Magic mushrooms are healthy

 

The benefits of magic mushrooms: the research on psilocybin & mental health

 

By Katalina Lourdes

 

While sitting in the stairwell of my friend’s basement, I watched a photon come alive in a beam of light. When I closed my eyes, I saw God in the form of a pulsating star. This was my first experience on magic mushrooms.

As a teenager I refused to take my antidepressants on principle. I believed that my depression was trying to tell me something. I think this is often the case, that it signals a problem in your environment. Though resisting treatment risks prolonging depression – which is also bad for your health -there are alternatives to pills. In retrospect, I believe my experiences with magic mushrooms resolved my depression.

A recent study compared the efficacy of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) against Lexapro, a typical SSRI, in treating depression. After six weeks of treatment, 57% of the patients who had taken psilocybin no longer met the criteria for depression, versus just 28% for the Lexapro group – suggesting that magic mushrooms may be twice as effective as traditional anti-depressants.

My teenage brain was onto something. Back then, getting your hands on mushrooms was a pretty underground thing. Fast-forward 20 years and psychedelics are a hot new trend, winning attention from the mainstream as a “miracle cure” for the our mental health epidoemic.

 

Research on the benefits of magic mushrooms

 

The first study to establish the value of magic mushrooms after limited research was reauthorized by the FDA in 1992 was carried out by Dr. Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University in 2000. The results, published in 2006, paved the way for further psychedelic research.

The experiment was meant to assess the ability of psilocybin to induce mystical experiences. A high dose was administered to a small sample of healthy adults who regularly engaged in religious or spiritual practices, and two-thirds of the participants rated the experience among the five most meaningful experiences of their lives. 

These findings were replicated in a 2011 follow up study, in which participants showed improved attitudes, mood, and social relationships after taking four doses of psilocybin in a supported environment. The benefits of magic mushrooms persisted in follow ups both two and 14 months later. 78% of participants said the psilocybin sessions were among the five most meaningful experiences of their lives, and 94% said the same in a follow up 14 months later. None of the volunteers reported negative consequences resulting from the experiences.

In this study, each participant received eight hours of preparation, and had four sessions with four different dosages of psilocybin. Researchers found that the most effective distribution of the doses was from lowest to highest dose (5, 10, 20, & 30mg/kg). 

At the 14 month follow up, participants were asked to describe how the psilocybin experiences had impacted their lives. Here are some of their responses:

 

“I have a stronger desire for devotion, have increased yoga practice and prayer. I have better interaction with close friends and family and with acquaintances and strangers… I feel more certain of my career as an author. I need less food to make me full. My alcohol use has diminished dramatically… I consider myself to be better [at self-care] now than before the study…”

“I feel that I relate better in my marriage. There is more empathy – a greater understanding of people and understanding their difficulties and less judgment. Less judging of myself too.”

“I am more aware and accepting [of everyone]. I have a thousand ideas to write about and am making time and space in my life to accommodate them.”

 

Magic mushrooms, depression, and anxiety

 

Scientists (and more importantly, their funders) aren’t that interested in mystical experiences or benefits like creativity. Instead they’ve been in a dash to discover – and prove to regulators – the benefits of magic mushrooms in treating psychological disorders.

In a study of cancer patients published in 2016, those who took a high dose of psilocybin reported increased well-being and optimism, a higher quality of life, and lower depression and anxiety scores. Over 80% of patients continued to experience positive life changes at a six month follow up. Though in this study the patients didn’t receive therapy as a part of the experiment, they did talk about their lives beforehand and debrief their experiences afterwards with monitors. These findings have been replicated in other studies.

In a 2020study, 24 non-cancer patients with major depression received psychotherapy and two sessions of psilocybin. Four weeks later, 71% had a 50% or more reduction in their depression scores, and over half of participants were in complete remission.

In another study looking at the effects of psychedelics in non-clinical contexts, users reported being less depressed or suicidal after their trips.

