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A Novel Treatment for Eating Disorders: The Healing Promise of Magic Mushrooms

Written by: Fae Chubin and the Mushroom Tao team

View all posts

A Novel Treatment for Eating Disorders: The Healing Promise of Magic Mushrooms

Written by: Fae Chubin and the Mushroom Tao team

Psychedelic mushrooms present a promising treatment for eating disorders, targeting the root psychological elements of conditions like anorexia. By fostering ego dissolution and flexible thinking, and adjusting the serotonin system, psilocybin therapy shows remarkable potential in preliminary studies. It underscores the significance of a supportive treatment environment and proper integration, heralding a new direction in holistic mental health care.

Many struggle with yoyo dieting, calorie counting, skipping meals, and other unhealthy eating patterns. But eating disorders are different from disordered eating.

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are complex and serious mental illnesses that can be life-threatening. Anorexia nervosa has the highest rate of mortality of all psychiatric conditions. You might be surprised to know that it’s four times deadlier than depression.

Despite its seriousness, anorexia is very difficult to treat. That’s why we urgently need a novel treatment for eating disorders and why psilocybin therapy is capturing the attention of researchers.

If you are struggling with eating disorders and are exploring non-traditional treatments, you might want to consider psilocybin therapy. Psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms have proven effective in treating a range of mental health conditions. That’s why researchers have begun to study psilocybin for treating eating disorders as well. While these studies are still in their initial phases, research shows some encouraging results.

"There is much hope in the anecdotal stories of those who have found magic mushrooms an effective treatment for eating disorders. The findings of the initial phases of clinical trials are also full of hope and promise."

In this blog, we’ll discuss:

  • The complexity of eating disorders and recovery
  • The existing research on psilocybin therapy for treating anorexia and binge eating disorders
  • The safety of psilocybin therapy for anorexic patients

First, let’s clarify how eating disorders are related to other mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Psilocybin’s Effects on the Brain

Psilocybin is the psychoactive ingredient in a group of fungi commonly known as magic mushrooms. Many scientific studies have shown the potential of psilocybin for improving hard-to-treat mental health conditions — sometimes in as little as a single dose.  

For thousands of years, magic mushrooms have been treated as sacred medicine and used for their healing properties. These magical fungi are known for their ability to connect people with their inner healing intelligence. They can inspire new insights and revelations and create spiritual experiences. They’re also known to generate a feeling of openness and connection.

Here are 3 reasons why psilocybin may be an effective treatment for eating disorders:

1. Ego-dissolution is a common experience with psilocybin. And what makes treating anorexia difficult is the “egosyntonic” nature of this illness.

Egosyntonic means that a person’s behaviors and values are in sync with the needs and goals of the ego or their ideal self-image.

Many anorexic patients believe that anorexia gives them a sense of strength, mastery, and skillfulness. What strengthens their ego is the sense of self-control that comes with following a strict diet. Their sense of self-worth also increases by receiving compliments about their appearance.

That’s why even though eating disorders can damage a person — physically, emotionally, and socially — many patients value their disorder and don’t engage in treatment.

People who use psychedelics such as psilocybin often report that their sense of self or ego is diminished. That’s because psilocybin reduces connectivity in specific nodes, particularly medial temporal areas.

This ego-death can improve one’s overall emotional well-being and “re-wire” the brain in ways that are helpful for patients with anorexia.

2. Rigid thinking is a hallmark of eating disorders, and psilocybin promotes flexible thinking.

Having distorted and inflexible perceptions about one’s body image (or food) can cause repetitive behavioral patterns of control.

Psilocybin fires up parts of the brain that promote creative and flexible thinking. Research shows that psilocybin can improve openness in one’s personality. It can create transformative experiences that enhance mood and one’s sense of connection.

The insights gained by the psilocybin experience can also open a person to new attitudes, shift their values, and increase self-acceptance.

3. Psilocybin might be effective in changing the serotonin system in anorexic people.

Some research suggests that anorexia is similar to depression in being a biochemical disorder. But anti-depressants prescribed to anorexic patients often don’t deliver the desired results. The effectiveness of antidepressants depends on the serotonin system and “the brain being well fed with glucose” — which malnutrition can seriously impact.

The good news is that this is not the mechanism of psilocybin. Psilocybin’s mechanism of action is mediated by serotonin 2A (5-HT2A). While serotonergic medications like SSRIs should be repeatedly taken, a single dose of psilocybin can create rapid and enduring synaptic adaptations in the brain that can potentially cure anorexia.

The initial phases of current clinical trials on the effectiveness of psilocybin for treating eating disorders show promising results. Let’s find out what these preliminary studies prove so far.

Psilocybin Treatment for Eating Disorders

Phase II of the first-ever clinical trial on psilocybin therapy for treating binge eating disorder is underway at the University of Florida. This study was conducted on five participants and shows that psilocybin-assisted therapy is potentially effective for treating binge eating disorder.

In the 4 weeks following the treatment, participants’ daily binge-eating episodes were reduced by an average of 80%.
The number of times patients would feel they had lost control over their eating during the day was reduced by 81.6%. And they all showed improvements in anxiety and depression scores. The treatment was tolerable and safe for participants.

Another clinical trial was conducted on psilocybin therapy for treating anorexia nervosa. For this study, 10 female adult participants with anorexia received a single 25-milligram dose of synthetic psilocybin alongside psychological support.

The study showed that anorexic patients tolerated psilocybin well. There were no clinically significant changes in their vitals, heart, or suicidal ideation. Adverse effects such as headache, nausea, or fatigue were mild and temporary.

But more importantly, participants showed a significant decrease in both weight and eating concerns in their 1-month and 3-month follow-ups. One month after the treatment, participants were significantly less preoccupied with body image anxiety and trait anxiety. They were also less preoccupied with all the rituals they had around food, eating, and shape.

  • 90% of the participants felt more positive about life endeavors.
  • 80% said this was one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their life.
  • 70% reported that they have experienced a change in their identity and overall quality of life.  

This preliminary study shows that psilocybin may be a safe treatment for anorexia and offers much-needed hope for anorexic patients. However, we need a larger study with more diverse participants to be able to conclude with certainty that psilocybin therapy is a safe and effective treatment for this complex and chronic illness.

What is a psilocybin experience like?

Are you wondering what a psilocybin experience is like? Then the anonymous accounts of those who participated in the above-mentioned clinical trial might interest you.

One of the participants
said that she had an intense vision during her psilocybin experience. She saw herself on a bathroom floor committing suicide. She recalled being deeply impacted by hearing the panic in the voice of the person who was knocking on the door.

She also relived the bullying she experienced in school — she was called a “whale” in elementary school.  She also relived her traumatic assault — which happened later in life. She saw how these events led to her struggle with anorexia in college. But now she could see things more clearly.

“Seeing all those distressing things helped me realise that my disorder did not protect me from any of them. It isn’t the safety blanket I thought it was. Instead of providing safety, it harms.”

she stated in the interview. She said the treatment was a gift that allowed her to change her perceptions in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.

Another participant from the study recalled her horror when she was asked to fuel up with breakfast the morning of the psilocybin experiment. She forced the food down and logged every calorie in her app. She was determined to shed those calories as soon as the experiment ended.

Six hours later, she felt “cured” and referred to the treatment as a “miracle.” Right after the experiment, she asked for juice and a sandwich — “empty calories” she would have never allowed herself to consume before. She got groceries on her way home from the hospital and had a normal dinner with her mom. She has not restricted her food once since the study 18 months ago.

Safe Treatment and Integration

There is much hope in the anecdotal stories of those who have found magic mushrooms an effective treatment for eating disorders. The findings of the initial phases of clinical trials are also full of hope and promise.

Yet, these studies are still in the preliminary phases and conducted on a small group of people. It’s important to keep in mind that many people with eating disorders have complicated health conditions. It’s essential not to self-medicate with psilocybin and make sure that it’s done in a safe context.

Like any psychedelic, the “integration” of the medicine is the most important part of the healing experience. Incorporating the insights and lessons learned from the psychedelic experience into everyday life is crucial for the treatment of eating disorders. Integration is the primary source of healing.

Let us know if you need guidance or additional resources from experienced psilocybin facilitators. You can find us here.

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