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The top health benefits of magic mushrooms in the UK

It is the season when many people ingest our fungal friends – beyond a fun time – what are the benefits?

 
As autumn turns to winter, this is the season when many enthusiasts head to wilder parts of the country and spend hours walking methodically around looking at the ground. The object of their desire is the mysterious little fellows we call the Liberty Cap – the UK’s indigenous hallucinogen.
 
Magic mushrooms are found all over the world and almost every culture has a historic, sacred relationship with these important medicines. For example, there is evidence in the form of stone paintings that Saharan aboriginal tribes of North Africa might have been using mushrooms from around 9000 BC.
Today in the UK the magic mushroom foraging season has increased due to climate change from about 33 days of autumn fruiting to more than 70. Prof Lynne Boddy, a fungal ecologist says –
 
“Climate change has had a dramatic effect on the fruiting season, every year the start and end of the season is dependent on the weather, and we can see that up until the late 1970s it was largely consistent. However, on average, the first fruiting date now comes much earlier in the year than previously, while the last fruiting comes later.”
 
Some people forage them simply for the pleasurable effects of euphoria induced following consumption. For others, they use the fungus as a means to gain spiritual insights and new knowledge. Interestingly, anecdotal tales of the benefits of eating magic mushrooms is now being supported and extended by new scientific research.
 
It turns out the witches, druids, pagans and hippies were right – eating magic mushrooms is good for you… here’s why –
 

1. Increase of “openness” and other beneficial shifts in personality

 
Humans are born open and full of love – eager to: connect, learn and grow as sentient beings. Over the course of our lives, experiences that may cause suffering close us down. Obvious examples include when we get our heart broken – we may be less open to future romantic encounters. People who have a series of negative events associated with aspects of their lives can close down to the detriment of future experiences.
 
Clearly, this can sometimes protects us, but in many cases, we may close down more than we need to and we limit our life potential by shutting out new experiences and opportunities.
 
In these cases psilocybin can help.
In a 2011 study, researchers found “significant increases in Openness following a high-dose psilocybin session.” Openness is a psychological term for someone’s attitude toward new experiences, and is associated with traits like imagination, creativity and aesthetic appreciation. Not only did openness generally rise during a psilocybin session, but in nearly 60 percent of study participants, it remained significantly higher than baseline for more than 1 year after the session.
 
Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.
 

2. Smoking cessation and other addictions

 
If you are caught up with unhealthy patterns in your life psychedelics can help. Magic mushrooms have been shown to help treat addiction to habit-forming drugs like cocaine and nicotine.
 
In 2008, Amanda Feilding of The Beckley Foundation initiated a collaboration with Johns Hopkins University on a pilot study investigating psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to overcome nicotine addiction. With continued support from the Heffter Research Institute, the ongoing research is strengthening the case for psilocybin as a breakthrough treatment for substance abuse disorders.
 

3. Reduce depression

 
Psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychoactive mushrooms, has provided the spiritual and cultural bedrock of many great civilisations. The Aztecs referred to teonanácatl, which translates as ‘divine mushroom’, and modern neuroscience has revealed how psilocybin interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain in order to produce a range of consciousness-altering effects.
 
New research demonstrates how effective magic mushrooms can be at treating depression. In some cases, one dose can be enough to alleviate the symptoms permanently.
 
 
The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which he tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.
 
Aldous Huxley
 
The Beatles music got much better after they took psychedelics
 

4. Dissolve your ego and increase creativity

 
Psychedelics in general and psilocybin specifically can enable states where our conscious experience of the world is freed from its association with our specific ego which may be revealed to be an illusory construct. A 2017 study, temporary ego loss could be beneficial in the right context. These expansive, sometimes life-changing experiences help us to feel profoundly connected and alive. They also boost creativity.
 
I’ve never been a religious person. I’ve been a spiritual person since I was about 15, 16, when I was first introduced to Psilocybin [mushrooms]. That really opened me up to thinking about the universe in a different way, and coming to significant realizations about my connection to something greater than me.
 
Patients given psilocybin report continued well-being a year later.
 
The psychedelic ingredient of magic mushrooms could help manage patients’ anxiety.
 
