Qualitative Effects of Psilocybin Mushrooms and the Use for Treatment of Psychological and Physiological Disorders

Psilocybin, the active chemical in psychoactive mushrooms, has been known to cause a "tripping" effect in which the consumer will experience hallucinations and synesthesia. Testimonials describe this experience as enriching and highly insightful. In Central America, these mushrooms were used by indigenous people to treat illnesses. The early 90s brought, with it, a revival of research on psilocybin to study its beneficial properties. Studies have found psilocybin to be highly effective effective in treating physiological ailments such as chronic headaches and psychological disorders such as anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Along with these benefits, psilocybin has also been observed to have long-lasting negative effects on certain individuals such as chronic psychotic attacks.

Psychoactive drugs are known for their usage amongst teenagers and young adults as a fueling factor for many crazy ideas such as an all-encompassing meaning to life and our existence. While such ideas are often disregarded as crazy thoughts concocted in the heads of less wise people whose thoughts are being controlled by a drug, the drug itself has never been examined for any traces of truth or wisdom it may offer. The famous drug LSD has contributed to this world the Disney classic Alice in Wonderland as well as aiding in the discovery of the structure of DNA. The idea of an intertwining double-helix did not crawl into Watson and Crick's head by chance. One of the less known psychoactive drugs is psilocybin mushrooms. These mushrooms are more commonly referred to as magic mushrooms or shrooms.

Usually, this odd delicacy is chewed and eaten, but due to their bad taste, many recipes have been developed. These recipes range from shroom chili to shroom tea. One of the problems faced while cooking is the quick deterioration of active chemicals in heat. Sometimes, the shrooms can be group and packed into a gel tablet to take as a pill and avoid the taste completely. The usual dosage ingested is 3.5 grams of shrooms, but since mushrooms have varying amounts of active chemicals, the actual amount of active compounds ingested varies as well. The active compounds in mushrooms can make up anywhere from 0.2-0.4% of the mushroom[16].

In shrooms, most of the effects arise from three alkaloids present. The three compounds would be psilocybin, psilocin, and baeocystin. Since psilocin is more reactive than psilocybin, psilocybin is transformed into psilocin after being ingested [1]. Psilocybin is the common name for the chemical O-phosphoryl-4-hydroxy-N,N-. Its central ring is called an indole group with a tertiary amine attached to one end and phosphoryl group replacing the hydrogen on the hydroxy gorup[15].
Figure 1: Psilocybin
Figure 2: Psilocin

After being ingested, psilocybin loses its phosphoryl group and becomes psilocin. Psilocin is very similar to serotonin only differing in the position of the hydroxy group and the methyls attached to the nitrogen atom[17]. Aside fromt he gastro-intestinal tract, serotonin is mostly found in the form of synapse neurons in the central nervous system. It is greatly responsible for regulatings things such as mood, appetite, sleep, and muscle contratction, as well as some cognitive functions such as learning and memory[18]. Since psilocin's structure is so similar to that of serotonin, it becomes an activating agent, agonist for serotonin's main receptor, 5-HT2A. In doing so, psilocybin overstimulates this receptor causing the effect known as "tripping." The same ovetstimulation of 5-HT2A was found in schizophrenic patients[9].

The earliest documentation of psychedelic mushrooms being used by humans is found in the Sahara Desert. There are rock paintings that depict what are believed to be figures of gods with masks covered in mushrooms. These rock paintings have been found to be 7,000-9,000 years old, from a time when the Sahara Desert was practically a jungle[2].
Figure 3: Matalem Amazar (Sahara Desert)

In Central America, much evidence has been found which suggests the use of shrooms for healing and ritualistic purposes. One of the main things found were "mushroom stones," large stones carved into the shape of mushrooms. After Cortez defeated the Aztecs in 1521, Europe began to ban the use of all non-alcoholic intoxicants in order to help in their quenching of the Aztec's religious practices[10].

Shrooms were introduced to the common U.S. population by a man named Robert Gordon Wasson. Wasson became the vice-president J.P. Morgan & Company in the early 1950's, and shortly after he received a letter from a missionary, Eunice V. Pike, detailing the use of mushrooms by the Mazatec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico for medicinal purposes. Further letters from other sources about previous studies conducted by Harvard University on these mushrooms and pictures of ancient stones carvings depicting mushrooms piked Wasson's interest, and in 1953, Wasson and his wife went to Mexico in search of these mushrooms and experience. They eventually found a shamman that allowed him to watch the ritual, but he was not allowed to participate. In the following two years, he made two more excursions into Mexico, and on his third visit to Oaxaca, he was introduced to a sabia, wise woman, who agreed to show Wasson the experience. After this, Wasson went back to the U.S. and published an article in Time magazine detailing the effects of these mushrooms. This cause a mass amount of influx into Mexico of people seeking out these mushrooms, and on July 5, 1955, as stated in Wasson's book, was the first recorded usage of shrooms in a non-ritualistic setting[3].

