Humans don't use the word "magic" lightly—at least when it comes to what we eat ("big" or "extra"... well that's another story). We understand magic to be otherworldly—drifting down to our humdrum lives from realms imagined—conjured by our longing for something more. Answers, or at least, possibilities, to explain this mysterious human condition. Perhaps.
One such otherworldly substance that may provide us a glimpse into something beyond is that of the fungus. Mushrooms offer us a panoply of benefits, from versatile culinary applications to the medicinal tonics revered for hundreds of uses, to the often dismissed by mainstream culture psycho-spiritual effects of the psilocybin aka the Magic Mushroom. But, its benefits may actually be the most significant of the mycelium family, as new research points to long-term benefits to human health… yes, from a mushroom trip.
Ethnobotanist Terence McKenna is perhaps the most well known proponent of psychedelic mushrooms. His research in the 1960s and '70s is documented in a number of books including True Hallucinations and The Archaic Revival. McKenna found psilocybin an especially powerful spiritual guide, concluding that psychedelic experiences had a profoundly liberating and valuable effect on human consciousness. He said that a life lived "in the absence of the psychedelic experience that primordial shamanism is based on is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego."
Mushroom expert, author and founder of Fungi Perfecti, Paul Stamets says that mushrooms are more than just windows into the spirit world, but an intellingence with an awareness all its own. "[M]ycelium is an exposed sentient membrane, aware and responsive to changes in its environment," says Stamets. "These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind. The mycelium stays in constant molecular communication with its environment, devising diverse enzymatic and chemical responses to complex challenges.”
Now, a recent study coming out of the psychiatry and neuroscience department at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore further suggests that ingesting psychedelic mushrooms may also have long-lasting and profoundly positive personality transformations in as little as one dose, as observed in nearly 60 percent of the patients who participated in the study.
What the research team found was that the effects—in some cases lasting a year or more—left patients feeling a deeper sense of "openness" and a shift in key character aspects including the capacity for imagination, deeper connection to one's feelings and an increased capacity for grasping abstract and conceptual ideas. Some patients cited it as one of the most significant spiritual experiences in their lives, seeing benefits in personal and professional relationships and improved ability in dealing with tough issues such as a major illness or the loss of a loved one.
Study author, professor Roland R. Griffiths, sees a possibility for therapeutic uses for the mushrooms, citing the long-lasting benefits experienced by the study participants who exhibited increased happiness and expanded capacity for creativity and openness brought about by the hallucinatory nature of their psilocybin mushroom "trip."
MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has been conducting similar research with drugs like MDMA (commonly known as the street drug Ecstasy) as an effective tool in treating post-traumatic stress disorder particularly in returning soldiers, with impressive results also coming as a result of a single session.
Unlike anti-depressants and other mood-altering drugs, psychedelics are not taken daily, and the side effects are significantly fewer than those of long-term drug regimens, if at all, offering one more benefit to users. But more research is still needed on the effects of psilocybin, says Griffith, who adds that people should not experiment with mushrooms at home. These tests were strictly controlled in a safe, clinical environment.
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Image: Bert Heymans