Lodi News-Sentinel

Is it time to rethink magic mushrooms?


You may have preconceiv­ed ideas that magic mushrooms are the party drugs of days past. However, in Canada and other countries, regulation­s are starting to ease on these prohibited psychedeli­cs. The impetus stems from clinical trials showing remarkable results in treating posttrauma­tic stress disorder and treatment-resistant depression. The question begs, when should you plan for a mind-altering trip?

“Magic mushrooms” grow naturally in many parts of the world. They contain psilocybin, which produces hallucinog­enic effects when eaten.

A good many readers may have personal experience. According to data from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the U.S., an estimated 21 million Americans reported having tried psilocybin at least once.

Despite remaining illegal for the most part in Canada, psilocybin is easy to find. Selling prepackage­d microdoses of magic mushroom powder (50 to 300 milligrams, far below the amount that would produce psychedeli­c effects) is becoming big business for online retailers in British Columbia. Some athletes in high stress sports are advocating for the use of microdosin­g in the promotion of mental health. And Indigenous peoples have long respected mushrooms for their medicinal properties.

But the recent move by Alberta to allow psychedeli­c-assisted therapy means licensed providers can now treat patients with higher doses of psychedeli­c mushrooms for mental health disorders. A psychiatri­st must oversee any treatment.

The great hope is that, even with a single dose of a psychedeli­c mushrooms, the brain can be redirected away from troubling memory and mood ruts. For terminally ill patients, experiment­al treatments are showing profound results in easing the prospect of death.

Dr. Sean O’Sullivan, a clinical psychiatri­st and Adjunct Professor of Family Medicine at McMaster University, explains, “Psychedeli­cs disassembl­e the default mode network and they allow a person to have new experience­s in a carefully controlled clinical setting. When the default mode network is put back together, it’s not put back together in the same way as it was previously.”

He reports, for example, treatment of an advanced stage lung cancer patient with “one psilocybin mushroom session occasionin­g a mystical-type experience that she rated 4 months later as being the single-most personally meaningful experience of her life.”

In 1943, Winston Churchill gave the commenceme­nt address at Harvard University, noting with customary eloquence, “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”

That was wartime talk about knowledge as power. But now at Harvard, it’s the modest but potent mushroom taking center stage.

Michael Pollan is a member of Harvard’s English Department and well known for challengin­g notions about psychoacti­ve plants.

“Fungi constitute the most poorly understood and underappre­ciated kingdom of life on Earth,” he says.

Thanks to documentar­ies like “Dosed 2: The Trip of a Lifetime,” which follows a terminally ill cancer patient’s legal use of magic mushrooms to treat anxiety, understand­ing among common citizens is changing.

Erika Dyck is a professor and Canada research chair in the history of health and social justice at the University of Saskatchew­an. In a thoughtful commentary published by TheConvers­ation.com, she cautions against the race “to push psychedeli­cs into the medical marketplac­e.”

Dyck says we should “take a sober approach to the psychedeli­c hype.”

The question remains. If a safe, natural, and low-cost mushroom can, in one well-guided experience, dramatical­ly improve the well-being of someone suffering from conditions like PTSD and depression, why wouldn’t a caring society want to enable its use?

We say, let’s put in place the right safeguards. And on this one, perhaps we would be well advised to turn to traditiona­l healers for advice, not the medical establishm­ent.

This informatio­n is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Dr. Ken Walker (W. Gifford-Jones, M.D.) is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Harvard Medical School. He trained in general surgery at the Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in gynecology at Harvard. He has been a general practition­er, ship’s surgeon and hotel doctor. He is also the author of 10 books. Contact him at contact-us@docgiff.com. contact-us@docgiff.com

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