How Magic Mushrooms Work on the Human Brain
Psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms, are one of the oldest hallucinogenics in human history. The earliest use of psilocybin dates back to 6,000-9,000 years ago. The Aztecs and the Mazatecs, who used shrooms in their shamanic rituals, called it the ‘divine mushrooms’. Introduced to the West by mycologists R. Gordon Wasson and Roger Heim in the 1950s, magic mushrooms would become integrally linked to the hippie counterculture movement and its search for spirituality. After more than fifty years, the popularity of psychedelic mushrooms is on the rise once again. If we are to believe media reports, magic mushrooms are going mainstream. Microdosing shrooms, it is now said, is good for your mental health. Studies have revealed that it improves your mood, increases attention, and boosts creativity. Magic shrooms effects on the brain can provide amazing therapeutic benefits. Therefore, to appreciate psilocybin’s ‘magical’ healing powers, you need to understand how it works on the human brain. This post will explain the science behind magic shrooms effects to the brain.
Magicshrooms effects to the brain – how does it feel to be high on psilocybin
Psilocybin mushrooms are one of the strongest psychedelic substances found in nature. It makes you feel euphoric, excited, and energized. A number of studies have found that magic mushrooms can be very effective in improving mood, reducing stress, and treating depression. It also increases focus and introspection. Artists and writers have been using it to boost their creativity for ages. Like other psychedelics, taking shrooms produces intensified feelings and sensory perceptions. Hallucinations are common; that means you will see, hear, or feel sensations that are not real. Colors often seem brighter or oversaturated and outlines of objects seem to be dissolving. However, in most of the cases, the hallucinations are mild. Neurological studies have found that a magic mushroom trip is like dreaming. It takes you to a ‘hypnagogic’ state which is in between sleep and wakefulness. Many users have reported that they had a mystical or spiritual experience in which they felt detached from the self and the environment.
Magic shrooms effects to the brain – how psilocybin produces psychedelic effects
Although magic mushrooms use has a long history, scientific researches on psilocybin and its effects on the human body and mind began only recently. As a natural hallucinogenic compound, psilocybin works on our brain to produce various psychotropic effects. As many scientists and medical professionals are saying these days, these psychoactive effects of magic mushrooms can be extremely useful in treating a range of mental health conditions and end-of-life psychoses. According to Dr. Donald Sansom, associate medical director, and director of the addictions program at the Sierra Tucson addiction treatment center, ‘The psilocybin chemical in the mushroom is broken down in the liver into the psychoactive form psilocin’. That is the compound that produces all the ‘magic’.
Why mushrooms change our mood and perception?
The reason why magic mushrooms can change mood and perception is that they affect the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of our brain which controls mood, emotions, thought analysis, abstract thinking, cognition, and many other functions.
According to a study published in 2014, consumption of psilocybin affects communication across brain networks. It forges new links between those parts of the brain which are otherwise disconnected. This is why people on magic mushrooms see colors, hear the sound or have an intensified sensory experience in general. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in April 2020 claims that psilocybin affects the 5-HT2A receptor in our brain that acts as the main receiver of serotonin – the mood controlling neurotransmitter. It is the secretion of serotonin in our brain that causes our feelings of happiness or love. Scientists have found that psilocybin is great at mimicking serotonin. However, magic mushrooms do a lot more than simply increasing the serotonin flow in our brain. By stimulating the 5-HT2A receptors, psilocybin creates new communication links between the brain cells. Other studies have had similar discoveries. Katrin Preller, Ph.D., a scientist researching psilocybin at the Yale School of Medicine, says it makes the thalamus region of our brain communicate more with the regions controlling senses of taste and smell.
Mushroom and our brain’s activity pattern
Magic mushrooms can change brain activity patterns was also indicated in a previous study. In 2012, researchers found that while some areas of the brain became more prominent after psilocybin consumption, other parts were muted. The latter ones included a region of the brain which plays a crucial role in maintaining our sense of the self. According to one of the authors of this study, David Nutt, a neuroscientist at the Imperial College of London, ‘People who get into depressive thinking, their brains are overconnected’, especially in this sense-of-self producing region.
The secret of the shrooms-induced mystical experience also lies like psilocybin’s effects on brain functions. Scientists argue that the various regions of our brain work together as functional networks. Psilocybin opens up these networks, which explains why the users experience a spiritual awakening of sorts. Meg Spriggs, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Psychedelic Research in Imperial College London explains, ‘under the influence of psychedelics (like psilocybin), these networks begin to disintegrate, and we start to see an increase in ‘global connectivity.’ In other words, psilocybin ‘destabilizes’ individual networks and creates a more ‘global’ network across the brain. This is like rebooting your brain, which according to experts like Spriggs, can have amazing healing benefits. ‘With the disintegration of brain networks comes a relaxation of a person’s prior beliefs. This then breaks the shackles of rigid thought patterns’, Spriggs says. Several studies have shown how this can be very effective in treating mental health issues like treatment-resistant depression or addiction. Losing rigidity of thoughts also facilitates creativity and helps you to broaden your worldview.
The workings of our brains are still a big mystery to us. We have only begun to unravel its secrets. Although recent researches on psilocybin’s effects on the human brain have unearthed some really amazing information, more studies are required on this subject. Whatever we have come to know so far holds great promise. Stay tuned for more path-breaking discoveries in the coming days.