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Psilocybin Therapy: The Complete Guide (Updated 2023)

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Substance summary:

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in certain species of mushrooms, often referred to as "magic mushrooms." When ingested, psilocybin is metabolized by the body into psilocin, which interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain with mind-altering results. Psilocybin has a long history of use in indigenous cultures for spiritual and ceremonial purposes. In recent years, it has gained attention for its potential therapeutic benefits, particularly in the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. Research into psilocybin-assisted therapy has shown promising results, suggesting it may offer new avenues for mental health treatment and personal exploration. The effects of psilocybin typically begin within 30-60 minutes after ingestion and can last for 4-6 hours, including a range of experiences from euphoria and introspection to visual and auditory hallucinations.

You’ve heard good things about psilocybin-assisted therapy, and you’d like to understand more. Perhaps your motivations are to heal past trauma, overcome limiting beliefs, to expand your consciousness, or to deepen your spirituality. Or maybe, you’re just curious about this psychedelic experience?

If you haven’t heard yet, the traditional pharmaceutical drug industry is about to be shaken up by psychedelic psychotherapy. The resurgence of psychedelics, also known as thethe psychedelic renaissance, is capturing the attention of researchers, psychiatrists, investors, and the general public. 

Mental health conditions are on the rise, with 970 million people worldwide having mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse disorder [1].

Many people are tired of taking a drug with numerous side effects everyday to mask the pain. In this way symptoms are being treated, not the cause. This is where psilocybin may be a promising solution for some. 

Whether you or a loved one are dealing with a mental health issue, psilocybin therapy may be a serious alternative to a pharmaceutical drug or traditional therapy - and this guide will show you why.

Numerous studies show the potential for psilocybin and other psychedelic substances like MDMA to treat depression, anxiety, and addiction disorders [2]. In fact, research shows themir to be at least as effective as typical pharmaceutical drugs, and only require one or two exposures [3, 4, 5]. That is why ketamine treatment centers are popping up all over the world, psilocybin research is making front-page headlines, MDMA assisted therapy is being normalized within psychotherapy, and psilocybin products are being made readily available in places such as Oregon in the USA.

Not only that, psilocybin has been shown to also help those who are looking to increase their overall well-being, creativity, and address root causes of unwanted behaviors or blockages [6]. 

What is psilocybin therapy?

Psilocybin therapy is a form of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy in which a trained therapist or practitioner administers psilocybin and provides psychological support. 

It is an approach being investigated for the treatment of mental health challenges such as psychiatric disorders and severe depression that is treatment-resistant with a pharmaceutical drug or traditional psychotherapeutic approaches [7]. It is also used to treat those with psychological distress in other forms, such as anxiety and addiction.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychoactive compound that is found in many species of fungi, also commonly known as “magic mushrooms.” and “magic truffles”. When ingested, they produce a profound psychedelic effect lasting several hours, facilitating a deeply introspective, immersive and often mystical experience.

These hallucinogenic mushrooms have been used since ancient times for medicinal and spiritual purposes in Aztecs, Mazatecs, and possibly Celtic cultures. 

Modern studies have shown psilocybin to have great potential in treating a variety of mental health conditions, from depression and anxiety to substance use issues, when administered with psychological support and specially trained therapists [8]. 

Disclaimer! Those experiencing recent suicidal behavior or suicidal ideation, active addiction, psychosis, or severe trauma should ALWAYS seek professional medical guidance before taking any psychedelic compounds or psychoactive substances, as many of these conditions pose a life-threatening risks when combined with psychedelics.

How does psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy work?

Current and past-life experiences such as trauma, loss, discrimination, and poverty shape our beliefs and the way we see the world, ourselves, and others. This influence can give rise to negative and overwhelming psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms, which can manifest in how we react and respond to life and our ability to navigate our emotions. 

Psilocybin can help us break out of self-destructive, habitual thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to suffering by allowing us to experience new perspectives, address the root cause of problems, and reconnect with a greater sense of purpose, meaning, and creativity in life. 

