Is the (mostly anecdotal) evidence surrounding the efficacy of magic mushrooms as a cure for depression merely a collective delusion?
“Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” is an early study of crowd psychology by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay. Mackay set out to show, convincingly, that collective delusion has been responsible throughout history for the contagious creation of falsehood through “group think”.
To quote Wikipedia:
A simpler name for the effect is “wishful thinking”. That subsection of the world which suffers from this debilitating condition craves a cure. Over the years I have seen many fads come and go. None of which have provided an answer; certainly not a complete one.
I remember reading “Listening to Prozac” by Peter Kramer many years ago. SSRIs were all the rage. A magic pill for eternal happiness. Except they weren’t. They have even been blamed for suicides. And yet the world took them up, and how. SSRIs were, according to popular delusion, the “Way”.
Despite the paucity of statistically convincing medical trials, collective wishful thinking took up SSRIs and anecdotal evidence of the miraculous sprung up like mushrooms. Deliberate pun.
It rather reminds me of Lourdes. Another collective delusion – the spawn of it’s big brother religious delusion.
Other miracle cures for depression over the years have included Omega 3 fish oil, St John’s Wort and mindfulness meditation. Not to mention the mostly useless fantasies of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.
Many years later, dear old Siggy Freud is exposed for what he really was: a barking old nutter with a hang up about sex.
And now we have magic mushrooms, which contain the psychedelic drug psilocybin.
The press is full of articles claiming a new miracle cure. Here are a few of them:
- Magic mushrooms ‘reboot’ brain in depressed people – study
- How Magic Mushrooms Could Treat Depression From An Entirely New Angle
- Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measured brain mechanisms
If you google “magic mushrooms depression” you will come across thousands of breathlessly enthusiastic blogs, where countless enthused users claim miraculous cures .
So is the consumption of psilocybin a cure for depression? Either in sub perceptual doses or in a full blown psychedelic orgy of altered perception?
Is there any such thing as objective truth anyway?
Where does this leave the sad sufferer from Samuel Johnson’s Black Dog? It leaves him with trial and error. It leaves him with the necessity to come to his own subjective opinion, after going on a hallucinogenic blow out.
Whether he goes for the full monte, and seeks the numinous in a psychedlc blast, or whether he takes the arguably saner route, and experiments with sub perceptual doses, he must find out for himself whether it works for him or not.
Coupled to the potential disappointments and difficulties, psilocybin is an illegal substance. To add to his already difficult life, the keeper of the Black Dog has to flout the law or scour the hedgerows in autumn for this mycopian delicacy.
So, miracle cure or over hyped collective delusion?
This article has been the very antithesis of what I should have written. So let me correct my errors and present a more helpful and balanced view.
The owner of a Black Dog should not write negative articles. He should not engage in negative thinking.
Talking therapy and mindfulness do have their part to play. SSRIs work for some people. Unless you own up to your condition and address it, the cause is lost. All these avenues can and do help some people.
A cure will be found, of that I have no doubt. Psilocybin may be that cure for all I know. It can do little harm to talk to those involved in clinical trials and to discuss the matter with those who claim to have benefitted from its effects.
It can do no harm to cautiously, legally and safely experiment for yourself. It is unhelpful and destructive in the extreme to take an uninformed, cynical and negative attitude.