How Psilocybin Is Shaking Up Psychiatry

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  • 27 Aug, 2021  |
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1 How Psilocybin Is Shaking Up Psychiatry

To pretend there are no risks associated with the consumption of psychedelics would be irresponsible. Any reputable medicinal mushroom dispensary in Canada will make the potential risks of psychedelics abundantly clear, before dispensing them to a patient for the first time.

Particularly for those with a history of psychosis or schizophrenia, the use of psychedelics is not usually recommended.

But when it comes to the potential benefits of psychedelics for the general population, the numbers are very reassuring. For example, a study conducted in November 2020 found that among patients suffering from a major depressive disorder, more than 70% of those prescribed psilocybin saw a massive reduction in their symptoms within four weeks.

Studies have also suggested that for some patients, the effects of treatment involving psychedelics can be lasting – perhaps even permanent.

If so, psilocybin and similar substances could have the very real potential to transform the field of psychiatric medicine.

A Renaissance for Psychedelics Research

Advocates for the widespread use of prescription psychedelics are keen to point out that what is taking place right now is nothing new. During the 1950s and 1960s, more than a thousand articles and reviews were published by scientists on the use of psychedelics in the treatment of psychological health problems.

In total, it is estimated that psychedelics were tested on a minimum of 40,000 people during this time.

As the prevalence of recreational drug use grew over the years and decades that followed, psychedelics were eventually outlawed almost entirely. They were still made available on a strictly limited basis for research purposes, though scientists stated that getting hold of psychedelics or being permitted to put them to practical use for their studies was practically impossible.

It was only as recently as the late 1990s that the biological effects of psychedelics once again became an area of interest for researchers. The use of neuroimaging techniques such as positron emission tomography enabled scientists to see how the brain responds to measured doses of psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD, as well as to N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the active ingredient in ayahuasca, and to mescaline, a psychedelic compound derived from the peyote cactus.

Of particular interest was the way in which each of these substances had an impact on the brain’s production and regulation of serotonin.

Serotonin receptors are the primary targets for an entire classification of psychiatric drugs - selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – used to treat depression and other psychological health conditions by manipulating serotonin production.

Paving the Way For New Therapies

Microcybin Canada, one of the country’s leading suppliers of prescription psychedelics, explains how the mechanics of psilocybin therapy are entirely different to those of conventional drug-based treatment.

“Psychedelics like these activate a dreamlike therapeutic state, heightening sensory perceptions and providing patients with the opportunity to see things from a new perspective,” said a spokesperson.

A similar explanation was provided by David Nutt, a psychopharmacologist at Imperial College London, who said that psychedelic therapy is all about ‘opening doors’ to new ways of thinking, subsequently providing therapists with greater scope for instilling positive life changes in their patients.

“People get locked into disorders like depression because they develop this system of thinking which is efficient, but wrong,” he explained.

To date, all studies conducted into the potential benefits of psilocybin have highlighted potential benefits for a wide variety of psychological health issues. Along with those who suffer from chronic depression, anxiety and stress, evidence also suggests that psilocybin can be used to effectively treat ‘treatment-resistant’ forms of depression and similar conditions.

For example, depression associated with a cancer diagnosis or news of a terminal illness typically does not respond to treatment in the same way as ‘conventional’ depression. But given how treatment using psilocybin is not about curing the condition but altering the patient’s perspectives, it has the potential to be far more effective than any conventional treatment, so say its supporters.

“I think we are entering a new era in the treatment of mental health conditions,” says professor Roland Griffiths, director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“Psilocybin and these compounds have mechanisms unlike anything we have seen within our normal treatment options within psychiatry,”

“The potential…to have efficacy across a range of conditions is absolutely remarkable. We just don’t understand the mechanisms of them yet.” 

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