You don’t necessarily need to have a condition like depression to benefit from psilocybin. Anyone looking to elevate their current state of consciousness and connect more with themselves and those around them will be rewarded by this experience. 

There are two factors at play here; one being the science behind how psilocybin works in the brain and the other being the mystical, spiritual component. Studies have shown that psilocybin induces mystical experiences which directly correlate with the benefits that users report after their experience [9].  

Escape The Matrix - How Does Psilocybin Affect The Brain?

After ingesting psilocybin it is quickly metabolized into psilocin which is responsible for the mushroom's psychedelic effects. By actingon serotonin receptors in the brain it produces profound changes in perception.[10].

Specifically, it is believed that psilocin’s interactions at the 5-HT2A receptor sites in the brain are the most important for producing its psychoactive effects. The activation of this receptor is connected with changes in experiences such as visual and auditory hallucinations, tactile perceptions, and synaesthesia (ie experiencing one sense through another). 

Psilocybin has been shown to promote neurogenesis [11] and neuroplasticity [12] (read our article here) and to reduce the control of the brain network known as the DMN (default mode network) [13] (read more about the DMN here). The reduction of activity in the DMN has been linked to boosts in creative thinking and reductions in negative and reoccurring thought patterns [14, 15]. 

Those with depression or anxiety tend to have an overactive DMN [16]. The “resetting” of the DMN with psilocybin has been suggested to be a large factor in its antidepressant effects, which have been shown to last months after initial treatment [17].

What is a psilocybin experience like?

Psilocybin mushrooms/truffles are generally eaten in their whole, dried form, but are often consumed as a tea, smoothie, or ground up and inserted into capsules. At times they may be ground and mixed with lemon juice or prepared with cacao.

There are four basic phases of a psilocybin journey; ingestion, onset, peak, and the comedown, each with their own set of perceptions. The peak typically occurs two hours after ingestion and holds the most intense sensory and psychological shifts. The entire journey typically lasts from 4-6 hours.

Around 20 minutes after ingestion, the psychological effects may become apparent. Many report entering a profound state of expanded consciousness where realizations about the self and the universe may be found. It is often described with feelings of unity, interconnectedness, infinite love, and peace. 

Rushes of emotions, a sense of total immersion in the surroundings, visual changes, and ego-dissolution are common. Thoughts might become more cohesive, creative and connecting. Characters may take on new identities or significance.

At a moderate psilocybin dose of 1-2.5g you might feel an increased intensity of emotional experiences, increased introspection, a sense of openness to thoughts and feelings, and peace and connection with others and the world around you. You may experience perceptual changes such as synesthesia, visuals, vivid colours, the sense that the world is breathing around you, and a distorted sense of time. Strong emotions, both pleasant and challenging may arise. 

At a dose of 2.5g-3.5g you will likely experience visual hallucinations, including patterns and fractals. Time and depth perception will be distorted but you will still be able to grasp your surroundings. Common effects include life-changing introspective or philosophical insights, increased flow of ideas, enhanced appreciation for art and music, and humor.

At a higher dose of 4-5+g intense hallucinations (both open and closed eyes visions), mystical experiences, deep introspection, synesthesia, and no conception of time is to be expected.

Physical effects vary for each individual, but can include a change in heart rate, a change in blood pressure, nausea, dilated pupils, dizziness, disorientation, compulsive yawning, restlessness, deep relaxation, and trouble with coordination.

Is psilocybin therapy legal? 

Psilocybin itself is a prohibited substance in most countries, with the exception of The Netherlands, Jamaica, Brazil, Austria, Nepal, Samoa, The Bahamas, and The British Virgin Islands. 

Institutions such as John’s Hopkins University, Imperial College London, Harvard University, California Institute of Integral studies and MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) are all contributing towards the legalization of psilocybin therapy with their clinical studies. 

