Mushrooms - Micro Doses Can Lead to Macro Effects
Mushrooms have long been a topic of interest in popular culture, but in the past few years we have seen a shift from mushrooms being a scary organism that lives on the forest floor and can kill you if you eat the wrong one, to powerful tools for healing. Studies conducted on both medicinal and psychedelic mushrooms show they can be powerful tools to help shift your mindset, as well as anatomy and physiology to promote health and wellbeing. But how much of this is true and how much of this is wellness companies trying to sell the newest mushroom teas and tinctures? In the following post we will go over how mushrooms are not just a wellness fad, but powerful tools for long term healing.
So, What Are Mushrooms? Are All Mushrooms Created Equal? Not Quite.
To answer the first question, we'll go over the basic biology of a fungus. Mushrooms are not technically plants or animals, but are a kingdom of their own. They belong to the fungi kingdom. Unlike animals who eat and digest their food internally or plants which get their nutrition from the sun, fungi - specifically mycelium - grow around their food, secreting enzymes to externally digest and then uptake the nutrients. The mushroom itself is actually the fruiting body of the mycelium, much like an apple is the fruiting body of an apple tree. Mycelium networks can span miles and miles, and are nearly ubiquitous on earth.
Mycelium works as the major communication network in the natural world, and has been shown to help trees move nutrients between themselves and signal distress to warn other species of plants. Mycelium also provides natural protection against invasion from parasitic species, and has even been used as a natural insecticide and fertilizer. But its powers of communication are not limited to trees.
Studies in recent years have shown that certain species of mushrooms promote neural network growth and repair. In other words, some mushrooms can help the cells of the brain better communicate with each other and other parts of the body, as well as even promote new cell growth. This is a particularly fascinating discovery because up until relatively recently it was generally accepted that neural growth stopped at adulthood. The health benefits go beyond the brain, as some mushrooms have been shown to limit cancerous growths. Some can boost the immune system and reduce the risk for common illnesses. All mushrooms are able to synthesize vitamin D, something humans are not able to do in sufficient quantities (it helps to let the mushrooms sit in the sun, so before you cook up your next portobello or baby bella, let them sunbathe first for an extra vitamin D boost). But a future blog post will go more into the other health benefits of mushrooms, here we will focus on the shrooms that are commonly referred to as magic in popular culture.
Magic Mushrooms, Not Just For Greatfull Dead Concerts
The mushrooms who've gained the most attention in recent years are those belonging to the Psilocybe cubensis family. These are the infamous ‘magic mushrooms’. The major active component in these mushrooms which makes them psychedelic is called psilocybin. Depending on the strain, magic mushrooms can contain anywhere between 0.37–1.30% psylocibin (based on dry weight of the mushroom). Depending on individual sensitivity, people generally feel mild effects after ingesting .25-1g psilocybin, moderate effects with 1-2.5g, and more pronounced effects at 2.5 or more grams. It is not uncommon for recreational users to take 3.5g doses.
Taking large doses of psychedelics has been shown to promote neuroplasticity, or the ability for the brain to make new and stronger connections between cells. However, some people are not willing or able to take large doses of psychedelics. For those people, or people who simply want a way to experience the benefits without the strong psychedelic effect that can follow ingesting doses of psilocybin, the practice of micro-dosing can be incredibly powerful.
What is Micro-dosing?
Micro-dosing is the practice of taking amounts of psilocybin (or other psychedelics) at low doses not strong enough to produce psychedelic effects. While you may not see colors as brighter or have the immense perception shifts that come with large doses, these small amounts are still enough to provide powerful benefits. Common reasons people might choose to do this are to help alleviate depression, anxiety, ptsd, addiction or other mood disorders. It can also help people who do not feel they suffer from these types of conditions as it can improve mood in general, creativity, and communication.
How Do Micro Doses Have Macro Effects?
Psilocybin becomes psilocin after ingestion, which interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain. This is an important neurotransmitter, which is a target for many antidepressants and other types of mood stabilizing drugs. Changes take place at a molecular level, essentially chemical movement in cells is stimulated to work more optimally. They also occur at a cellular level, meaning there are physical changes to the structure and function of cells. These changes include neurogenesis, or the creation of new neural cells. They also include dendritic plasticity. Dendrites are spiny extensions from neural cells which allow them to communicate with each other. Increasing the number or strength of dendrites increases interconnectivity within the brain. The other way the brain changes is through synaptic plasticity. Synapsis are the spaces between cells, through which neurotransmitters are sent for communication. The strength of a synapse determines ability to learn and commit things to memory. Increased synaptic strength has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and addiction. Traditional antidepressants try to combat weak synaptic strength by changing how effective the receptors on either side of a synapse are, but these medications do not fix the root of the problem and often have unwanted side effects.
A single dose of psilocybin has a positive effect on general emotional wellbeing that can last up to 4 weeks. A meta analysis has also reported that double blind placebo studies have shown that 1 to 2 doses can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety or depression for 3 weeks - 6 months. They also do not come with the negative side effects commonly associated with traditional antidepressants, such as weight gain, serotonin syndrome, drowsiness, sexual dysfunction, mood swings, and more.
Even the FDA has realized the benefits of psilocybin. In 2023 they released a guide for researching psilocybin, and while it has long been used by individuals and cultures for treatment - stay tuned for a future blog about this - it could be approved for widespread medication through mainstream drug companies within the next year. Several states have already legalized personal use and cultivation. Many therapists also are offering their expertise to help people integrate the benefits of psilocybin and other psychedelics, so you are not alone in this journey if you chose to pursue it.
So, why not give this time tested and now scientifically proven treatment a try? If you are curious you can reach out to us, a local therapist to your, or other professional trained in psychedelic integration for more information on how to implement psilocybin into your wellness routine.