Magic Mushrooms for your
body and soul

Psilocybin mushrooms contain a substance that, when ingested, changes our cognition and perceptions. Research in recent years has found that psilocybin can provide people with experiences imbued with lasting personal meaning. On this basis, it is used to treat conditions involving depression and emotional distress. Mushrooms have been part of the human experience for countless generations. 

The ancient Egyptians viewed them (justifiably) as representations of immortality; in southern Mexico, mushrooms were treated for hundreds of years as “sacred children” that could speak via the mystics who ate them; and the figure of Santa Claus is likely based on a healing experience of shamans in the Arctic Circle, who “flew” over the snowy landscape after they and their reindeer ate mushrooms (yes, reindeer in the wild have been documented foraging for and eating red-and-white Amanita muscaria mushrooms). 

Mushroom head full

Psychedelics, Psychology and Well-being

Albert Hoffman, LSD and Psilocybin

At the end of the 1950s, Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who was the first to “discover” LSD, also became the first Western scientist to isolate and synthesize the active substances in psychedelic mushrooms, compounds called psilocybin and psilocin. It emerged that the mushrooms themselves convert the amino acid tryptophan into organic psychedelic compounds such as psilocin. These compounds create an interaction with the serotonin receptors in our brain, and one of the results is a sense of emotional well-being, along with changes in auditory and visual perceptions. 

Sandoz (now Novartis), the Swiss pharmaceutical giant where Hofmann worked, quickly identified psilocybin’s medicinal value and marketed the drug as Indocybin, which aroused enthusiasm among therapists and researchers. Indocybin was considered a safe drug with a huge potential for treating various psychological pathologies, including depression and addiction. 

Psilocybin chemical structure

Shifting Legal Environment

Not long afterward, the war on drugs was declared, and one of its victims was psilocybin, which was classified as a Schedule I drug (the most dangerous) and quickly vanished from pharmacy shelves and the treatment toolbox. All of this has changed in recent years. Cannabis paved the way for the return of psychedelics, and now interest in mushrooms has reached a new peak, judging by the large numbers of fundraising rounds and IPOs by drug companies specializing in the use of psilocybin. This process occurs together with changes in the substance’s legal status, allowing more research to be carried out. The Canadian government, for example, recently approved the use of psychedelic mushrooms for terminally ill patients. This regulatory change occurred shortly after Oregon became the first U.S. state to legalize “psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.”

Psilocybin Assisted Psychotherapy

In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted breakthrough therapy status to research being conducted by Compass Pathways on the use of psilocybin (again, combined with psychotherapy) to treat treatment-resistant depression. This is a sign that the FDA recognizes that the drug is likely to improve the condition of certain patients when compared with other existing treatments. Updated results continue to arrive. Clinical research conducted by a team at Johns Hopkins University also found that psychotherapy supported by psilocybin helps patients reach a state of continuous and consistent mitigation of their depression.
Magic mushrooms and depression
Researchers also agree that the careful and controlled use of psilocybin can effectively treat the deep existential anxiety and despair that often accompany late-stage cancer. Other studies involving psilocybin investigate the effects of a low dose on the cognitive and emotional functioning of people with Parkinson’s disease, its impact on the immune system, and its ability to help the body cope with various forms of cancer.

The Many Benefits to Psilocybin

But you don’t have to be sick to benefit from the influence of mushrooms. Thousands of years of public use, along with clinical research, show that psilocybin can also provide physically and emotionally healthy people with experiences laden with lasting personal meaning. I can testify to this personally and anecdotally, although I tried microdosing more than tripping. Thus, I identify with researchers who are urging the reclassification of psilocybin into the FDA’s least restrictive category, along with CBD (one of the active compounds in cannabis) and cough syrup.

Regrettably, psilocybin and its derivatives are not yet legal in most countries in the world. However, interested people can find treatment centers in several European countries, such as Britain and the Netherlands. These centers offer psilocybin retreats for groups, couples, and individuals, with medical supervision and accompanied by treatment. All you have to do is type the words “psilocybin retreat Europe” in a search engine such as Google. Keep in mind that the pandemic has limited the possibilities and that the high price can be a deterrent.

Six ways Mushrooms can Save the World

Psychedelic mushrooms are not the only fungi that can benefit us. I start each day with a cocktail of Reishi, Chaga, and Lion’s Mane mushrooms, each of which is recognized for its health-enhancing qualities. The promises are big: Various research studies on animals found that these mushrooms can protect against neurological degeneration, fight the cognitive deterioration that comes with age, and aid psychological function among the elderly. They can also improve cardiovascular function, strengthen the body’s anti-inflammatory response and help maintain proper weight. It’s no wonder that the market for products based on mushrooms like Chaga and reishi is forecast to grow by billions of dollars in the coming years.

The World of Mushrooms

Yes, mushrooms are an entire universe. The mushroom cap is only the tip of the iceberg – beneath it grow the delicate filaments that make up the mycelium, a mysterious and marvelous weblike netting that spreads mostly underground. This is the mass of many-branched fibers that make up the vegetal part of the mushroom. In West Africa, there are mushrooms whose caps reach a diameter of more than three meters. Still, the world’s largest documented mushroom is the Armillaria ostoyae, which covers almost 10 square kilometers in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest.

Mycelium has some incredible uses. For example, new young companies are using it to produce green and relatively low-priced building materials. In 2014, the Hy-Fi tower was built entirely from bricks made of corn silk and mycelium. Exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the 13-meter-tall circular tower garnered numerous prizes. Architects assert that abandoned buildings can be recycled by mixing the remnants of used construction materials with mycelium and creating a brand-new material. This process can be adapted for building temporary structures in disaster zones using simple, mobile means.

Clothing manufacturers are turning increasingly to mycelium to produce green alternatives to leather and other textiles. A step like this can reduce the carbon footprint of the fashion industry, one of the world’s heaviest polluters. Mycelium packaging is entirely biodegradable and can help reduce our reliance on plastic and polyurethane. Another use for mycelium is the production of vegetable-based meat alternatives. Some companies believe it will be possible to manufacture medical products and even organs for transplant based on mycelium.

Looking at the Future

And what about the pandemic? During the past year, gathering mushrooms has been a lifeline for many families in impoverished Ukraine, showing again that nature can help us survive in myriad ways. But in all seriousness, Paul Stamets, the celebrity mycologist (mushroom researcher), is currently trying to establish a research station on a remote island off the coast of Canada. There, he aims to preserve old forests that are home to a rare species of ancient mushroom that he believes can protect people from Covid-19 – and perhaps even from the pandemics of the future. According to historical sources, known as Agarikon, this old-growth mushroom has been used for thousands of years to treat upper respiratory disease. The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides described Agarikon as “the elixir of long life” and used it to treat tuberculosis.
Psychedelic therapy

So, what will be? The startups are dazzling, the psychiatric research is promising, regulation is adapting itself, and investors are over the moon. The world market for edible mushrooms is expected to reach $69 billion by 2024, and even jewelry designers and artists are turning to mushrooms for inspiration. So it doesn’t matter whether you see mushrooms as sacraments, healthful food, medicine, or luxury merchandise – the fungi festivities are taking off, and it’s worth joining the journey!