The Spanish monk Bernardino de Sahagun was likely dealing with major human problems when he left Spain to study overseas civilizations in newly conquered lands.
Impressed by several local customs, he had the brilliant idea of documenting what he saw. In 1529 he published the first text for Europe on the Teonanacatl mushroom, the “meat of the gods”, which was eaten in Aztec rituals. The religious wrote about the toxic and medicinal properties of the mushroom, which injured the throat and weakened the heart. But it was rewarded by evoking exuberant sensations and extraordinary visions.
The Spanish crown had a different attitude. As he consolidated his power over American lands, he strove to end indigenous rites. In vain, when the rituals crossed the centuries, they adapted to new shamanic cults. And once again they piqued the investigators’ interest.
For this reason, in 1936, shortly after attending mushroom ceremonies in Mexico, a group of Harvard botanists began studying Psilocybe mexicana, the main ingredient in mystical broths. They also sent this mushroom to chemist Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD. The scientist suspiciously swallowed the samples to convince himself that it was indeed a hallucinogen.
After the effects wore off, Hofmann isolated the active ingredient from the mushroom and named it psilocybin. Years later, in 1960, the substance was sold in the form of pills in pharmacies with the promise to support psychotherapy
The writer Aldous Huxley and the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond paid attention to the events of the time and coined the Greek-derived word psychedelic to manifest the mind.
Psychedelic medicine flourished with the particular appeal of expanding consciousness, clearing up a large part of brain functions and treating mental illnesses. The expectation that LSD was the drug of truth soared that CIA agents interrogated doses of the substance before they were accused. Meanwhile, psilocybin seemed to bring the mysterious therapeutic wisdom of ancient traditions to science, combining pharmacological healing with spiritual healing.
Enthusiasts celebrated the solution to many mental health problems, but in parallel with this, psychedelics took to the streets to amuse users. It wasn’t long before hospitals were treating many drunk people in paranoia. In addition, the murderer Charles Manson had linked his image to LSD. Actually, it wasn’t just yellow submarines. To make matters worse, scientific studies that qualified psychedelics for medicinal use have been very poor. We must always remember that any therapy has its limits and we must beware of specialists who solve any human problem. In the 1970s, psychedelic medicine was almost completely forgotten.
However, the big questions about suffering and the spirit continue to inspire. Over the past decade, some researchers have made efforts to rehabilitate psychedelic medicine without discouragement. And they are trying to answer whether such therapy can actually relieve the pain of populations that are very susceptible to ailments, such as: B. terminally ill patients or people with difficult-to-treat depression.
The effort was crowned. Recently, a clinical study comparing the effects of psilocybin with the effects of a traditional antidepressant, escitalopram, was published on the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine, the world’s most powerful medical journal. The results favored psilocybin over escitalopram.
This study marks a milestone, but it doesn’t define psilocybin as the best option for depression. There are many questions to be answered, for example: Is the antidepressant effect due to a transcendental experience or is it just a biochemical result, independent of mental changes? Is there a risk of addiction? Does the effect get lost after prolonged treatment? Psychedelic drugs can help us untangle the mind-brain interface and expand our perception, or if they were just a by-product of some extravagant idea.
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