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Psilocybin is reviving hope in people with OCD who haven’t found relief in conventional treatments. Read to learn more about this breakthrough OCD treatment.
The hallmarks of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are intrusive thoughts, unshakable distressing images, and feeling as if acting on compulsions is the only way to be safe. When we think of treating this form of severe anxiety disorder, rarely does an ordinary-looking fungus enter our minds.
But psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms, are changing how we approach mental health, particularly OCD treatment.
OCD is a hard-to-treat psychiatric condition that 2% of the population grapples with. Given the shortcomings of conventional treatments, many who struggle with OCD are exploring newly emerging treatment options. Psilocybin therapy is one of those treatments that is revolutionizing how we approach mental health.
In this blog, we’ll delve into
First, let’s learn what makes treating OCD difficult and where conventional treatments fall short.
OCD can be characterized as mild, moderate, or severe depending on how it impacts the daily functioning of a person. Where you fall on this spectrum decides which treatment option is best for you. In severe cases, OCD can completely disrupt a person’s ability to function in day-to-day life, at work, and in relationships. If left untreated, OCD can worsen and become debilitating.1
Currently, the primary treatment for OCD is psychological interventions such as cognitive and behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP). These psychological treatments are often mixed with pharmacological interventions such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or anxiety medications.
Unfortunately, finding an effective medication for a patient often takes a long time. Weeks or months may pass before the medication improves symptoms.2 But not everyone responds to SSRIs — up to 60% of OCD patients don’t respond at all,3 and even when they do, they continue to have residual symptoms.4 It’s also common for patients to relapse after ending therapy and discontinuing the use of SSRIs.5
For severe OCD, neurosurgery is another treatment option. But it’s only an option for carefully selected patients who suffer from debilitating, chronic, and severe symptoms that don’t respond to any treatment.
Because of the shortcomings of conventional treatments, researchers are searching for a treatment option that impacts the brain while helping people work through their thoughts and emotions. Psilocybin mushrooms seem to offer both of these effects. That’s why they are under the scientific spotlight, and the preliminary studies show promising potential.
But what is psilocybin, and why is it considered an effective treatment for OCD?
Psilocybin falls into the category of “classic psychedelics.” These are psychoactive compounds that are also known as “serotoninergic hallucinogens.” The name comes from their impact on several serotonin receptors in the brain.
When it comes to treating OCD, it seems like only classic psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD are effective treatment options.6
When consumed, psilocybin has a wide range of psychological and physiological effects. People’s perceptions of time, space, and motion can change. They experience changes in their thoughts and how they process information. It’s also common to experience profound positive and negative emotions related to life-changing revelations and insights.
Some physiological effects are also present. Dizziness, nausea, and changes in body temperature are possible. But both psychological and physiological effects typically don’t last more than the duration of psilocybin administration — which is around 6 hours. The positive emotional and neurobiological transformations, however, can last for years.
Psilocybin interacts with our mind and body in a variety of ways. Understanding these mechanisms can shed light on how psilocybin improves OCD symptoms. Let’s explore those mechanisms and the findings of recent studies.
In recent years, multiple clinical trials have begun looking into the effectiveness of psilocybin for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. In one of these studies, 15 participants with severe OCD were recruited to take part in a placebo-controlled study. The findings showed that research participants who consumed psilocybin saw a significant reduction in their OCD symptoms compared to the ones in the placebo group.
This reduction of symptoms was noticeable at weeks 4 and 8 while the study was ongoing. One week after the end of the last dosing session (week 9), “80% of participants responded with a symptom reduction of 25% or more from baseline, while 40% were remitted.”7
When they followed up with the participants 6 months after the study, 20% had remained in remission, and 66.7% had significant symptom reduction. Additional positive news is that the treatment was tolerable and safe for all patients.
Since many clinical trials are still in their initial phases, we can also look at data gathered through anonymous surveys.8 One of those studies recruited participants from several online platforms. The study looked for OCD patients who had used psychedelics as a treatment option. Their research showed that those participants who had tried classic psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD had experienced a significant improvement in OCD symptoms.
More than 30% of participants reported that improvement in their symptoms lasted over three months. This study also showed that trying these psychedelics more than once resulted in more lasting improvements in OCD symptoms. Participants reported that medium to high doses were necessary to experience a therapeutic effect.
As we await the outcome of the ongoing trials, it’s also interesting to look into the mechanisms that make psilocybin a potential treatment for OCD.
We still don’t know exactly how psilocybin improves OCD symptoms. But, looking into the interaction between psilocybin and the brain can give us some insights into how psilocybin delivers results. Here are some possible mechanisms:
When we look at the chemical structure of psilocybin, we can see that it resembles serotonin. Psilocybin interacts with different serotonin receptors in the brain. Specifically, it targets receptors that play a crucial role in regulating brain regions affected by OCD symptoms.
Psilocybin particularly binds with 5-HT2A receptors. This not only causes the known psychedelic effects of magic mushrooms but also promotes neuroplasticity.
By inducing changes in neural connectivity, psilocybin increases communication between brain regions that are typically disconnected. This change in connectivity may contribute to the disruption of rigid thought patterns associated with OCD, potentially offering individuals a novel perspective on their obsessions.
Enhancement in neural networks in the prefrontal cortex is responsible for the antidepressant-like qualities of psilocybin that also improve OCD symptoms.9
Research shows that psilocybin makes us more emotionally responsive. This change happens both at the neuron level and also at the psychological level.10
Researchers have observed a “psychological openness” during psilocybin experiences. This psychological openness facilitates the development of insights and attitudes that people are seeking when they go to therapy.
The psychedelic experience that psilocybin facilitates seems to enhance emotional processing. This heightened emotional awareness might empower individuals with OCD to confront and reevaluate their obsessive thoughts more adaptively and constructively.
A particular network of brain structures is known as the Default Mode Network (DMN). This part of the brain is very involved in thinking about the self and daydreaming. Research shows that these structures are more active in individuals with OCD, which leads to rumination, unwanted thoughts, and obsessive thinking.
Psilocybin can regulate and dramatically reset the functional connectivity in DMN structures. This can lead to reduced OCD symptoms.11
Put together, these mechanisms can significantly improve a patient’s symptoms. Psilocybin mushrooms increase the connectivity in our neural networks, reduce obsessive thinking, and help us work through difficult emotional experiences.
Treatment options that can quickly and significantly transform people’s hard-to-treat symptoms seemed like an impossibility not that long ago. But psychedelic therapy is creating a paradigm shift in how we approach mental health. And psilocybin therapy is offering newfound hope for those who have struggled with severe symptoms for years.
As we await the outcome of current clinical trials, it is important to remember that treating obsessive-compulsive disorder with psilocybin requires a supportive setting. The presence of experienced professionals is necessary for ensuring a safe and fruitful experience that can improve one’s overall quality of life.
If you’re considering this path or simply want to learn more about how psilocybin therapy might offer relief, we’re here to help. If you want to connect with experienced psilocybin facilitators, you can reach the Mushroom Tao team here to make an appointment. You can also check out the Tripsitters directory to get connected with psychedelic communities and practitioners who can help support your healing journey.
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