Psilocybin: Demystifying Magic Mushrooms and Their Therapeutic Potential

Start your psilocybin therapy digital marketing planning now to prepare your mental health treatment center for legalization.

When was the last time you thought about psychedelic drugs? Well, if you’re anything like millions of people who bought and read Michael Pollan’s 2018 book, How to Change Your Mind, you may be thinking about them a lot more than usual. In 2019 alone, there was an exponential growth in both public interest and private investment in the field of psychedelic drugs,1 from new businesses and venture capital firms to movements supporting decriminalization to groundbreaking medical research.

Perhaps the most exciting developments are around the application of psychedelic drugs in mental and behavioral health treatments. In this field, the focus is psilocybin, the hallucinogenic component of “magic mushrooms.” Early research shows effectiveness of psilocybin paired with psychotherapy in the treatment of depression, PTSD, and addiction. Of course, this drug is still illegal on the federal level. But those in the behavioral health fields are taking notice—and so are their patients.

Even if your center doesn’t yet have plans to offer psilocybin mental health treatment, now is the time to educate your staff, your patients, and your investors about this opportunity. Your future patients are already searching for information about psilocybin, and if you act now, you have the chance to establish yourself as an authority in the field.

Where Did Psilocybin Come From?

Psilocybin mushrooms have been used for millennia by indigenous cultures—with some archeological evidence dating back 6,000 years!2 Signs of ritualistic use of psychoactive plants have been found in sculptures, glyphs, and paintings across the globe. They’ve also been used widely in religious and healing ceremonies, most notably in Mesoamerica among the Aztec culture.

Psilocybin mushrooms didn’t make their way into the realm of western culture until the 1950s. In 1955, two ethnomycologists participated in an indigenous mushroom ceremony in Mexico. When they returned, they published an article about their experiences in Life magazine. After this unprecedented report, Americans across the country suddenly had a new awareness of the uses of hallucinogenic drugs. Public and private interest in the drug shot up.

Studies of hallucinogens and psychedelic drugs grew rapidly throughout the 50s and 60s3 including a heavily guarded CIA project dubbed “MK Ultra,” that secretly tested the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on prisoners of war and U.S. citizens. But the emerging counterculture of the time took over the narrative of psychedelic drugs. They were seen negatively by the general population, became associated with illegal experimentation, and were widely perceived as dangerous.

Because of this, private funding dried up and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) stopped providing grants. In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act categorized these drugs as a Schedule 1 substance. This made approving the drugs for research funding nearly impossible for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). As of today, they’re still Schedule 1. But that’s changing.

What is Psilocybin?

Psilocybin is the active chemical of a group of mushrooms commonly referred to as “magic mushrooms,” or psilocybin mushrooms. There are around 200 species of these mushrooms that grow in Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States. The chemical stimulates the brain’s serotonin 2A receptors and can have hallucinogenic and mood-altering effects on the user, though experiences differ from one individual to the next depending on past experiences, the user’s expectations, and the amount ingested.

Why is Psilocybin so Helpful?

Building on earlier research done in the 1950s, prestigious institutions like Johns Hopkins University4 are studying the effectiveness of psychedelics used alongside psychotherapy to treat mood disorders such as depression and alcohol dependence.5 Regaining momentum in the 1990s, studies ramped up researching the effects of psilocybin for conditions such as PTSD, anorexia, Alzheimer’s, palliative care for terminally ill patients, and the treatment of addiction.

Researchers have found that psilocybin works as a serotonin receptor that allows different parts of the brain to communicate with one another. This has the effect of creating different states of consciousness and increasing the sensory information that reaches the user. This heightened connectivity between parts of the brain allows patients to observe their condition in a new light and often come away with new insights.

The drug has also been shown to have mood-elevating properties that last well beyond the initial trip. Counselors often implement a therapy session after the trip is over when the patient is experiencing the “halo effect.” Participants report a loss of ego and a profound sense of unity.

Paired with a comprehensive psychotherapy program, the benefits of using psilocybin are only just being discovered.

