Psilocybin for Depression: Does It Work?

Psilocybin for Depression: Does It Work?

Psilocybin mushrooms (sometimes referred to as “magic mushrooms”) contain the chemical psilocybine – a naturally occurring hallucinogenic and psychoactive compound. While there’s only been so much research into the psychedelic, many have come forward claiming you can use psilocybin for depression.

However, the weight of these statements remains in question. Not to mention, psilocybin is still illegal in the United States and classified as a Schedule I drug. This means it has no currently accepted medical use for the treatment of any health condition.

Throughout this article, we’re going to explore psilocybin mushrooms as well as their potential to treat depression. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

What Are Psilocybin Mushrooms?

Psilocybin mushrooms are psychedelic fungi that are found in the wild and can be cultivated. For millennia, the fungus has been used in various cultures for its hallucinogenic properties in both spiritual and medicinal practices. However, psilocybin wasn’t isolated until 1958 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, the same person who discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). ¹

Traditionally, psilocybin mushrooms are dried and eaten alongside foods and beverages. Still, some people eat them fresh from the ground.

When it comes to street lingo, magic mushrooms are sometimes referred to as:

  • Shrooms
  • Mushies
  • Blue meanies
  • Golden tops
  • Liberty caps

Psilocybin mushrooms are hallucinogenic drugs, similar to cannabis (marijuana), mescaline, LSD, ayahuasca, and N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

How Does Psilocybin Work in the Brain and Body?

Since magic mushrooms are hallucinogens, they cause users to see, hear, and feel sensations that aren’t really there. However, the effects of psilocybin vary greatly from person to person and experience to experience. It’s believed that the environment plays a significant factor. ²

When ingested, the mushrooms are converted into psilocin in the body. While it’s not 100% clear how psilocin influences the brain and body, it’s believed to activate serotonin receptors. More particularly, in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for mood, cognition, and perception. ³ ⁴

Psychedelic drugs are believed to work in other areas of the brain as well, such as those that regulate arousal and panic responses. Furthermore, psilocybin doesn’t always produce the visual and auditory hallucinations it’s known for.

There are number of factors that can influence the psilocybin experience, including: ⁵

  • Quantity of drug
  • Past experience (both with and without the drug)
  • Expectations for the experience
  • Environment
  • People the individual is around

Typically, people begin to feel the effects of psilocybin 30 minutes after consuming it. These effects can last anywhere between 4 and 6 hours. However, some individuals may experience changes to their thought patterns and sensory perception days after the experience.

Can You Use Psilocybin for Depression?

As of this time, it remains uncertain whether or not you can use psilocybin for depression. While there is some evidence to suggest you can, more research is necessary.

An early study published in the United Kingdom suggested that psilocybin might have therapeutic benefits for patients facing treatment-resistant depression. Unfortunately, this study didn’t compare patients with a control group and, therefore, didn’t make too many discoveries. ⁶

However, researchers have noted that psilocybin has much more immediate effects in comparison to traditional antidepressants, which can take up to 6 weeks to start working.

The biggest difficulty with current research is the fact that there are no long-term studies. While it seems likely patients may make a recovery from depression using psilocybin, it’s unclear how long this recovery lasts.

Most of what we know about magic mushrooms comes from personal accounts of people who have self-medicated in their struggle with mental illness. While these accounts can give us some insight, the psychedelic experience is never controlled and, furthermore, often based on some kind of bias. For example, those who enjoy taking psilocybin purely for the “trip” may lead themselves to believe that it can have therapeutic effects for everyone.

Since psilocybin remains a Schedule I substance, you’re never going to come across a psychiatrist that recommends it for depression. With that said, we highly recommend you seek out traditional treatment options before even considering psilocybin. If you find that you’re depression is treatment-resistant, it’s vital you do the proper research before taking psychedelic drugs.

What Does the Research Say?

