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Psychedelics

HISTORY OF PSILOCYBIN MUSHROOMS

Psilocybin mushrooms get their name from the psychoactive psilocybin. This alcaloid is present in more than 180 varyeties of mushrooms that have been used for centuries by different communities throughout the world. Psilocybin in itself is biologically inactive but is quickly converted by the body to psilocin, which has mind-altering effects. 

The Aztecs used to call Psilocybin mushrooms Teonanácalt in their native language, náhuatl, that can be translated to “flesh of the Gods”, and have a history of use among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for religious communion, divination, and healing, from pre-Columbian times to the present day. With colonisation, the Spaniards believed that the use of the mushrooms was contrary to Christian morality, and in 1620 the tribunal of the Inquisition declared its use heretical, as well as that of any other intoxicating plant, and harshly repressed healers and those who ingested the mushrooms. Therefore, the traditional use of psilocybin mushrooms was relegated to clandestine secrecy.

The genus Psilocybe is the most common, and most of its species are found in humid subtropical forests. Mexico is the country where the greatest variety of psychoactive mushrooms can be found. Although psychoactive mushrooms are found from Alaska to southern Chile, Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii, Europe, Siberia, Japan and Southeast Asia.

The oldest samples of the probable use of mushrooms, although not totally conclusive, can be found in a mural in Tassili, in the Sahara desert, southeast of Algeria. In this mural, which dates from between 7000 and 9000 BCE, mushrooms as well as anthropomorphic figures carrying mushrooms are represented. There is also pictorial and muralistic evidence that has been found in murals in Spain from the 6000 BCE, and even in Japan from the 9th century CE.

 

Even though there is all this history with psilocybin mushrooms, they started to be used and known by the Western world from the 1950s. A mycologist named R. Gordon Wasson was traveling through Mexico to study mushrooms in 1955, when he met the Mazatec indigenous healer Maria Sabina and had the chance to participate in a ritual ceremony under her guidance. In his return to USA, Wasson wrote an article about his findings, which was published in Life magazine in 1957. At that time, the first wave of psychedelic research was starting, so the use and knowledge about psilocybin mushrooms was quickly spread across many countries and linked to the hippie counterculture. This first wave of psychedelic research showed promising application for treatment of several conditions and disorders, such as depression and addictions amongst others, and offered new insights on what happens during altered states of consciousness. But when the War on Drugs started in the USA, the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substance ended up classifying psilocybin and the other psychedelics as Schedule I drugs in 1971, so most of the research that had started was paralised for more than 30 years.  

Finally, after a lot of evidence about the use and potential of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychoactive substances, and the work of organisations  such as MAPS or the Beckley Foundation, psychedelics are beginning to be recognised again as therapeutic tools that might be very helpful – and even essential – for the mental health crisis that we are living nowadays in the western world. 

For more information, visit ICEERS: https://www.iceers.org/psilocybin-mushrooms-basic-info/ 

or https://www.erowid.org/

EVIDENCE OF PSILOCYBIN THERAPY

Psilocybin from magic mushrooms acts on the serotonin receptors in the brain, and induces several effects that seem to responsible for the psychoactive and healing outcomes. 

The action of psilocybin mushrooms allows the strengthening of neural connections, even of those areas that might not be so connected before consuming the substance. They increase the strength of connections that allow us to perceive the world, therefore sensitising and distorting our senses (this could lead to the experience of synesthesia: when the stimulation from one sense leads to the perception from another sense, like seeing sounds). On the other side, the connections that are responsible from the understanding of our environment are distorted or decreased, so we are able to perceive reality in a different way. It seems that this combination is what leads to the altered state of consciousness. 

There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the exact way that psychedelics work in our brain. Although we know that they diminish the activity of the Default Mode Network, the neural network that we use for default in our everyday life. This allows the creation of new neural connections – what can be called brain neuroplasticity – and can lead to new ways of thinking, new behaviours, new ways of perceiving our life and our problems. It can also lead to EGO dissolution, feelings of universal connectedness, love and compassion, the retrieval of forgotten memories and the hability to look at them from new angles. 

This way of “rewiring” and reorganising the brain can allow people to deeply heal from trauma and mental disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, OCD or addictions. 

Resources:

The science of psilocybin and its use to relieve suffering

 The Science of Psychedelics – with Michael Pollan

SAFETY

Psilocybin Mushrooms are among the safest psychoactive substances known. There is no evidence of toxicity or physiological danger due to their consumption. 

Like all psychedelic substances, magic mushrooms do not lead to dependency or addiction. There is a physiological explanation for this, as well as a more psychological one… First of all, the use of mushrooms (as well as other psychedelics) leads to tolerance. This refers to the strength that people will respond to the substance. The term “tolerance” in health and medicine refers to the diminished response your body has to a substance—like psilocybin—when you consume it repeatedly. Over time, the human body can become desensitized to the experiential effects of certain drugs if you’re taking them over and over again. When you build up a tolerance to a substance, you need more and more of it to experience the same effects as you did the first time you partook.

With psilocybin mushrooms, people require much higher doses after only a few days of repeated use, making it extremely difficult to have any effect after more than four days of repeated usage.

The other main reason that explains why people don’t get addicted to psilocybin is the effects that they can have. You can experience the best time of your life, you can have fun, but you can also have very challenging experiences. They are incredible tools to grow and heal, but this requires a lot of work, energy and integration time. The experience can be physically (sometimes they produce a bit of nausea) and mentally challenging, so this may cause people using psilocybin to limit their frequency of use. Most people who consume them, will agree that after a psychedelic experience, even if the feeling is of extreme gratefulness, happiness and love, they need time to integrate the experience and let all the lessons and messages sink in. 

