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Treatment options for eating disorders vary from cognitive behavioural therapy through to an extensive list of prescription meds. To date, however, no single form or eating disorder treatment has proved comprehensively effective.

In most instances, the most effective approach to the treatment of eating disorders lies in a combination of complementary measures. But what’s caught the attention of the scientific community as of late is the potential for psychedelics – microdosing psilocybin in particular – to effectively treat a wide variety of mental health disorders.

To date, much of the research conducted into microdosing has focused on the alleviation of depression, anxiety and the effects of PTSD. The potential for magic mushrooms to assist individuals battling substance abuse has also been studied in depth.

Eating disorder treatment has traditionally taken something of a backseat, despite the widespread nature of conditions like anorexia nervosa. But this could all be set to change, following the receipt of a $17 million grant by Johns Hopkins Medicine to launch a new Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

As a result, research into psychedelics as a potential treatment for anorexia looks set to be stepped up significantly over the coming years.

A Complex and Widespread Condition

It is estimated that in the United States alone, at least 30 million people suffer from anorexia nervosa. It is a condition that causes disproportionate and dangerous body image distortion, leaving those affected terrified of the prospect of gaining weight and often starving themselves into poor health or worse.

While a variety of common anorexia triggers and risk factors have been identified over the years, there is still no specific effective treatment for those who suffer from the condition.

Frighteningly, anorexia causes more deaths each year than any other mental illness. This is due to a combination of complications regarding effective treatment and the fact that anorexia can lead to heart problems, bone loss, anemia and other life-threatening illnesses.

Increasingly, microdosing mushrooms in Canada is being turned to as a safe and effective alternative to more conventional treatment options for a variety of mental health conditions. Canada has one of the most established medicinal mushroom dispensary networks in the world, paired with a uniquely liberal and proactive attitude to public health in general.

Traditionally, the treatment of anorexia has involved a programme of cognitive behavioural therapy coupled with supervised weight gain through diet and supplementation. Unfortunately, an extensive review carried out in 2017 found that the relapse rate among those undergoing conventional treatment is around 52%.

This would suggest that traditional approaches to anorexia treatment fail more often than they succeed.

While no study to date has drawn direct links between the consumption of psilocybin and alleviation of eating disorders, shrooms have proved enormously effective in the treatment of various mental health issues. As the root cause of almost all cases of anorexia is suspected to be psychological in nature, this could broaden the applications of psilocybin and revolutionise the treatment of anorexia nervosa.

The study by Johns Hopkins Medicine is expected to take 2 to 3 years to complete, though may be delayed significantly due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.

How Microdosing Psilocybin Differs from Conventional Treatment

Among those who already microdose in Canada, the appeal of psilocybin lies in how it enables you to see yourself and the world around you from an entirely new perspective. 

Describing how magic mushrooms work or how it feels to consume psilocybin to a person who has never experienced it first-hand can be almost impossible.  Nevertheless, an expert working with one of the leading medicinal mushroom dispensaries in Canada offered the following eloquent and surprisingly accurate description of how the whole thing works:

“The reason magic mushrooms have a completely different effects to any medicine you’ve tried before is because they completely shut down the brain’s default mode network (DMN).  Think of it this way – you take the same short walk to and from work every day, so often and without any changes that you start walking it like a robot – you don’t even think about it, you just do it,”

“That’s the way the brain’s default mode network works – it gets programmed into a certain way of operating.  When you shut off this default mode network temporarily, it’s akin to straying from the path you usually walk down.  Rather than taking the same instinctive and robotic route, your experiment different directions. You take different paths, and you experience completely different things along the way,”

“So not only do you find new ways of getting where you want to be, you’re exposed to things you weren’t aware existed or thought possible beforehand.”

It’s the above that has researchers into psilocybin for eating disorder treatment so excited and optimistic. If the key to combating eating disorders lies in making major behavioural and attitudinal changes, then providing the patient with the opportunity to see themselves and their world from a completely different perspective could hold the key.

Anecdotal Evidence Adds Up

While it’s true to say that the only evidence to support shrooms as a treatment for eating disorders is anecdotal in nature, there’s plenty of it. And with each day that passes, more people are experimenting with psilocybin as a safe and potentially effective alternative to conventional treatments.

We’ll know more when the Johns Hopkins Medicine study reaches its conclusion, but early indications point to a promising future for psilocybin in the treatment of eating disorders.