As of this time, there are only two studies that have sought out looked into psilocybin’s therapeutic potential for depression. These include:

  • A 2017 study published by Neuropharmacology found that psilocybin was able to reduce symptoms of depression without diminishing emotions. ⁷
  • A 2018 study compared the relationship between psilocybin-induced hallucinations and other therapies that had positive outcomes. It discovered that psilocybin was able to create positive long-term outcomes in patients. ⁸

John Hopkins University has also been conducting research concerning psilocybin for the treatment of various mental health conditions. A small study found that just two doses of psilocybin alongside psychotherapies were able to produce an immediate and large reduction in depression symptoms.

John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research is currently on Phase II of clinical research concerning psilocybin for depression. If the drug clears Phase III, researchers say psilocybin should be recategorized from a Schedule I substances.

Other Potential Benefits of Psilocybin

Beyond depression, recent research into psilocybin has also concerned:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Depression and co-occurring Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Smoking cessations

However, as with depression, research is too limited to make any claims as of this time.

Psilocybin Safety and Side Effects

When it comes to hallucinogenic drug, users run the risk of having a negative experience that can leave you with long-lasting mental and emotional problems. Furthermore, if you use psychedelic substances with alcohol or other drugs, the long-term risks increase.

One of the biggest concerns most people have is the experience of a “bad trip.” While this experience varies from person to person, it usually involves feelings of paranoia alongside hallucinations, delusions, and panic. More so, in rare cases, some people may even experience convulsions. ⁹

Beyond this, users can also retain one or many of the following side effects:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Distorted perception (sense of time, place, reality)
  • Drowsiness
  • Feelings of spirituality
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature
  • Lack of coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia (sometimes a panic reaction)
  • Psychosis
  • Yawning

As of this time, researchers aren’t 100% sure of the long-term side effects psilocybin may have. Some users have reported experiencing flashbacks long after their experience as well as personality changes. ¹⁰

Furthermore, since you can only obtain magic mushrooms illegally, you run two risks:

  1. The substance you’re purchasing may be contaminated. Some research suggests that only 28% of street psilocybin actually has hallucinogenic properties. ¹¹
  2. You’re unaware of the psilocybin dosage you’re receiving per mushroom.

If you believe that you or someone you love has consumed a poisonous mushroom it’s vital you call poison control immediately at 800-222-122.

Can You Overdose on Psilocybin?

While there have been no reported deaths associated with psilocybin, you can overdose on the mushroom. Most of the time, an overdose results in: ¹²

  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Panic (paranoia)
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

To take things further, some people mistake fly agaric mushrooms for psilocybin. When consumed, fly agaric mushrooms can cause individuals to:

  • Drool
  • Experience dizziness
  • Show signs of delirium
  • Twitch
  • Vomit

If you use magic mushrooms regularly, chances are you’ll develop a tolerance to them. Since people with a tolerance will need more psilocybin to feel the initial effects, they’re at an increased risk of overdose.

Psilocybin for Depression Dosage Recommendation

Being as the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve psilocybin and the substance remains illegal, there are no standards when it comes to dosage. Furthermore, it’s extremely difficult to determine how much psilocybin is in a mushroom when you purchase it illegally. This makes dosage almost impossible.

Still, if you plan to take psilocybin regardless of the risks, we’ve developed a chart to help you determine how much you should take. This chart is based on the assumption that the mushrooms you possess contain 1% psilocybin.

Dried MushroomsEstimated Psilocybin
Low Dose1 gram10mg
Medium Dose1.75 grams17.5mg
High Dose3.5 grams35mg
Very High Dose5 grams50mg

It’s worth noting that many have found benefits from microdosing psilocybin rather than undergoing a full psychedelic experience. While there are no standards for microdosing, most suggest anywhere from 0.25 to 0.5 grams of dried magic mushrooms. ¹³

Are Psilocybin Mushrooms Legal?

