scorecardResearchers believe 'magic' mushrooms have the potential to curb obesity
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Researchers believe 'magic' mushrooms have the potential to curb obesity

Julia Naftulin   

Researchers believe 'magic' mushrooms have the potential to curb obesity
LifeScience2 min read
  • Psychedelic drug researchers believe psilocybin in "magic" mushrooms could help curb obesity caused by overeating.
  • Psilocybin has been shown to cause brain-level changes that help people shift their mindset and habits.
  • Existing research suggests psilocybin can help people overcome anxiety and depression.

Researchers have started to explore the potential for psilocybin, the psychedelic drug found in "magic" mushrooms, to treat obesity.

Already, a mounting body of research from scientists at Johns Hopkins and New York University suggests the drug can help with anxiety and depression when traditional antidepressant medications don't work.

That's because psychedelics like psilocybin have the ability to change how information moves through the brain, decreasing negative thoughts, self-criticisms, and overwhelming feelings. A mindset change can positively affect a person's overall life outlook and how they move about the world every day.

Now, Dr. C. Laird Birmingham, an eating disorder specialist and epidemiologist, is working with psychedelics research startup NeonMind to design a study that examines whether the trippy drug could be effective for weight-loss purposes.

Read more: 'Magic' mushrooms could treat long-term depression 4 times better than anti-depressants, study finds

The study, which will take place at the University of British Columbia, is still in its design phase, but Birmingham said previous psilocybin research suggests it's promising.

"Psilocybin has the potential to serve as a new and different tool to help people lose weight and maintain their weight loss by changing neural pathways," Birmingham said in a press release emailed to Insider. Those neural changes could teach the brain to stop linking "life stress and trauma to eating behavior," he said.

Using psilocybin to target the roots of obesity

In some cases, obesity can be attributed to overeating, especially in the US where it's considered an epidemic.

Certain diseases like polycystic ovarian syndrome and Cushing's disease may also contribute to weight gain, and antidepressant medications and food insecurity have also been shown to contribute. In those cases, using psychedelic drugs to create a mindset change wouldn't get to the root of the issue.

But the drug could potentially help with all kinds of behavior- and addiction-related maladies, including overeating and under-eating, according to Matthew Johnson, a Johns Hopkins researcher who has published various studies on psilocybin 's mental-health benefits.

His team is in the process of completing their own study on how psilocybin could help people with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that affects about 328,200 adults in the US.

Read more: A Navy SEAL veteran with PTSD said a 'magic' mushroom trip put an end to his depression

"There's a very good case to be made that the long-term effects that we see with psychedelics are more akin to the long term effects we see from psychotherapy," Johnson told Insider.

He said that people who have had psilocybin trips in clinical settings appear to learn something from those experiences, which change their thinking for the long-term, much like therapy can.

Of course, psilocybin isn't the perfect answer. A subset of the population could respond poorly to psychedelics if they have a history of psychotic disorders, and a bad trip that dissuades a user from ever trying the drug again is a possibility, said Johnson.

That's why he only advocates for clinical trials, which require in-depth pre-screenings and follow-up sessions.