Thursday, 13 June, 2024
HomeHarm ReductionResearch probes ‘magic’ mushrooms to treat depression, addiction and PTSD

Research probes ‘magic’ mushrooms to treat depression, addiction and PTSD

The first legal collection of native ‘magic’ mushrooms in Australia could provide medical options to treat severe depression, alcohol and drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the fear experienced at the end of terminally ill people's lives, writes Jennifer Nichols for ABC Rural.

University of Queensland mycologist and evolutionary biologist Dr Alistair McTaggart has been given approval to collect and catalogue psilocybin mushrooms found growing in cow manure and leaf litter on damp forest floors after rain.

The federal government is investing a total of AUD15 million in grants to support Australian-led research into the use of mushrooms, ecstasy and ketamine to combat illnesses such as PTSD, major depressive disorders, addiction and eating disorders.

"Psychedelic mushrooms are taking off, everyone's talking about them,” McTaggart said, according to the ABC Ruralstory published on 30 August 2021.

"In America the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] has fast tracked psilocybin treatment. It's considered a breakthrough therapy," McTaggart said.

"With COVID-19 right now, I think there's never been a better time to start looking for therapies for mental health."

Trip into the unknown

Globally, 200 species of mushroom produce psilocybin – a natural psychoactive compound with hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD.

But little is known about the 20 to 30 species of psychedelic mushrooms in Australia. McTaggart's research will investigate whether they are native, edible, poisonous or adaptable for medicinal use.

Some, like the golden top mushroom, or Psilocybe cubensis – commonly found growing in cow pats – may originate from overseas, continues ABC Rural.

At the University of Queensland, the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation project will investigate the DNA of the mushrooms and their psychoactive properties.

McTaggart is keen to tap into the knowledge of citizen scientists who photograph fungi and collaborate with researchers interested in cultivating promising genetic strains to tailor-make specific medical treatments.

In Australia, it is illegal to cultivate, possess, use or supply psychedelic mushrooms. But, like medicinal marijuana, McTaggart said that would change, in line with other countries.

Psychedelic renaissance

Edith Cowan University's school of medical and health sciences psychologist, Dr Stephen Bright, hopes to conduct clinical trials of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in Western Australia for treatment resistant depression.

"The research that we're talking about here – in terms of understanding the native psilocybin species – could contribute to the international psychedelic science renaissance," Bright tod ABC Rural.

In 1970, disgraced US president Richard Nixon's ‘war’ on psychedelic drugs froze research into the therapeutic benefits of mushrooms. Recent international trials at Johns Hopkins Centre for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research have revealed psilocybin's potential.

One treatment session with psychedelics is said to have achieved what years of psychotropic drugs and counselling had not been able to accomplish.

However, scientists also stress the risk of mistaking ‘magic’ mushrooms for ‘deadly’ mushrooms and warn that self-medicating hallucinogens for depression or anxiety could actually do people harm.

"It needs to occur in a clinical environment, where there are trained facilitators, psychologists, social workers [and] psychiatrists who are able to set up the right conditions because it can be challenging at times," Bright said.

Link to the full ABC Rural article below.


A trip into the therapeutic potential of Australia’s native magic mushrooms

Australia’s first legal, living collection of native magic mushrooms is being studied by scientists in a Brisbane laboratory to help identify characteristics that might be useful for medical research into psychedelic treatments.

This article is by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at the University of Queensland. See the link to the article below.

University of Queensland mycologist and evolutionary biologist Dr Alistair McTaggart said Australian magic mushrooms were unique from international species, but scientists had little understanding of them.

“In Australia, it is estimated there are up to 20 species of magic mushrooms, some of which are native, while others have been introduced,” said McTaggart. “They grow in dung or in leaf litter on damp forest floors.

“We are not certain of magic mushroom biodiversity in Australia, and we do not know how many species produce psilocybin – a psychoactive compound with effects similar to LSD.”

More than 200 species of mushrooms worldwide are known to produce psilocybin

In a new research project underway at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at the University of Queensland, McTaggart will investigate the diversity of native magic mushrooms in Australia, following state government approval for the University of Queensland to use psilocybin for research, analysis and teaching.

He said there was renewed global interest in the psychoactive properties of magic mushrooms for treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

McTaggart believes the current global research interest in magic mushrooms is similar to where the medicinal cannabis industry was 15 years ago.

“Similar to the cannabis industry, mushrooms will need selection of genetic traits to upscale production or tailor different strains for different experiences,” he said.

“Australian native magic mushrooms may have evolved different methods for psilocybin production and offer adaptations that are preferential for use in clinical treatments.

“Our new project will determine whether one species which is believed to be native, Psilocybe subaeruginosa, has spread globally. “This species, or a close relative, is now the foundation of patents and research in Europe and the United States.”

Approval under the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996 (Qld) allows McTaggart to possess, use and dispose of limited quantities of psilocybin, for the specific purpose of research, analysis and teaching.

Without this approval, the possession and use of psilocybin is prohibited in Queensland – including for native psilocybin-producing mushrooms.

“Consuming magic mushrooms can be dangerous – they can be mistaken for toxic mushrooms,” McTaggart said.

In another project in development, McTaggart plans to use genomic sequencing to determine which species of native mushrooms in Australia (not magic mushrooms) are edible, poisonous or adaptable for medicinal use.

This work is funded through University of Queensland’s Research Support Programme.



ABC Rural story – 'Psychedelic renaissance' sees first legal collection of Australia's medicinal magic mushrooms (Open access)


University of Queensland material – A trip into the therapeutic potential of Australia’s native magic mushrooms (Open access)


Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation


See also from the MedicalBrief archives


New research propels psychedelics into the mainstream


Psychedelic mushrooms can help depression, anxiety, addiction


'Magic mushroom' compound reduces depression symptoms


Magic mushrooms lift depression in cancer patients


Magic mushroom compound a potential Tx for depression



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