An examination of existing data from a national survey also found that lifetime psychedelic use is negatively correlated with psychological distress and suicidal tendencies (though there was a positive correlation for other types of drug use).

 

Magic mushrooms and OCD

 

Mushrooms may also be useful in alleviating OCD. In a small study, OCD symptoms were reduced by at least 25% in 90% of participants (and by more than 50% in 67% of participants). The study was limited as it only measured symptoms up to 24 hours after ingestion.

However in one case study, a man found his OCD symptoms were greatly alleviated for about three weeks after consuming two grams (a moderate dose) of mushrooms.

Scientists have tested this theory in mice, finding that psilocybin reduces compulsive behavior.

 

Magic mushrooms and PTSD

 

There’s little research so far on psilocybin and PTSD, but what we do know suggests that magic mushrooms could help people who have been traumatized to heal.

Preclinical studies on mice are one source of data. One study found that mice unlearn fear responses faster when given low doses of psilocybin, suggesting that they’re less triggered by negative memories.

A separate study looked at the impact of psilocybin on the connection between the amygdala (the area of the brain that processes fear), the visual cortex (which perceives threats in the environment), and the prefrontal cortex. Hyperconnectivity between the amygdala and visual cortex has been linked to an increase in perceived threats and anxiety, characteristic of people with PTSD.

The authors explain:

 

“the amygdala may actually determine the affective meaning of visual percepts by its effects on sensory pathways — an effect which mainly occurs subconsciously and which may be greatly amplified in psychopathological conditions, such as anxiety disorders or depression. In this context, increased [amygdala] reactivity may lead to an increased attentional focus on negatively valenced environmental or social stimuli and thus effectively blocks out the processing of positive information.”

 

The researchers found that psilocybin reduces the amygdala’s connectivity with the visual cortex in response to threat-related stimuli. This means that after taking psilocybin, we may perceive our environments as less threatening, which could be an important mechanism for resolving PTSD.

Back from mice to men.

The Canadian Center for Mental Health Disparities has been doing important work researching the potential of psychedelics to heal racial trauma.

We commonly think about PTSD in terms of extreme, violent experiences like sexual assault or physical abuse. However Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) experience racism throughout their lives in overt or subtle forms. Everything from systemic discrimination to microaggressions and hate crimes, negative experiences based on racism have long-term impacts that may result in PTSD.

The study surveyed BIPOC in the US and Canada who had experienced racial trauma and recently taken psychedelics in non-clinical environments. The study concluded:

 

“Our lab has found that a single positive experience with a psychedelic drug can help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms in Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) whose encounters with racism have had lasting harm.”

 

This is one of the CMHD’s first studies on the subject, however it has many more in the pipeline, so if you’re interested in psychedelics and PTSD, and especially its intersections with racial trauma, watch their page.

Psilocybin also favors positive emotional processing, and this, coupled with its tendency to promote introspection and increase neural plasticity, could help patients form new understandings of traumatic experiences. New insights, emotional breakthroughs, and perceiving the world as less threatening all make psilocybin a likely candidate for the treatment of PTSD.

Anecdotal data support these theories, such as veterans taking matters into their own hands and reporting dramatic improvements in PTSD symptoms after taking magic mushrooms.

 

Magic mushrooms and addiction

 

Psilocybin may be able to reduce dependency on drugs and alcohol. Studies from the 1950s on the subject are typically discarded by modern science since they don’t employ current methodologies, and limited research has been carried out in the past decade, but it’s promising.

One study of 10 alcohol dependent people showed that they reduced their consumption following four weeks of psychosocial therapy and two psilocybin trips. Number of drinking days fell by 27%, and heavy drinking days fell by 26%.

An experiment with smokers was more promising. Participants took part in a 15 week course on quitting tobacco and received four weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy. Starting at week five, they had three separate psilocybin trips. Six months later, 80% of the subjects were completely abstinent from smoking.