The importance of set and setting

The set and setting play a crucial role in psilocybin therapy and psychedelic experiences in general. Set refers to the mindset, expectations, and emotional state of the individual, while setting refers to the physical environment and the overall context in which the experience takes place. Both factors significantly influence the outcomes and potential benefits of psilocybin therapy.

It is important for individuals to approach psilocybin therapy with openness, readiness for introspection, and a willingness to confront and explore their inner experiences. A positive mindset, coupled with a sense of trust in the process and the facilitators, can contribute to a more meaningful and transformative experience.

Emotional stability and psychological preparation are also important. Participants should ideally be in a stable mental and emotional state, free from acute distress or severe psychiatric conditions. That is why it is crucial to complete an appropriate screening and preparation processes.

The physical environment in which the therapy takes place can also significantly impact the overall experience and the individual’s sense of safety and comfort. A supportive and carefully designed setting promotes relaxation, minimizes distractions, and creates a sense of security.

The facilitators and therapists are essential to guide and support participants throughout the experience. The expertise, empathy, and ability to create a safe container can enhance the therapeutic process and provide reassurance to individuals navigating their inner journeys.

The integration process following the psychedelic experience is also crucial. It is important to provide a supportive and nurturing post-experience setting where participants can reflect, discuss, and integrate their insights and emotions in order to optimize the long-term benefits of psilocybin therapy.

AYAHUASCA - GENERAL INFORMATION AND EVIDENCE

Ayahuasca is a decoction of the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi in combination with the plant Psychotria viridis popularly known as Chacruna (or the plant Diplopterys cabrerana, depending on the region), which has visionary effects and whose active component is dimethyltryptamine (DMT). In many instances, other plants are added to the ayahuasca brew, depending on the region, indications and intentions.

  1. caapi contains beta-carbolines (harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine) and P. viridis and D. cabrerana are sources of dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The combination of these alkaloids allows DMT to have an oral effect because in the absence of beta-carbolines the DMT would be degraded by monoamine oxidase (MAO) present in the human body.

The usual benefits for the people who have taken Ayahuasca include what is referred to as ‘revelatory’ or ‘refreshing’ experiences with high personal benefit in many ways, both physically and psychologically. Many people also experience increased feelings of spirituality or mystical states, where they feel one with a greater reality instead of a mere singularity, which ends up giving them courage and strength to continue to face the daily routine and enriches their personal worldview. Even difficult experiences are often instructive and helpful. Rarely does someone come out of an ayahuasca experience without having learned something important in relation to him/herself, to others and/or the nature of reality.

There are reports of therapeutic results with ayahuasca of people with depression, burn-out, grief, addiction, history of abuse, damaged relationships because of guilt and emotional pain, childhood trauma, acceptance of death in people with terminal diseases, among others.

The anxiolytic, antidepressant and anti-addictive effects of ayahuasca (as well as other 5-HT2A agonists such as LSD and psilocybin) have been reported in controlled settings.

A study in Hospital Sant Pau (Barcelona – Spain) found that Ayahuasca hyperactivates the highly evolved neocortex, the part of the brain that makes us human. This is where we perceive reason and make decisions. Ayahuasca also activates regions like the amígdala, which acts as a store house for early emotional memories, specifically the most traumatic or significant ones, like the loss of a parent. Finally, Ayahuasca also activates the insula, which is believed to create a bridge between our emotional impulses and our decision making capacity.

 

According to many neuroscientist, our decision making process has a powerful emotional component; when any stimulus enters the brain, the brain tries to understand it based in previous experiences. In early life, powerful or traumatic events, create an imprint on the brain, a pattern. This pattern is like a shortcut that is activated every time that we live a similar situation.

Repeated events cause these neuron patterns to reinforce their connections, binding them with protein and building them up like scar tissue. So this is how traumas are rooted in our brain, and it seems that Ayahuasca affects those in brain patterns in the following way:  Ayahuasca hyperactivates the entire brain region where we store and process emotional memory, often uncovering long forgotten memories. This hyperactivation enables the conscious part of the brain to temporarily override previously entrenched patterns, allowing new connections to be made and memories re-evaluated. In field studies, Ayahuasca users typically describe having emerged with new perspectives on past experiences and deeply rooted patterns of behaviour.

Over a period of several years, regular users of Ayahuasca were put through standardized tests to measure the effects of the brew on reasoning and decision making. The results show that Ayahuasca is not addictive, and that ritualised use has no detrimental effects on healthy subjects. In fact, in certain cognitive tests, long term users scored better than the control group.

There are many cases where plants from the Amazon have been proved to be able to promote healing where western medicine has proved inadequate. There are several conditions such as PTSD, addictive behaviours (that are generally caused by post traumatic stress), trauma due to sexual abuse that (usually) can not be cured with actual psychiatric methods. But with plants such as Ayahuasca, people have the opportunity to revive the situation with the same feeling and the same pain, but with the capacity to change the situation itself; and this is extremely powerful as it can allow healing from the root of the problem.

For mre information, visit:

https://www.iceers.org/ayahuasca/  

https://chacruna.net/ayahuasca-healing-and-science/ 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-86gSmHoys (Documentary Ayahuasca – Gabor Maté)

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