Psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms, are banned in most U.S. states due to their hallucinogenic properties, which could promote substance abuse. But there is increasing interest among the scientific community in studying these mushrooms for their potential therapeutic effects, particularly on those with mental health issues.

What are psilocybin (magic) mushrooms?

Psilocybin mushrooms are a type of fungi that consists of psilocybin, which is a naturally occurring compound with psychedelic attributes. Its unique molecular structure allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier and penetrate the central nervous system. Researchers are still trying to understand its effects on the brain and mind and its potential as therapeutics for mental illnesses, according to Hopkins Medicine.

Psilocybin has shown promising results in treating conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as substance addiction. A team of researchers from the University of Southern Denmark is now studying how the hallucinogenic substance in psilocybin mushrooms works on the molecular level when they enter the body. The research paper is published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Proteins and Proteomic.

Psilocybin is converted into psilocin when it enters the body and it then interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain. However, the strength may vary based on the types of receptors involved. The study showed strong bonds between the chemicals in magic mushrooms and the serotonin 2AR receptor.

"Previous research has shown that psilocin binds to serotonin receptors in the brain. We show that psilocin binds stronger than serotonin to a 5-HT2AR serotonin receptor. This knowledge can be used if you want to design a drug that acts like psilocybin," study co-author Ali Asghar Hakami Zanjani, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, told

Clinical trials or designing new psychedelic-based drugs aren't in the cards right now but the researchers are hoping their findings will open up possibilities for a diverse range of conditions.

"I would be very happy if society can use our research. Maybe someone will take this further and create a molecule that can be used in medical treatment for conditions like depression," said Himanshu Khandelia, another co-author of the study.

"The characteristic is that patients may get a whole new perspective on their situation: for example, a terminally ill cancer patient may lose their fear of dying soon and instead experience acceptance of their life situation," explains Zanjani. "Such sessions should take place in safe and guiding settings led by trained therapists. Today, no one would recommend just eating some mushrooms at home in their own living room."

Magic Mushroom
Studies have been exploring how mental health and mood improve because of exposure to psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Pixabay