on your body’s serotoninergic system, so they could help restore the balance of serotonin in your body. 

Read on to get more details on the research exploring mushrooms for anxiety, plus a few important safety tips.

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Unpacking the hype around microdosing

The practice of microdosing, or taking a small dose of psychedelics every few days, appears to be enjoying some rising popularity. 

While the actual size of the dose can vary, most people report taking only up to 10 percentTrusted Source of a full dose, sometimes lessTrusted Source

You might assume such a small dose probably wouldn’t have much effect, but that’s actually the idea behind microdosing. 

People often take full doses of mushrooms specifically for the “trip” they produce, which might include hallucinations and other changes in perception, including: 

  • enhanced senses
  • expanded emotional or cognitive insight
  • meaningful or spiritually significant experiences

Still, you could experience what’s commonly called a “bad trip” when taking a full dose. A negative experience with mushrooms might include frightening hallucinations, paranoia, and fear, not to mention other unpleasant emotions. 

A microdose, however, may not cause the same changesTrusted Source in perception. In short, you could get the benefits of psilocybin without the potential risk of negative outcomes. 

So, what exactly are those benefits?

Existing research on microdosing primarily focuses on self-reported use and benefits, though an upcoming clinical trial may add new insight.

Participants who responded to research surveys mentionedTrusted Source enhanced performance and productivity as one of the main reasons behind their microdosing. Of course, “enhanced performance” can cover a lot of ground. More specific benefits include:

  • improved mood
  • a boost to creativity
  • increased energy
  • heightened concentration and focus

People also microdose with mushrooms in order to improve mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression. But evidence supporting this use remains pretty limited, in part because psilocybin remains mostly illegal.

While researchTrusted Source suggests people eventually stop microdosing because it proves less than effective, other evidence does offer some support for microdosing’s possible benefits. 

In one 2019 study, researchers considered online questionnaire responses from 410 people from various countries. These participants had mental or physical health diagnoses, plus experience with various psychedelics, most commonly mushrooms. 

In general, people with anxiety tended to consider microdoses of psychedelics less effective than full doses — but more effective than prescription medications. People with ADHD reported similar benefits.

Authors of a 2021 studyTrusted Source also used surveys to measure the potential benefits of microdosing with psychedelics. The survey results suggested that microdosing led to significant improvements in both anxiety and depression. 

That said, this study mainly aimed to compare positive expectations of microdosing with actual outcomes. The authors noted that people who try microdosing with higher expectations may notice more of an improvement in well-being. In other words, microdosing can have a pretty big placebo effect. That doesn’t make it completely ineffective, but it’s something worth considering.

Results from another 2019 studyTrusted Source seem to challenge the idea of a placebo response. These findings suggest many of the benefits expected when microdosing psychedelics, like reduced neuroticism and improved creativity, mindfulness, and well-being, did not, in fact, manifest. 

Participants did report improvements in depression and stress, but study authors found that neuroticism, a trait linked to anxiety, actually seemed to increase.

What about ‘macrodosing‘?

Research increasingly suggests that a larger dose of mushrooms may have some major benefits when it comes to treating anxiety. 

This recent exploration of mushrooms for mental health dates to a small 2016 studyTrusted Source exploring the benefits of psilocybin for easing feelings of anxiety and depression in people diagnosed with cancer. After a single dose of psilocybin, study participants saw marked improvements in: 

  • mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression
  • feelings of hopelessness and existential distress
  • spiritual well-being
  • quality of life

When following up just over 6 months later, researchers found these benefits continued for up to 80 percent of participants, many of whom also felt less distressed by the possibility of death. 

Then, when researchers followed up with several of the participants more than 3 years later, they found these benefits still held. Most of the participants also said they considered their experience with psilocybin one of their most meaningful life experiences. 

In the years since, a number of additional small studies and self-reported surveys have led to similar findings. 

One 2020 research reviewTrusted Source considered three different studies where people had depression and anxiety related to life threatening illnesses like cancer. These participants took lab-synthesized psilocybin in doses ranging from 0.2 to 0.4 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. 

Review authors found that psilocybin did indeed seem to help relieve feelings of anxiety and depression, plus improve general well-being and help ease fears of death.

Is it safe to try?

Existing evidence doesn’t point to any major risks associated with psilocybin. Due to their legal status, though, true psilocybin mushrooms are hard to come by. This leads some people to forage for their own in the wild or buy them from unfamiliar sources. Keep in mind that some mushrooms are toxic, and ingesting them can cause serious illness or even death. 

While psilocybin mushrooms don’t pose any major health risks, there are a few potential side effects to keep in mind:

  • headaches or migraine
  • dizziness
  • pupil dilation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • increased sweating or body chills
  • numbness 
  • overstimulation
  • body tremors and muscle weakness
  • rapid or irregular heart rate
  • changes in sleep, including both increased tiredness and trouble sleeping

Experts consider psilocybin mushrooms one of the least toxic drugs, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, and serious physical side effects are very rare. They’re also unlikely to lead to addictionTrusted Source, since they affect serotonin rather than dopamine.

Microdoses of around 0.5 grams and smaller macrodoses doses of around 2 to 3 grams may be less likelyTrusted Source to lead to negative side effects. Of course, there’s no guarantee you won’t experience unwanted effects, since other factors beyond the amount you take can play a part. 

These factors might include:

  • previous use of mushrooms
  • current use of other substances or medications
  • the strength of the mushrooms
  • existing health concerns

Along with physical side effects, some people also experience paranoia or worsened anxiety. In short, mushrooms may not necessarily help, and they may make you feel even worse. 

That’s why, when trying mushrooms for anxiety, it’s always best to work with a therapist who can help track your mental health symptoms and treatment progress. 

You’ll also want to get professional guidance before stopping any prescription medication or changing your dose, even if you think you no longer need it. 

Finding a professional

While mushrooms and other psychedelics remain illegal in most of the United States, a few cities have decriminalized their use. 

The state of Oregon has gone even further, legalizing the use of psilocybin for medical and mental health benefits. Plenty of restrictions remain in place — only therapists and other trained professionals can grow mushrooms and extract or synthesize psilocybin, for example — but this does represent a major step forward. 

If you don’t live in Oregon, finding a therapist who incorporates mushrooms into therapy may prove a little more challenging, but you do have options. 

A helpful first step might involve searching directories for therapists who offer psychedelic or psilocybin therapy

You can also use the MAPS Psychedelic Integration List to find a nearby professional who offers support for psychedelic experiences.

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