The movement to decriminalize psilocybin in the United states began recently in the late 2010’s, with Denver, Colorado being the first city to decriminalize psilocybin in 2019. Since then Oakland and Santa Cruz in California have followed suit. 

The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is helping to speed up this process of researching and approving psilocybin to retreat depression and anxiety, designating psilocybin therapy in clinical trials run by Compass Pathways as a “breakthrough therapy” for treatment resistant depression. 

In 2020, Health Canada granted 20 exemptions for psilocybin therapy to 20 cancer patients to treat their end-of-life distress. 

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What does the research tell us about psilocybin therapy?

Modern trials show promising effectiveness in the treatment of anxiety, major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, cluster headaches, addiction, and more, often for several months after just one psilocybin session.  

Roland Griffiths, Ph.D, a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has researched extensively into the science of psilocybin and has given a Ted Talk on its use to relieve suffering.” [18].

The results of the studies were incredible:-

  • In one clinical trial, about 80% healthy volunteers rated the experience (psilocybin treatment) to be among the top 5 of the most personally and spiritually significant of their lives [9]. And about 90% reported increased life satisfaction and positive behavioural change, including better social relationships. 
  • In 2016 a study was conducted with psilocybin for the treatment of existential distress, anxiety and depression in people with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis which showed significant relief from depressive symptoms [19]. 
  • A palliative care study was undertaken to assess anxiety and depression in cancer patients. The patients were given a low or high dose of psilocybin treatment and were observed 5 weeks and 6 months after the treatment to determine the effects of the clinical trial. The results revealed that 32% of participants who received the low dose, and 92% of those who received the high dose showed a clinically significant improvement in their anxiety and depression symptoms 5 weeks after their session. 79% of those who were treated with a high dose still showed significant improvement, in fact remission to a normal range, 6 months after treatment. 
  • Long-term benefits were greater for those whose psilocybin experiences included a mystical-type experience, which is characterized by a sense of unity, a noetic quality, positive mood, transcendence of time and space, and ineffability [20].
Griffiths states “These effects are really quite remarkable. What we’re showing here is a single exposure to substance producing substantial and enduring antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. Such an effect actually is unprecedented within the field of psychology.”
  • Another study at Johns Hopkins was conducted on smokers seeking abstinence through the integration of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and psilocybin-assisted therapy. Participants experienced three  psilocybin sessions and after six months showed a 80% abstinence rate. Generally, most other methods of withdrawal result in a 15%-30% smoking cessation rate. 
Griffiths also reveals how psilocybin and meditation are complementary processes for the investigation of the nature of the mind. When studied, both activities show similar changes in brain regions related to a sense of self. He says “if meditation is the tried and true course for the investigation of the nature of the mind, then psilocybin surely represents the crash course.” 
  • Another study published in 2021 in JAMA Psychiatry also shows great effectiveness in the treatment of major depressive disorder [21]. 

The study found  that 67% of participants showed more than a 50% reduction in depression symptoms at the 1-week follow up and 71% at the 4-week follow up. The researchers performed a follow up study a year later after the study to see how long the antidepressant effects of the treatment lasted, and found that 75% still showed a positive response from the treatment, and 58% were still in remission, demonstrating the powerful long term effects of psilocybin [22].

“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” says Alan Davisd, Ph.D (adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine). 
  • In another study, psilocybin again showed promise for addictive disorders, with alcohol-dependent patients demonstrating significantly reduced drinking behaviours over 8 months after just one or two psilocybin sessions [23]. 
  • There is also evidence showing that psilocybin may be effective in terminating cluster headaches and preventing the regular occurrence of them [24].

What are the other types of psychedelic therapy?

Psychedelic assisted therapy is not exclusive to psilocybin; in fact, a large part of psychedelic research is focused on MDMA assisted psychotherapy and Ketamine assisted psychotherapy. 