The benefits for people who have had positive or even mystical experiences induced by the psychedelic drug psilocybin — the psychoactive ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’ — linger for as much as a year, according to the latest follow-up study of such patients.
 
The study offers more support to those who argue that, when used responsibly, some drugs more commonly taken for leisure can safely be used to relieve the stress associated with severe chronic diseases such as cancer.
 
“This experience has a compelling meaningfulness and spiritual component to it that is strongly conserved over time,” argues the study’s lead author, Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
 
Although only a single dose was administered to the 36 patients in the original study, they reportedly still considered the experience to have valuable after-effects at the time of the follow-up study.
 
A clutch of new studies using psilocybin are now planned or under way in the United States, hoping to alleviate cancer-related anxieties with only one dose that has a lasting, positive outcome for patients.
 

Sustained change

 
The latest study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology1, is a follow-up to a 2006 experiment in which Griffiths and colleagues gave high doses of psilocybin to 36 ‘spiritually inclined’ volunteers who had never previously taken hallucinogens2. The participants were encouraged to focus their attention inward during their experience, and two months later many reported sustained, positive changes in their lives.
 
“Realization of unity of existence and relativity of ordinary consciousness … I have had glimpses of this before — but this was profound and sustained,” read one participant’s comments on the experience. Another remarked that, “it was so awesome to be with God [that] words can’t describe the experience.”
 
Patients in psilocybin trials report continued benefits a year later. Credit: R. Griffiths et al.
 
Previous studies have shown a similar effect, most famously the Good Friday Experiment of 1963 in which theology students were given psilocybin in a church. However, this experiment was not peer-reviewed, and many studies completed in the 1960s were often inadequately followed up. Griffiths was keen use measures adapted from modern studies to see if the life-enhancing qualities people described in 2006 still persisted.
 

Mystical experience

 
Of the original 22 participants who had a ‘complete’ mystical experience as defined by the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire, all but one still satisfied the same criteria 14 months later.
 
“Most volunteers who had the mystical experience continue to endorse the same extent of positive changes in attitude, altruistic behaviour and mood,” says Griffiths.
 
After 14 months, 67% of the participants rated the treatment as one of the five most spiritually significant moments of their lives, and 17% rated it as their single most spiritually profound experience. In addition, 64% of subjects reported that their sense of well-being or life satisfaction increased.
 
Griffiths says it is uncommon in psychopharmacology for a positive effect to last so long after a single dose.
 
However, the study is based on a retrospective questionnaire and a sample of already spiritually inclined people. Griffiths admits there is bias in the data, but says he is looking forward to moving on to more powerful prospective studies. “This opens up a host of scientific questions and therapeutic applications.”
 
But not everyone agrees that psychedelics have a place in medicine. Griffith Edwards, emeritus Professor of addiction research and co-founder of National Addiction Centre, says that while he respects the studies authors and their conclusions it must be remembered that such drugs can have serious bad effects as well as good ones. “People can have self-destructive and suicidal thoughts as well as mystical experiences,” he says. Edwards add that he is worried about this being taken as a trigger for a new campaign for the medical profession. “There are other ways of helping people,” he says.
 

Improved mood

 
Nevertheless, Charles Grob, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, recently finished treating his final patient in a study using psilocybin to treat cancer anxiety. He says studies on terminal cancer patients in the 1950s and 1960s found that those subjects who had a transcendent or transpersonal experience during their psychedelic treatment session also had the most dramatic subsequent reduction in anxiety, improved mood and better overall quality of life.
 
“The study provides a feasible treatment model for clinical conditions that are considered very difficult to treat,” says Grob. “Psychedelics, when utilized by capable facilitators under optimally safe conditions, may very well achieve therapeutic breakthroughs with what is often considered to be an extremely resistant and unresponsive patient population.”
 
Griffiths and his team have also published some proposed guidelines3 for the safe clinical use of hallucinogens. We believe this research now can proceed safely but it should be done cautiously,” says Griffiths. “We’re eager that it not be disrupted again like it was for the last 40 years because scientifically there is so much promise in having this research move forward.”
 
Griffiths is currently recruiting subjects for a study using psilocybin to treat cancer anxiety, which will be conducted at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where he is based.

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