Are magic mushrooms the next breakthrough for mental health treatment?



Published Aug 10, 2022


According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), risk factors for suicide among the young include the presence of mental illness, especially depression, conduct disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, previous suicide attempts and the availability of firearms in the home.

In South Africa 60% of people who die by suicide are depressed.

A plethora of research has been conducted to understand the causes and triggers of poor mental health, and one thing has been identified: it is a complex phenomenon not completely understood.

Any form of medical care not categorised as a traditional Western medical method is referred to as “alternative”. This could involve using herbal treatments, practising yoga or meditation; perhaps a new alternative addition may be magic mushrooms.

There is evidence that the vast majority of people who have poor mental health in adulthood had problems as children, often from a young age.

Having a parent with mental health issues, growing up in prolonged poverty and housing insecurity, experiences of abuse, neglect and bullying, and traumatic childhood experiences are all risk factors for poor mental health.

Psychedelics are being researched as the next ground-breaking treatment for mental health issues, although there is some debate about whether psychedelics should be made legal for use in mental health care.

Research continues to demonstrate how beneficial psychedelics can be, particularly for people with poor mental health who do not respond well to existing treatments.

Psychedelic drugs are a loosely grouped class of drugs able to induce altered thoughts and sensory perceptions. Picture: freepik

There are several potential unpleasant effects associated with some psychedelics, including nausea, panic attacks and drowsiness. Taking illegal street drugs can lead to medical complications, since they are more likely to be contaminated.

One study suggests psychedelics typically don’t cause addiction, although lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is one psychedelic, at least, that can lead to tolerance.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (Nida) notes that increasing the dosage can be an “extremely dangerous practice”. The reason for this is that more side effects and risks are associated with higher dosages.

A study conducted in 2021 to examine the effectiveness of psilocybin therapy (commonly known as magic mushroom therapy) indicated that groups produced significant reductions in depressive symptoms and that depression severity remained low 12 months after treatment.

In an article titled “Trial of Psilocybin versus Escitalopram for Depression” published in the “New England Journal of Medicine”, Roland Griffiths, PhD, the founding director of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and the Oliver Lee McCabe III Professor in the Neuropsychopharmacology of Consciousness at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote: “Psilocybin not only produces significant and immediate effects, it also has a long duration, which suggests that it may be a particularly helpful new treatment for depression.

“Psilocybin has the potential to permanently alleviate the symptoms of depression with one or two treatments, in contrast to traditional antidepressants, which must be taken for long periods.”

Though psychedelic drugs show great promise in the field of psychiatry, they are not yet considered mainstream medicine, and their use is typically restricted to controlled or experimental settings.

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