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What is psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that occurs in certain mushrooms (often referred to as “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms”).

Psilocybin mushrooms have a long history of use in Mesoamerica in spiritual and religious rituals and are currently one of the most popular recreational psychedelics in North America and Europe.

These mushrooms are increasingly being used in therapeutic settings to treat a wide variety of ailments and disorders, including cluster headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety, depression, and addiction, among others.

While psilocybin mushrooms are categorized as a controlled substance, highly controlled human studies have been permitted for their potential use in medical and psychiatric settings at leading institutions.

How does psilocybin work?

More than 180 species of “magic” mushrooms produce the psychoactive compound psilocybin. When you ingest psilocybin, your gut converts it into another chemical called psilocin, which triggers changes in the brain. It increases activity in the visual cortex, leading to changes in perception; it decreases network activity in the “Default Mode Network,” driving the experience of ego loss; and it increases connectivity among different regions of the brain. Researchers believe it’s the combination of these effects that makes psilocybin an effective tool for combating depression and addiction, for which research shows support.

Psychedelics work more directly, by mimicking serotonin. This means that one of their main effects is to stimulate a serotonin receptor called “5-HT2A” located in the prefrontal cortex.

Stimulating the 5-HT2A receptor leads to two important results:

The production of “Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor” (BDNF) which is “like Miracle-Gro for your brain. It stimulates growth, connections, and activity.” [1]
The increased transmission of “Glutamate,” the neurotransmitter most responsible for brain functions like cognition, learning, and memory. [2]
Glutamate and BDNF work together in ways we’re still understanding, but it’s become clear that having more of each leads to many of the benefits that microdoses are seeking. [3]

Psychedelics also cause parts of the brain that don’t usually communicate with one another… to communicate with one another! These unique connections are formed by dampening the activity of an often over-used part of our brain called the “Default Mode Network” (DMN). [4]

The DMN is responsible for an array of different mental activities, including day-dreaming, self-reflection, and thinking about the past or the future. Some studies suggest that depression is linked to an overactive DMN. [5] It’s possible that a highly active DMN causes us to ruminate, over-analyze ourselves, and constantly step out of the present moment to question the past and the future.

This helps explain why these substances could be used to combat depression and anxiety, and also lead to insights and creative perspectives that otherwise remain inaccessible to us.

What is microdosing?

Microdosing is the act of consuming sub-perceptual amounts of psychedelics such as LSD or Psilocybin, the active ingredient in Mushrooms. Sub-perceptual means the effects are subtle but can have a noticeable influence on your life. A microdose is usually 1/10-1/20 of an active dose, ranging from 50mg to 200mg.

Typically, individuals integrate sub-perceptual doses into their weekly routine. In contrast to the recreational use of psychedelics, individuals who microdose consume on a schedule, often dosing every 2-3 days, and do not observe any impairment to their normal functioning.

What are the effects of psilocybin microdosing?

Psilocybin is often referred to as a nootropic agent, meaning it has numerous functions in the brain that can improve the health of the hippocampus, or the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and converting short-term memory to long-term memory.

Psilocybin can help the hippocampus form new cells, which can, in turn, lead to what scientists call “the extinction of trace fear conditioning”. The conditioned fear response is common in individuals who suffer from the post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to The Third Wave, effects of microdosing 50mg-250mg of psilocybin can include:

  • Mood enhancement
  • Decreased stress
  • Emotional stability
  • Mindfulness, presence, and peace
  • Openness and self-forgiveness
  • Increased empathy and sociability
  • Conversational fluidity
  • Alleviation of persistent conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, PTSD
  • Increased motivation (e.g. to make positive lifestyle changes)
  • Increased focus/productivity
  • Increased flow states
  • Clearer, more connected thinking
  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced senses
  • Enhanced appreciation for music, art, etc.
  • Increased creativity
  • Spontaneity
  • Easier meditation
  • Increased enjoyment of the physical activity and everyday tasks
  • Relaxation and increased awareness of body
  • Enhanced athletic endurance
  • Increased energy overall (without anxiety or a subsequent crash)
  • Amplification of mood, positive or negative
  • A slight sedative effect

What are the benefits of psilocybin microdosing?

Psilocybin can help to overcome fear response, depression, anxiety, and the symptoms of mental health conditions, while also improving cognition and creativity.

As per The Third Wave:

To reduce the frequency and intensity of undesirable states caused by various forms of mental illness including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADD/ADHD
  • Mood disorders
  • PTSD
  • Addiction

To increase the frequency and intensity of desirable states/outcomes:

  • Creativity
  • Energy
  • Flow states
  • Productivity/focus
  • Improved relationships/increased empathy
  • Athletic coordination
  • Leadership development

Reported benefits of microdosing include:

  • Improved Mood – Peacefulness, overall well-being, calmness, happiness, and a reduction in the symptoms of depression. It also includes more emotional connection, a general sense of optimism, and an improved outlook on life.
  • Improved Focus – Covers skill sets like the ability to focus or concentrate and enhanced self-awareness.
  • Creativity – Aside from a general sense of improved creativity, this also includes behaviors such as being more open, enhanced curiosity, ability to shift perspectives, and divergent thinking.
  • Self-Efficacy – This applies to such behaviors as ambition, self-motivation, self-confidence, and a sense of agency. It also relates to improved mental health, including increased introspection, the practice of meditation, and other aspects of behaviors tied to self-care.
  • Improved Energy – In this case, “energy” refers to things like mental stimulation, wakefulness, and alertness.
  • Social Benefits – Outside of more engagement with others, this category also includes more empathy, a greater sense of connection, and more extroversion.
  • Cognitive Benefits – When microdosing, the user experience heightened mental clarity, better memory recall, and an improvement in problem-solving ability.
  • Reduced Anxiety – This applies to a reduction in both general and social anxiety.
  • Physiological Enhancement – Includes enhanced visual acuity, cardio endurance, reduction of migraines and headaches, and higher quality of sleep.

For those struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, mood disorders and/or addiction (to name a few), microdosing can create a number of positive changes.

Clinical research has shown that larger doses of psychedelics are effective at treating depressionanxiety, and addiction. Anecdotal evidence backs up the idea that a regular microdosing regimen can also have healing benefits for sufferers of various mental health conditions: