Experts have yet to reach conclusions about the benefits of mushrooms for reducing anxiety and depression, but current research is promising.

Heard the recent hype around magic mushrooms as a potential mental health treatment? Maybe you’re wondering exactly how they might work to improve anxiety and depression.

After all, they’re known to cause hallucinations and other changes in perception. So, wouldn’t that mean they’re more likely to increase anxiety than relieve it?

It’s certainly true that some people notice anxiety and paranoia when taking mushrooms. Yet more and more research suggests psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in mushrooms, may have long-lasting benefits when it comes to reducing anxiety and depression.

Psilocybin shares some similarities with serotonin, a chemical messenger that plays an important part in mood regulation. Low or imbalanced levels of serotonin can lead to anxiety and depression. But mushrooms act on your body’s serotoninergic system, so they could help restore the balance of serotonin in your body.

Read on to get more details on the research exploring mushrooms for anxiety, plus a few important safety tips.

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The practice of microdosing, or taking a small dose of psychedelics every few days, appears to be enjoying some rising popularity.

While the actual size of the dose can vary, most people report taking only up to 10 percent of a full dose, sometimes less.

You might assume such a small dose probably wouldn’t have much effect, but that’s actually the idea behind microdosing.

People often take full doses of mushrooms specifically for the “trip” they produce, which might include hallucinations and other changes in perception, including:

  • enhanced senses
  • expanded emotional or cognitive insight
  • meaningful or spiritually significant experiences

Still, you could experience what’s commonly called a “bad trip” when taking a full dose. A negative experience with mushrooms might include frightening hallucinations, paranoia, and fear, not to mention other unpleasant emotions.

A microdose, however, may not cause the same changes in perception. In short, you could get the benefits of psilocybin without the potential risk of negative outcomes.

So, what exactly are those benefits?

Existing research on microdosing primarily focuses on self-reported use and benefits, though an upcoming clinical trial may add new insight.

Participants who responded to research surveys mentioned enhanced performance and productivity as one of the main reasons behind their microdosing. Of course, “enhanced performance” can cover a lot of ground. More specific benefits include:

  • improved mood
  • a boost to creativity
  • increased energy
  • heightened concentration and focus

People also microdose with mushrooms in order to improve mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression. But evidence supporting this use remains pretty limited, in part because psilocybin remains mostly illegal.

A note about research

Before getting deeper into the research, it’s important to consider the historical context around it.

While research around the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and other compounds started picking up in the 1950s and 60s, the Controlled Substances Act brought it to a halt in the early 1970s. It didn’t pick up again until the 1990s. While psychedelic research has since expanded greatly, particularly in the last decade, there’s still a lot of catching up to do in this area.

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While research suggests people eventually stop microdosing because it proves less than effective, other evidence does offer some support for microdosing’s possible benefits.

In one 2019 study, researchers considered online questionnaire responses from 410 people from various countries. These participants had mental or physical health diagnoses, plus experience with various psychedelics, most commonly mushrooms.

In general, people with anxiety tended to consider microdoses of psychedelics less effective than full doses — but more effective than prescription medications. People with ADHD reported similar benefits.

Authors of a 2021 study also used surveys to measure the potential benefits of microdosing with psychedelics. The survey results suggested that microdosing led to significant improvements in both anxiety and depression.

That said, this study mainly aimed to compare positive expectations of microdosing with actual outcomes. The authors noted that people who try microdosing with higher expectations may notice more of an improvement in well-being. In other words, microdosing can have a pretty big placebo effect. That doesn’t make it completely ineffective, but it’s something worth considering.

Results from another 2019 study seem to challenge the idea of a placebo response. These findings suggest many of the benefits expected when microdosing psychedelics, like reduced neuroticism and improved creativity, mindfulness, and well-being, did not, in fact, manifest.

Participants did report improvements in depression and stress, but study authors found that neuroticism, a trait linked to anxiety, actually seemed to increase.

Research increasingly suggests that a larger dose of mushrooms may have some major benefits when it comes to treating anxiety.

This recent exploration of mushrooms for mental health dates to a small 2016 study exploring the benefits of psilocybin for easing feelings of anxiety and depression in people diagnosed with cancer. After a single dose of psilocybin, study participants saw marked improvements in:

  • mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression
  • feelings of hopelessness and existential distress
  • spiritual well-being
  • quality of life

When following up just over 6 months later, researchers found these benefits continued for up to 80 percent of participants, many of whom also felt less distressed by the possibility of death.

Then, when researchers followed up with several of the participants more than 3 years later, they found these benefits still held. Most of the participants also said they considered their experience with psilocybin one of their most meaningful life experiences.

In the years since, a number of additional small studies and self-reported surveys have led to similar findings.

