Magic in the Mushrooms: Psilocybin as a Healer

By Nancy Tannler

June is Brain Awareness month and Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) has been offering a series of lectures on this complicated organ. 

The lecture Psychedelic Therapy: The Science and Safety of Psilocybin, presented by Chris Stauffer, M.D., was especially significant for residents of Oregon.

According to Ballotpedia.org, Measure 109, which passed in 2020, “allows manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin (psychoactive mushroom) at supervised, licensed facilities; imposes two-year development period; creates enforcement/taxation system, advisory board, administration fund,” 

The first point Dr. Stauffer clarified is that no classic psychedelics have a current FDA-approved indication for medical use. However, psilocybe cubensis and 200 other species of psychedelic mushrooms, whose active component is psilocybin, are being used in controlled settings to help people manage certain mental conditions. 

“Medicalization of the substance helps with the legalization,” Dr. Stauffer said.

Oregon is experiencing epidemics in suicide, depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction to drugs, alcohol and nicotine. By legalizing these studies, Dr. Stauffer and others like him are able to proceed with psilocybin-assisted therapy, which is proving to be safe and uniquely effective in many cases.

Psilocybin was brought to public attention in 1957 after Robert Gordon Wasson wrote an article, Seeking the Magic Mushroom, for Life Magazine. 

Wasson was VP for J.P. Morgan and was an amateur ethnomycologist, one who studies the interaction between humans and fungus. This article coined the term “magic mushroom.”

In 1955, Wasson traveled to a small town in southern Mexico to meet Maria Sabina. She was the first contemporary Mazatec shaman to allow a Westerner to participate in psychedelic mushroom veladas (healing ceremonies).

Sabina had been performing the velada mushroom ceremony for over 30 years before Wasson arrived. She served as a guide on the patient’s all-night journey to and from the spiritual realms to commune with God, heal the sick and learn of a cure.

Wasson brought back samples of the magic mushrooms for chemists to study their physical properties and healing potential. 

Unfortunately, because of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, further testing diminished until 2001. Since then the FDA has allowed clinical trials, resulting in breakthrough therapies for some people. 

Dr. Stauffer spoke about what types of mental imbalances they hope to mitigate with psilocybin sessions. Major depression disorders, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia, nicotine, alcohol and cocaine abuse are the major disorders addressed so far.

What the psilocybin does is creates a non-ordinary state of consciousness for four to six hours. 

Dr. Stauffer used a visual that showed a small iceberg and a boat floating over an immense underwater world of sea creatures. The iceberg represents the person and the boat is the ego keeping all the underwater creatures (unconscious memories) at bay. 

In a safe, monitored environment, these sessions can allow people to safely examine these buried thoughts, ideas and memories.

Prior to the heavy use of magic mushrooms in the 60s, they were primarily used in religious ceremonies to develop a person’s deeper understanding of themselves, their purpose and unity with other people and the world in which they live. It was meant as a sacred experience. 

They were also helpful in alleviating the existential dread most people experience around dying.

This is what the professionals are studying in their psilocybin experiments today. Results of these sessions are proving that people who do have a mystical experience have a sense of unity, mental clarity, transcendence, positive mood and ineffability that last for months and even years afterward. 

People who have had the sessions begin to integrate these feelings into their daily state of consciousness. With this greater sense of well being, they are able to deal with the different harmful ways they’ve learned to cope with the vicissitudes of life in the past.

It should be noted that any type of mind-altering substance can have harmful effects – in other words, a bad trip. That is the reason Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will establish a program to license facilitators and determine what qualifications, education, training and exams are needed. 

OHA, along with the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board (OPAB), will develop this program over a two-year period.

The US National Library of Medicine is in the process of recruiting volunteers for psilocybin studies in locations across the country. If you are interested in participating in a trial, visit bit.ly/USNLMmushrooms for details.

Image from drugscience.org.uk

Magic in the Mushrooms: Psilocybin as a Healer

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