Scientists think there are health benefits to magic mushrooms

Scientists think there are health benefits to magic mushrooms
AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

We’ve all felt a bit lonely at times and maybe wondered why we aren’t more connected to the people around us. But many philosophers would argue that those feelings come from an illusion – a hallucination of the self. Basically, this argument says that the belief that you’re your own entity living through the world is the idea of self, and it’s all fake.

If you’re feeling a little skeptical, that’s totally fair; for a long time, people have debated the idea. But now, neuroscientists are advancing with some studies that might just prove these philosophers right.

These neuroscientists are working with psilocybin, the psychoactive component found in “magic” mushrooms. See, normally, your brain runs on what’s called a DMN, or default mode network, according to neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris. Harris says the DMN is the “orchestrator of the self,” and this sense of identity in psychoanalytic terms is known as the ego. This can be a really good thing since the ego helps protect us from, say, people who might want to take advantage of our kindness. But it can also get in the way of a sense of community and lead to those feelings of loneliness or disconnectedness.

But some studies have shown that psilocybin can shift your brain from the DMN to a new kind of network, where you feel more connected to others. These effects of the drugs are temporary, but they can trigger an experience that subjects describe as life-altering.

Think about it this way – when your brain is in DMN mode, you’re the main character of the story. Everything you see and do relates to how your experience is yours and no one else’s. When you get out of that DMN mode, the society you live in becomes the protagonist of the story, and you feel your role in it instead of the other way around. Muting the ego allows us to “lose the inhibiting influence on one’s own narrative, which leads to insights that are kept from consciousness,” Carhart-Harris says.

People say a mix of perspectives is important, and it isn’t like getting out of that DMN mode is a good permanent change. But studies are increasingly showing that that shift can help people with anxiety, depression and PTSD and that it could even be a path to help people quit smoking, drinking or being violent. Far out, man.