These were pilot studies, so it’s possible further research will discover ways to improve their efficacy as a treatment here.

 

Qualitative research and personal accounts

While the explosion in research is quite recent, the quantitative research produced just in the past few years into the uses of psilocybin is daunting. So it was refreshing to see that a group of researchers had taken a qualitative approach to what is ultimately a very subjective experience, using an interpretive phenomenological analysis. Meaning, they focused on how volunteers made sense of their own experiences. Thefindings may offer more insight into what it’s like to trip on psilocybin – as well as why it’s effective in relieving anxiety, depression, and PTSD and addiction – than neurobiological explanations. Here are some excerpts from the study:

 

“General themes found in all or nearly all transcripts included relational embeddedness, emotional range, the role of music as conveyor of experience, meaningful visual phenomena, wisdom lessons, revised life priorities, and a desire to repeat the psilocybin experience. 

“Typical themes found in the majority of transcripts included the following: exalted feelings of joy, bliss, and love; embodiment; ineffability; alterations to identity; a movement from feelings of separateness to interconnectedness… 

“Variant themes found in a minority of participant transcripts include lasting changes to sense of identity, synesthesia experiences, catharsis of powerful emotion, improved relationships after treatment, surrender or “letting go,” forgiveness, and a continued struggle to integrate experience.”

 

Researchers and other officials recommend taking psilocybin under professional supervision and in conjunction with therapy, though the benefits of magic mushrooms are often pronounced in its absence.

Other sources of direct experience can be found in Erowid vaults, going back to the early days of the internet. A recent account describing a four gram trip reads:

 

“I was seeing very interesting visuals on the walls and when I closed my eyes. My thought processes were becoming absolutely ridiculous and indescribable. I couldn’t help but find meaning in absolutely everything, as if my life were some divine narrative…

“I felt myself fading away. Everything sounded as if I was very far away. I was having a hard time understanding anyone because I could not hear them very well. As I began to drift away, I was expanding. I was feeling the ground underneath me, the car, the trees and the mountains in the distance. I had the strangest feeling like my head was blooming or exploding in directions I cannot communicate.

“But one of the most interesting sensations was of being in my friends minds. Not that I could read their thoughts or anything, but I felt as I was swimming around in their heads. It was very peaceful. I felt in communion.”

 

Silence in the deserts of the heart

 

Spectres of post-colonial Algeria

Hauntology & silence in the deserts of the heart

By McBond

 

« Il fallait quelqu’un pour exprimer ce silence, lui faire rendre tout ce qu’elle contenait de tristesse, pour ainsi dire la faire chanter. »

“Someone had to express this silence, make it give back everything it contained in sadness, so to speak and make it sing.”

– Marguerite Yourcenar, Alexis, ou le Vain Combat.

 

Three squirrels skipped across a sodden lawn bilious-green under a grey Saturday sky in Lanarkshire. The house of the Society of Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo seemed hunched down on top of a hill beneath the Cathkin Braes.

Twenty-six years earlier Bartholomew McCorquodale had been ordained in a nearby Catholic parish, in July 1993.

The bishop was lucid for the occasion, and theres a picture of McCorquodale in the habit of the Society of Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo going into St Finbarr’s church hall. Boxy 1990s cars in the background. He was trussed up like aspahi in a borrowed burnous.

The cardinal who founded the Society in 1868 must have seen the locally recruited spahis of the French colonial army in Algeria: did this inspire his choice for the habit of the Missionaries of St Geronimo? McCorquodale’s own military experience was limited to the Glasgow University Officers’ Training Corps — mornings on drizzly ranges firing off a few desultory rounds from the Sterling submachine gun and the Belgian-designed SLR — but he would later encounter clerics who had served in the French army, and who had retained something of a martial snap.

McCorquodale had recently heard of a now-deceased French priest who returned to Algeria after independence in 1962 to atone for his misdeeds as a French paratrooper during the Algerian independence struggle of the 1950s.

