Big Surprise or No Surprise? Two Thirds of Doctors Surveyed Think Psilocybin has Mental Health Benefits

Psilocybin Mental Health Benefits

So no surprise but it’s making big headlines that Compass Pathways, “a mental health care company dedicated to accelerating patient access to evidence-based innovation in mental health”, and Sermo, a medical advisory board “comprised of members from around the globe in a variety of specialties who have come together to amplify physicians’ voices in an ever-changing healthcare ecosphere”, announced findings, on January 19, from a survey “of Sermo physician members that showed two thirds (66%) of doctors surveyed believe psilocybin therapy has potential therapeutic benefit for patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD)”. 

The survey sponsored by Compass of 259 Sermo member physicians was conducted in November 2021 and included members from the US, the UK, France, Italy, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands. Doctors were asked their view on psychiatric therapy and the potential role of psilocybin therapy. 

“The key findings were:

66% of doctors surveyed believe psilocybin therapy has potential benefit for patients with TRD

50% would prescribe psilocybin therapy, if it was approved; 32% are undecided        

The greatest potential advantages to psilocybin treatment are believed to be: improved efficacy in treatment-resistant conditions (30%), rapid onset of action (26%), and different mechanism of action from existing therapies (19%)        

The greatest potential barriers to treatment were cited as: needing a dedicated space for six to eight hours (28%), lack of trained therapists in a new model of psychological support (21%), and office infrastructure (15%)        

Opinions on the optimal setting for psilocybin administration varied by region: 50% of European respondents said hospital; 42% of US respondents said specialised network of centres

Physicians also noted the need to educate healthcare professionals on the potential benefits of psilocybin therapy and on how to incorporate the therapy into their practice, if approved “

For those readers who are just tuning in to the psychedelic renaissance or for those who need a refresher it is not surprising news to seasoned psychonauts that these powerful medicines have curative properties. It’s encouraging that so many physicians are out of the closet, albeit in a survey, in their positive responses.  Psilocybin, or rather sacred mushrooms, had a long deep-rooted history in ancient civilization long before Albert Hofmann isolated psilocybin and smaller amounts of psilocin from the mushroom P. mexicana in 1958.

Psilocybin and psilocin are the main psychoactive agents of the psychoactive mushroom genus Psilocybe (better known as magic mushrooms). We can be reasonably certain that our ancestors used the magic fungi more than a million years ago. When our ancestors deliberately began to use magic mushrooms in ritualistic ceremonial use we cannot know with certainty but the “expanded visionary ritual capacity set the foundations for the emergence of shamanism and the deliberate use of psychoactive plants to enhance ritual activities and visionary experiences”.

The evidence for the ancient ritual consumption of psychedelic plants and their influence on human evolution is partially substantiated by the following:

  • 1.Psilocybin-containing species are found virtually in all regions of the world and stretching back millions of years, as evidenced in psilocybin-containing species unique to each of the major regions of the world;
  • 2.the enhanced binding of the human serotonin receptors with psychedelics;
  • 3.shamanic traditions of ritual use of sacred mushrooms and other psychedelic substances that have great antiquity, as attested to language, art, petroglyphs, and stone sculptures of fungiform figures that often closely resemble the observable features of local psilocybin-containing mushroom species; and
  • 4.ancient psychedelic mushroom use attested to in artifacts from religious traditions in all of the major regions of the world.

Shamanism was a central part of premodern ritualistic practices of psilocybin mushrooms worldwide. The presence of remarkably similar shamanistic practices and beliefs in foraging societies cross-culturally with the ritual use of psychedelics in cultures around the world are:

  • entheogenic, inducing an internal sense of spiritual presence;
  • –provide access to a spiritual world, the supernatural, bringing the world of mythic beliefs into experience;
  • –produce an experience of one’s soul or spirit and its separation from the body and travel to the supernatural world;
  • –cause experiences of the activation of powers within and outside of the person;
  • –induce experiences of relationships with animals and at times the sense of transformation into an animal;
  • –provoke experiences of ego death followed by transformation or rebirth;
  • –provide information through visions;
  • –engage healing, especially through the dramatic ritual evocation of emotional experiences; and
  • –provide processes for group integration and enhanced social cohesion.

The religious use of “sacred mushrooms” dates back 3500 years to the Valley of Mexico and the rest of Central America. The “flesh of the gods”, as the Aztecs called them, is believed to be a type of magic mushroom.

“From hallucinogenic mushrooms and cacti to alcohol-infused enemas and psychoactive dried toad skins, the array of consciousness-altering substances that people in the early Americas used was wider than thought, a new report suggests.”

“People living in Mesoamerica before the arrival of Europeans used such psychotropic drugs primarily in medicine and religious rituals, said study author Francisco Javier Carod-Artal of Hospital Virgen de la Luz in Cuenca, Spain.” 

“Moreover, some of these drugs are still used today for medicinal purposes in indigenous communities, Carod-Artal said.”

“In many rural and traditional communities with limited access to the modern health system, many healers are taking care of the health in the native communities,” Carod-Artal told Live Science. “Seizures, migraine, depression, and other neurological and mental health disorders are treated in the context of ritual ceremonies with some of these drugs.”

