Researchers are testing the therapeutic potential of magic mushrooms and meditation on the human brain. Their study aims to discover if these two practices can work in tandem and eradicate severe mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression are among the most troubling mental disorders in the world. Most people experience these symptoms whenever they get fired from their job, lose a loved one, or encounter other harsh situations in life. But these feelings are usually reactions to life’s stressors, and they should fade away after a period of time.
However, there are people who sit with these feelings on a daily basis or almost daily for no particular reason, thus turning everyday activities into difficult or impossible to perform tasks. These people may suffer from anxiety disorder, depression, or both. These are the most spread mental disorders in the world, depression alone affecting over 350 million people worldwide. The US alone spends over 20 billion dollars each year for public healthcare.
Conventional methods such as prescription drugs and speaking to a psychiatrist are no longer keeping the pace, reason why scientists are currently experiencing with alternative methods such as meditation and psychedelic drugs to find a universal treatment for these ailments.
In contrast with this study, investigation has begun to determine if these two unconventional remedies affect the same regions of the brain. Researchers will then understand if the two practices are interrelated and offer similar benefits.
“Meditation interventions have been shown to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety…it is a powerful and established method to alter human consciousness,” said Fredrick Barrett, a behavioral neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University.
Psilocybin – the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” is also known to be extremely effective against anxiety and depression. In a recent clinical trial at Imperial College London, patients were administered two controlled doses of psilocybin combined with psychotherapy, and the effects were combated after three months after receiving the drugs.
“Psilocybin administered properly and under supervision can see a change in emotional well-being. Medication is also an established method, but one is pharmaceutical and one isn’t,” said Barett.
The team of scientists are now trying to find similarities between the states induced by meditation and psilocybin, in order to discover a potentially combined treatment. For that, they are studying the cerebral activity of long-term Buddhist meditation practitioners, their brains being scanned inside an fMRI scanner while they are inside the meditative stance.
Participants are split into small groups for researchers to better understand the effects of this ‘altered meditation’ stated induced by low or high dosages of psilocybin. No final results have been published by now, but scientists appear to be really satisfied with what they have found so far.
“It’s too early to say, but so far we’ve seen positive effects of psilocybin on well-being and meditation practices. Psilocybin could be a second-line treatment for patients who meditation doesn’t work for,” concluded Barrett.
Further trials will also investigate the potential of psychedelic mushrooms in helping people explore their consciousness and expand their thinking and understanding of life in general, and eventually meditate.
“Psilocybin can be a gateway into meditation…to show you experiences and to have insight into yourself,” said Peter Addy from Yale University School of Medicine and fouding member of the Yale Psychedelic Science Group.
Although medicine is finally recognizing the merits of psilocybin, it’s impossible to administer it daily, that’s why scientists are now trying to help people maintain the feeling of wellness that comes with it through constant meditation.
“You have this insight, but then what? You can’t take psilocybin every day, you have to be able to maintain that,” said Addy. “A number of leaders in the American Buddhist community have been open about using psychedelics to open up meditation,” added Barrett.
But the question of whether it is a good thing or not to help people be more aware and connected to their lives through the use of the psychoactive substance remains to be answered. Scientists consider they have only scratched the surface of the potential these two practices can offer, and they are now determined to discover their full potential.
“We need to know what works, but also why it works. Psychiatry desperately needs new approaches to treat people,” concluded Addy.