Psilocybin, the active substance in magic mushrooms, has been consumed for centuries, although it does not seem to exhibit the same addictive traits as other psychoactive substances.
According to a new study, users seek psilocybin for its ability to produce unique changes in the human conscious experience, giving rise to “meaning, insight, the experience of beauty and mystical-type effects.”
In recent years, psilocybin has garnered a lot of attention among researchers for its therapeutic potential. Psilocybin has been found to have a positive, long-lasting effect on the human mind, and at least in some situations, it can be used to deal with PTSD and the processing of negative emotions, as well as addiction and a range of varied mental health problems.
Psilocybin is far from the miracle cure some make it out to be, but it’s still an interesting substance that warrants research.
A new study from the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine provides insight into what makes psilocybin so attractive (and so unique) as a drug.
Historically, psilocybin tends to be more popular than most other hallucinogenic substances. But it’s an unusual consumption pattern. Studies have shown lifetime psilocybin consumption is relatively modest and quite stable over a period of decades. So psilocybin doesn’t really drive users to excess (as is the case with many psychoactive drugs), and yet it remains attractive to many users even as the novelty factor wears off.
Researchers wanted to see why this happens. So they recruited 20 healthy participants with a history of hallucinogen use for a double-blind study. Over five controlled sessions, participants received doses of psilocybin, dextromethorphan (DXM), and a placebo
DXM was chosen as a comparator because, although it is a hallucinogen with somewhat similar effects, it has a much lower rate of non-medical use — despite being readily available as over-the-counter cough medicine.
Participants recorded their experiences during and after the sessions. The findings suggest that psilocybin elicits feelings of spiritual and/or psychological insight. Most participants reported wanting to take psilocybin again, but only 1 in 4 said the same thing about DXM.
“The study provides an answer to the puzzle for why psilocybin has been used by people for hundreds of years, yet it does not share any of the features used to define classic drugs of abuse. The answer seems to reside in the ability of psilocybin to produce unique changes in the human conscious experience that give rise to meaning, insight, the experience of beauty and mystical-type effects,” said Roland R. Griffiths for PsyPost.
“Future research should determine whether there are other subjective domains of subjective experience or other effects of psilocybin that motivate people to use psilocybin.”
Although the study features a small sample size, the observed differences on these domains between psilocybin and DXM are consistent with the relative rates of non-medical use of psilocybin and DXM, the researchers conclude.
The study has been published in Psychopharmacology.