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Tryptamines are a class of organic compounds found in plants, animals, and fungi. Many psychedelic drugs fall into the tryptamine category, including the well-known hallucinogenic substances psilocin and psilocybin, which come from certain kinds of mushrooms.
These compounds are capable of inducing profound alterations in thought, perception, and consciousness and are responsible for why some mushroom species are called “magic.”
While mushroom tryptamines have been consumed as recreational drugs or spiritual aids for centuries, they’re increasingly being studied for their potential therapeutic benefits.
What Are Tryptamines?
Tryptamines are monoamine alkaloid compounds with an indole ring structure. They are found in a wide range of organisms and account for some of the most important biogenic amines.
Within mammals, tryptamines play many roles, including acting as neurotransmitters that regulate mood and behavior. The most well-known endogenous tryptamine is serotonin, which influences energy levels and mood. Other endogenous tryptamines include melatonin (regulates sleep cycles) and bufotenin (involved in pain regulation).
In plants, tryptamines act as a kairomone–a chemical messenger that influences the behavior of other organisms. For instance, naphthalene is a tryptamine found in some plant species which affects the behavior of insects.
Mushroom tryptamines, such as psilocybin and psilocin, are known for their psychedelic effects. There are over 200 species of psychedelic mushrooms, each with varying potency. For example, Shiva Lingam mushrooms average 1.98% tryptamine content, while the Tidal Wave variety averages 1.17%
Psilocin and Psilocybin
Psilocin is a compound that acts on serotonin receptors in the brain, producing an altered state of consciousness. Psilocybin is a prodrug which means that when it is ingested, it converts into the active ingredient psilocin in the body.
The effects of psilocin vary, depending on the ingested amount, the environment in which they are ingested, and the individual’s mental state at the time. However, the effects are often reported as positive.
Researchers are currently studying mushrooms tryptamines as treatment for depression, anxiety and other mental disorders. Most studies use synthetic psilocybin because it can be difficult to create stable synthetic psilocin.
Psilocin and the Brain
Psilocin has a powerful effect on the brain.
Its molecules share a similar structure to serotonin, allowing it to activate many of the same receptors, particularly the 5HT2A receptor site. These receptors are concentrated in the cortex and may have a large influence on brain activity.
Research also suggests that psilocin affects the Default Mode Network (DMN), a part of your brain often referred to as the information highway. Psilocin can disrupt the DMN, so the brain is forced to make new connections.
“When someone’s on psilocybin, we see an overall increase in connectivity between areas of the brain that don’t normally communicate well,” explains Matthew Johnson, a professor in psychedelics and consciousness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “You also see the opposite of that – local networks in the brain that normally interact with each other quite a bit suddenly communicate less.”
Psilocybin and Depression
Studies have shown that psilocybin can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in individuals with treatment-resistant depression, and the effects may last weeks or even months after a single dose.
David Nutt, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit at Imperial College London, believes that psilocybin helps depressed patients because it opens their minds to new pathways and thoughts. “Depressed people are continually self-critical, and they keep ruminating, going over and over the same negative, anxious or fearful thoughts… Psychedelics disrupt that.”
Psilocybin may also provide psychological relief to patients with life-threatening illnesses. A 2016 study found that a single dose of psilocybin reduced depression and death anxiety in terminal cancer patients.
Tryptamines are a diverse class of compounds found in lifeforms across the earth. Psilocybin and psilocin, two naturally occurring tryptamines found in psychedelic mushrooms, can produce powerful psychological effects.
Recent research suggests that these molecules may be useful for treating depression and anxiety, as well as helping people with serious illnesses better cope with their condition.
These studies indicate that psilocybin may be a promising treatment for mental disorders, although more research is needed to explore its potential applications.
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