Qualitative "Tripping"

For many years, the OAV scale has been used to integrate altered states of consciousness into research.This scale, though, has never been tested using modern methods such as equations modeling techniques and experimentally induced altered states of consciousness. By pooling the data from 43 experimental studies, a new set of lower level order scales were produced to better measure the altered states of consciousness. Where the old OAV scale simply measure psilocybin to cause higher visionary restructuralization than ketamine and MDMA, the new OAV scales are able to specify the higher levels of complex imagery, elementary imagery, audio-visual synesthesiae, and changed meaning of precepts[7].

Through the website www.shroomery.org, I was able to contact people who have had first hand experience with shrooms. Upon contacting them, I got a response from two individuals which go by the alias of TheMagicDragon and The_Pope. I asked both of them to give me a short description of their most current "trip" and to share any long-term effects they've noticed from using shrooms.

TheMagicDragon explained that his latest "trip" was his third time trying shrooms, and said that he was "very glad [he] did it again." TheMagicDragon goes on to explain the feeling of having an "elevated mind" and giving deep thought to the concepts of time, society, and his own approach to life. During this time, he walked through his city making stops at a park to observe the city lights and sit at a tree. He goes on to explain that, after each experience, "[he] comes out with a new more developed view on life." As for long-term effects, TheMagicDragon explains that he's only noticed a change in the way he feels about certain things, but he does not feel that there have been any negative effects[20].

In exchanging messages with The_Pope, he explained how, during his experience, "EVERYTHING stood out." He mentioned how colors were a lot livelier than usual and how "walls seemed to move in and out." In the course of two responses to my private messages he gave small details about his experience in each one, but one constant statement is how beautiful everything was. The_Pope mentions how throughout the experience he felt like he was in a "magical land where there was nothing bad in it." When asked about long-term effects, The_Pope states that he has not noticed any[19].

Treatment of Mental and Physiologica Disorders
There has been a wide range of studies detailing the use of psilocybin for the treatment of mental illnesses. One of these studies demonstrates the use of psilocybing and LSD for the treatment of cluster headaches. This trial, conducted by Harvard University, shows the reduction of pain from cluster headaches as well as the cycle with which they occur. It is also stated that there is no other known drug which can accomplish this[5]. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study used twelve patients with advanced stages of cancer that were diagnosed with anxiety and acute stress disorder were given 0.2mg/kg doses of psilocybin. The patients experienced the effects for 6 hours and then sat to talk about what they had seen and felt. Regular check-ups after the experiment revealed a significant reduction in anxiety within 1-3 months and a significant improvement in mood at the 6 month period with not negative effects during or after ingestion[8].

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders is one of the mental disorders in which psilocybin has shown very promising reults. Studies done on marble-burying mice, a accepted model for human OCD, showed a reduction of marbles buried over the observation period. In this study psilocybin argentipes were used instead of aunthentic psilocybin. In this way, the motor functions were not affected, but the observed results were not as significant as those seen in previous studies[11]. In a human study carried out my Moreno et al, nine subjects previously diagnosed with OCD and a history of failed treatment were used to study improvement in OCD symptoms after intake of psilocybin. Subjects were given varying doses of psilocybin ranging from 25-300ug/kg. During the first session, the music they listened to was controlled and they were asked to wear shades and minimize interaction, but in later studies, subjects were allowed to have edit the music choice as well as have free interaction and discontinue the eye shades. A majority of the subjects reported improvement of symptoms beyond a week after consumption. This indicates that effects last even after the drug has run its course and the "high" is non-existent[14].

Adverse Effects
While research has shown that, in a controlled lab setting, psilocybin can be beneficial in the treatment of certain disorders, there is also research and reports of negative effects. A study conducted by Studerus et al. demonstrated that in a group of 110 subjects most described the experience to be mildly enriching while there was still a 12% which reported long-term (6 months later) negative mental side-effects with 8% reporting these effects to be severe. Also, throughout the study, 9 subjects were withdrawn due to severe side-effects and 2 withdrew due to the experience being too mind exhausting[6]. An article written by Hermie, et al. uses previous research and articles to highlight the idea that it is very rare for people to develop psychological disorder due to the consumption of psychoactive drugs, but there are previous cases that show this to be a possibility[12].
A loss of simple skills such as internal time keeping was observed in a study by Wackermann, et al. Subjects were asked to keep times ranging from 1.5 to 5 seconds. The highest amount of time distortion was noticed at the 90 minute mark. Some patients reported time "standing still[13]." The article written by Benjamin describes the case of a man who ingested 25 psilocybin mushrooms. Even though all effects had worn off the by the next day, some time later, on his first day of at a new job, the subject suffered a psychotic attack. The attacks occurred on a daily basis after that initial event, and prescription drugs had to be used to get them under control[4].

Psilocybin is a compound that has been used for many purposes for about 7,000-9,000 years and is currently used in the U.S. for both recreational experimental purposes. Experience reports show that these experiences always seem to be enriching in one way or another, but research shows that negative effects can also arise from its usage. Even with the possible negative side-effects, it is undeniable that many positive results have been observed when used to treat physiological and psychological disorders with a rate of effectiveness that had not been observed with other treatments.

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