Anxiety is the most common mental condition in the United States. Roughly 40 million people suffer from the disorder in the US, while it’s estimated that, globally, 264 million adults have anxiety. For those that are living with anxiety, you know the detriment that it can have on your everyday life.
So it's no wonder that scientists and mental health professionals alike are excited by the potential to use psilocybin - the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms - as a possible treatment for anxiety disorder.
In this article, we'll cover what anxiety order is, compare current treatment methods, and explore what the future of psilocybin therapy for anxiety might look like.
Let's dive in!
What are the symptoms of anxiety disorder?
If you’re one of the many suffering from anxiety, you're likely familiar with some of these symptoms. Common symptoms can include but not limited to:
- Increased Heart Rate
- Trouble Breathing
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Heart Palpitations
- Shortness of Breath
Anxiety can feel debilitating. And it may manifest itself in different scenarios, under different pressures, or seemingly randomly.
Whether it’s you, family, or a friend that may be living with the disorder, the reality is that anxiety can be extremely hard to cope with.
Many that don’t live with it themselves have trouble understanding the feeling. But the issue isn’t just the condition itself, but what treatment options are available for those that have it.
Understanding the current treatment methods for anxiety
Currently, there are a list of medications that may be prescribed to those that are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Often, the first lines of “defense” are medications called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These are also common with depression, as they have the ability to enhance the patient's mood by elevating the level of serotonin in the brain. Common drugs in this category include:
But some of the main concerns or downfalls of this type of medication is that it may typically require ongoing use and has a list of side effects, including but not limited to:
- Weight gain
- Lower libido (low sex drive)
- Dry mouth
Of course, there are other anxiety medications available.
While SSRIs may be used for longer durations, those that suffer from panic attacks may require Benzodiazepines. These medications include:
While it can be a quick, spot treatment for those suffering from an anxiety or panic attack, continued use is not prescribed as the medications are addictive. They come with their list of potential side effects, including but not limited to:
- Memory issues
- Dry mouth
- Slurred speech
- Lower sex drive
Again, the long list of potential side effects and potential addictive properties aren’t the ideal form of treatment, but that is often the give and take when treating any mental disorder.
Medications have trade-offs, but those that suffer from anxiety disorder will often accept those side effects to be clear (even if it’s just for a short period of time) of their debilitating condition.
This brings us to what is happening in the medical field today. Magic mushrooms represent an exciting new opportunity for those struggling to treat their anxiety disorders with prescription medications.
Using magic mushrooms for anxiety
Because of the limitations, efficacy, and adverse effects of currently-offered anxiety medications, the use of magic mushrooms for treatment of anxiety has progressed rapidly in recent research.
Most notably are new studies using the compound psilocybin, which is the hallucinogenic compound in 'shrooms'.
Similar to some of SSRI’s effects, psilocybin can activate serotonin receptors in the brain, helping to alter mood and cognition.
Now, so far, we still don’t know exactly how psilocybin works within the brain, but research is starting to shine more light on it. While psilocybin activates neurotransmitter receptors, it can also spur growth in neural connections.
It was found in a study on mice that it created new and larger neural connections. The most fascinating part? All of these new connections are a result of just one dose.
There is also thought that the hallucinogenic properties of psilocybin itself, which can cause an intense “mystical” experience among users, could be the direct reason for this increase in neural connections, but more research needs to be done.
Currently, there are multiple studies that have been conducted on using psilocybin for the treatment of anxiety.
Similar to the applications of psilocybin with depression, many embrace the mindset that structured, supervised, and guided psilocybin use with a professional therapist present can help to break some of the repetitive patterns that result from anxiety and depression allowing the brain to break toxic patterns and create new ones.
Scientific studies on psilocybin for anxiety
An initial pilot study to gauge the effectiveness of psilocybin on anxiety was performed on 12 individuals that had advanced stage cancer.
The goal was to see if psilocybin was able to relieve them of the debilitating feelings of anxiety.
The patients were told they would be receiving two treatments, psilocybin on one occasion and niacin on the other occasion, several weeks apart from one another.
Here's how current psilocybin therapy for anxiety typically works:
A patient is given a measured dose of lab-generated psilocybin. Lab-generated psilocybin allows the dosage, potency, and administration to be closely monitored and measured. The 'trip' can last up to six hours. During this time, the patient is closely monitored and guided by a specialized treatment team.
After the session, the patient is guided through a more traditional talk therapy session to explore their experience and dive deeper into any of the emotions, visions, and takeaways from the psychedelic trip.
