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Magic mushrooms as medicine

Australia has moved to recognize the medicinal qualities of psilocybin (magic mushrooms).

From July 1, 2023, medicines containing psilocybin can be prescribed by authorised psychiatrists to people experiencing treatment-resistant depression.

The change also allows medicines containing MDMA to be prescribed for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1

Here we explore the therapeutic benefits of magic mushrooms.

To read more about the therapeutic benefits of MDMA, visit our article: Australia to allow MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD.

Magic mushrooms and mental health

Psilocybin, or ‘magic mushrooms’, belongs to a group of drugs called psychedelics.2

It’s usually eaten fresh, cooked or brewed into a tea.

Psilocybin has been around for a long time, and has been used by some Indigenous communities around the world for over 1000 years.3

In fact, some researchers believe rock paintings in Western Australia show psilocybin use in Indigenous ceremonies over 10,000 years ago.4

Psychedelics can cause changes in mood, perception and thoughts.

In the 1950s and 60s scientists became interested in how these effects might help people experiencing mental illness.2, 3

They began to study psychedelics to treat conditions including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • alcohol dependence.3

But in the late 60s, the US banned all psychedelics.3, 5 And the world, including Australia, soon followed suit.6

So, despite promising findings, psychedelic research ended abruptly in the 70s.3

But that’s changing.

Decades of advocacy and fundraising by organisations like MAPS, and the work of dedicated academics and scientists has led to a ‘renaissance’ of research into the benefits of psychedelics in Australia and overseas.

What are we learning about psilocybin’s therapeutic potential?

This new wave of psychedelic research has shown promising results.

We’ve learned psilocybin can have anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects that last for several months.7

It also appears to be helpful in the treatment of depression and anxiety in people who are terminally ill. And, for nicotine and alcohol dependence.3, 8

Psilocybin may also increase the brain’s ability to create new emotional and information pathways.8

While we’re beginning to understand psilocybin’s potential, there’s also risks.

Psilocybin may worsen the symptoms of certain conditions like personality disorders and schizophrenia.3

We also know some physical health conditions, like heart and liver disease, increase the chance of negative side-effects.3

Psychedelic therapy should always take place under professional supervision to reduce risk.

Is clinical psilocybin different?

In a clinical setting, a pre-determined and controlled dose of psilocybin is given to the patient under the supervision of a medical professional. Because the patient is in a therapeutic space and the dose is known, it is unlikely there will be a bad reaction.9

When taking magic mushrooms recreationally, it can be hard to know how strong the dose is and whether there are other contaminants from the environment. It can also be hard to know how a person’s surroundings might affect their experience. This can make it more likely that a bad trip will occur.

And, there’s the risk of confusing magic mushrooms with certain types of poisonous mushrooms, which look very similar.10

Research in Australia on psychedelics

In 2021, the Australian Government announced $15 million worth of grants to researchers studying the mental health benefits of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, as well as other non-psychedelic drugs such as MDMA and ketamine.11

And last year Australia became home to the Psychae Institute, a global psychedelic research institute in Melbourne.12

Several clinical trials are underway in Australia studying:

  • use of psilocybin in the treatment of people who want to stop or reduce their methamphetamine use13
  • psilocybin-assisted therapy for severe anxiety14
  • use of psilocybin for terminally ill patients experiencing depression and anxiety.15

How to access psilocybin-assisted therapy

From July 1, 2023, if a general practitioner (GP) thinks that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be an appropriate treatment option, they can refer you to a psychiatrist who is an authorised prescriber.

But this will likely be a very small number of psychiatrists to begin with, and GPs might not know of available psychiatrists.

At this stage, psilocybin will also only be available for people with treatment-resistant depression. This is generally when someone hasn’t responded well to anti-depressant medications/treatments for their condition.

If you are unable to find a GP who can refer you, other options are:

For more info on the regulation change and access requirements visit: Re-scheduling of psilocybin and MDMA in the Poisons Standard: questions and answers | Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

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