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The Science behind Magic Mushrooms

There is a theory according to which our evolution from apes is in part due to psilocybin mushrooms. Terrence McKenna and other reputed philosophers believed that our human interest in expressing ideas and materializing them into reality were generated by the early use of psychedelic mushrooms, while we were still in the primitive phase of our evolution.


 

As wild as this theory may sound, it may bear a little more than a grain of truth, and that is being revealed in recent times by numerous researchers who are now trying to understand how these mystic fungi provide such mind-expanding experiences.

These are remarkable compounds, with I think remarkable implications, if we can understand how they work and why they work,” said Roland Griffiths, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at John Hopkins University, the place where breakthrough studies of psychedelic substances and their benevolent impact on the human mind are taking place.

There’s no denial about the many benefits the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – psilocybin – provides, from treating severe depression and anxiety to hyperconnecting our brain in a way that allows for a novel perspective of life and the universe in general. The mind altering experiences can permanently rewrite the way our brain operates, reason why psychedelic mushrooms are considered sacred for various cultures and religious groups.

The human body breaks psilocybin into a compound that’s similar to serotonin – a neurotransmitter in the brain that contributes to the state of well-being and joy. But why use psilocybin if it can easily be replaced with conventional serotonin inducing substances or activities you might ask?

According to Robin Carhart-Harris of the Imperial College London, “that subtle difference in its pharmacology confers profound effects on consciousness,” meaning that researchers are yet to discover the exact cause of this miraculous interconnection between certain regions of the brain.

What seems to happen in the psychedelic state is that when something is positive, it has the potential to be incredibly positive, to the extent of being euphoric, or ecstatic,” Carhart said. “But similarly if something is negative, it has the potential to be quite hellish and dysphoric and frightening.”

Griffith studied the mysterious reaction triggered by psilocybin on the brain by monitoring a group of volunteers under the effect of magic mushroom. While their brain activity was being monitored, people had their eyes tied and listened to refreshing music, all while sitting comfortably inside a room with two psychiatrists with whom they developed a trusting relationship beforehand.

Under those conditions, a high percentage of people end up reporting a constellation of experiences, the most interesting piece of which is that it really falls into a category of something that psychology of religion people talk about as a primary mystic experience,” Griffit said.

He believes that these kind of experiences, if within reach to everyone, would help access a higher level of understanding, beyond the paradigms served by modern day society as plain facts or reality.

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One of the interesting implications of this kind of work is that we’re biologically hard-wired for having these kind of experiences,” he said. “It’s not just unique to mystics spending years of meditation in a cave. This is part of the human biology to have these kinds of integrative experiences that can really set the stage and the platform for remarkable personal change.”

Researchers are hardly beginning to understand the potential of this remarkable active compound from magic mushrooms. A recent study performed using functional magnetic resonance imaging on subjects under the effect of psilocybin revealed that an area of the prefrontal cortex responsible for depressive feelings was almost entirely shut down during the trip. People suffering from depression experienced an increased activity in this brain region, and magic mushrooms seem to regularize this overactivity.

Psilocybin did exactly that, and it did it very rapidly,” said Carhart-Harris.

It seems that scientists across the world mutually agree that magic mushrooms can provide an alternative cure to many ailments, unlike pharmaceutical drugs that come to no avail after decades or even a lifetime of medication.

There’s a growing consensus among scientists that drug laws and prohibition around psychedelic drugs is irrational, it’s unhelpful, and it potentially is precluding people who are unwell from getting effective treatment,” concluded Carhart.

The slim progress in medicine regarding psychedelic drugs may be the first step towards a general acceptance of these substances. Instead of waiting for a decades-old war on drugs to end, people can start auto educating themselves into this matter, and eventually have a new and enhanced viewpoint on psychedelic substances and the numerous benefits they provide.

Source – EWAO

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