A new study, which compares the effects of natural vs. synthetic psilocybin, has found the naturally occurring mushroom extract to be more therapeutically effective than the synthesized version. These findings suggest that naturally occurring psilocybin may have more potential for success when treating serious mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and PTSD. 

Natural Vs. Synthetic

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center BrainLabs Center for Psychedelic Research. The aim of the study was to compare and contrast the effects of naturally occurring psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) with synthesized psilocybin, (often used instead of the real thing) in psychedelic research trials. 

Bernard Lerer, a professor of psychiatry and director of the university told PsyPost;

“My colleagues and I are very interested in the potential of psychedelics to treat serious, treatment resistant psychiatric disorders such as depression, PTSD, OCD and even schizophrenia.

…There are many anecdotal and clinical reports which suggest that extract of psilocybin-containing mushrooms may have unique effects that are qualitatively and quantitatively different from chemical psilocybin, and also some preclinical studies,” 

The team wanted to put these reports to the test, noting that the results would have “important clinical implications.”

Putting synthetic psilocybin to the test… via DeepDreamGenerator

Does The Entourage Effect Boosts The Therapeutic Effects Of Psilocybin?

If you are a magic-mycology fan, you have probably heard of the ‘entourage effect’. It is the special combination of psychoactive and non-psychoactive compounds that naturally occur in psilocybin mushrooms. They create the overall psychedelic effect. When psilocybin is synthesized for lab use, only the main psychoactive compound is isolated, without all its collaborating compounds. This is partially to make a substance with the most uniformly predictable effects, and partly because recreating the fabled entourage effect, kinda, sorta, can’t be done. 

In a statement about the study, the researchers explained; 

“In Western medicine, there has historically been a preference for isolating active compounds rather than utilizing extracts. Primarily for the sake of gaining better control over dosages and anticipating known effects during treatment… The challenge with working with extracts lay in the inability, in the past, to consistently produce the exact product with a consistent compound profile.”

via DeepDreamGenerator

They continued;

“Contrastingly, ancient medicinal practices, particularly those attributing therapeutic benefits to psychedelic medicine, embraced the use of extracts or entire products, such as consuming the entire mushroom… Although Western medicine has long recognized the ‘entourage’ effect associated with whole extracts, the significance of this approach has gained recent prominence.”

How the Study Worked

The study was conducted on laboratory mice. The researchers split them into three groups; one receiving natural psilocybin mushroom extract, another the synthesized version, and the other a saline solution as a control. The mice given either form of psilocybin were given a dose relative to what would be therapeutically relevant to a human. 

The researchers observed and assessed the effects of psilocybin on the behavior and potential neuroplasticity of the mice. They did this using the ‘head twitch response assay’. This is a commonly used technique to study the effects of psychedelics in rodents. After the treatment they also compared the metabolic changes in the frontal cortex and analyzed the expression of synaptic proteins in the brain. The measure of these effects can be used as indicators of neuroplasticity, i.e. the brain’s ability to change, adapt, and grow. 

via Unsplash

Natural Psilocybin Comes Out on Top

The researchers found that the mushroom extract (the natural psilocybin) produced a stronger and more prolonged impact on synaptic plasticity. This indicates that the naturally occurring compound offers unique therapeutic benefits that the synthesized version cannot match. After analysis, the metabolic profiles of the synthesized psilocybin and natural extract were shown to be distinct. This suggests that the natural extract may have a “unique influence on oxidative stress and energy production pathways. (Via Neuroscience News.)

While the researchers found that the natural and synthesized psilocybin had different effects at the deeper level, (such as the neuroplastic and metabolic) at the behavioral level the reaction was similar, with comparable head twitch response. This suggests that at the basic behavioral level the acute effects of both the natural and synthetic compounds are similar. 

Photo by Igor Omilaev on Unsplash

Professor Lerer said;

“We were surprised by the fact that there were no differences in the acute effect on the head twitch response between chemical psilocybin and psilocybin-containing mushroom extract while the differences emerged in terms of longer term effects on synaptic proteins and metabolomics… This has important potential clinical relevance.”

Synthetic Psilocybin Can Be Easier to Predict in Research Settings

This surely proves that natural psilocybin is far superior to synthesized. And, of course, we agree. 😉However, in a clinical setting, synthetic psilocybin is often a more practical choice. This is because it is easier to ensure consistent potency and effects . Despite this, the researchers note, that if natural psilocybin really does offer superior effects, with careful processing and cultivation it may be possible to make natural extracts with consistent formulations. It certainly seems like it could be worthwhile!

The researchers wrote;

“A major challenge with natural extracts lies in achieving a consistently stable compound profile, especially with plants; however, mushrooms present a unique case… Mushroom compounds are highly influenced by their growing environment, encompassing factors such as substrate composition, CO2/O2 ratio, light exposure, temperature, and microbial surroundings. Despite these influences, controlled cultivation allows for the taming of mushrooms, enabling the production of a replicable extract.”

The researchers concluded that more research was needed, while also highlighting that there may be significant clinical benefits to using natural psilocybin as opposed to synthetic. 

Professor Lerer explained;

“Our findings need to be confirmed in human studies but they do suggest that there may be therapeutic advantages to psilocybin-containing mushroom extract over chemically synthesized psilocybin, when both are administered at the same psilocybin dose,” 

Nature’s Bounty

So once again it seems nature 🌍 knows best. And, if you want to get hold of some of that natural, authentic, psilocybin — we know a place…

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