Angelika Hillios

Everything your parents don’t tell you about magic mushrooms

October 19, 2022

Hippies in the ‘60s and ‘70s were not just messing around with “magic mushrooms,” they were actually pioneering a new treatment option for physical ailments and mental health disorders. 

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms that gives them their psychedelic properties, was not criminalized for public health or safety reasons, according to a Dec. 5, 2021 article from The Collector

Magic mushrooms were first outlawed in the U.S. in 1968 through the Staggers-Dodd bill, which banned the possession of psilocybin, according to a July 15, 2015 article from Double Blind.

However, psilocybin restriction wasn’t seriously enforced until the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1971, which marked the beginning of the War on Drugs, according to the Double Blind article.

The Controlled Substances Act made psilocybin a Schedule I drug, meaning that it was thought to have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, according to Double Blind. This equates psilocybin to dangerous drugs like meth and heroin. 

In the 1960s, the U.S. government became increasingly worried about hippies’ political views. When the War on Drugs began, the government used their platform to criminalize psychedelics and undermine hippies’ ideology, according to The Collector article. 

The pharmaceutical industry’s lack of interest in funding clinical trials and tighter regulations of pharmaceutical research have largely contributed to to the demise of psychedelic research, according to an Oct. 21 2021 Psychological Medicine article

Still, the current illegal status of psilocybin has not stopped research under regulated conditions through clinical trials to evaluate the therapeutic benefits and effects of the ingredient.

The most promising therapy that incorporates psilocybin is addiction recovery, with a 2016 study finding that 80% of participants who partook in psilocybin therapy quit smoking, according to the Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry journal. 

The study consisted of a 15-week program pairing cognitive behavior therapy with two or three psilocybin sessions. At the six-month-out follow-up date, 12 of the 15 participants were biologically confirmed as smoke-free. 

Along with being used as a treatment for addiction, there have been positive results in psilocybin treating major depressive disorder. One 2020 Jama Psychiatry study credits psilocybin with producing large, rapid and sustained antidepressant effects in patients.

Psilocybin’s therapeutic properties come from its ability to activate the serotonin system in the brain. When psilocybin comes in contact with serotonin receptors, it enhances the ability to make radically different associations, develop new understandings of reality, and foster an increasing sense of openness, according to Psycom

Despite the copious amounts of research into the benefits of psilocybin and astonishingly promising results, there are still extensive regulations to research on psychedelic compounds and acquiring materials from regulated facilities is a lengthy process, according to an Oct. 2021 Harvard Law Today article.

For example, researchers need to acquire research materials from regulated facilities, which is typically a lengthy process, according to the Harvard Law Today article.

Former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s drug war had devastating effects for African American and other racial minority groups. In the 2000s, the political tide finally started to shift towards sensible drug policies, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

The Controlled Substances Act classifies cannabis, LSD, heroin, MDMA and psilocybin as Schedule I drugs, definitively squashing any hopes of researching the health benefits of psychedelic therapy, according to History

However, those who are unconvinced or unhopeful that psilocybin will ever be placed on a decriminalization agenda should look to the comeback made by cannabis in recent years. Through state legislation, over 25 states have been able to push the agenda to decriminalize and eventually legalize the formerly-illicit substance, according to a May 2, 2016 Third Way article.

Some cities and states are in the beginning stages of discussing the legality of  psychedelics, with Oregon becoming the first state to legalize psilocybin in a therapeutic setting, according to a Jan. 19 article from the Oregonian.

One problem with the criminalization of psilocybin is that the illegality of psychedelics does not curb its usage. A 2013 study from F1000 Research showed over 30 million psychedelics users in the United States. 

Despite this widespread use of psilocybin, psychedelic use still remains highly stigmatized due to its illegality.

Overcoming these systemic barriers is the priority for those who may feel at a loss in conventional mental health treatment settings—a rising population due to the failure of the current prescription drug-based paradigm of mental health care, according to the American Psychological Association

The widespread dissatisfaction with the efficacy of prescription medication in mental health treatment reinvigorated the therapeutic psychedelic movement, with President Joe Biden making legendary moves to finally erase, in some ways, Nixon’s stain on American drug policy.  

President Biden pardoned all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of cannabis, according to an Oct. 6 statement.

In the near future, we could be living in a completely re-envisioned world of mental health care with psychedelics at the forefront of this medicinal revolution.  

Biden’s administration anticipates that over the next two years, regulators will approve MDMA and psilocybin for therapies related to PTSD and depression, according to a July 26 article from The Intercept.

Early stages of psilocybin therapy are already happening, with patients in a safe and comfortable setting guided by a therapist specially trained to assist with the experience. 

Once psilocybin is listed as an option for medication or therapy in the future, don’t be surprised if you find yourself “tripping” into better mental health treatment.

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