As mentioned throughout this article, psilocybin mushrooms are federally illegal and considered a Schedule I substance. However, changes in the law are appearing in certain places:

  • Magic mushrooms are decriminalized for recreational purposes in:
    • Ann Arbor, Michigan
    • Denver, Colorado
    • Oakland, California
    • Santa Cruz, California
    • Somerville, Massachusetts
    • Cambridge Massachusetts
    • Washington D.C.
  • Magic mushrooms are legal for mental health treatment in a supervised setting in Oregon.

Not to mention, certain states allow for the use of psilocybin mushrooms in religious practices.

It’s also worth noting that psilocybin mushrooms are legal in Canada for certain mental illnesses.

Other Natural Remedies for Depression

Since psilocybin has a number of psychological risks, we highly recommend seeking out other natural treatments for depression before using magic mushrooms. Some of the most notable include:

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

Many have claimed that Rhodiola is a great supplement for energy, sleep problems, and various mental health conditions, including depression. One study found that Rhodiola alters the blood-brain barrier. In turn, this allows specific endorphins to enter the brain that can help in stress responses. ¹⁴


Saffron is a spice with antioxidant compounds. In one review, it was found that saffron may be able to increase mood levels that impact serotonin receptors. In other words, it allows for already existing serotonin to stay in the brain longer. This same review also revealed that saffron was able to significantly decrease depression symptoms when compared to a placebo. ¹⁵

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fats have been found to be essential for our diet. The only difficulty is our bodies can’t produce these fats on their own. Therefore, we must take them in from certain foods, such as fish. If you don’t consume a healthy amount of omega-3s through your standard diet, you can always opt to take a fish oil supplement.

The benefit of omega-3 fatty acids is they’ve been found to help decrease symptoms of depression. A 2020 analysis gave the supplement to 638 women and found that it had a positive impact on those struggling with pregnancy depression and postpartum syndrome. ¹⁶

Final Word

Still considering using psilocybin for depression? If so, we must confess a word of caution. Since there is so little known about magic mushrooms and many have claimed to have a bad experience, you are putting yourself at risk for further problems.

When taking a psychedelic drug, it’s extremely important that you place yourself in the right environment and surround yourself with people you trust. While there’s only so much research to confirm this, we’ve found that the experience is highly influential by these factors.

Furthermore, even if your decision goes against your psychiatrist’s wishes, it’s important to tell them of your plans or usage of psilocybin.

Your Questions

Still have questions concerning psilocybin for depression?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ National Library of Medicine (PubMed): DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Psilocybin

² Studies in Mycology: The good, the bad and the tasty: The many roles of mushrooms

³ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS): Hallucinogen actions on human brain revealed

⁴ Neuropsychopharmacology: Psychedelic effects of psilocybin correlate with serotonin 2A receptor occupancy and plasma psilocin levels

⁵ National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): How Do Hallucinogens (LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote, DMT, and Ayahuasca) Affect the Brain and Body?

⁶ The Lancet Psychiatry: Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study

⁷ Neuropharmacology: Increased amygdala responses to emotional faces after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

⁸ frontiers in Pharmacology: Quality of Acute Psychedelic Experience Predicts Therapeutic Efficacy of Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression

⁹ Mycobiology: Toxicological Profiles of Poisonous, Edible, and Medicinal Mushrooms

¹⁰ Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology (SAGE): Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder

¹¹ Office of Justice Programs (U.S. Department of Justice): Street Drug Analysis: An Eleven Year Perspective on Illicit Drug Alteration

¹² National Library of Medicine (PubMed): Management of overdose of salvia, kratom, and psilocybin mushrooms: a literature review

¹³ PLOS ONE: A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics

¹⁴ HHS Public Access: Rhodiola rosea therapy for major depressive disorder: a study protocol for randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

¹⁵ Journal of integrative medicine (HHS Public Access): Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials

¹⁶ Translational Psychiatry: The efficacy and safety of omega-3 fatty acids on depressive symptoms in perinatal women: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials

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