Learn more about how psilocybin therapy typically works here.
Not only did the study establish the feasibility and safety of using psilocybin as a potential treatment for anxiety, but after just one treatment, “some of the data revealed a positive trend toward improved mood and anxiety.”
Because of that initial study, more were conducted, including another study that was done on patients with life-threatening cancer.
This time, the study had 51 patients. The study conducted two treatment sessions, with a low dose (placebo) and higher dose of psilocybin, 5 weeks apart and then conducted a 6 month follow up.
The study found that, “Participants attributed improvements in attitudes about life/self, mood, relationships, and spirituality to the high-dose experience, with >80% endorsing moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction.”
A similar study on 29 patients on other patients with life threatening cancer was done. This time with psilocybin or niacin as the placebo, followed by a therapy session.
The study stated, “At the 6.5-month follow-up, psilocybin was associated with enduring anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects (approximately 60-80% of participants continued with clinically significant reductions in depression or anxiety), sustained benefits in existential distress and quality of life, as well as improved attitudes towards death.”
The results were statistically significant, even in smaller trials.
You’ll notice that treatment with psilocybin across a variety of medical conditions, like anxiety, is accompanied by psychotherapy (or traditional talk therapy) sessions. These sessions play a vital part in the treatment. If you want to understand what psilocybin therapy is like, just continue reading here.
It’s important for the patient to be able to speak freely with a licensed professional that can help them dig deeper into the meaning of their session.
It’s because of this controlled environment that psilocybin treatment for anxiety is establishing itself as a strong alternative to other medications. It helps to prevent any adverse side effects.
What are the side effects of psilocybin therapy for anxiety?
When comparing other anxiety medications to psilocybin, it’s important to understand that psilocybin may have side effects, including but not limited to:
- High blood pressure
The main cause of these adverse reactions is due to the hallucinogenic properties, which is why it’s important you have a licensed person administer the drug and help guide you through the process. That’s the beauty of psilocybin therapy.
By controlling the environment and helping the patient steer through their session, common adverse side effects can be diminished.
In other words, we never recommend attempting to self-treat anxiety or depression with psilocybin at home. Especially because we are still learning so much about what the potential benefits AND long-term effects could be.
If you’re interested about the use of psilocybin for anxiety, your best option is to find a clinical trial that is currently recruiting patients. At this time, psilocybin is federally illegal throughout the United States, though some individual states have made it medically legal.
You can view our full directory here to learn about your state and its current regulations on psilocybin and magic mushrooms.
Psilocybin clinical trials for anxiety
If you’d like, you can review all current clinical trials directly on our site!
At the time of this article's publishing, there are 33 clinical trials in recruitment for the treatment of psilocybin for multiple mental health conditions.
One of these is focused on anxiety and depression in those with Parkinson’s disease.
There are also two clinical trials that are progressing but are not recruiting just yet.
- One is a clinical trial on anxiety in palliative care (those with severe illness).
- The other is the effects of microdosing psilocybin on anxiety in adults.
We’ll always be sure to keep you updated with new clinical trials and how you can get involved!
Take a look at our state-by-state psilocybin legality database to learn how you can connect with advocacy groups and clinical treatment centers near you.
The future of anxiety treatment with psilocybin
We’re still in the infancy stages of magic mushrooms for medicinal use, but the current findings, although small at this point, do suggest promise for the industry.
Clinical trials and FDA approval for drugs to be used commercially go through distinct phases to assure safety, efficacy, and then adoption.
The process takes years to complete, but there are companies that are already approaching phase 3 and are conducting large-scale trials. We list the top companies in the psilocybin movement here.
Over the next year, we expect research to increase as it has over the past few years. We also want to keep an eye on state-by-state regulations. This plays a part in commercial adoption as states ease up on the laws regarding the drug and start to explore the medical benefits.
Oregon is currently in the process of releasing state-wide rules and regulations for those looking to administer psilocybin therapy to patients. Once these rules are published, implemented, and trialed, it may be that other states follow. Following a similar path to the marijuana legalization movement.
In the meantime, while medical professionals continue research, the best option is to educate yourself and stay up-to-date. We’ll be sure to do that and you can sign up for our regular newsletter here.
We believe that it is only a matter of time before psilocybin is used commercially as a treatment for various conditions, especially mental disorders.
For now, we’ll continue educating everyone about the fascinating potential of magic mushrooms and how they could be the biggest breakthrough in modern medicine.