How Does Psilocybin Relate to Addiction Medicine?

Although the bulk of research so far has been focused on the treatment of depression, many studies are now looking into using psilocybin to treat addiction. A 2014 study at Johns Hopkins6 with long-term smokers who had previously tried and failed to quit had an 80% success rate. In comparison, other leading smoking cessation programs only achieve 30% to 35% effectiveness after six months. The study paired psilocybin use with cognitive behavioral therapy and a smoking cessation program of 15 weeks.

A 2019 randomized study7 reported that psychedelic use (both LSD and psilocybin) showed a reduction in alcohol use disorder (AUD). After the experience, 83% of participants no longer met AUD criteria. Johns Hopkins is planning more studies on opioid addiction, and it’s likely the treatment offerings will keep expanding.8

There are also possibilities that psilocybin can help those with a dual diagnosis since many people suffering from addiction also suffer from depressive disorders, anxiety, or PTSD. Studies suggest that psilocybin can break ingrained patterns of thought and behavior to “reset” the brain. These new ways of thinking can then be used to aid in life skill coaching after detox and rehab have been completed.

How to Offer Psilocybin Mental Health Treatment

Funding and public interest in psychedelic medicine aren’t likely to wane anytime soon, and as an addiction treatment center you need to get ahead of the trend. There’s growing reason to believe psilocybin mental health treatment can be an effective approach against opioid, prescription painkiller, heroin, nicotine, and alcohol addiction. Here are four factors to keep in mind as you incorporate psilocybin therapies into your treatment plans.

1. Proceed Slowly

There’s a fine line between getting ahead of the latest trend and pouring too much money and effort into implementing it at your center. Psilocybin isn’t for everyone and won’t supplant your current programs. These treatments coexist as an alternative that works for some patients but not for others. The most important message to send to staff, funders, and patients is that you’ll be proceeding slowly with these emerging therapies and following the science.

2. Don’t Oversell

This is a relatively young field in the eyes of western medicine, even though indigenous cultures have been using psilocybin for centuries. And even though there’s been an increased acceptance in these modalities, many people are still hesitant to embrace psilocybin fully. No treatment should ever be marketed as a miracle drug or cure-all. Like any addiction treatment plan, assure your patients this approach is backed by peer-reviewed research but can’t be guaranteed to work for everyone.

3. Be Up Front

Although there’s very little evidence that psilocybin is addictive, and there’s no known overdose level, not enough clinical research has been done to definitively say this is the case. And as is the case with any new medication, interactions will differ based on the patient and should be monitored closely. Those skeptical of the drug should be assured this is not a DIY fix for mental and behavioral health issues. Psilocybin is a tool to be used under the guidance of a licensed behavioral health worker.

4. Set and Setting

The concept of “set and setting” is widely accepted to be crucial in the effective use of psychedelic drugs in a therapeutic environment.9 “Set” refers to the patient’s expectations and state of mind, and “setting” is the physical environment in which they’ll consume the drug. When implementing these therapies, every effort must be made to prepare the patient to feel safe and to avoid an overly clinical setting.

Most studies have participants in a living room-like setting lying down with eye shades and headphones playing music. And there’s always a licensed health worker overseeing the entire experience. This differs from a drug like cannabis that a patient will essentially self-administer. This offers an opportunity for behavioral health facilities to offer long-term programs that specialize in this trendy, yet structured, therapy.

Your Next Steps

Regardless of when you think you’ll implement psilocybin treatment into your current range of programs, you should work to establish yourself as the leading authority in your area. Your patients are already hearing about psilocybin and will turn to you as a trusted resource. Be the one to educate them. By teaching your staff and your community about this promising trend, and dedicating time for psilocybin therapy digital marketing planning, you’ll position your business to take advantage of the market when psilocybin does become legal.

A thoughtful marketing approach is essential to this endeavor to strike the right balance for your patients. Connect with us at 888.307.7304 to schedule your strategy session.


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