Magic mushrooms are getting a lot of attention lately. Multiple reputable studies are underway to investigate the potential for positive impacts on the brain, and documentaries and books are making strong claims about their advantages. Meanwhile, news headlines claim many moms are gravitating from wine to mushrooms to "take the edge off". Recently, the city of Denver even decriminalized magic mushrooms, and Colorado is voting on state-wide decriminalization and the creation of mushroom healing centers on its November 2022 ballot.
While we certainly don’t recommend ingesting psilocybin – especially if you live in a territory where it is banned – it’s worth taking a look at why legislators are considering changes to the law, and the suspected cognitive benefits which may accompany its use.
1. More flexibility.
Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to switch between different types of brain operations. When people have the same thoughts over and over, their brain creates a path between those neurons. This becomes the easiest path for their thoughts to travel down. This can apply to general negative thoughts, but it also applies to mental health concerns such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse disorder.
When people ingest psilocybin, it makes their brains more flexible. Essentially, it smooths out the well-worn paths and allows the brain to create new paths more easily. This process makes the brain more flexible and improves your mental health.
2. Good vibes only
Psilocybin reduces negative thoughts and increases positive thoughts. It also reduces how your amygdala responds to negative stimuli. This is the part of your brain that controls your emotions. When people are presented with negative stimuli after taking psilocybin, they have a more positive response. They feel less sad, anxious, or fearful. They’re able to roll with the punches a bit more effectively.
3. Fast-acting changes
Psilocybin works faster than traditional anti-depressants. In one study, researchers gave psilocybin to 24 people with major depressive disorder. After just two doses coupled with psychotherapy, the subjects showed intense improvements immediately.
In contrast, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), which are the go-to antidepressant for most people, take a lot longer to have an impact. Generally, when you start taking an SSRI, it won’t have an effect for two to four weeks. When people are really struggling, they often don’t have this much time.
4. Better problem-solving abilities
You don’t necessarily have to "trip" to experience the benefits of psilocybin. Research shows that even microdosing can have positive effects on your brain. Microdosing involves taking a very small dose of psilocybin. Generally, the person who takes it doesn’t feel anything, but they will notice positive effects.
In particular, microdosing helps improve people’s divergent thinking, and it makes their intelligence more fluid. What do these technical terms mean? Divergence is the ability to see more than one solution to a problem, and fluidity improves your ability to solve new problems more easily.
5. Long-lasting changes
The improvements from psilocybin are not just temporary. They are long-lasting. Numerous studies have looked at subjects several weeks or a month after they took the psilocybin. They all showed lasting changes and improvements to brain functioning and mood.
Note that while the benefits are abundant, you need to tread carefully. Psilocybin is illegal under federal law. You also should not ingest hallucinogens without consulting with your medical care provider.