A few weeks prior to his ordination he had some cards printed in Toulouse — where he had completed his seminary studies — with a reproduction of a fourth-century Ravenna mosaic of the prophet Jonah being vomited out of the whale. The card was presently in one of his notebooks at an art gallery in Carthage, so he was recalling its details from memory.

 

Algiers, still a site of war

 

Just over two months later — September 1993 — he arrived in Algiers via Toulouse with little idea of the gravity of the situation. The conflict between the Algerian state and Islamist extremists had been background noise in the French media since early 1992. Two French surveyors had been assassinated in September 1993. He did not recall receiving any particular words of caution or guidance from the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo about the situation in Algeria.

In his Journal d’Algérie (2003) the photographer Michael von Graffenried mentions a figure of 700 Islamists killed between summer 1992 and October 1993, 400 members of the security forces, while 10,000 political activists were held in detention camps. Graffenried gives a figure of 140 “random” murders over the same period.

A Swiss confrère had attended McCorquodale’s ordination in July, and seemed more concerned about the need for lines of demarcation between his future activities and those of a pugnacious French member — let’s call him “the Duke’’– of the Saharan community for which he was destined. The Algerian embassy in London dealt with McCorquodale’s tourist visa application by post, no questions asked.

In his Journal d’Algérie (2003) the photographer Michael von Graffenried mentions a figure of 700 Islamists killed between summer 1992 and October 1993, as well as 400 members of the security forces, while 10,000 political activists were held in detention camps. Graffenried gives a figure of 140 “random” murders over the same period.

The Society’s regional house in Algiers was in the Rue des Fusillés in the Belcourt area of Algiers, not far from Albert Camus’s birthplace. A large colonial-era street map of Algiers hung on the wall near the refectory, its wooden frame seeking to corral an unruly reality.

The same map, printed in the 1950s, appears from time to time in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 film The Battle of Algiers. French military officers in the film use the map to plan their campaign against the FLN in 1957. There’s a similar map in Julien Duvivier’s 1937 film Pépé le Moko. The street names on these kinds of maps included those of French military mass murderers of the 1840s and 1850s: Cavaignac, Pelissier, Bugeaud — specialists in organized pillage and asphyxiation (by smoke) of hundreds of indigenous fugitives in the grotto of Kabylia. A haunted haunting map.

The atmosphere in Rue des Fusilles was, however, cordial.

Image for post

 

After some jovial remarks, the then-Regional Miguel Larburu asked if he had drafted his last Will and Testament. Friar Georges Bergantz had the courtly manners of a fencing-master, while the taciturn Friar Saffroy had, McCorquodale would later learn, compiled a chronology of the Touat region of southwest Algeria.

This initial stay in Algiers lasted but a few days and was marked only by a somewhat comical incident in which McCorquodale and his Swiss colleague accidentally drove onto the runway at Algiers airport, passing within 100 metres of a stationary Boeing while retrieving from Air Freight a green tin trunk — similar to those in photographs of missionary “caravans” circa 1890 — containing his baggage sent from Toulouse.

 

Atlantis and the Sahara

 

The term “the South” had a special aura among the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo at that time, summoning up images of Saharan sand dunes, camel caravans shimmering in a heat haze, while Charles de Foucauld — soldier turned desert contemplative — meditated in his Tamanrasset fastness. The South was seen as removed from the tensions of northern Algeria, both in the pre-1962 period of French occupation and in the decades thereafter until the 1990s.

 

Desert nights by bisbiswas

 

A few days later they set out in a white Renault 4 for Ghardaïa, 600 kilometres away, heading southwards.

Until the 1960s the Sahara had been a separate territory for the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo, with around 50 priests and brothers involved in education and professional training as well as pastoral activities among the French civilian and military population of the Sahara.

The vision of an idealized Saharan landscape had been crafted over a lengthy period. In the late nineteenth century the Touareg nomads were reinvented by French scribes as noble lords of the desert with hazy links to Christianity and northern races.

