Up until very recently, most people had only one reason for ingesting psilocybin ‘magic’ mushrooms – the hallucinations. The pre-Columbian Aztecs used them in religious and spiritual ceremonies where the hallucinations were key elements. The political ‘War on Drugs’ in the late 1960s made psychedelic drugs illegal mostly to irritate the anti-war supporters who were often seen as ‘hippie’ drug users. That put an end to serious studies in psychedelic psychotherapy despite researchers finding benefits. The gradual re-legalization of marijuana – which had suffered a similar fate from the ‘War on Drugs’ – led to research into the benefits of CBD (Cannabidiol), the medical component of the plant that does not cause a high. Now, researchers in China have successfully created psilocybin without the hallucinations. Will this lead to a greater usage for treatment of PTSD and other psychological ailments that are being successfully treated with magic mushrooms? Wasn’t there a benefit to the hallucinations?
“Psychedelics have previously shown potential therapeutic effects in past clinical trials. The hallucination effects definitely restrict their potential use. But now, non-hallucinogenic drugs may solve this problem.”
In a review of his research published in the journal Science, Sheng Wang, a biochemist with the Chinese Academy of Science and a senior author of the study, tells The Daily Beast how his research began by studying the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor in the central nervous system. The receptor causes hallucinations when it binds to LSD and psilocybin but not to other molecules like serotonin. To keep the mood-altering ability of psylocibin without causing hallucinations, Wang and his team had to create a similar new receptor called IHCH-7113. When given to mice, the rodents did not exhibit classical signs of animal hallucination, like head twitching, but were able to function normally despite being placed in a depressive state with stress and corticosterone.
Would the mice have received a double benefit if they also experienced mild hallucinations that put them in a spiritual state? The researchers couldn’t determine that with the simple head-twitch response that is the main sign, based on past experiments, that an animal is hallucinating. The early pre-War on Drugs research on psychedelics focused on the mystical experiences which are deemed beneficial when the result of meditation or religion, but not when drug induced. Can Wang’s experiments in eliminating the hallucinations produce mainstream acceptance of psilocybin for treating for depression, PTSD, anxiety and similar conditions? Will it create a separate market for the non-magic component like the one for non-high CBD – which seems to be appearing in every product like some kind of medical pumpkin spice at Thanksgiving?
The growing yet still small mainstream acceptance of LSD and psilocybin for their medical benefits is promising, and this new research should definitely accelerate that acceptance. It’s unfortunate that this will probably not eliminate the chance for future politically-motivated wars on drugs from happening. It’s also sad that it will probably eliminate some great song lyrics.
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low.
Go ask Alice
I think she'll know.
Remember what the dormouse said:
Feed your head. Feed your head. Feed your head
(White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane)