Psilocybin and Mindfulness Meditation Combined: Possible Hope for Treatment of Depression and Anxiety?

By Nikki Harper

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

It has long been known that psilocybin, found in ‘magic mushrooms’, can create feelings of a connection to the collective consciousness, and a dissolution of the self – often in experiences which prove positively life-changing for the participants [1]. Now new research has for the first time examined the effect of adding mindfulness meditation to the psilocybin experience, and the results may offer hope for eventual therapeutic treatment of depression and anxiety.

Researchers at the University of Zurich worked with 40 meditation experts who were on a five-day meditation retreat. On day four, in a double-blind study, participants were given either a single dose of psilocybin or a placebo. Then, through various psychometric and neurocognitive measures, the participant experiences were assessed.

The study found that the addition of mindfulness meditation significantly increased the positive effects of psilocybin and also, crucially, mitigated against any potential dysphoric effects an individual may have otherwise experienced through use of the psychedelic [2]. It is thought that potential anxiety reactions, for example, were avoided because of how mindfulness teaches the regulation of attention and the examination of emotions.

The results were long-lasting. At a four month follow up, those who had received the psilocybin dose were, compared to the placebo group, more empathetic, with improved psychosocial functioning, fewer egocentric behaviours and an increased sense of life’s purpose [2].

Depression and anxiety are characterised by an excess of self-focus and a hyper-awareness of negativity in life, with the individual tending to dwell on things which worsen their depression or anxiety, creating a vicious circle. Because the self-transcendent effect of psilocybin takes the focus away from egocentricity, there could be potential here for a clinical application of psilocybin in the treatment of anxiety and depression. With mindfulness meditation shown to both enhance the psilocybin experience and offer some protection from the risk of a ‘bad trip’, there’s potentially an exciting link here.

Researchers found that the depth of the meditation achieved was linked to the effectiveness of the mindfulness intervention, as were personal attitudes such as optimism and open-mindedness. However, it is significant that the study participants were already well-functioning individuals, and yet they were able to gain considerable benefit from the combination of psilocybin and mindfulness meditation. Indeed, most of the participants reported that they valued the experience as highly as their lifetime most significant mystical experience.

It is still early days in the quest to research psychedelics as potential mental health treatments. However, the University of Zurich researchers are optimistic about their results. “They indicate that mindfulness training enhances the positive effects of a single dose of psilocybin and can increase empathy and permanently reduce ego-centricity,” says UZH professor of psychiatry Franz Vollenweider. “This opens up new therapeutic avenues, for example for the treatment of depression, which is often accompanied by increased self-focus and social deficits.” [3]

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About the author:

Nikki Harper is a spiritualist writer, astrologer, and editor for Wake Up World. She writes about divination, astrology, mediumship and spirituality at Questionology: Astrology and Divination For the Modern World where you can also find out more about her work as a freelance astrologer and her mind-body-spirit writing and editing services. Nikki also runs a spiritualist centre in North Lincs, UK, hosting weekly mediumship demonstrations and a wide range of spiritual development courses and workshops.

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