CNN: "It’s legal to use psilocybin, or ‘magic mushrooms,’ in Oregon. But that could soon change"
November 4, 2022 –
First came Chrissi DelaCruz’s tough breakup with her boyfriend of nine years.
Then, her sister died.
The pain and loss led DelaCruz to traditional talk therapy. She also relied on alcohol.
But nothing really worked.
“I was feeling pretty sad and lonely and disconnected and was feeling pretty lost and hopeless in what I needed to do next in my life,” the 37-year-old told CNN.
Her next option would be a remedy the commercial real estate professional never imagined she’d end up advocating – and one that, while considered a therapeutic and healing drug by a growing number of health care professionals, has come under fire in Oregon ahead of next week’s election.
Psilocybin, also known as “magic mushrooms,” is a psychedelic used for centuries in ceremonies by traditional cultures, and interest in it by the modern medical and scientific community has grown since the ’50s.
DelaCruz signed up to try psilocybin to treat her mental health challenges in Jamaica – where using psychedelics is legal – on a retreat run by a company founded by an attorney in Oregon, where voters more than two years ago legalized its use on a protracted timeline, with licensing procedures set to launch in January.
As that date approaches, though, ballot measures Tuesday in roughly a third of the state’s counties and cities propose banning the psychedelic over concerns of a fraught rollout and problems it could stoke, from the substance’s effect on users to possible community consequences.
Opposing the bans and trying to educate voters about psilocybin are Oregonians – including the operator of the Jamaica center, Silo Wellness – who want to set up facilities in the state where it could be used under the strict guidelines already in place.
Before her Jamaica retreat, DelaCruz also wasn’t sure about psilocybin, even as Silo Wellness pledged an experience with psychedelics that would help find “peace and purpose.”
“I was totally nervous,” she admitted. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
How brain systems ‘move and groove together’
Scientists are still exploring the how and the why behind the connection between psychedelics and improved mental health. What is known is that just like common antidepressants called SSRIs, psilocybin attaches to receptors in the brain that trigger the release of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone.
But unlike antidepressants, which take at least a week to work and have to be taken daily, a psilocybin “trip” may improve mood in just one or two sessions. A single treatment with psilocybin reduced negative mood in people with treatment-resistant depression within three weeks, new research found.
“One of the most interesting things we’ve learned about the classic psychedelics is that they have a dramatic effect on the way brain systems synchronize, or move and groove together,” Matthew Johnson, a professor in psychedelics and consciousness at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told CNN earlier this year.
A common theory is the drugs somehow break down the brain’s typical boundaries, so parts of the brain that don’t normally connect to each other suddenly do. At the same time, areas of the brain locked into a cycle of depressive thoughts quiet. This may create a type of expanded consciousness, experts say, that appears to allow the depressed person to break free of self-criticism and see new possibilities.
Psilocybin can be taken in a pill form, smoked, ground and mixed with other foods, put into a smoothie or liquid, or even infused into chocolates and other sweets. A typical dose is a 25-milligram pill, which creates the full-blown psychedelic experience.
During most psilocybin studies, trained counselors are present to establish a supportive setting, set expectations and stop the trip from turning “bad,” which might feel like losing oneself or going crazy. They also help the person undergoing the experience organize and retain their new outlook on life via talk therapy.
DelaCruz and about a dozen others who met medical qualifications for the Silo Wellness retreat convened online regularly beginning two months before arriving in Jamaica in June to begin the five-day experience.
It included two psilocybin dosing sessions, dubbed “ceremonies.”
DelaCruz had it “in a powder form that was mixed with, like, a juice,” she said.
After 15 or 20 minutes, it took effect.
“It’s almost like I could see the life in everything around me,” she recalled. “It sounds weird, but it’s like (I could) feel what it really is like to feel alive.”
One of the sessions was “very hard” and “very emotional,” she said. But despite the increased anxiety and discomfort, it also was very effective.
“The biggest change was, I have more trust and confidence in myself through these ceremonies, therefore that allows me to reflect that back in my actions and in my thoughts and how I affect other people,” DelaCruz said.
“That proved to me that everything that I need to heal is within myself.”
‘There’s no magic here’
The process, according to Silo Wellness CEO Mike Arnold, isn’t fun.
“(It) can be very, very uncomfortable most of the time, and you have to put in the work, too. So, after you’re done with it, even if you have a great session and you feel like you’re connected to nature and everything’s beautiful and easy … still, you gotta put in the work afterward.
“Like, there’s no magic here.”
Arnold founded Silo Wellness in 2018 after having what he described as a life-changing experience with psilocybin, then started the retreats in Jamaica.
How psilocybin may rewire the brain
In addition to a strict intake process that screens for underlying medical issues that might be worsened by psilocybin – such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – medical professionals on-site throughout the retreat keep close watch over participants before, during and after the ceremonies, he said.
“I think drugs are not the answer to anything,” Arnold said, but “certain molecules can be a tool to finding the answers if used appropriately and responsibly and safely.” … [READ MORE]