The lost city of Atlantis was reputedly located in the far Sahara, and gave its name to the main hotel in Gao in northern Mali where McCorquodale had sojourned from 1988-1990. He thought of Atlantis and the eponymous 1919 novel L’Atlantide with its mysterious desert queen Antinea loosely modelled on a fourth century figure of Touareg folklore. While in Namur a few weeks before, he had seen that Antinea was the brand name for a range of lingerie.

 

A landscape of ghosts and silence

 

Moving south towards Ghardaïa there were however traces of a darker past: old French watchtowers from the 1950s in the mountains pressed back into service by the Algerian army, and earlier constructions used as observation or heliographic posts as the French pushed southwards into the Sahara in the mid-nineteenth century. They passed through Laghouat en route to Ghardaïa. Laghouat was the oasis city where the Catholic bishop of the Sahara resided— a restless, rangy Canadian named Michel Gagnon, who had arrived in Algeria in 1958.

McCorquodale and his fellow-missionary were following the route taken by French forces moving southwards from the coastal territories occupied by France in 1830. French forces occupied Laghouat in a particularly violent assault in November 1852. 2,500 people were killed and the year is still remembered as “sanat- al-khlā’”or the “year of desolation”. French military eyewitnesses describe crazed soldiers bayoneting civilians indiscriminately.

The artist Eugène Fromentin travelled through Laghouat in 1853 and hisUn été dans le Sahara (A Summer in the Sahara, 1858) is haunted during its Laghouat passages by phantasms of the slaughter of the previous year.

Bullet-riddled doors, crowds of beggars, and half-buried corpses were tangible traces of carnage by which Fromentin seems psychologically scarred.

At the time, McCorquodale had little awareness of Laghouat’s violent past as an “assassinated city” (to use Fromentin’s expression), and his Swiss colleague preferred to “live in the present”. Other clerics would recount how they had singlehandedly won the battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. Radio silence generally prevailed on matters surrounding colonial Algeria.

While silence had often been characteristic of clerical life in McCorquodale’s experience, there were, he thought, particular reasons for postcolonial opacity among the mainly French clerics in 1990s Algeria.

A small number may have been unable to “process” episodes from the Algerian War (1954–1962). Were individual missionaries as enthusiastic for the Algerian national cause as later missionary historians would claim? How divided were communities over the course of events as Algeria moved to independence in 1962?

McCorquodale’s studies in Toulouse had alerted him to scholarly work on colonial history and memory by figures such as Benjamin Stora, although this was still in an incipient phase. He recalled films such as Indochine, where colonialism was seen through the lenses of romance and glamour.

 

Hauntology and the mysteries of Algiers

 

The Algerian-born philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) would introduce his concept in 1994 of hantologie, a “puncept” coined to make a play between things that can be said to exist and things that cannot, but nonetheless appear, haunting reminders of lingering trouble.

One can be haunted backwards by things that no longer exist but still have impact, the ghosts of history — the map in Rue des Fusillés, for example — as well as by ghosts of an unrealised future, such as a soon-to-be demolished Brutalist structure from the 1980s. Perhaps the missionaries McCorquodale encountered were themselves haunted by the cancelled future of the optimistic nation building of the 1960s and 1970s, with which they and the wider Catholic community had been in solidarity.

Journey through the Algerian desert

The tin-can Renault rattled southwards beneath blue skies and a rocky salmon-pink landscape. They could not have foreseen how events would spiral out of control in a landscape haunted by memories of past violence. McCorquodale recalled that he had with him a copy of Robert Irwin’s novel The Mysteries of Algiers.

The novel begins in the Sahara during the Algerian war of independence. Philippe Roussel, a French intelligence officer, veteran of Indochina and prisoner of the Vietminh, has transferred his loyalties to Communism and is working as an anti-French agent. Unmasked in the Saharan post of Fort Tiberias, Roussel takes flight, eliminating anyone who stands in his way, passing through Laghouat on his mayhem-strewn progress towards Algiers.

