Magic Mushrooms for depression: collective delusion?

Magic Mushroom

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:

The subjects of Mackay’s debunking include … fortune-tellinghaunted houses, …… magnetisers (influence of imagination in curing disease),  prophecies, …..and relics.

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.

Psilocybe Mexicana
Psilocybe Mexicana By Alan Rockefeller – This image is Image Number 313748 at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images., CC BY-SA 3.0,

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:

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.

Psilocybin
Psilocybin

2 Comments

  1. You pose some really interesting questions and it’s true that there have been many “miracle cures,” over the years and psilocybin may very well be the latest fad…one that just so happens to be illegal. I first came across the research in college and was impressed by the statistical significance of the studies, as well as the subjective accounts of participants. I’ve been casually following the studies since and though I’m excited to see something with such potential gain traction, it’s also disconcerting to see the hyped of headlines that may be detracting from the scientific basis of the current research. I’m hoping, for the sake of those suffering from depression, that it is found to be a safe, effective, and eventually legal therapy, though I just the chances are just as likely that the whole thing has been overblown and will pass and make room for the next big fad.

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