Using ‘magic mushrooms’ as a mental health treatment; 9 Investigates the risks of this new trend

ORLANDO, Fla. — Microdosing going mainstream? New data shows police seizures of magic mushrooms have tripled over the last five years, as more young adults are admitting to taking the psychedelics and more cities are decriminalizing their use.


9 Investigates looked into the trends locally and how even researchers say there’s not enough information to call the practice ‘safe’ or beneficial just yet.

Packaged in gummies, capsules, even chocolate; what’s being sold in a secondary market today is different than the magic mushrooms of the sixties and seventies.

“I’ve been on this journey for about three years, and it has added an incredible amount of value to my life,” one psilocybin user told Eyewitness News.

We’re concealing the identity of the man who spoke to us in Orlando, because the mushrooms he takes on a regular basis are still considered a Schedule 1 drug, illegal federally and here in Florida. He’s one of a growing number; research shows more than 11% of Americans over the age of 12 have used psilocybin, making it the most-consumed plant-based psychedelic in the country.

Read: Deputies: 19 arrested in marijuana pop-up shop sting in Seminole County

The man we spoke with credits microdosing, combined with meditation and exercise, for treating a deep level of depression and anxiety.

“I’ve now come out the other end from a very, very challenging period of my life, that I honestly haven’t talked with hardly anybody about,” the man said. “I largely credit mushrooms as part of a more collective effort to grow.”

Psychoactive mushrooms have been used since ancient times for spiritual and medicinal purposes, but were classified as schedule one drugs in 1970, shutting down research on their benefits. In 2018, the FDA gave psilocybin a breakthrough therapy designation for treating depression and other mental health disorders, based on clinical research pioneered at Johns Hopkins University.

“There is a long period of this kind of research just not happening whatsoever,” Dr. Sandeep Nayak of Johns Hopkins said. “For almost four decades, actually. Some of the psilocybin work here is really what seemed to kick off this new wave of research. And we’re currently, I believe, doing more clinical trials than anywhere else in the world.”

Dr. Sandeep Nayak is a medical director at Johns Hopkins and investigator on the University’s clinical trials of psilocybin. He says while the work is showing promising results for mental health treatment, all of the research has been focused on large doses. In fact, he says the few studies that exist on microdosing have found the effects mirror that of a placebo.

Read: California could legalize psychedelic therapy after rejecting ‘magic mushroom’ decriminalization

“I think it’s very tempting to extrapolate the really impressive, large effects, across different psychiatric conditions, not just one or two, to microdoses,” Dr. Nayak said. “But, it’s important to remember that, until the data comes in, we actually can’t really do that.”

The push for more research comes as Colorado and Oregon have established regulated systems for therapeutic treatment and decriminalized shrooms, along with some major cities including San Francisco, Detroit, and Washington DC.

“In just about every case where states have decriminalized drugs, we will see increased use, because there’s this perception that if it’s decriminalized, that it might be safer than it actually is,” Dr. Josef Thundiyil said.

Dr. Thundiyil is an emergency physician and toxicologist at Orlando Health. He says a major risk is actually taking a larger dose than intended, which in extreme cases can lead to psychosis.

“It is safe to say people who have a predisposition to certain mental health disorders are often more likely to get these bad trips,” Dr. Thundiyil said, noting that those are also the people who might be seeking to use this type of drug. “That’s the conundrum.”

Read: As investors pile into psychedelics, idealism gives way to pharma economics

For the user we spoke to, the benefits outweigh the risks, and he doesn’t think users will have to hide forever.

California could be the next state to offer regulated therapy using psychedelic mushrooms. Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation that would have decriminalized their use statewide, urging lawmakers instead to come up with a plan for this type of regulated therapy.

Click here to download our free news, weather and smart TV apps. And click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.