March 7, 2023
Magic mushrooms as medicine
Australia has moved to recognise the medicinal qualities of psilocybin (magic mushrooms).
From July 1, 2023, medicines containing psilocybin can be prescribed by authorised psychiatrists to people experiencing treatment-resistant depression.
The change also allows medicines containing MDMA to be prescribed for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1
Here we explore the therapeutic benefits of magic mushrooms.
To read more about the therapeutic benefits of MDMA, visit our article: Australia to allow MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD.
Magic mushrooms and mental health
It’s usually eaten fresh, cooked or brewed into a tea.
Psilocybin has been around for a long time, and has been used by some Indigenous communities around the world for over 1000 years.3
In fact, some researchers believe rock paintings in Western Australia show psilocybin use in Indigenous ceremonies over 10,000 years ago.4
Psychedelics can cause changes in mood, perception and thoughts.
In the 1950s and 60s scientists became interested in how these effects might help people experiencing mental illness.2, 3
They began to study psychedelics to treat conditions including:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- alcohol dependence.3
But in the late 60s, the US banned all psychedelics.3, 5 And the world, including Australia, soon followed suit.6
So, despite promising findings, psychedelic research ended abruptly in the 70s.3
But that’s changing.
Decades of advocacy and fundraising by organisations like MAPS, and the work of dedicated academics and scientists has led to a ‘renaissance’ of research into the benefits of psychedelics in Australia and overseas.
What are we learning about psilocybin’s therapeutic potential?
This new wave of psychedelic research has shown promising results.
We’ve learned psilocybin can have anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects that last for several months.7
It also appears to be helpful in the treatment of depression and anxiety in people who are terminally ill. And, for nicotine and alcohol dependence.3, 8
Psilocybin may also increase the brain’s ability to create new emotional and information pathways.8
While we’re beginning to understand psilocybin’s potential, there’s also risks.
Psilocybin may worsen the symptoms of certain conditions like personality disorders and schizophrenia.3
We also know some physical health conditions, like heart and liver disease, increase the chance of negative side-effects.3
Psychedelic therapy should always take place under professional supervision to reduce risk.
Is clinical psilocybin different?
In a clinical setting, a pre-determined and controlled dose of psilocybin is given to the patient under the supervision of a medical professional. Because the patient is in a therapeutic space and the dose is known, it is unlikely there will be a bad reaction.9
When taking magic mushrooms recreationally, it can be hard to know how strong the dose is and whether there are other contaminants from the environment. It can also be hard to know how a person’s surroundings might affect their experience. This can make it more likely that a bad trip will occur.
And, there’s the risk of confusing magic mushrooms with certain types of poisonous mushrooms, which look very similar.10
Research in Australia on psychedelics
In 2021, the Australian Government announced $15 million worth of grants to researchers studying the mental health benefits of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, as well as other non-psychedelic drugs such as MDMA and ketamine.11
And last year Australia became home to the Psychae Institute, a global psychedelic research institute in Melbourne.12
Several clinical trials are underway in Australia studying:
- use of psilocybin in the treatment of people who want to stop or reduce their methamphetamine use13
- psilocybin-assisted therapy for severe anxiety14
- use of psilocybin for terminally ill patients experiencing depression and anxiety.15
How to access psilocybin-assisted therapy
From July 1, 2023, if a general practitioner (GP) thinks that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be an appropriate treatment option, they can refer you to a psychiatrist who is an authorised prescriber.
But this will likely be a very small number of psychiatrists to begin with, and GPs might not know of available psychiatrists.
At this stage, psilocybin will also only be available for people with treatment-resistant depression. This is generally when someone hasn't responded well to anti-depressant medications/treatments for their condition.
If you are unable to find a GP who can refer you, other options are:
- participate in a clinical trial. To see if there are any clinical trials recruiting, check this page here: Australian Clinical Trials | Australian Clinical Trials.
- contact Mind Medicine Australia for further information.
For more info on the regulation change and access requirements visit: Re-scheduling of psilocybin and MDMA in the Poisons Standard: questions and answers | Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
- Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Change to classification of psilocybin and MDMA to enable prescribing by authorised psychiatrists 2023 [22.02.2023].
- Drug Science UK. Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms) 2022 [24.02.2023].
- Bright S, Williams M. Psychedelics to treat mental illness? Australian researchers are giving it a go Melbourne: The Conversation Media Group Ltd; 2019 [21/2/2022].
- Pettigrew J. Iconography in Bradshaw rock art: breaking the circularity. Clinical and Experimental Optometry [Internet]. 2011 21/2/2022; 94(5):[403-17 pp.].
- Sproul C. “Don’t Kill My Buzz, Man!” – Explaining the Criminalization of Psychedelic Drugs. Oregon Undergraduate Research Journal [Internet]. 2021 [24.02.2023]; 19(1):[1-53 pp.].
- Gardner J, Carter A, O'Brien K, Seear K. Psychedelic-assisted therapies: The past, and the need to move forward responsibly. The International journal on drug policy [Internet]. 2019 [24.02.2023]; 70:[94-8 pp.].
- Muttoni S, Ardissino M, John C.Classical psychedelics for the treatment of depression and anxiety: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders [Internet]. 2019 21/2/2022; 258:[11-24 pp.].
- Notable Achievements Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University 2022 [21/2/2022].
- Roscoe J, Lozy O. Can psilocybin be safely administered under medical supervision?A systematic review of adverse event reporting in clinical trials. Drug Science, Policy and Law [Internet]. 2022 [27.02.2023]; 8.
- Campbell A.The Australian Illicit Drug Guide: Every Person's Guide to Illicit Drugs--Their Use, Effects and History, Treatment Options and Legal Penalties: Black Inc; 2001 [07.02.2023].
- $15 million for development of innovative therapies for mental illness Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia;; 2021 [03.03.2023].
- Booker C. $40m psychedelic medicine institute launches in Melbourne. 2021 21/2/2022].
- World-first psychedelics trial aims to provide relief for methamphetamine addiction: St Vincent's Health Australia; 2021 [21/2/2022].
- World-first psilocybin clinical trial in the treatment of Generalised Anxiety Disorder receives ethics approval Melbourne: Monash University; 2021 [21/2/2022].
- Australia’s first psychedelic clinical trial commences recruitment: St Vincent's Health Australia; 2019 [21/2/2022].