Psychedelic mushrooms have long been typecast as that “trippy thing” you tried once during university (and never again!). But these fungi are growing in popularity in healthy circles; namely, thanks to recent findings that a dose can be a major mind booster.
Now, a new scientific review is doubling down on these claims, highlighting mushrooms’ associated “emotional and mystical experience” as a powerful therapeutic tool. However, before we unpack their findings, let’s first examine the science behind shrooms and how they work.
What are Psychedelic Mushrooms?
In scientific terms, they’re fungi that contain the chemical psilocybin. When ingested, psilocybin is converted by the body into another compound called psilocin. Psilocin is what primarily affects the brain and causes psychedelic experiences AKA “tripping balls”.
Psilocybin and psilocin work by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood, emotions and various cognitive functions.
When psilocin attaches to these receptors, it disrupts their normal functioning and leads to altered perceptions, changes in thought patterns, and heightened sensory experiences. This is why psilocybin-containing mushrooms are known for their hallucinogenic effects and can induce a psychedelic trip.
The Benefits of Psilocybin
Magic mushrooms have long been the favoured grub of choice for rave-goers, but in therapeutic settings, these fungi can do far more than just enhance a mediocre DJ set. In a review published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, the authors highlighted various trials where so-called “magic mushrooms” were showing major positive effects for patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression.
Among the spotlighted benefits, authors pointed out that psilocybin could help lead to more openness to experience and get patients to rethink their preconceived notions on a particular topic, essentially throwing a much-needed wrench into their harmful thought patterns.
Some studies, for example, such as those conducted by the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness have found that a single psychedelic treatment can help relieve most major depressive symptoms for more than a month.
DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that while a slew of studies have touted the benefits of “magic mushrooms”, this research was all conducted in a therapeutic setting with professionals handling the dosing, prep and integration phases. During these sessions, patients are encouraged to share their experiences to help them snag new insights. DIY sessions are not only ill-advised, but it’s also illegal to purchase or grow psychedelic shrooms in South Africa.
What about the Other Mushrooms?
We assume we aren’t talking about which ones to add to your next risotto. Admist the growing research showing that psilocybin could be the mental health muscle we need to get through dark times, a new generation of fungi has taken up prime real estate on shelves at pharmacies across the country.
Known as adaptogens, these mushrooms have been heralded for their healing powers. Some are touted to help improve exercise performance, help you get to sleep faster or boost your immune system. While the verdict is still out on whether this new crop can help you plant your roots in some real health benefits, anecdotally countless people swear by adaptogenic mushrooms.
Here are a few that stand out:
This mushroom has been a staple in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Reishi shows potential to enhance lymphocyte function. This could contribute to strengthening the immune system’s ability to combat cancer and infections in athletes.
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2. Lion’s Mane
Some studies have found that Lion’s Mane might help ward off Alzheimer’s. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine published research indicating that Lion’s Mane may provide relief from mood and sleep disorders in higher weight patients. In this study, participants experienced reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders after eight weeks of Lion’s Mane supplementation.
A study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness suggests that Cordyceps could enhance exercise performance by optimising oxygen utilisation in the body. Additionally, research published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology suggests that Cordyceps extracts may induce apoptosis (cell death) in breast cancer cells. It’s worth noting that these findings are primarily based on laboratory studies.
4. Turkey Tail
This mushroom has demonstrated various benefits for both mental and physical well-being in separate research studies. But their findings were anything but concrete, so take this with a pinch of salt (your risotto probably needs it).