One 2020 research review considered three different studies where people had depression and anxiety related to life threatening illnesses like cancer. These participants took lab-synthesized psilocybin in doses ranging from 0.2 to 0.4 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Review authors found that psilocybin did indeed seem to help relieve feelings of anxiety and depression, plus improve general well-being and help ease fears of death.

Existing evidence doesn’t point to any major risks associated with psilocybin. Due to their legal status, though, true psilocybin mushrooms are hard to come by. This leads some people to forage for their own in the wild or buy them from unfamiliar sources. Keep in mind that some mushrooms are toxic, and ingesting them can cause serious illness or even death.

While psilocybin mushrooms don’t pose any major health risks, there are a few potential side effects to keep in mind:

  • headaches or migraine
  • dizziness
  • pupil dilation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • increased sweating or body chills
  • numbness
  • overstimulation
  • body tremors and muscle weakness
  • rapid or irregular heart rate
  • changes in sleep, including both increased tiredness and trouble sleeping

Experts consider psilocybin mushrooms one of the least toxic drugs, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, and serious physical side effects are very rare. They’re also unlikely to lead to addiction, since they affect serotonin rather than dopamine.

Microdoses of around 0.5 grams and smaller macrodoses doses of around 2 to 3 grams may be less likely to lead to negative side effects. Of course, there’s no guarantee you won’t experience unwanted effects, since other factors beyond the amount you take can play a part.

These factors might include:

  • previous use of mushrooms
  • current use of other substances or medications
  • the strength of the mushrooms
  • existing health concerns

Along with physical side effects, some people also experience paranoia or worsened anxiety. In short, mushrooms may not necessarily help, and they may make you feel even worse.

That’s why, when trying mushrooms for anxiety, it’s always best to work with a therapist who can help track your mental health symptoms and treatment progress.

You’ll also want to get professional guidance before stopping any prescription medication or changing your dose, even if you think you no longer need it.

While mushrooms and other psychedelics remain illegal in most of the United States, a few cities have decriminalized their use.

The state of Oregon has gone even further, legalizing the use of psilocybin for medical and mental health benefits. Plenty of restrictions remain in place — only therapists and other trained professionals can grow mushrooms and extract or synthesize psilocybin, for example — but this does represent a major step forward.

If you don’t live in Oregon, finding a therapist who incorporates mushrooms into therapy may prove a little more challenging, but you do have options.

A helpful first step might involve searching directories for therapists who offer psychedelic or psilocybin therapy.

You can also use the MAPS Psychedelic Integration List to find a nearby professional who offers support for psychedelic experiences.

Experts emphasize the importance of working with a medical or mental health professional when trying mushrooms.

Mushrooms won’t work for everyone. A trained therapist can always offer more guidance on whether they might improve your symptoms, or interact with medications you’re taking and make your symptoms worse. If you have schizophrenia, for example, you’ll probably want to avoid mushrooms and other psychedelics.

If you do decide to try them on your own, keeping a few tips in mind can help you have a safer, more comfortable experience.

Grab a buddy

Don’t take this trip alone.

Ask a trusted friend, ideally someone who’s taken mushrooms themselves, to sit with you and offer (sober) support throughout the process.

Set the stage

Settle yourself in a comfortable, safe room or outdoor environment. It’s generally a good idea to avoid areas with loud sounds, bright or flashing lights, and people coming and going.

Don’t forget to bring along some food and water, just in case you’re there for a while.

Some people also find it helpful to draw or write down any feelings or sensations that come up, so it’s worth bringing along some writing materials, too.

Stay put

The effects of mushrooms can last a few hours, sometimes longer. Plan to stay in your safe space until the effects wear off, if needed.

Also keep in mind that it might take an hour before you begin to notice the effects. It’s generally best to take it slow and stick with a low dose, particularly if you haven’t taken mushrooms before.

Even if you feel fine to venture out, make sure to stay on foot. You’ll most definitely want to avoid driving for the duration.

Prepare yourself for the possibility of intense emotions

Mushrooms can prompt feelings of euphoria, inner peace, and well-being, but they cansometimes provoke less-than-pleasant feelings, too. You might feel angry, afraid, unsettled, or just really overwhelmed.

Turning toward those feelings instead of pushing them away could help you get more insight on not just the trip experience, but any underlying concerns you’re dealing with.

That’s one good reason to sit with a trusted trip partner. They can offer calm reassurance, remind you that you’re safe, and encourage you to talk about what you’re feeling.

While experts have yet to come to any conclusions about the benefits of mushrooms for anxiety, existing evidence does seem promising.

Just keep in mind psilocybin mushrooms won’t work for everyone. Even when they do work, the effects may not be permanent. It’s always safest to work with a therapist who has experience with psychedelic therapy and can help you explore anxiety triggers for more lasting relief.

Crystal Raypole writes for Healthline and Psych Central. Her fields of interest include Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health, along with books, books, and more books. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues. She lives in Washington with her son and a lovably recalcitrant cat.