Medicinal 'magic mushrooms': The new Prozac?

Why psychedelic drugs are returning as a legitimate treatment for depression

magic mushrooms
(Image credit: Corbis)

Marijuana isn't the only street drug doctors are using to treat ailing patients—a growing movement in the medical world is embracing hallucinogens as a treatment for depression. The drug psilocybin, a key ingredient in the recreational drug known as "magic mushrooms," and other mind-bending drugs fell out of favor with regulators in the 1960s, but doctors believe modern culture is ready to take another look at their medicinal value. Here, a quick guide to the 21st-century push for therapeutic psychedelics:

Which problems do psychoactive drugs treat?

Depression tops the list. But researchers have begun testing the drugs' effects on other mental problems, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers.

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Is psilocybin the only hallucinogen under consideration for medical use?

No. While psilocybin has sparked the most interest, other drugs, like LSD and MDMA ("Ecstasy"), have also gained support in the medical world.

Why are these drugs getting a second chance?

A combination of increased acceptance of drug use in society and newly instituted, "rigorous protocols and safeguards," says John Tierney in The New York Times, have allowed scientists to reinvestigate the drugs' medicinal benefits. And so far, the results have been encouraging, with many test subjects reporting profound improvements in their mental states after only one use of psilocybin.

Who's conducting the studies?

A wide range of medical researchers and universities, like Johns Hopkins, the University of Arizona, Harvard, New York University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. Nonprofit groups, like the Heffter Research Institute and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) are also supporting research into the drugs.

Is it safe to self-medicate with psychedelics?

Absolutely not. Aside from the highly illegal status of these drugs, psilocybin, LSD, and other psychedelics can have a wide range of effects, depending on the environment in which users consume them. Because of this, researchers tightly control their test subjects' environments while administering the drugs, and aid them through periods of anxiety sometimes brought on by their use.

Source: The New York Times, Politics Daily, Washington Post

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