A growing body of research indicates that psilocybin can positively impacts health, specifically in regard to anxiety, depression and addiction. The benefits of medical “magic mushrooms” offer a substantial amount of untapped potential health benefits to its users and, in the future, could present help in the medical industry.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic chemical compound. The active ingredient found in magic mushrooms is often used as a recreational drug and causes hallucinations, spiritual experiences and intense mood changes, among other effects. Over 100 species of mushrooms contain psilocybin, and although it hasn’t received FDA approval for anything yet, psilocybin has shown promise in treating mental and behavioral disorders.
Nicolas Glynos, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan, who has a Ph.D. in Physiology with a focus on psychedelic neuroscience, calls psilocybin a unique drug for its ability to treat a wide variety of conditions.
“You need more than two hands to count all the potential benefits now,” Glynos said. “No other drugs are really like this. Generally, in the pharmaceutical drug industry, we develop a drug, and it’s to treat one condition. But psilocybin has shown efficacy for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicidality, other forms of mental distress, and addiction. The fact that psilocybin can treat several different conditions, might be attributed to the fact that it’s treating these conditions in a way that’s affecting the mind more than the body.”
According to the National Library of Medicine, their studies of psilocybin therapy have been shown to relieve symptoms of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues. The use of psilocybin in treating terminal cancer patients has also proven effective at easing fear and anxiety.
Despite these potential health benefits, the magical molecule is largely illegal within Michigan. Glynos states this illegal and often negatively stigmatized status of psilocybin is due to policies crafted by former president Richard Nixon.
“A lot of the negative stigma most likely arose in the Richard Nixon era of prohibition,” Glynos said. “There was a famous quote from Richard Nixon. He talked about Timothy Leary, a Harvard researcher who helped catalyze psychedelic research in the 1960s. Nixon called Leary the most dangerous man in America.”
Following Nixon’s declaration, the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, establishing federal regulations governing the manufacturing, distribution, importation and exportation of regulated substances such as magical mushrooms. This act prevented all further research and investigation of psychedelic substances.
As of 2023, Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Hazel Park City are the only cities to have decriminalized psilocybin and all other psychedelic plants and fungi. The result of these shifts has created a renaissance in the usage of the drugs, which have begun developing clinical trials to unlock the medical potential that psilocybin can produce.
One example is at the University of Michigan, which recently began clinical trials with psilocybin to treat fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body. According to Glynos, two trained sitters supervise each trial. The sitters are either therapists or guides to ensure a safe experience for the participants.
“When the psilocybin is used therapeutically, it’s used in conjunction with psychotherapy,” Glynos said. “We’re looking at the safety and tolerability of psilocybin within this population. We’re also going to be looking at different measures of pain and whether psilocybin might alleviate or change the experience of chronic pain for this population.”
Prior to the U-M trial, studies conducted by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center found that a single dose of psilocybin significantly relieves mental anguish in distressed cancer patients.
Despite these medical advances, doctors still urge users to proceed with caution when using the mushroom.
Dr. Megan Oxley, the founder and medical director of Michigan Progressive Health located in Royal Oak, and advocate for psilocybin legalization and psilocybin healing, explained that while the mushroom does possess great benefits, using the drug requires some supervision due to its potential negative side effects.
“People do not talk about the side effects or the drawbacks, and we really need that kind of education out there,” Oxley said. “It can be unsafe if you are on psychiatric medications. Let’s say your mental health is a little fragile, or you are in a traumatizing situation that can lead to people becoming manic or psychotic. It’s not all the time, but that does happen.”
Oxley, a founding board member of the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, Psychotherapists, and Practitioners, states that psilocybin users can become depressed should the drug not provide users with their desired outcome.
However, with psilocybin showing much promise in the medical field, the doctor states that she wants the drug decriminalized across the country and to receive education programs around what they are and how to take them safely.
“There are people who can have fun and take them without a care, and there are people who should be a little careful and do it with the help of a professional,” Oxley said. “My greatest desire is to launch a national education. They should have a driver’s ed for all substances: alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, etc. I want to educate people, and I think it can be done safely in many settings. People need education to make good decisions. There’s not a lot of options for education right now.”
For more information on psilocybin, visit the Alcohol and Drug Foundation here.
Antonio Cooper is a freelance journalist from Detroit, Michigan. His coverage of music festivals and interviews with local celebrities appeared in The E-Current Magazine, The Detroit Metro Times, XXL Magazine, RichMagDigital, The Ann Arbor Observer, and Pop Magazine.