In the past two decades, psilocybin has continued to gain attention for its potential to help treat psychological diseases. A single dose of psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, can help reduce depression and anxiety in cancer patients, according to research.
There have been a number of clinical trials demonstrating lasting positive effects of psilocybin on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. One study actually shows that psilocybin targets the same areas of the brain OCD afflicts.
One of the most promising areas of application is depression. In 2018, the FDA approved psilocybin depression treatment. The main arguments for psilocybin have been the effectiveness on patients and the lack of serious side effects in comparison to traditional medication. The Beckley Programme published a promising study in 2017 demonstrating the reduction of depression symptoms in every patient. Researchers at John Hopkins shared in their 2018 study: “the magnitude of the effect … about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market.”
John Hopkins researchers also performed two subsequent studies of psilocybin effects on addiction. They confirmed that psilocybin can help nicotine addicts stay smoke-free.
John Hopkins Psychedelic Research Ego Study
Much about how psilocybin influences our mind is yet to be uncovered but every study brings us closer to understanding the exact effects of psychedelics on the human brain. In May 2020, John Hopkins Psychedelic Research Centre published a study which compared brain scans of patients after administering a psilocybin and a placebo dose. In this follow-up study, there were 15 healthy participants with previous experience with psychedelics and meditation practice. They all went through two blind tests - placebo and psilocybin, and subsequent brain-scanning sessions.
How Does Psilocybin Therapy Work?
Safe to assume, going through a psychedelic experience while being in an MRI machine is a real sacrifice in the name of science! However, the participants were given all the support needed to minimize their discomfort. The participants first went through a 4 hour preparation session in a living-room environment. After administration of the drug, they “reclined on a couch with eye shades and headphones and listened to music.” During the whole session and scanning process, they have been provided with guidance and caring attention of the supporting personnel.
After each scan, the participants provided verbal evaluation of the drug effects, and rated their experience on the scale of 0 to 10. They were asked to first rate “the overall strength of psilocybin-like effects,” then they rated “three subjective effects related to mindfulness,” “mystical experience,” and lastly “general emotional experience”. See the undisputable difference between psilocybin and placebo effects in the graph below.
How Does Psilocybin Help Lower Your Ego
Apart from subjective evaluation, the researchers tested a hypothesis that psilocybin influences claustrum function of our brain. If you wonder what claustrum is, it is the part of your brain which is by some believed to be “the seat of consciousness, responsible for awareness and sense of self.” In Latin claustrum means “to close” or “to shut” but claustrum is in fact “considered to be the most densely connected structure in the brain.”
John Hopkins researchers discovered that “psilocybin changed the way that the claustrum communicated with brain regions involved in hearing, attention, decision-making and remembering.” This may help explain the alterations in our behavior, attention and our sensory perception when going through a psychedelic experience.
The brain scans also showed the neural activity of claustrum decreased by 15 to 30%. “The researchers say that this ties in with what people report as typical effects of psychedelic drugs, including feelings of being connected to everything and reduced senses of self or ego.”
Psilocybin May Help with Mood and Substance Use Disorders
The researchers have proven both objectively and subjectively that psilocybin modifies the function of the seat of our consciousness - the claustrum. They have identified alterations in perception, decision-making and remembering. They also discovered that the claustrum activity decreases which may explain a reduced sense of self or ego.
These findings are groundbreaking as they provide insight into the real effects of psilocybin on the human brain. Interestingly enough, the neural network disruptions proved by researchers appear to be similar to the disruptions caused by mood and substance use disorders, depression or schizophrenia. Based on these findings, psilocybin may help treat such disorders in the future. More research has to be done before clinical application is approved for all of them, but John Hopkins researchers are among the people who will largely contribute to it.