The purpose of hallucinogenic plants in human societies has varied from religious rites to psychological healing. However, for the past hundreds of years, their use has been criminalized and their usefulness has gone largely unnoticed. Today, a new curiosity towards them has risen among researchers who have been increasingly interested in alternative drugs to treat mental health issues and other sorts of problems. Psilocybin, the active ingredient which can be found in magic mushrooms has provided impressive results in medical experiments which in return has grabbed the attention of many investors trying to benefit from the potential new market opening.
In most countries around the world, psilocybin is still illegal. However, there are exceptions such as the Netherlands where truffles are sold legally. Nevertheless, in the United States psilocybin is placed as a schedule 1 drug by the DEA and has been one since 1970 but recently things have been changing. Since 2018, states like Denver and Oakland have decriminalized magic mushrooms. This means that they are still illegal but the state won’t use any resources to prosecute people for their use. Also, in the year 2018, the Food and Drug Administration gave “breakthrough therapy” status to psilocybin therapy where they essentially fast-tracked the research for the companies Compass Pathways and Usona Institute. Compass Pathways researches the potential of psilocybin as a treatment for severe treatment-resistant depression. Their research has been promising and they suggest that the results are optimal when patients who ingest psilocybin also receive talk therapy. If the new research continues to be positive then complete legalisation might come true in the future.
Johns Hopkins University has become one of the leading institutions in psychedelic research. Their most well-known studies on psilocybin examined the effect of psilocybin on nicotine addiction and cancer patients dealing with end of life anxiety and depression. In the first study, they gave long time cigarette smokers psilocybin treatment. The results were an 80% abstinence rate over the next 6 months which is a huge increase compared to the 35% success rate of verenicline which is considered the best tobacco abstinence drug in the market at the moment. In the second study, the cancer patients that received psilocybin reported decreased levels of anxiety and depression. Additionally, 80% of the volunteers in the Johns Hopkins experiment reported after one month of taking a high dose of psilocybin that the experience was among the five most important personal experiences in their lives and about 50% reported that it was the single most important experience in their lives. About 90% reported increased life satisfaction and positive behavioural changes, including an increased positive mood and better social relationships. On top of this numerous other studies have been conducted which has found that psilocybin mushrooms haven’t been known to cause physical or psychological addiction(Van Amsterdam J. et. al.).
Another phenomenon that has grown in popularity is the act of microdosing. It means that psilocybin is consumed at an unnoticeable amount that doesn’t give you any hallucinations but works as a cognitive enhancer with other positive effects. Luisa Prochazkova at Leiden university did a research, on microdosing psilocybin in 2018. She found that microdosing helped participants to create more out of the box thinking when answering problems. Other than that there hasn’t been that many studies on microdosing. Despite the lack of research there are numerous people who have been reporting their own experiences. The most common reported improvements that people have stated are reduced anxiety, mood elevation, increased creativity, decreased use of coffee, cigarettes and Adderall, improved health habits and increased learning. But as always the feedback is not entirely positive and some have been reporting increased anxiety and feelings related to a “bad trip”. Nevertheless, microdosing has gained popularity and it’s well known that lots of people in Silicon Valley have been microdosing in order to improve their careers which have given increased attention to the habit.
Due to positive research results and increased media attention entrepreneurs have also seen a potential new market for psilocybin. Kevin O’Leary from shark tank has invested 6.2 million dollars in a company called Mindmed. Mindmed is a company that aims to help people overcome alcoholism, opioid addiction and other sorts of problems like ADHD through psilocybin treatments. The medicine that they are producing are alternatives that haven’t been introduced to the markets yet like psilocybin and ibogaine. At the moment there are a couple of other listed psychedelic medicine stocks which are called Revive Therapeutics and Champignon Brands. Champignon Brands is more concentrated in treating depression and PTSD and Revive Therapeutics is in the process of treating inflammatory diseases and mental health issues. Also, the earlier mentioned Compass Pathways which is partly funded by Peter Thiel recently filed for a patent for a psilocybin compound. Increasingly, the industry has been compared to the early stages of the marijuana industry which went into a huge stock market boom a couple of years ago. So much that people have started to talk about the coming “shroom boom”. The psychedelic industry indeed looks similar to the early marijuana industry where laws are starting to change, the media coverage is getting more positive and new companies are getting started and listed on stock exchanges. But is the medicine going to be useful or profitable is still to be seen.