Previously, magic mushrooms have been linked to the treatment of depression, PTSD, anxiety, and substance addiction. Now it is emerging that psilocybin has a role to play in dementia. Psilocybin mushrooms, it is claimed, might be able to prevent cognitive decline from dementia by promoting the growth of new brain cells and networks.
A group of researchers recently examined the impact of psychedelics on brain health, mood, and cognition. They found that psychedelic drugs (including magic mushrooms) may trigger the formation of new brain networks through a process known as ‘synaptogenesis.’ This allows the neurons to form new connections and rekindle pre-existing ones. Those suffering from cognitive disorders such as dementia can benefit from this process, enabling them to boost their short-term memory and improve their cognitive abilities.
Dementia patients experience cognitive decline that affects their ability to concentrate, learn, or recall. Over time, their brain cells lose the ability to communicate with each other to relay crucial information. Psychedelics can help to rewire and restore these connections. To understand how psilocybin helps with dementia, it is essential to begin by explaining what dementia is.
What is Dementia?
Dementia represents a myriad of symptoms related to memory loss. It is not a single disease but rather an umbrella term for several symptoms that describe cognitive decline that may occur with aging. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.
Dementia Causes a Decline in Cognitive Functions
Dementia causes abnormal changes in the brain that trigger a decline in cognitive abilities. Vascular dementia is the second leading cause of dementia, and it occurs as a result of damage to blood vessels in the brain. Some patients will have mixed dementia which is a result of different brain changes. Most types of dementia are irreversible.
Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia is often confused with senility which refers to severe mental decline that is associated with aging. The most common symptom of dementia is short-term memory loss. Other symptoms may include the following:
- Poor concentration
- Lack of judgment and problem-solving skills
- Frequent mood swings
- Difficulty in carrying out familiar daily tasks such as shopping
- Disorientation in time and place
- Inability to keep up with a conversation
Dementia Worsens Over Time
Generally, dementia is caused by progressive damage to brain cells. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, cells in the hippocampus are affected by a high build-up of proteins that form plaques. This interferes with the cells’ ability to communicate with each other, impairing memory, learning, and other cognitive functions.
Most conditions that cause dementia are progressive. This means that dementia gets worse over time. However, science is now showing that brain cells (neurons) can be stimulated to regenerate and form new networks that will reverse symptoms of dementia.
Can Psilocybin Help With Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?
Given the urgent need to find a cure for dementia which affects about 55 million people worldwide, the potential for psychedelic compounds to enhance neurogenesis and brain plasticity is promising and warrants further exploration. It is important to note that research on the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin is still preliminary.
University of Malaysia
One recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Malaysia showed that the bioactive compounds in psilocybin mushrooms could promote nerve growth and, in the process, offer protection to the brain against degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In this study, 11 different types of ‘shrooms’ were studied, and the researchers found that they all increased the body’s production of the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). This compound is responsible for regulating specific brain neurons. The principal researcher, Professor Vikineswary Sabaratnam, concluded that psilocybin has the potential to delay age-related neurodegeneration and recommended that additional trials be carried out to validate the preliminary findings.
Yale University found long lasting beneficial actions of Psilocybin for Dementia
A recent 2021 study, spearheaded by a team of researchers from Yale University, demonstrated psilocybin’s potential for inducing rapid and persistent growth of neural connections. The researchers concluded that this may provide “a structural trace for the long-term integration of experiences and lasting beneficial actions.”
Are Magic Mushrooms Legal in the U.S.?
Psilocybin mushrooms are classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. This class of compounds supposedly has “no medicinal value and at the same time have a high potential for abuse.” Consequently, shrooms are illegal under U.S. federal law.
However, some states, such as Colorado and California, have decriminalized the possession of shrooms within their jurisdiction. Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in November 2020.
Conclusion: Psilocybin Treatment for Dementia
Preliminary evidence shows that psilocybin has a role to play in the prevention and treatment of dementia. Psilocybin (and other psychedelics) stimulate communication between brain cells and promote nerve growth. This process can help dementia patients recover lost cognitive functions such as memory and critical thinking. Given that there is no known cure for dementia, the potential of psilocybin in this area offers hope to patients and their caregivers.
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