Episode 116

From coyotes to university researchers to biohacking entrepreneurs, there is more and more study going on into the effects of psilocybin.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychoactive compound found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.  The mind-altering effects of ‘shrooms first gained counterculture notoriety during the 1960s, when they mushroomed in popularity (sorry, couldn’t resist) among recreational users. Recently however, a quiet rebirth of scientific study into psychedelics is looking likely to add therapeutic legitimacy to the use of these chemicals.

In the United States, psilocybin is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act — meaning the compound has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

But — leaving aside the very questionable fit of the “Schedule I” definition — there is increating reason to believe that in the case of psilocybin, we may be throwing out a therapeutic baby with the recreational bathwater.

Tim Ferriss (of 4 Hour Work Week fame) has recently picked up the advocacy torch to lead the way toward legitimizing therapeutic and medical use of psilocybin.  His Crowdrise campaign has brought media attention to the topic.

So What Makes Psilocybin So Special?

Over the past decade-plus, members of the scientific and medical communities have been quietly re-initiating research into the use of psilocybin as a viable treatment for maladies ranging from depression and to addiction.

In Episode #116, Jesse speaks with Dr. Frederick Barrett, a brain-imaging specialist on a research team led by Dr. Roland Griffiths at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Their next project: A pilot study using psilocybin to address treatment-resistant depression.

Properly administered under the supervision of a psychologist “guide,” there is reason to believe the visionary experiences of psilocybin could be a real therapeutic game-changer. Psychedelics have a deserved reputation as a double-edged sword that can be extremely anxiety-provoking (as well as euphoria-inducing). But one thing everyone agrees on is that they are potent. Correctly harnessed, these could be powerful tools.

Findings indicate that psilocybin provides long-term positive effects on mood, emotional functioning and well-being.  But maybe most notable is that only a limited treatment of psilocybin is needed to achieve long-lasting benefits — no one would be taking daily psychedelic trips to keep depression at bay, analogous to the treatment schedule with current anti-depression medications.

Listen in for the details.  Like, what exactly defines a “mystical experience,” and how common are they?  How much psilocybin are we talking about to reliably produce these effects? And will pharmaceutical companies be likely to invest in psilocybin?

It’s fascinating stuff.  And who knows?  With time, funding and research, psychedelics — psilocybin in particular — may one day share pharmacy space with the vast array of SSRIs currently on offer.

A heartfelt note of thanks to the entire Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Research Project study team for giving us a peek into their past, current and upcoming research.

A note for our UK-based listeners: Please sign & share this petition to try and help secure the future of nootropics in the UK. (The petition can only be signed by those in the UK, or with UK Citizenship.)

Links you’ll want to click…

To help fund the research for the treatment of major depression through Crowdrise.

To learn more about the psilocybin research that’s been done at John Hopkins University.

To learn about the mediation study mentioned by Dr Barrett.

To read about Dr. Matthew Johnson’s Pilot Study on psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction.

To see some of the surveys mentioned by Dr. Barrett in the interview, click here, here, and here.

PS:  Looking for another great way to expand your mind? Sign up for our Brain Breakfast newsletter below!


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Written by Michelle Silbernagel
Michelle, a deep rabbit hole diver, is a quintessential seeker of knowledge and an avid content consumer. She is devoted to optimizing health, particularly brain health, and believes that everything is connected – from the thoughts we think to the food we eat and the moves we make. At Smart Drug Smarts she switch-hits on everything from industry research to article writing to ideological cheerleading in the wider media world. Personal Motto: Life is an n=1 experiment.