Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research in Baltimore offers full day treatments. Over eight hours, she will occupy a large couch wearing an eye mask and headphones playing classical music, with two facilitators available nearby should any assistance be required.
Once vitals like blood pressure have been assessed and the patient feels at ease, their physician will administer a dose of psilocybin – the active ingredient found in “magic mushrooms”. Their journey has officially started!
Certain varieties of mushrooms referred to as “magic mushrooms” or “medical mushrooms” produce psilocybin, which has the capacity to affect activity in certain parts of the brain and lead to changes in perception, emotion and cognition, commonly referred to as “tripping.”
Johns Hopkins and other research institutions nationwide are exploring the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms for treating depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.
Mary “Bit” Yaden, M.D., an attending physician and psychiatrist at Hopkins Center noted: “People often describe traumatic emotional experiences that leave them with surprising insights afterward – many individuals can make significant life changes as a result of these encounters; it’s an innovative form of psychiatry.” She found this approach particularly stimulating.
Charlotte James, founder of Psychedelic Liberation Training and other organizations that provide psychedelic training and education geared specifically at people of color. According to Charlotte, psychedelic medicine helps us rewire and redirect neural pathways. “It can also work at the cellular level by pinpointing where illnesses or trauma originate in your body; and can identify where illnesses and trauma originate in individuals. If we consider that trauma from both lifetime and intergenerational experiences has an impactful presence in our bodies that impact health outcomes – then this medicine allows us to do work within ourselves in order to release our past trauma from our bodies!
Magic Mushroom Research Psychedelic research remains at an early stage, having been held back due to government policy for decades. Studies flourished during the 1950s and early 1960s after researchers discovered promising effects for mental health conditions and substance abuse dependence; however, due to concerns of abuse among counterculture members during the mid-1960s, research was banned for at least two decades and research had to cease entirely.
Johns Hopkins research group received approval in 2000 to resume research with psychedelics on healthy volunteers, and since then have focused on investigating psilocybin’s potential benefits for treatment-resistant depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and managing emotional distress and anxiety among people living with terminal cancer as they work to manage emotional distress and anxiety. Studies on substance use disorders demonstrated significant decreases in heavy drinking and smoking rates.
Studies on psilocybin as an anorexia treatment continue to emerge globally, including one specifically investigating this approach.
Worker who use psychedelics are aware of their potency; but you also must put in effort.
“Don’t expect to simply show up, take some mushrooms and then wake up hours later feeling fixed,” explained James. A good practitioner will require pre-work, followed by integration support after each ceremony so you can consider how you are taking what was learned through medicine, embodying its lessons, and using them in your everyday life to increase wellbeing.
How does treatment with magic mushrooms work?
In Johns Hopkins studies, participants must first complete three to four psychotherapy sessions with a physician and facilitators prior to receiving one or two treatments with magic mushrooms.
“Our goal is to establish an environment in which participants feel safe,” Yaden stated. “Psilocybin can be scary; to experience such profound change can be unnerving for some people.”
The goal is to help patients open up past traumas or issues so they can address them more clearly on their own, or with help from mental health professionals. After taking psilocybin, participants are encouraged to discuss any feelings and experiences that emerged with their facilitator, so a plan of action may be developed with their mental health team. Patients might receive one additional dose as part of this research study; however, ongoing treatment will not be provided.
“So far, our only approach has been one-and-done treatment,” Yaden explained. “For many individuals, long-term follow-up data is quite promising.”
Access and Availability Gaining access to psilocybin for treatment can be challenging, since legally regulated methods require enrolling in a study; people of color tend to be underrepresented in such research studies compared with more general studies. If medicinal use of psychedelics is legalized locally – however this option only exists in Oregon, Colorado, and a handful of U.S. cities currently.
Some individuals are opting to experience psychedelics outside clinical spaces by visiting psychedelic societies with practitioners who offer educational sessions about using legal psychedelic plants as part of traditional healing rituals and ancestral traditions.
James cautioned, however, that anyone expecting to simply acquire magic mushrooms for an “experience” should think again. Participants in these experiences are expected to build trust among members of their group with an understanding that these medicines should be treated as powerful medicines and be used accordingly. Although such experiences provide access to those unable to participate in clinical studies or who would rather experience their trip outside the office with trusted community members than with clinicians alone,
James said she understands why a clinical setting may not feel safe to some, such as women from marginalized backgrounds; therefore, they may decide collective therapy sessions are better suited for them.
“For instance, as a Black woman it might not be ideal to visit a doctor’s office to trip,” she noted. “This may not be an environment where I will build trust with colleagues.
What Is Microdosing? Unfortunately, most research-based use of psilocybin does not focus on microdosing – that is using small doses on an ongoing basis – unlike many studies which explore effects from larger doses given once or twice only.
Microdosing mimics an antidepressant approach by taking low doses that don’t directly impact subjective experiences, according to Yaden. One factor which gives him pause: Psilocybin affects receptors involved with heart function; yet there haven’t been long-term studies of microdosing.
Microdosing magic mushrooms is often spoken about in terms of its positive impacts, but Yaden pointed out that these benefits have yet to be quantified in research studies.
She favors research study models over microdosing or taking psilocybin on your own due to the highly controlled settings provided by research studies that screen patients for mental and physical health conditions to ensure that it fits perfectly, while working to build safety, trust, and openness between professionals and patients.
“These drugs are still classified as schedule one drugs in most of the U.S.,” she stated. “The last thing we want is for anyone to do anything that could potentially put them at risk. Science has taught me humility and an awareness that there’s still much unknown – the primary role of any healthcare practitioner should be keeping people safe while acknowledging these medicines have immense potential for tomorrow.