Taking magic mushrooms could cause an expansion of consciousness that lasts for up to a week at a time, according to a new study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Fortunately, the acute, mind-altering effects of the mischievous mycelia tend to wear off after a few hours, giving way to subtler, and potentially highly beneficial, after-effects.
Specifically, the researchers found that people who had drunk a tea made from hallucinatory mushrooms exhibited enhancements in both empathy and creative thinking that persisted for seven days. To obtain these results, the team administered a battery of psychological tests to participants on the day before, the day after, and one week after their mushroom experience.
These cognitive tasks were designed to test for two different aspects of creativity: convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking refers to the process of taking in lots of information to come up with a single solution to a complicated challenge, while divergent thinking involves inventing a multitude of possibilities from a small amount of information.
Interestingly, results showed that participants' capacity for divergent thinking was significantly increased the day after taking mushrooms, while improvements in convergent thinking only became noticeable after a week.
In addition, empathy levels were greatly enhanced throughout this period, and this also correlated with an increase in general life satisfaction.
Psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, is currently being studied as a potential treatment for depression, with several small-scale trials having already yielded extremely positive results. The authors of this latest study say their findings could shed light on the mechanisms by which psilocybin helps to alleviate mental and emotional suffering.
In an interview with PsyPost, study author Natasha Mason explained that people who suffer from depression tend to exhibit decreased “creative, flexible thinking and empathy,” and therefore tend to get stuck in “repetitive and rigid patterns of negative and compulsive thoughts.”
Previous research has already revealed how psilocybin, LSD, and other psychedelics upset the established patterns of cognition and produce freer, more flexible modes of cognition that could help people to break out of these negative thought loops.
Mason says that the prolonged effects of psilocybin could open up a “window of opportunity” during which it may be possible to devise “new and effective cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies.”
Furthermore, the increase in empathic ability may enhance the efficacy of psychotherapy by enabling patients to relate to therapists with greater trust and openness.
However, the study authors also concede that the lack of a placebo control, and the fact that only 55 participants were recruited – of which only 22 took part in the seven-day follow-up – means that the weight of their results is somewhat limited.