Robert Irwin is a specialist in the Arabian Nights, and The Mysteries of Algiers is peopled by deranged genies. McCorquodale recalled later meeting a Catholic monk in Algiers coincidentally called Philippe — an ex-officer in the French army who revealed that his father had fought on the Eastern Front in the Second World War in the Legion of anti-Bolshevik Volunteers alongside the Germans. Irwin’s novel describes with particular relish the “Children of Vercingetorix”, a right-wing activist group of murderous tendencies who invoke the “God of the Franks”.

The sounding of the gong for lunch interrupted McCorquodale’s reminiscences. The mist was lifting over the Cathkin Braes. The Mysteries of Algiers had taught McCorquodale that things are not always what they seem.

Not a bad way, he thought of engaging with the opacity and silence of what W.H. Auden calls the deserts of the heart.

24/11/19

 

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

W.H. Auden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“God is gathering us out of all regions till he can make resurrection of our own hearts from the very earth, and teach us that we are all of one substance, and members of one another. For the one who loves his neighbor loves God, and the one who loves God, loves his own soul.” 

– St. Anthony of the Desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The person who abides in solitude and quiet is delivered from fighting three battles: hearing, speech, and sight. Then there remains one battle to fight-the battle of the heart.”

 

– St. Anthony of the Desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Learn to love humility, for it will cover all your sins.  All sins are repulsive before God, but the most repulsive of all is pride of the heart.  Do not consider yourself learned and wise; otherwise, all your efforts will be destroyed, and your boat will reach the harbor empty.  If you have great authority, do not threaten anyone with death.  Know that, according to nature, you too are susceptible to death, and that every soul sheds its body as its final garment.

– St. Anthony of the Desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

– St. Anthony of the Desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It is interesting too that, in all the religious traditions, deserts and places where there is a minimum of sensory stimulation have always been regarded in an ambivalent way, first of all as the places where God is nearest and secondly as the place where devils abound.”

– Aldous Huxley

 

Is society driving you mad? 

Yes? 

You’re in the right place!

Bankers, businesses, and politicians are finding ways to squeeze people economically at every turn, when there’s nothing left to squeeze. The loss of jobs and housing leads to hunger and homelessness.

Poverty and stress are breeding grounds for trauma, which many of us are burying with addictions.

Most of us not only have a precarious livelihood, but we’ve lost our communities. 

Technology is replacing human interaction, which is good for the tech billionaires, but means many of us no longer have friends.

Social support and interaction isn’t only a necessary buffer against stress, anxiety, and depression – it’s through others that we find relief from poverty, and with them that we change the world.

When capitalist society has everything to do with why we’re mentally unwell, why do we so seldom talk about mental health in this context?

The dominant mental health paradigm seldom addresses the role of trauma, institutional oppression, inequality, poverty, or the media in our wellbeing. It rather supports capitalism by dehumanizing the poor, individualizing social problems, and pathologizing difference. It encourages conformity to a society run by sociopaths, and weakens us by pathologizing social problems. There are those who would like to keep us depressed, anxious, and powerless. Disempowered people don’t form unions; they consume to numb their pain.

Psyke is a new collective and blog exploring mental health from alternative perspectives, and in the context of capitalism and culture. It’s a place where personal narrative meets psychology, science, culture psychoanalysis, philosophy, and economics.

Psyke in Greek means butterfly. We believe in individual and collective transformation. In the process of transforming the world, we are transformed. And by transforming ourselves, we transform the world we live in. We believe we can best do these things together.

Mental health is a social and community issue, as well as an economic and political one. We all have ideas and perspectives to share, and we can all help each other.

We want to create a place for you to write and share your story, and to connect and collaborate with others.

We’re exploring alternative treatments, doing research, and creating resources.

We invite you to join us. Write for us, share your narrative, and help us grow as we create new projects and resources.

Welcome to psyke!