Magic mushrooms and meditation can alleviate depression

Magic mushrooms contain psilocybin, which can trigger feelings of bliss and unity Keystone

Researchers in Zurich have shown that, in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, meditation can enhance the positive long-term effects of a single dose of psilocybin, which is found in certain mushrooms. 

This content was published on October 24, 2019 - 18:35
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It has long been known that hallucinogens such as LSD or psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, alter the perception of those who take them. 

“The boundaries between the self and the world begin to dissolve and feelings of bliss and unity are triggered,” researchers at the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich wrote in a statement on Thursday. 

“Such experiences of self-transcendence and reduced self-focus are similar to those brought about by mindfulness meditation. They can reduce stress, prompt feelings of enduring happiness and increase empathy and altruism.” 

The scientists have now for the first time examined the potential synergistic effects of combining mindfulness meditation and psilocybin. 

They recruited 40 meditation experts who were taking part in a five-day mindfulness retreat. In the double-blind study, the participants were administered either a single dose of psilocybin or a placebo on the fourth day of the group retreat. 

The researchers was able to show that mindfulness meditation increased the positive effects of psilocybin, while counteracting possible dysphoric responses to the psychedelic experience. 

New therapeutic avenues 

“Psilocybin markedly increased the incidence and intensity of self-transcendence virtually without inducing any anxiety compared to participants who received the placebo,” says first author Lukasz Smigielski, who conducted the study directed by Franz Vollenweider. 

At the four-month follow-up, the meditation experts who had been given psilocybin demonstrated more beneficial changes in psychosocial functioning, better self-acceptance and more empathy than the placebo control group. 

“Our findings shed light on the interplay between pharmacological and extra-pharmacological factors in psychedelic states of mind,” says Vollenweider. 

“They indicate that mindfulness training enhances the positive effects of a single dose of psilocybin and can increase empathy and permanently reduce ego-centricity. This opens up new therapeutic avenues, for example for the treatment of depression, which is often accompanied by increased self-focus and social deficits.”

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