More than just psilocybin
Psilocybin is the vital component of magic mushrooms which makes us trip. When digested, this compound is converted to psilocin by the body. It is this chemical which holds the incredible and mysterious psychoactive properties of the mushrooms. There are also a number of other molecules found in small amounts in these plants, such as psilocin itself, norbaeocystin, baeocystin and more. The exact role of each component is still unclear, though a growing number of scientists are investigating the potential individual impact these may have on the brain.
Researchers have been investigating the complex neurological changes triggered from ingesting these plants for decades. Although, as current understanding of the human brain is pretty cloudy, we still have a long way to go before an in depth picture of the system is able to be drawn out.
So far, we know for sure that psilocybin impacts our neurological chemistry. It does this by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain, the most important type being 5-HT2A. The reason the psilocin can bind to these, is it’s similar shape to serotonin and therefore compete against each other for its spot at the receptor. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter controlling mood regulation in humans. It has been shown to help produce feelings of well being, also playing roles in eating and sleeping. Therefore, a misregulation of the amounts of this protein are linked to diseases like depression and OCD.
Scientists also think that psilocin impacts parts of the brain that are linked to senses. Normally these parts filter and direct this information to specific areas, allowing our mind to work as it does on the day to day. When mushrooms are involved, sensory information is handled differently and redirected to a person’s consciousness, resulting in hallucinogenic reactions and alteration of perception.
Magic mushrooms largely impact the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that regulates analysis, abstract thinking, perception and mood. Though, studies have shown the drug can impact multiple regions of the brain. Not only this, but these various regions also have increased ‘cross talk’ between them, meaning areas that normally do not communicate form connections. The result, the mind bending and confusing world of a trip. A good example of this perplexity is peoples experiences of seeing sounds and hearing colours.
Not just the human brain
The reason mushrooms themselves make this magic substance is thought to be for protection against insects. In the brains of invertebrates, such as flies, psilocybin actually acts as an appetite deterrent. Scientists think the clever fungus uses the psychoactive substance to trick the insects into not eating them.
It is also thought that mushroom cells use the substance to communicate between one another in receptor mechanisms, similarly to how our cells do also. It’s interesting that two organisms that are so evolutionary far apart, have conserved such similar receptors and mechanisms to one another.
Mushrooms and mental health could make a great team
Many people who take mushrooms say it helps improve their outlook on life, allowing new thoughts and ideas to enter their minds. Scientifically it may be because of the hyperconnectivity of the brain whilst they tripped, it has been shown that this new way of thinking can change behavior up to 14 months after. For this exact reason, people have turned to mushrooms for disorders such as anxiety and depression since the dawn of time. Though it is only since the 1950’s, these ideas started to pick up in the scientific community, with clinical trials still ongoing to try and use these magical fungi as a treatment. A study also found that psilocybin reduced fear and tension, therefore carry potential benefits for people suffering with PTSD.
Overall, we are a long way from understanding how our brains react to mushrooms. An overdose on psilocybin is deemed impossible, although until we know the full picture users should use the substance responsibly, as with any drug. Nevertheless, the beneficial potential of magic mushrooms is huge, with the field growing more and more each year.
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