scorecardA man whose OCD made him repeatedly check the stove was off says he was cured during a 'magic' mushroom trip where he was reborn as a tree
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A man whose OCD made him repeatedly check the stove was off says he was cured during a 'magic' mushroom trip where he was reborn as a tree

Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce   

A man whose OCD made him repeatedly check the stove was off says he was cured during a 'magic' mushroom trip where he was reborn as a tree
LifeScience3 min read
Scientists hope the active ingredient of "magic" mushrooms will one day be used to treat conditions including OCD.    Getty Images
  • A man says taking the psychoactive ingredient in "magic" mushrooms has cured his OCD.
  • People with OCD can have recurring thoughts and feel compelled to repeat behaviors multiple times.

Before a "magic" mushroom trip, one man's obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms were so bad that he would check that the stove was turned off up to 20 times in a short time period to ease a sense of panic.

OCD is a mental health condition where people have uncontrollable, recurring thoughts or behaviors that they feel compelled to repeat. The International OCD Foundation estimates around 1 in 100 adults, or 2 to 3 million US adults, have OCD.

"Living with OCD is very distressing. You are in a situation where you cannot trust your own senses," the man identified only as Ben told journalist Michael Pollan in "How to Change Your Mind." The new Netflix documentary series explores the potential uses of mostly illegal mind-altering drugs such as psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in "magic" mushrooms, to treat health conditions that don't always respond to existing therapies, like OCD.

Researchers think psilocybin, which has shown promise for severe depression, may also disrupt the fixed, rigid thinking characteristic of OCD.

Ben says taking 'magic' mushrooms for OCD felt a 'bit extreme'

Ben said his OCD started "creeping in" when he was around six or seven years old, becoming more severe by his teens and early twenties.

In a short period of time, he would check the stove was off "three times, ten times, twenty times to appease the sense of internal panic," he said in the documentary.

The majority of adults with OCD respond to existing treatments, which include psychotherapy and antidepressants.

But, therapy and medication made Ben feel as if everything was "dampened."

"It was like walking around a little bit wrapped in pillows or a blanket or something fuzzy, where you didn't really get to experience the full intensity of everything," he said. "I really didn't feel like I could inhabit my own life," he said.

So when Ben discovered that Yale University was running a trial examining psilocybin for OCD he was nervous about taking the drug. But he was desperate, so he signed up.

"It's hard to see doing something like this than anything other than a bit extreme. If you're looking for a small improvement in your quality of life, you probably don't embark on anything like this," he said.

Ben felt like he grew into a tree and watched the human version of himself during his trip

Ben said that initially he resisted the drug's effects. "I remember thinking, no, no, no, no, no. Until it was obvious it was just upon me," he said.

At this point, Ben envisaged an acquaintance from his teenage years who had died falling off a cliff. During the experience, Ben felt like he too was falling, but when he hit the ground he kept going.

"I shrunk smaller and smaller and smaller, until all that was left was this little seed," he said.

"And then that disappeared. And I died. Completely," he said, adding: "I became dirt."

Ben said that from the dirt he felt himself grow into a wild sapling that was 6-feet tall.

"As I was a tree, I watched myself, my human self, my wife, and my son walk by. And me as a person reached out and grabbed a twig off of me the tree and I played with it with my little kid," he said.

Ben said that as he saw his family walk by, he "snapped back" from being a tree to being himself again and started re-living life experiences, including his own birth and his son's birth.

Ben says his 'magic' mushroom experience cured his OCD

Ben said that the experience gave him his "whole life back."

After the study, when intrusive thoughts would occur, he'd recognize them as "unimportant" and "unnecessary."

"I'm several months out. My symptoms are zero. They do follow up questionnaires and I just don't have OCD, clinically," he said.

However, it's not clear whether other people with OCD will have the same experience.

Dr. David Erritzoe, a psychiatrist and psychedelics researcher at Imperial College London who is studying the drug's potential for OCD, told Insider there is currently "no solid evidence" for the use of psilocybin for the condition.

The tree that Ben saw during his trip was an actual tree, about a minute from where he lives, that he visits most days to try re-live some of the "learnings" from the session.

"There is an element to this that will always be an unknown, that will be deeply personal and hopefully always feels like magic," he said.