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Psilocybin for Treating Depression

I'm Sam and have strong interest in substance use and abuse and the psychology of behavioral problems.


In recent years, there has been a lot of development in the area of alternative health. One thing that has been focused on lately is the use of psychedelic drugs for the treatment of mental health issues such as depression, but also addictions.

Psychedelics were initially researched for their ability to help treat an assortment of health problems back in the earlier parts of the 20th century. Unfortunately, they were quickly criminalized and research was largely halted.

Nowadays, the evidence is beginning to become undeniable. Psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, have incredible potential for helping people manage symptoms of depression.

What is Psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that the human body makes out of psilocin, the active component in many psychedelic mushrooms.

Psilocybin is known to cause a number of effects in the human body. Some of these effects are desirable for therapeutic purposes, and many have potential applications that have not been studied yet. The effects of acute ingestion of psilocin or psilocybin include:

  • A change in mental state. People generally become more open, accepting, and curious when they are under the influence of psychedelic compounds.
  • Visual distortions. It's uncommon for someone who's on psychedelics to hallucinate – as in, see something that's actually not there – but visual distortions are very common and can result in confusion
  • A body load can result in a number of pleasant or unpleasant effects like jittering, nausea, or the feeling that your skin is crawling.

There are many more effects and they can vary greatly depending on things like the environment, health, and the dosage taken. However, the above effects are most interesting for people who are interested in using psychedelics to treat depression.

How Do Antidepressants Work?

One thing that's important to consider when understanding how psilocybin can help treat depression is the mechanism of action of other antidepressants.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants. These drugs work by helping to change the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. SSRIs, for example, help to regulate the amount of serotonin that's present in the brain and are prescribed under the assumption that depression is caused by serotonin imbalance.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many types of depression are not caused by serotonin imbalance. In fact, the majority of them are not. This leads one to wonder why SSRIs are so commonly prescribed. They can certainly be effective, but they are more of a band-aid solution than an actual problem. It's quite common to see people remain on SSRIs for the rest of their lives after they begin taking them.

Psilocybin, on the other hand, has very different applications.

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How Can Psilocybin Help Treat Depression?

While traditional antidepressants attempt to bandage the problem by reinforcing levels of neurotransmitters or helping to balance them out, psilocybin and psychedelics work in different ways.

One of the ways that psilocybin can help people fight depression is by reframing their understanding of life. This may sound a bit absurd, but many leading researchers in psychedelic therapy have agreed with this. One researcher went as far as saying that a single dose of psilocybin is equivalent to a decade of psychotherapy in terms of the benefits that were perceived.

Psychedelics allow one to witness their life and their situation from a third-person perspective. For most of us, it's quite easy to get trapped in our heads and our life experiences. Whether or not we want to admit it, a lot of us play the victim role – we believe that our lives are unfair, tough, and difficult and that these situations are a result of the actions of other people instead of ourselves.

While it is certainly true that some situations can be problematic and caused by other people, this isn't the case with everything. The fact of the matter, also, is that depression is a long-lasting problem that isn't necessarily caused by single situations. It can be caused by a buildup of traumatic experiences, an unhealthy environment, diet, and other things.

Psilocybin can be useful because it helps people explore new possibilities. The drug allows you to experience and develop a deeper understanding of your body and your mind. You will become acutely aware of what you are lacking and where this lack is located.

This can be observed in a physical or a mental sense. You may become immediately aware of a certain type of behavior that you engage in unconsciously that continues to drag you into depressing situations. You may become aware of a pain or discomfort in your body that you were pushing into the background that might be a sign of a more serious problem that could lead to depression.

The interesting thing about psilocybin is that it doesn't treat depression in a specific manner – though in cases of acute depression caused by neurotransmitter imbalance, it can certainly help to restore the brain to a level of proper functioning.

In many cases, though, psilocybin simply helps people recognize the parts of their lives that are not conducive to their happiness and give them the wisdom and perspective to help eliminate these problems.

Psilocybin can also be used by people in doses smaller than those that are typically used by recreational users. Using small amounts, which is also known as ‘microdosing,’ is an effective way to facilitate the open-minded, clear mental state that psychedelics are known for.

By doing this on a regular basis, one can open up the doors to a new perspective on life. It cis often much more difficult to become depressed when you’re medicating with psilocybin. Instead, you will become more driven to understand your problems and figure out how you can solve them.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Sam Shepards

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