In other parts of the world there is evidence for A. muscaria mushroom tradition  in Eurasia across Greece, India, Tibet, and China and in the Old Testament and Islamic entheogenic roots.

“Chinese traditions recorded the use of hallucinogenic plants, including mushrooms, in herbal manuscripts almost 2,000 years ago. Dannaway (2009) points to evidence the use of botanicals substances as tools for obtaining siddhis or mystical powers in: the yogic tradition of Patanjali; ancient Buddhists texts, especially in the Buddhist Tantric traditions; and Taoist literature, the later making references to what is translated as “magic mushrooms” and “divine mushrooms.””

A. muscaria practices in Judaic traditions, characterizing Moses as an entheogenic shaman, especially in his encounters with the “burning bush” on the “Mountain of God.”

 “A series of illustrations in a 15th century Timurid manuscript record the mi’raj, the ascent through the seven heavens by Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam. Several of the illustrations depict Burāq, the fabulous creature by means of which Mohammed achieves his ascent, with distinctive features of the Amanita muscaria mushroom.”

Finally fast forward to the twentieth century and Western society we circle back to Dr. Albert Hofmann with Roger Heim, and R. Gordon Wasson who all can be credited with mushroom’s popularity in the 1960s Hippie culture and mushroom’s popularity as a gateway to spirituality.  Albert Hofmann isolated the compound psilocybin in the lab. Roger Heim was a botanist specializing in mycology who traveled to Mexico with Gordon Wasson to collect psychedelic mushrooms that they would supply to Albert Hoffman to synthesize in the lab. In the 1950s and early 1960s mushrooms were seriously being considered by medical researchers for their therapeutic properties. “Research into its positive uses was burgeoning at Harvard University during the early 1960s.”

So what happened? R. Gordon Wasson and his wife, Valentina Pavlovna Wasson, participated in mushroom ceremonies in Mexico and were so spellbound by them that afterwards they published an article chronicling the experience in Life magazine called Seeking the Magic Mushroom. The article caused quite a stir. 

“Indeed, the phrase “magic mushroom” itself was used first in that article.”

Timothy Leary, a psychology professor at Harvard read the article and with his friend and colleague, Dr. Richard Alpert, who later became Ram Dass, went to Mexico to study the potential of “magic mushrooms”. On an aside this writer has met Timothy Leary and knew Ram Dass personally and was given the Hindu name,Durga, by Ram Dass in 1999. After their return from Mexico they set up the Harvard Psilocybin Project. They ordered psilocybin from Sandoz, Inc., in 1960. Leary and Alpert experimented with the drug themselves and developed a personal connection to the mind-altering benefits and began to advocate for psychedelic substances. In order to determine the efficacy of the psilocybin they had to test their theories on others. Controversy began to arise around the project. But not before they experimented with a number of people with positive reactions. 

“At the beginning, Alpert and Leary administered psilocybin to 38 people: professional and non-professional normal volunteers, outstanding creative intellectuals and psychological drug “addicts.” To produce the most positive reactions to psilocybin, the two experimenters ran their studies in “pleasant, spacious, aesthetic surroundings.” Subjects were allowed to control their own dosages (within reasonable limits); no one took the drug among strangers, and Leary and Alpert usually took it with their subjects. The “outstanding creative intellectuals” included Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Seventy-five percent of the subjects reported that the psilocybin experience was “very pleasant.” Sixty nine percent “were judged to have attained marked broadening of awareness.” More subjects were tested (167 in all ), and the percentage of positive reactions rose still higher. Ninety-five percent thought that the drug session” had changed their lives for the better.”” 

They gave psilocybin to prison inmates in the Concord Prison Experiment to determine if the drug combined with psychotherapy would prevent inmates from reoffending once they were released from prison.

“For an experimental drug whose existence was unknown outside of Latin America until a few years prior, the results were promising. It was initially predicted that 64% of the 32 subjects who participated in the study would return to prison within six months of being released. However, after six months, only 25 percent of those on parole had returned, six for technical parole violations and two for new offenses. Indeed, in a 1960 study, 167 subjects participated and by the end, 159 of the subjects declared that the psilocybin experience had “changed their lives for the better.””

Word of these conscious raising mushrooms began to spill outside the walls of academia into the beat community of artists, writers, musicians, and of course, hippies. And that was the threat that did psilocybin in. The hippie movement rejected everything and anything “establishment” in 1960s America and that just could not be tolerated. It was a time of intense civil unrest with the war in Viet Nam, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, classic rock music was leading the way, and the women’s movment was rising up – young people had had enough and mind expansion was on the docket as the way out and through. Enter Richard Nixon and with his election in 1968 everything changed and everything shut down. He promised “law and order”.  The war on drugs began. By the early 1970s research on psychedelic drugs had been interrupted completely. It was difficult to obtain the drugs needed to conduct any proper academic experiments and it was considered a joke by the academic community to do so. 

“Nixon would later go on to call Timothy Leary “the most dangerous man in America.”

Interest lay dormant in psychedelics until the 1990s but truly can be credited to Rick Doblin, Ph.D. when he founded  the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in 1986. Now we have come to a burgeoning and hopeful renaissance with interest at the ballot box, from venture capitalists, the medical industry, pharmaceutical companies, the legal industry, and of course psychonauts have never lost interest. Let’s hope this time nothing stops progress.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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