Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic compound found in over 200 mushroom species, and the substance has significant therapeutic potential to treat depression and substance addiction. As public interest in psilocybin increases, scientists focus on how psilocybin functions on a molecular level. Researchers at the University of Southern Denmark recently published a study on psilocybin activity at the molecular level in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta Protein and Proteomics.
The researchers wanted to understand what happens at the molecular level when psilocybin enters the body, converts to psilocin, and affects the brain. Previous research found that psilocin binds to serotonin receptors in the brain. This study builds on previous findings to show that psilocin binds stronger than serotonin to a 5-HT2AR serotonin receptor. This finding may inform drug development with increased awareness of what happens at the molecular level when psilocin encounters a brain cell, penetrates the cell membrane, and interacts with receptors.
Insight into psilocybin’s effects on the brain can lead to drug discovery that can benefit the mental wellness of many patients. According to study author Dr. Ali Asghar Hakami Zanjan, "Research shows that you experience something different. It is a form of hallucination. 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. Such sessions should take place in safe and guiding settings led by trained therapists.” Therapists support the patients through the experience by providing psychological support if needed.
Another recent study found that a single dose of psilocybin reduced symptoms of depression. As policies regarding research on psychedelic substances become more lenient in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe, many studies are investigating the use of psilocybin to manage various psychiatric conditions, including anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).