If magic mushrooms have captured your interest, you may be asking “How does psilocybin affect the brain?” Psilocybin is the compound in magic mushrooms that creates the remarkable experience these fungi are known for.
Psilocybin shares a chemical structure that is very similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin. After eating magic mushrooms, the influx of serotonin-like molecules tricks the brain into exciting the pathways related to happiness, well-being, cognition, and learning. The result is a “psychedelic trip” and distortions of perception, time and space.
The effects of Psilocybin
A psychedelic trip is purely temporary, with no known effects on the structure or health of the brain. At low doses, known as microdosing, effects are not readily noticeable but may contribute to improved creativity and mental flexibility. Psilocybin may have the power to heal both physically and emotionally, but the experience will almost always be memorable — regardless of the outcome.
The only semi-permanent, physical effect on the brain is the creation of tolerance to serotonergic compounds after a psilocybin trip. If a similar dose is taken within 10 to 14 days of the first trip, a significantly reduced experience is to be expected. If an individual were to have two, back-to-back psilocybin experiences — which is not suggested — an increase in dose of up to 300% might be required for the second day.
This tolerance also applies to other ‘classical’ hallucinogens like LSD and DMT, which hints toward their shared mechanism of action.
How does Psilocybin affect the brain?
Psilocybin mimics the neurotransmitter serotonin, which powers the pathways in your brain associated with perception and reward. Psychedelic compounds like psilocybin are known as “serotonergic” or “classic” hallucinogens, chemicals that directly alter the creation, action, or elimination of the neurotransmitter serotonin. While often characterized as the mediator of well-being and happiness, serotonin has many nuanced roles within the body.
Serotonin, or a lack thereof, is often associated with clinical depression. The frontline treatment is the prescription of SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor. While there is little evidence to explain the phenomenon, this type of drug has a significant interaction with psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds. Anecdotes suggest that SSRIs inhibit the effects of psilocybin and that the combination should be largely avoided.
The interplay between SSRIs and psilocybin is especially unfortunate, given that there is growing evidence that psychedelics can significantly improve severe forms of depression. The FDA has even granted psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” designation for both Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD) and Major Depressive Disorder, with clinical trials underway.
Psilocybin and your brain
The prime therapeutic value of psilocybin as a tool is the requirement for only a single session, as opposed to a life-time of pills. Considering the potential impact of such an event, preparation and education are incredibly useful for making the most of what could otherwise just be a fun trip. Understanding what psilocybin can do to your brain can unlock a universe of potential exploration and self-improvement.