What we know about mushrooms and mental health
Fungi are increasingly touted for their incredible therapeutic potential by people all around the world. And while we love the traditional portobellos, shiitakes, and button mushrooms that are available on the grocery store shelves, we’re shifting gears toward the functional, all-around therapeutic kind of ‘shrooms. Here, we’ll explore the connection between mushrooms and mental health.
The Fungi Era:
2019 gave us a glimpse into the mushroom madness that was predicted to take place in the 21st century. Marketing trend forecasters and wellness brands took note as everything from discrete to modernized geometric packaging with various mushrooms took over the immune support, stress management, sleep regulation, and clean beauty shelves alike. On top of becoming one of the most sought after wellness products towards the end of 2019, this powerful fungi family made headlines with groundbreaking PTSD and depression research studies. Some say the fungi fame is short-lived, while others – including Cured – argue that we have only received a micro-dose of information on what this wide range of fungi can do for the human body and mind.
From kicking your immune system into virus killing overdrive, melting away the everyday societal ingrained stress, to making groundbreaking waves as potential therapies in today’s mental health crisis, these fungi friends have a lot to teach us. Today, we dive into the practical and groovy benefits that are here to transform your mind and body, thanks to the fantastic fungi.
From Practical To Groovy
Functional Mushrooms 101:
In a practical sense, all mushrooms serve a function, whether as food or part of the ecosystem. However the phrase functional mushroom specifically refers to varieties that have a health benefit beyond providing nutritional value. With a kingdom that contains over 1.5 million fungi and mushroom varieties, it’s understandable to feel a little confused. After all, not all of those species are edible mushrooms. Some are poisonous mushrooms, some are psychedelic, and some are just plain tasty!
Many functional mushrooms offer anti-inflammatory properties – helpful for people with a variety of medical conditions that include inflammation as a symptom – and the presence of natural compounds like antioxidants, which can help boost blood flow and slow damage to cells caused by free radicals. Certain varieties may also help some people better cope with stress, and when eaten they provide a quality source of protein, high fiber, and vitamins. Although not all mushrooms offer the same benefits as functional mushrooms, every type brings some advantage to the table.
Certain varieties are seen as especially powerful in terms of the benefits they offer. Whole Foods, which placed functional mushrooms on its list of top food trends for 2018, specifically highlighted chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane and reishi mushrooms as leaders in the functional mushroom movement. These mushrooms are sold fresh in many other grocery stores and supermarkets and make great additions to not only supplements, but your culinary dishes too! You may spot them in a variety of prepared items, from bottled drinks to tea bags and even personal care and beauty items.
Psychedelics (from the Greek psyche: mind, delos: make visible, reveal) are substances that induce a heightened state of consciousness characterized by a hyperconnected brain state. Studies suggest psychedelics could be a breakthrough therapy for the mental health crisis that our society is facing today thanks to their ability to work on a deep emotional as well as biological level.
Psilocybin mushrooms have been part of religious rituals for thousands of years. The Aztecs of Mexico referred to the mushroom as teonanácatl, or “God’s flesh”, in homage to its believed sacred power. Then in 1957 Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman isolated psilocybin from the mushroom and began research in medical trials (alongside LSD, another common psychedelic during the 60’s). This wave within the psychedelic medical trials were quickly shut down as the substances became outlawed after they became associated with the 60s counterculture.
As we enter into the third wave of psychedelic movement, Psilocybin has once again made a splash for psychotherapists and common folk thanks to lawmakers in Oakland who recently joined Cured’s home city, Denver as the first few cities in the nation to effectively decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. But don’t be fooled, the Colorado metropolis hasn’t technically legalized magic mushrooms (yet). Instead, they’re classified as the “lowest law-enforcement priority.” Nonetheless, the change has helped draw attention to the new research being done on psychedelic medication in general as more and more researchers are finding evidence that the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, may have very practical health benefits for a variety of mental health conditions.
What Do Functional Mushrooms Do?
While each individual functional mushroom has its own specific benefit, all functional mushrooms work to balance your energy levels, strengthen your immune function, regulate digestion, and enhance your skin’s natural glow thanks to their polyphenols, polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and antioxidant properties. These compounds, together and separately, help to support your immune system. With their overflowing amount of antioxidant properties, they assist in that natural glow as well as support a whole body well-being. The mushrooms to be on the look out for are labeled as adaptogenic, meaning they assist the body in times of low energy, fatigue, anxiety, and the everyday wellness necessities.
What Do Magic Mushrooms Do?
Magic mushrooms are hallucinogens, meaning they can cause you to see, hear, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. The effects of magic mushrooms, however, are highly variable and believed to be influenced by environmental factors. ‘Shrooms have a long history of being associated with spiritual experiences and self-discovery. Many believe that naturally occurring drugs like magic mushrooms, weed, and mescaline are sacred herbs that enable people to attain superior spiritual states. Others take magic mushrooms to experience a sense of euphoria, a deep connection to self and all, and a distorted sense of time.
The psilocybin compound found in psychedelic mushrooms is converted to psilocin in the body and is believed to influence serotonin levels in the brain, making it a possible new approach for psychotherapists and researchers who have patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression and other mental health conditions.
Mushrooms and Mental Health:
Let’s take a quick dive into three commonly known fungi that may transform your mental health..
This mushroom got its name from its fluffy mane-like appearance. Lion’s Mane mushroom was traditionally used by Buddhist monks to help focus while meditating.
Supplementing with this mushroom is said to help improve focus and boost your concentration levels and memory. It may come as no surprise that Lion’s Mane is often referred to as ‘brain food’ because of its powerful abilities to boost cognitive performance, memory and mood.
Reishi, also known as lingzhi in China, has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years and was named for longevity and spirituality.
Reishi is known as an adaptogen, a substance in herbal medicine that is claimed to help the body adapt to stress, and works to normalize body processes. Reishi is most commonly used to support healthy and restful sleep, reduce stress, and to boost the immune system.
Psilocybin is a natural hallucinogen that distorts perception and can cause profound visual and auditory hallucinations. People can have very different experiences from ingesting magic mushrooms. Scientists have long believed that psilocybin works by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain. This prevents the reuptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s involved with mood control, shifting attention, and cognitive flexibility. Antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work in the same way to enhance serotonin.
A 2012 brain imaging study found that psilocybin also decreases brain activity in certain areas of the brain, including the thalamus, which is involved in the transfer of information.
In spite of the growing body of research, a 2018 review of the existing scientific evidence claims our understanding of both functional mushrooms and psilocybin’s effects is still in its infancy and suggests caution. If you want to get serious about mushrooms and your mental health, we recommend consulting a trusted doctor or therapist who has experience with the therapeutic application of these incredible fungi.