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Psilocybin edges toward mainstream therapy

Posted by Hugh on December 12, 2021, at 12:59:43

Tony Head was depressed and fearing death from stage 4 prostate cancer when, as part of a supervised scientific trial, he took a large dose of the psychedelic agent in "magic mushrooms," psilocybin.

Head donned a mask and headphones to shut out the world around him, and had an experience that changed the course of his life.

"At some point in that time I felt like a higher power or something -- I didn't see anything, I didn't see any type of image -- I felt like something connected and touched me and as soon as it did, I just started crying," Head, an award-nominated actor who lives in New York City, said in an interview with HealthDay Now.

He said the one-time therapy helped relieve much of the anxiety surrounding his prognosis.

"I think it taught me how to live better and not worry about dying," he added.

"I was blown away by what had just happened. It's an unimaginable experience, at least it was for me," Head added. "It's something that can't be explained, but I can tell you it is probably one of the most important things that ever happened to me."

Psychedelic therapy focused on psilocybin has garnered much new interest lately as a potential treatment against anxiety, depression and other mental ills.

Head says he also got everything he needed from psilocybin during his single high-dose trip.

"I have no wish to do it again. I don't need to do it again," he said.

Recalibrating the mind

Just how do psychedelics work their magic on the brain? According to Grob, psilocybin and its pharmaceutical cousins "profoundly alter our state of consciousness" by acting on certain receptors in the brain.

"We also know the circuitry of the brain is briefly modified and in a sense, goes offline and creates more of a resting state," Grob said. "It's almost as if the brain for a period of time goes offline and then recalibrates in an enhanced state.

"It's an alteration of what's called the default mode network, where regions of the brain that normally are very much in communication basically briefly disconnect and create a greater sense of calm and less internal chatter, and perhaps more opportunity to perceive beyond what is normally within our field of awareness," Grob continued.

Research from the 1950s and '60s, as well as more recent studies, have shown psilocybin's promise in helping people like Head who are suffering an existential crisis, Grob said.

Psychedelics have also shown potential in people dealing with alcoholism and addiction, he added.

"Investigators observed dating back to the '50s that individuals with one powerful experience of a psychedelic, with one powerful altered state, appeared to have lost their craving and are able to establish and maintain sobriety," Grob said.

People running these studies will need to seriously consider the patient's mindset and expectations and place them in a positive, carefully controlled setting, Grob said.

"You take all those factors into account, there's a good likelihood you can guide someone through this altered terrain in a safe manner and allow them to have the kind of experience that might endow them with the kind of insight and the kind of positive transformative experience that leads to therapeutic change," Grob said.

Head said that he can definitely see the potential of psilocybin to help treat people with addiction and other mental health issues, if it's used in a supervised way.

"This drug opens a door to put you in another place that you wouldn't normally be able to get to in your brain," Head said. "It has that kind of effect on you."

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