Psilocybin: a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms. It’s quickly converted in the body to psilocin, whose effects include euphoria, changes in perception and sense of time, hallucinations, and profound spiritual experiences. Prehistoric murals from Spain and Algeria suggest that human use of psilocybin mushrooms predates recorded history and use for spiritual ceremonies dates back 3,000 years in Mexico and the Southwestern US.

Studies are mounting that psilocybin induces positive psychological experiences that may prove uniquely effective in treating depression, anxiety, end-of-life distress, and substance abuse disorders—while also increasing the mental wellbeing of healthy individuals. Psilocybin’s benefits are related to reduced neural activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN), an interconnected brain region associated with the ego and self-identity.

While psilocybin is illegal in most countries, it’s not addictive, has low harm potential (there is no known lethal dose), and studies show it’s the safest recreational drug. Thousands of doses have been administered in clinical settings since the 1990s, with NYU researchers reporting no lasting medical or psychiatric issues. Research and decriminalization are heating up: For instance, the US FDA designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for depression in 2019, an action that speeds up research development for drugs expected to represent a major improvement over currently available agents. Read a good overview of psilocybin from Psychology Today.

Research Spotlight

The databases often return hundreds of medical studies for a single wellness approach. This section summarizes a sampling of studies – providing a taste of the available research. These spotlights weren’t selected because they’re the most favorable or recent, but to provide you an introduction to the more extensive research you’ll uncover searching the databases found in the “Research” section of this site.

    • Psilocybin Therapy Spurs Rapid, Sustained Improvement in Depression
      Psychedelics have shown promise in treating diverse mental health disorders, but exactly how they rewire the mind remains a mystery. A small 2022 study from Imperial College in London provides some answers. Patients with severe depression were given either psilocybin or a popular antidepressant (escitalopram). The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity pre-dose and three weeks after. The results were enlightening: The antidepressant group reported mild improvement in depressive symptoms but the scans showed the stubborn signs of depression remained: neural activity was constrained within certain brain regions, reflecting rigid thought patterns. Those given psilocybin, on the other hand, reported rapid, sustained improvement in their depression, and scans showed neural activity across large regions of the brain that persisted for the three weeks—suggesting that psilocybin “liberates” the brain.
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    • Largest-Ever Study Finds Psilocybin Is Highly Effective Against Serious Depression
      The largest randomized, controlled, double-blind trial of psilocybin ever (from Compass Pathways) found that a single higher dose led to a rapid and long-lasting decrease in depression symptoms; patients given the highest dose (25 mg) had a significant decline in depression compared to those receiving a microdose of 1 mg. 29% of patients in the highest-dose group were free from depression three weeks after treatment (compared to 7.6% in the control group), and more than a quarter of the high-dose patients were still in remission three months later. These are important findings, as 100 million people worldwide suffer from treatment-resistant depression. 
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    • Psilocybin Restores Brain Connections Damaged by Stress and Depression
      A 2021 study from Yale University (on mice) showed that a single dose of psilocybin created an immediate and long-lasting increase in the connection among neurons that are damaged by depression and chronic stress. The researchers noted it was a “real surprise to see such enduring changes from just one dose of psilocybin…these new connections may be the structural changes the brain uses to store new experiences.”
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    • Psilocybin Therapy Appears as Effective as Leading Antidepressant for Depression
      A 2021 randomized controlled trial in the New England Journal of Medicine found that two sessions (three weeks apart) of 25 mg of psilocybin had at least as significant an impact on depressive symptoms as taking one of the most common SSRIs(escitalopram/Lexapro) daily for six weeks. The psilocybin group also reported fewer side effects and other positive emotional impacts. It’s the first study testing psilocybin head-to-head against a top antidepressant.  
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    • Single Dose of Psilocybin Reduced Depression and Anxiety for 5 Years
      In 2016, a randomized trial from NYU found that a single dose of psilocybin delivered rapid improvements in anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer when combined with psychotherapy. A follow-up study (2020) found that 71–100% of participants reported that the improvement in depression and anxiety had lasted five years—with participants “rating it among the most personally meaningful experiences of their lives.”
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    • Psilocybin produces dramatic, sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening illness
      A randomized, double-blind trial by Johns Hopkins University (2016) found that a single dose of psilocybin (given in a psychologically supportive, clinical environment) produced remarkable, long-lasting relief from anxiety and depression for patients with life-threatening cancer. The single dose reduced anxiety and depression for roughly 80% of participants after six months (and two-thirds rated the experience “one of the top five most meaningful of their lives”).
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    • Psilocybin therapy has powerful effect on major depressive symptoms
      A randomized clinical trial from Johns Hopkins University (2020; 24 participants with long-term major depression) found that just two doses of psilocybin (with supportive psychotherapy) produced fast and very significant reductions in depression symptoms: 71% experienced more than a 50% reduction in symptoms at 4-week follow-up and 54% achieved total remission. The effect was about four times larger than what the clinical trials show for traditional antidepressants.
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      • Benefits of microdosing psilocybin looks to be placebo effect
        A 2020 study from Imperial College London found that people who took very low doses of psilocybin for four weeks reported higher psychological wellbeing scores (life satisfaction, mindfulness, etc.). But those who took a placebo, thinking they were taking the psilocybin, reported very similar results—while those who microdosed psilocybin but thought they were taking a placebo saw no increase in wellbeing. This was the largest placebo-controlled study on psychedelics to date, and researchers noted it illustrates the power that belief can have on the human mind.
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      • Psilocybin promising for smoking cessation
        A 2017 pilot study from Johns Hopkins University that combined 15 weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy with psilocybin administration at weeks 5, 7 and 13 found that an eye-opening 80% of participants were still smoke-free at six months, and 67% were one year after follow-up (with abstinence confirmed by lab tests).
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