One of the leading disabilities afflicting people around the world today is depression.
Depression has crippled millions around the world, and no drug has proven to be the conclusive answer to cure it.
For Estalyn Walcoff from New York, her depression was the result of a cancer diagnosis: after receiving her cancer diagnosis, Walcoff fell into a spiral of anxiety and depression that tore her away from the life and world that she knew.
In an effort to find an answer, Walcoff participated in a study at New York University, which tested the effects of psilocybin—the main active ingredient in magic mushrooms—on brains of cancer patients experiencing depression and anxiety.
Why psilocybin? Because doctors believe that it can be the cure that we’ve been searching for all along.
Research into psychedelics has been limited since 1966, when the US government outlawedpsychedelics and all research into their potential uses as medicine.
But over the last few years, the government has been growing increasingly lenient with the original law, allowing testing and research into psychedelics to steadily grow.
A spiritual release mapped out in the brain
In Walcoff’s study and many others, researchers have consistently highlighted the positive effects of psychedelics on the brain.
For so long, psychedelics like magic mushrooms and LSD were the domain of hippies of the 60s and 70s, and all the culture that surrounds that demographic: freedom, open-mindedness, willingness to try new things, a friendly and relaxed nature that transcends their own communities.
For decades, this baffled neuroscientists and researchers; they wanted to figure out the scientific basis behind the personality shifts and “spiritual experiences” associated with psychedelic trips.
Even several months later, they found that these patients still experienced the same improvements.
In another study by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, he gave thousands of alcoholics small doses of LSD.
Osmond hypothesized that the acid in the LSD would cause the alcoholics to experience a psychotic condition known as delirium tremens, involving disorientation, hallucination, tremors, and anxiety, believing that this would shock the alcoholics from drinking.
Instead, the results took an unexpected turn: instead of scaring his patients, Osmond found that his patients experienced positive and long-term changes in their attitudes and personalities.
Almost a year later, nearly half of Osmond’s thousands of alcoholics came back and reported they hadn’t started drinking again. This is a success rate higher than any other treatment on the market for alcoholism.
Understanding the brain’s reaction to psychedelics
But what exactly is the root cause for these long-term changes after a single experience of psychedelics?
It has to do with the cross-wiring that goes in our brains when we experience psychedelics.
The common interpretation of a “trip” is that one will feel that they’re living in another world, with colors, sounds, shapes, smells, all taking different shapes.
To understand this, there must be an understanding of how the brain works. Information in the brain travels down “informational highways”.
Some highways are busy and filled with traffic; others are usually empty or have no action at all.
When we engage our brains with psychedelics, the brain starts operating at a different frequency, making use of various highways that it previously neglected.
The brain becomes aware of different paths, and makes use of them permanently (not just during the trip).
According to psychedelic researcher at Imperial College London, Robin Carhart-Harris, there is a “definite sense of lubrication, of freedom, of the cogs being loosened and firing in all sorts of unexpected directions”, after patients experienced psilocybin.
And for patients of depression, this can change their entire life. A key factor of a brain suffering depression is that it is stuck in a pattern of overly strengthened connections.
This means that it has restricted itself to small number of informational highways and has forgotten about the others.
This makes it difficult if not impossible for depressed individuals to “un-depress” themselves. They are locked in a limited number of pathways, making them feel trapped and stuck.
But when psychedelics are introduced to these brains, they disrupt the routines and patterns.
They allow the brain to open up, freeing the patients and helping them adapt to their unused pathways.
Even when they are no longer under the effects of the psychedelics, the brain sticks to these new patterns permanently.