How Psilocybin Can Rewire Our Brain, Its Therapeutic Benefits & Its Risks
Psilocybin mushrooms, known as magic mushrooms or shrooms. Credit: Yarygin / Shutterstock
Many people ask me where to begin with their education regarding psychedelic medicine. At the heart of Funga has always been the desire to make learning about this subject accessible, enjoyable, and easy because I believe it has the power to help so many people. The podcast below is a good place to start for anyone interested in psilocybin, mental health, neuroplasticity and/or psychedelics more generally.
In the episode, Andrew Huberman, a professor of Neuroscience at Stanford University, “discusses what psilocybin is (chemically) and how it works at the cellular and neural circuit level to trigger neuroplasticity, which is our brain’s ability to rewire itself in ways that lead to long-lasting shifts in our emotional, cognitive and behavioral patterns and abilities. He discusses the emerging clinical trial evidence for the use of psilocybin in the treatment of depression, addictions and other psychiatric challenges. Furthermore, he explains the typical duration and phases of a psilocybin journey, the different categories of dosages often used and the importance of set, setting and support when using psychedelics. He goes through which groups of people place themselves at great risk by taking psilocybin as well as groups that could benefit, and highlights the rapidly changing legal and medical landscape around psilocybin. This episode is a thorough exploration of psilocybin from the scientific and clinical literature perspective.” (taken from the show notes)
Below I have some bullet points from the episode that I felt were important takeaways, in case you don’t have time to listen to the full episode:
Psilocybin is a psychedelic, meaning it modifies the psyche. And in doing so, it changes our level of consciousness
Psychedelics, such as psilocybin, change the way we see the outside world and our internal world, not just while under the influence of psilocybin, but it can also fundamentally change all of those things afterward and for a long period of time afterward as well. This is one of the reasons there is growing excitement about the application of psilocybin and other psychedelics for the treatment of various mental health issues, such as depression, alcohol abuse disorder, and addictions of various kinds, including things like OCD and eating disorders.
Psilocybin is a tryptamine. A tryptamine includes psilocybin, but also other things like DMT and 5-MeO-DMT. The tryptamines very closely resemble serotonin itself. Serotonin is a neuromodulator, which means your brain and body naturally make it, and it modifies or changes the activity of other neurons and neural circuits
90% of the serotonin in your brain and body is manufactured in your gut; however, contrary to popular belief, the serotonin in your brain is not manufactured from the serotonin in your gut brain
Why, when one takes psilocybin, which looks so much like serotonin (chemically), does it lead to such complex sets of experiences like visual and auditory hallucinations, changes in particular thought patterns, and neuroplasticity?
It is now fairly well established that when people take psilocybin and have their eyes open without a facemask, much of their cognition, much of their thinking, and much of the time spent in that psilocybin journey is focused on the altered perceptions of things in the outside environment. If, however, the goal is to extract a long-lasting effect from the psilocybin experience in a therapeutic sense, it is very clear that having an eye covering for the majority of the session is going to be very useful because it limits the extent to which one is focused on the outside changes in visual perceptions and will allow the person to go fully inward
In order for a psilocybin session to be therapeutically useful, it requires certain conditions and Huberman stresses that there are certain people who should not do psilocybin, especially people who have existing or a predisposition to psychotic episodes or bipolar episodes. Even having a first relative who has bipolar or schizophrenic issues can be a rule-out condition
Set and setting are the foundation of a well-done or therapeutically beneficial psychedelic journey. Set refers to mindset, the mindset of the person taking the psychedelic, and setting refers to the setting in which they are taking it and the people that are present there. Go to minute 39:45 to learn more about what this entails
Psilocybin can have the effect of invoking new patterns of learning and may even lead to actual rewiring of the emotional centers of the brain
I think the best way to think about psilocybin and other psychedelics is that they initiate the neuroplasticity process, but they are not the neuroplasticity process itself. And the journey itself is not where all the neuroplasticity occurs. In fact, if you want to imagine how psilocybin and other psychedelics change the brain, think about them as a wedge that gets underneath the boulder; that is the neuroplasticity that gets rolling forward. And then think about whether the plasticity is adaptive or maladaptive, whether or not it serves you in your life daily, and whether you are using your conscious brain to move that boulder in a certain direction and clearing a path through old, destructive patterns of thought, emotions, etc.
To learn more watch the YouTube video below or listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts: