The Magic of Mushrooms

Psilocybin, more commonly known as the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’, has been around for centuries and are part of an age-old biological creation: fungi. Fungi and bacteria are the oldest organisms to exist on this planet and have been used from recreation to medication and everything in between. They have already provided medical solutions such as penicillin and potentially many others, which have yet to be discovered by scientists. But the legalisation and decriminalisation of this powerful hallucinogenic, both for medicinal and recreational uses, is a different story. 

The recent decriminalisation of psilocybin containing mushrooms in Denver, Colorado, has witnessed the first milestone completed to end the stigma around naturally occurring drugs (such as mushrooms and cannabis), and people are coming to realise the benefit that they have both on physical and mental health. One argument for decriminalisation in Denver focused on the fact that certain strains may be helpful in the treatment of cluster headaches, PTSD and OCD (BBC 2019). Their new law aims to allow a margin for growing possessing mushrooms for personal use, for those aged twenty one and over, without the threat of penalties or imprisonment. Whilst the bill was passed with 50.6% to 49.4%, those who voted against it are still open to researching and studying the effects more extensively, to bring more insight into the use of natural medication. 

Studies suggest that psychedelic-assisted treatments may be breakthrough therapies with regards to mental health issues such as OCD, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Within the UK alone, prescriptions of antidepressants have doubled in the past ten years, leading to a worldwide pandemic of growing mental health problems. For many people, antidepressants and other medication can be a huge source of stability, especially for those who are predicted to have lifelong health issues, however many people who have never tried medication as part of treatment, are reluctant to try it due to the potential dependency they may face. 

Additionally, there are also studies that show that using psychedelics have low rates of harm compared to other drugs, both to users and third parties (The Economist, 2019). On this basis, there is a strong argument for decriminalization, because data has shown that magic mushrooms in particular are less risky than alcohol and tobacco usage as well as having therapeutic potential in the right context. However, like most medications prescribed for mental health disorders, mushrooms require a sufficient follow-up period, and regular check-ins with the psychiatrist who prescribed them. The use of mushrooms is finding its way into various different types of therapy; with the active ingredient of the mushroom boiled into a strange-tasting “tea”. The psilocybin is used to help patients recover from traumatic events in their past, under the guidance of their psychiatrist. Maybe it’s time the UK looked to Denver and changed its approach?

Ria Uppal is a research intern at the Adam Smith Institute.