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  • Adriano dos Santos

Psilocybin: My Own Experience & Science

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

I just had my first experience with #psychedelics last week. To be specific, it was with #psilocybin (originally extracted from mushrooms). This was a mind-blowing experience. I’m still astonished at how easy it was, and it still is, to access brain circuitry, emotions and memories that I never knew existed. I have been reading and researching this booming scientific research field for a while already, and recently I found Essence Institute here in The Netherlands, which runs highly professional “LEGAL” psilocybin retreats guided by a group of psychologists and psychotherapists.


As the literature and scientific authorities in the field suggest, there are so many factors that can influence the quality of your experience and that was why I wanted to have a serious and experienced team of experts to guide us in a group setting. Safety and serious space were for me the priority in choosing a place to experience it.


psilocybin

What’s Psilocybin?


Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug that is still illegal in most places in the world but not in clinical and research settings in some places like here in The Netherlands. Psychedelics such as psilocybin change the way that we perceive the outside world and our internal world, our memories, our thoughts, our feelings, et cetera, not just while one is under the influence of psilocybin, but it can also fundamentally change all of those things afterwards and for a very long period of time afterwards as well, which is one of the reasons why there's growing excitement about the application of psilocybin and other psychedelics for the treatment of various mental health issues, such as #depression, #alcohol abuse disorder, and #addictions of various kinds, as well as things like #OCD and #eatingdisorders.


Psilocybin Becomes Psilocin in the Gut, Serotonin


In fact, you may be surprised to learn that psilocybin basically is #serotonin. Now, for those of you who are familiar with psilocybin and serotonin, you might think, wait, that's not true. But in fact, psilocybin's main effect is to mimic serotonin, but it does it in a particular way because it activates a subset of serotonin receptors powerfully, leading to neuroplasticity at the level of the neural circuits, that is the brain areas and connections, that serve things like memory and perception. #Psilocin is the actual compound that goes into the brain to create all the changes in consciousness and all the rewiring effects that we associate with psilocybin. So understanding how psilocybin is converted to Psilocin has a tremendous impact on the duration of a psilocybin journey, and whether or not that psilocybin journey is going to lead to a short or longer window for neuroplasticity.


Psilocybin is a #tryptamine, similar in structure to serotonin. Serotonin is a neuromodulator that affects various functions in the brain and body. It binds to different receptors, causing various effects. Psilocybin, when taken, leads to specific experiences and improvements in mood and disorders, despite its similarity to serotonin


Psilocybin mainly binds to and activates the serotonin 2A receptor in the brain, which allows for specific changes in neural circuitry. Clinical trials show that psilocybin outperforms standard therapy and SSRIs in providing relief for major depression. The selectivity of psilocybin to bind to the serotonin 2A receptor is what leads to its therapeutic effects.


Dosing


In clinical studies, safe and effective doses of psilocybin range from 1-3 milligrams per day for microdosing, to 10 milligrams or 25-30 milligrams for macro or heroic dosing. The concentration of psilocybin in most magic mushrooms is about 1%, meaning one gram of mushrooms contains approximately 10 milligrams of psilocybin. The so-called heroic dose refers to a five-gram dose of mushrooms, which translates to 50 milligrams of psilocybin. The concentration of psilocybin in different strains of mushrooms and batches can vary greatly, making sourcing important.


In our retreat, we opted for truffles instead of the mushroom form due to legal restrictions surrounding the extraction and use of psilocybin from mushrooms in The Netherlands. Before indulging in the enchanting tea, a ceremonial ritual unfolded, during which each participant meticulously portioned their individual doses of truffles. This process served as a poignant connection to our intentions and the present moment.


Following this preparatory phase, the Essence team, with precision and under specific conditions, crafted the magical tea. Once completed, we reconvened in the room, where we arranged our personal belongings, photographs, and retrieved our duvets. Subsequently, we were graciously invited to partake in the tea simultaneously, fostering a collective and shared experience among participants.



Journey: Setting, Music & Support


The duration of my journey was around 6 hours and It didn’t feel that long. Our sense of time was completely gone.


The setting should be safe and include responsible individuals who are not under the influence of psychedelics and that’s why it shouldn’t be used at home on your own. The person taking psilocybin should ideally be seated or lying down with their eyes covered to combine visual hallucinations with thought processes. The scientific data suggests that subdued settings with one or two guides are most effective for positive rewiring of brain circuitry.


Safety, eye mask, and music are important factors in creating a positive experience during a psilocybin journey. We were provided with a mind-blind mask and all the support needed during the journey. Music was a major driver of the cognitive and emotional experience during my journey. The music played during the journey transitioned from classical to intense percussion to softer music and nature sounds.


Brain networks & Therapeutic Outcomes


There are four prominent theories about which brain networks are most activated during a psilocybin or other psychedelic journey. Psilocybin expands the functional connectivity of the brain while one is under the influence of psilocybin, and some of that expanded functional connectivity persists after the effects of psilocybin have worn off.  Psilocybin leads to adaptive rewiring of the brain, which allows people to function better in their lives.


Neuroplasticity, Structural Brain Changes & Psilocybin


Psilocybin induces neuroplasticity in the brain, which involves the addition or strengthening of new neural connections or the elimination or weakening of other neural connections. Neurogenesis, the production of new neurons, is not the dominant mode of changing neural circuitry in adult humans, and psilocybin does not significantly increase neurogenesis.


Psilocybin induces the growth of dendrites and dendritic spines, which are the sites of new excitatory connections in neurons, and this may explain the relief from depression that people experience. Psilocybin induces both structural and functional changes in brain circuitry in both animal studies and humans, and the underlying basis for this may be the addition of new dendritic spines on pyramidal neurons.


Areas of research in the Gut-Brain-Psilocybin Axis


I get lots of questions after this experience and reading all the research out there. I find it fascinating to understand the enzymatic processes or specific gut microbiota involved in this conversion as it could provide insights into the variations in individual responses to psilocybin.


For example, examining the role of the #gutmicrobiome in the conversion process and its subsequent impact on the effects of psilocybin would be significant. Research could delve into whether variations in gut microbiota composition contribute to differences in psilocybin metabolism and the subsequent neuroplasticity effects. We could also further research the factors influencing the duration and intensity of the effects of psilocin once it enters the brain. This could include investigating how variations in gut health or individual differences in gut microbiota may affect the rate of conversion and, consequently, the duration and intensity of the psychedelic experience.


How I'm feeling after the retreat now


As I navigate my daily life post-retreat, there's a heightened awareness and appreciation for the intricacies of thoughts and emotions. The intricate dance of neurotransmitters and the subtle reconfiguration of neural pathways have left me with a sense of renewed clarity and perspective.


In terms of mood and emotion, there's a distinct sense of lightness and ease. The ability to access deep emotions is palpable, and that's amazing. It appears to be intricately linked to the structural and functional changes within the brain circuitry. The sites of new excitatory connections in neurons, particularly the dendritic spines, seem to have woven a tapestry of positive cognitive and emotional effects.



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