MDMA (a drug often known by its street name ecstasy or molly) and Ketamine (a drug primarily used for anesthesia) are both synthetic substances showing promise for the treatment of PTSD and major depression, respectively and anxiety. 

Other substances such as the psychedelic drug LSD and the natural brew of ayahuasca are being studied for their effectiveness in treating mental health conditions and for their effects on overall well-being [27]. 

With the proper psychological support, psilocybin assisted psychotherapy and other psychedelic assisted therapies show great promise in revolutionizing psychiatry and pharmaceuticals as we know them today.

Psilocybin therapy for “healthy people”?

While the majority of research is focused on psychological conditions like anxiety, depression, and addiction, studies also show how psilocybin therapy can promote overall well-being in healthy individuals. 

Improvements in wellbeing and optimism lasting for more than one year were observed in healthy individuals given a single dose of psilocybin [25]. This may be attributed to the observation of enhanced cognitive flexibility, associative learning, and cortical neural plasticity after psychedelic experiences in human beings.

Although much more research is needed on this topic, there is evidence suggesting that psilocybin can enhance creative, flexible thinking and emotional empathy.  Specifically, in one study, psilocybin was shown to increase the rating of spontaneous creative insights, with the number of novel ideas increasing after seven days [26].


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Behold Retreats is the leading choice for safe, legal high-end retreats with 5-MeO-DMT (Bufo Alvarius), ayahuasca, and psilocybin. Our team is composed of doctors, healers, professional therapists, life coaches, massage therapists, and yoga teachers. We provide before and aftercare through integrative tools and expert knowledge, refined over hundreds of sessions. Industry leading professionals tap into spirit and lead from a heart- centered space to optimize our guests’ experiences.

Behold Retreats host both private and group retreats in Mexico, Portugal, Costa Rica, and The Netherlands. Group retreat sizes are based on no more than 10-12 guests. Reach out to request  a 1 on 1 discovery call.

Behold Retreats also offer a 7-Week Coaching Program for optimized preparation and integration. 

Discover this amazing opportunity for yourself with a psilocybin retreat.


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References 

[1] Dattani, S., Ritchie, H., Roser, M. (2018). - "Mental Health". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health' [Online Resource]

[2] Nichols, D. E. (2016). Psychedelics. Pharmacological reviews, 68(2), 264-355.

[3] Carhart-Harris, R., Giribaldi, B., Watts, R., Baker-Jones, M., Murphy-Beiner, A., Murphy, R., ... & Nutt, D. J. (2021). Trial of psilocybin versus escitalopram for depression. New England Journal of Medicine, 384(15), 1402-1411.

[4] Schwartz, J., Murrough, J. W., & Iosifescu, D. V. (2016). Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression: recent developments and clinical applications. BMJ Ment Health, 19(2), 35-38.

[5] Morgan, L. (2020). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for people diagnosed with treatment-resistant PTSD: what it is and what it isn’t. Annals of General Psychiatry, 19(1), 1-7.

[6] Mason, N. L., Mischler, E., Uthaug, M. V., & Kuypers, K. P. (2019). Sub-acute effects of psilocybin on empathy, creative thinking, and subjective well-being. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 51(2), 123-134.

[7] Carhart-Harris, R. L., Bolstridge, M., Day, C. M., Rucker, J., Watts, R., Erritzoe, D. E., ... & Nutt, D. J. (2018). Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: six-month follow-up. Psychopharmacology, 235, 399-408.

[8] Lasch, A., Schweikert, T., Dora, E., Kolb, T., Schurig, H. L., & Walther, A. (2023). Psilocybin-Assisted Treatment of Depression, Anxiety and Substance use Disorders: Neurobiological Basis and Clinical Application. Fortschritte der Neurologie-psychiatrie.

[9] Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187, 268-283.

[10] Madsen, M. K., Fisher, P. M., Burmester, D., Dyssegaard, A., Stenbæk, D. S., Kristiansen, S., ... & Knudsen, G. M. (2019). Psychedelic effects of psilocybin correlate with serotonin 2A receptor occupancy and plasma psilocin levels. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(7), 1328-1334.

[11] Catlow, B. J., Song, S., Paredes, D. A., Kirstein, C. L., & Sanchez-Ramos, J. (2013). Effects of psilocybin on hippocampal neurogenesis and extinction of trace fear conditioning. Experimental brain research, 228, 481-491.

[12] Shao, L. X., Liao, C., Gregg, I., Davoudian, P. A., Savalia, N. K., Delagarza, K., & Kwan, A. C. (2021). Psilocybin induces rapid and persistent growth of dendritic spines in frontal cortex in vivo. Neuron, 109(16), 2535-2544.

[13] Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Williams, T., Stone, J. M., Reed, L. J., Colasanti, A., ... & Nutt, D. J. (2012). Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(6), 2138-2143

[14] Mason, N. L., Kuypers, K. P. C., Reckweg, J. T., Müller, F., Tse, D. H. Y., Da Rios, B., ... & Ramaekers, J. G. (2021). Spontaneous and deliberate creative cognition during and after psilocybin exposure. Translational psychiatry, 11(1), 209.

[15] Mertens, L. J., Wall, M. B., Roseman, L., Demetriou, L., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2020). Therapeutic mechanisms of psilocybin: Changes in amygdala and prefrontal functional connectivity during emotional processing after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 34(2), 167-180.

[16] Coutinho, J. F., Fernandesl, S. V., Soares, J. M., Maia, L., Gonçalves, Ó. F., & Sampaio, A. (2016). Default mode network dissociation in depressive and anxiety states. Brain imaging and behavior, 10, 147-157.

[17] Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Friston, K. J. (2019). REBUS and the anarchic brain: toward a unified model of the brain action of psychedelics. Pharmacological reviews, 71(3), 316-344.

[18] Griffiths, Roland (2015). The Science of Psilocybin and its use to relieve suffering. TEDMED Conferences. https://www.tedmed.com/talks/show?id=526825 

[19] Griffiths, R. R., Johnson, M. W., Carducci, M. A., Umbricht, A., Richards, W. A., Richards, B. D., ... & Klinedinst, M. A. (2016). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Journal of psychopharmacology, 30(12), 1181-1197.

[20] Hood Jr, R. W. (1975). The construction and preliminary validation of a measure of reported mystical experience. Journal for the scientific study of religion, 29-41.

[21] Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., ... & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 78(5), 481-489.

[22] Gukasyan, N., Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2022). Efficacy and safety of psilocybin-assisted treatment for major depressive disorder: prospective 12-month follow-up. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 36(2), 151-158.

[23] Bogenschutz, M. P., Ross, S., Bhatt, S., Baron, T., Forcehimes, A. A., Laska, E., ... & Worth, L. (2022). Percentage of heavy drinking days following psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy vs placebo in the treatment of adult patients with alcohol use disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 79(10), 953-962.

[24] Schindler, E. A., Sewell, R. A., Gottschalk, C. H., Luddy, C., Flynn, L. T., Zhu, Y., ... & D'Souza, D. C. (2022). Exploratory investigation of a patient‐informed low‐dose psilocybin pulse regimen in the suppression of cluster headache: Results from a randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled trial. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 62(10), 1383-1394.

[25] Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Potential therapeutic effects of psilocybin. Neurotherapeutics, 14, 734-740.

[26] Mason, N. L., Kuypers, K. P. C., Reckweg, J. T., Müller, F., Tse, D. H. Y., Da Rios, B., ... & Ramaekers, J. G. (2021). Spontaneous and deliberate creative cognition during and after psilocybin exposure. Translational psychiatry, 11(1), 209.

[27] Thomas, G., Lucas, P., Capler, N. R., Tupper, K. W., & Martin, G. (2013). Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction: results from a preliminary observational study in Canada. Curr Drug Abuse Rev, 6(1), 30-42.

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