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Microdosing may be the next breakthrough treatment for mental health, but finding a shroom dispensary isn’t easy- even if you’re terminally ill.

Terminal illnesses are often terrifying. Patients are placed on the precipice of death, and forced to stare into the chasm that awaits them for months, and sometimes even years. Dealing with this sort of existential dread day in and day out isn’t just mentally exhausting- it’s debilitating. And frankly- it’s poorly understood by the medical community. Despite it’s often seen and well known effects, as over 40% of cancer patients suffer from crippling anxiety and depression, the resulting mental strife isn’t addressed in psychiatric literature well. Appearing nowhere in the DSM- the manual mental health experts use to diagnose and treat certain illnesses. The treatments are lacking at best, and positive patient “breakthroughs” are rare to be seen. Except following the use of psilocybin therapy.

In the early 1950’s psilocybin and other psychedelics were researched for their ability to address chronic illnesses like alcoholism. Following negative stigma and woefully incorrect information circulating about the safety and efficacy of psilocybin, many of these early trials were scrapped. It was until 2016 that scientists really began to explore the possible benefits of macrodosing and microdosing psilocybin for mental health. But, in that year, and those to follow it, the experts began finding out exactly what mid-twentieth century studies, and nearly every self-reporting microdoser, have been telling them for years. Psilocybin may be the key to unlocking a better mental health space for everyone. 

Improving Well-being with Magic Mushrooms

Canada, in a landmark court case, has recently allowed 4 terminally ill cancer patients the “right-to-try” psilocybin as an adjunct for their cancer-related anxiety and depression. Despite piles of well researched evidence that psilocybin is an often gratifying experience for those that need serious mental health attention, patients are still having to fight for their rights to try this naturally occurring fungus. Of the 51 participants trialed in a 2016 study, more than 80% of them reported greatly increased feelings of well-being and life satisfaction following the use of psilocybin. And these positive changes stuck, with again 80% of participants showing “clinically significant” decreases in their depression and anxiety six months after the trial. Other patients studied reported feelings of positive well-being nearly five years after their initial psychedelic therapies. Which blows traditional medication benefits out of the water.

The trouble that many researchers are having with continued investigations into psilocybin as a paradigm shifting treatment for mental health distress is two fold- currently, self-reports offer a large fraction of anecdotal evidence supporting these claims. However, most patients struggle to put into words how the experience affected them. Most describe it as “beautiful”, “life-changing”, and “spiritually significant”, which are all difficult feelings to quantify. The other roadblock that many scientists come up against is the fact that psilocybin is still considered a Schedule I drug in most countries- meaning that governments have labeled it as having no medical application and a “high abuse potential”. Both of which have been disproven again and again by science. Yet, governments still seem hesitant to relax the antiquated laws regarding psilocybin. Making it difficult to produce, possess, and use in scientific trials. Which is heartbreaking for scientists and patients alike.

Psilocybin has been found to have an exceptionally high therapeutic index, with low (if any) abuse potential, and few negative health outcomes. Which leaves nearly everyone perplexed as to why lawful powers still deem these substances to be dangerous. In fact, nearly all of the few fatal incidents reported involving psilocybin, also involved other substances and dangerous drugs- such as alcohol or opiates. One would need to consume nearly four pounds (1.7 kilograms) of dried mushrooms in order to reach a fatal dose. Which is largely unthinkable. Particularly as the effective dose of psilocybin, particularly from a microdosing perspective, can be as little as 100mg of dried mushrooms.

Limitations of Legacy Medications

Perhaps because of these limitations, or maybe even something more sinister, many patients are given medications like SSRIs or barbiturates to address their cancer related depression and anxiety. Both of which have dangerously low therapeutic indexes, high abuse potential, and often well documented and severe side-effects. Because of the nuances of depression and anxiety related to cancer, few of these traditional drugs meet the specialized needs of patients. SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, and barbiturates are designed to address physiological causes of depression and anxiety. Like hormone imbalances or disease processes like schizophrenia. Neither are designed to help address an existential threat to mental health.

Which is what cancer patients and terminally ill people face everyday. While these people may have underlying mental health problems, many report no mental health disturbances prior to diagnosis. Which is understandable, as a poor prognosis is terrifying for anyone. Faced with the certainty of untimely death, many terminally ill persons struggle to find positivity in their predicaments. Often struggling with the reality they face, and how to process such a horrific event. Particularly in cases where it can take years of agonizing and slow decay of life quality to succumb to their illness. Which means they don’t need more hormones, they need a new perspective. A better way to mentally frame the future that terrifies them and everyone they love.

Legacy medications and traditional therapeutic practices cannot address this- but psychedelics may. As more research is geared towards investigating the effects of microdosing psilocybin, evidence of a “brain reboot” or “ego dissolution” that allows patients and self-reporters to view their lives from a “third-person perspective” allowing them to better address problems and mental discomforts from a position that removes distracting emotions. Scientists believe that this is because psilocybin works not just with serotonin systems, but also dopamine systems simultaneously, interacting in such a way that synthetics have yet to achieve. Things that legacy drugs just can’t do. So while ego dissolution and the overall effects of microdosing mushrooms still requires much more study, the future seems brighter for those that both use them and prescribe them.