Golden top mushrooms, also known as Psilocybe cubensis, are a species of “magic mushrooms” known to produce the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin. Found thriving in local gardens and forests, psychedelics were once stigmatized recreational drugs that have experienced a surge in reputation only in the last decade.
Photo: Golden Top Mushrooms; via Unsplash
Psychedelic research experienced a rollercoaster of reputation as studying these “mind-altering” drugs became illegal in the 1970s. Sacred medicinal plants used for millennia suddenly instilled fear and attracted mistrust, Richard Nixon supposedly pronounced Timothy Leary “the most dangerous man in America,” and psychedelics became absent from research labs. Things remained at a standstill until the early 2000s, when Roland R. Griffiths’ psychedelic study won FDA approval in 2006 — one of the first in a generation.
Fast forward to the last decade, and these formerly taboo compounds have staged a comeback that promises to revolutionize psychotherapy. A growing body of research suggests psychedelic compounds can be effective for mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others.
Enjoying a split personality: one that positions them as “breakthrough treatment” and another as pills of pleasure, psychedelics have exploded in popularity. Several US states plan to allow research or decriminalize psychedelic use, millions of dollars have been poured into research and startups, and federal agencies are signaling a paradigm shift.
Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann invented lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938, without yet realizing the extent of his discovery. After an accidental ingestion some years later, he concluded it was a psychoactive compound.
Hofmann sank into “a not unpleasant, intoxicated-like condition characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination,” as he “perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors” — describing the first intended acid trip in history, purposely ingesting 250 micrograms of LSD.
LSD (and other common psychedelics) since went from being Schedule I substances to becoming a pandemic sensation. It was in 2021, however, that psychedelics truly went mainstream, at least in the research community — looking to treat severe forms of depression.
Psychedelics can rewire your brain, landscaping the “deep wells” in a depressed brain to allow for new thoughts and perspectives, presenting the potential to heal shrunken brains.
Psychedelic use has increased steadily among adults, with over 5.5 million people in the U.S. using some psychedelic in 2019. While accumulating evidence supports the use of certain hallucinogens for cognitive benefits, gaps in knowledge have kept experts from implementing widespread applications.