Psilocybin and Depression

You may have seen the news recently that Psilocybin (found in ‘magic’ mushrooms) can treat depression and soon we may all be able to access this new ‘wonder drug’. I sincerely doubt anyone will be able to go to their GP and be prescribed whole fresh or dried mushrooms for their depression. Let’s dispel a few myths about this and explain why.

First of all psilocybin is ‘one’ of a number of alkaloids and other chemicals found within certain strains of ‘magic’ mushrooms. Research shows us that psilocybin binds to serotonin receptors within the nervous system (and brain), exerting a hallucinogenic experience that varies depending on dose.

Humans have been using psychoactive mushrooms since the dawn of time and many indigenous cultures have safely and successfully used them to communicate with their gods, spirits or ancestors in rituals and ceremonies that are part of their religious culture. For those of us who explore our more psychedelic plant and fungi world here in Europe it is of no surprise at all that psilocybin can treat depression. Users have known this for a very long time. Mushrooms were only made illegal in the UK just over a decade ago and before that were easily purchased in specific shops all over the country. Since it has become a crime to pick, store, use or sell them their use has continued with very little police activity surrounding prosecutions of pickers and fungi enthusiasts.

At the moment the food and drug administration (FDA) in the United States have labeled psilocybin a ‘breakthrough therapy’ meaning it is a step closer towards being given approval as a pharmaceutical treatment. So here, it is important to note that what the pharmaceutical company will be doing is using one chemical found within the mushroom that they can extract, patent and prescribe. This is the constituent known as psilocybin. The whole process of approving a treatment is bound up in millions of dollars of research that the pharmaceutical company will want to claw back once their patented treatment has been approved.

All of this talk in the media that you will be able to roll into your Doctor’s office and be given whole mushrooms at the relevant dose to alleviate depression i doubt will ever happen.

Whilst the research looks incredibly promising, yet again we see something that is supposedly illegal for the general public to forage and consume themselves (having done so for millenia). Only for it to be okay for a big corporation to produce a constituent within it and make a fortune as it is legally inserted into a Doctor’s pharmacopoeia.

It seems like a silly situation to be moaning about what could be the pharmaceutical ‘depression’ breakthrough of the century. But from a herbalists perspective you can literally just go for a walk in October and find many of them scattered all around in fields and pick them for free. Obviously as a professional i can only encourage legal responsible use of psychoactive mushrooms (In Holland it is still legal).

Of course i am sure many people will be helped by Psilocybin when it is prescribed (although my skepticism of pharmaceuticals with media hype is high). Just be aware that another of nature’s gifts is being denied to you in its natural form, unadulterated, whilst the other money driven corporation owned chemical is allowed.

For now i remain a skeptic about the whole situation.

Jonny Woodall
Medical Herbalist and Flower Essence Therapist
BSc (Hons) Herbal Medicine
National Institute of Medical Herbalists

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