Why Do Scientists Want To Send Astronauts Into Space With Magic Mushrooms?
Last year, Paul Stamets, a renowned authority in mushrooms and mycology, disclosed to Scientific American how he thinks that magic mushrooms can help astronauts in space.
It gives a whole new meaning to the term psychonauts.
But Stamets wasn’t kidding: he believes that magic mushrooms can help when astronauts start to feel the loneliness and depression of being in outer space for long periods of time. It’s no secret that astronauts do experience mental health disorders in space due to the stressors they are exposed to, combined with having to deal with equipment malfunctioning, space debris, bone and muscle loss because of microgravity, conflicts with other team members, isolation, and so much more.
It is quite common for astronauts to suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression. For this reason, crew members are now sent to space with medications such as diazepam, morphine, codeine, and even sleep medicine. Research shows that space missions can accelerate gray matter in the brain, just like what happens when one ages, but in a much faster pace. “The nature of weightlessness, ionizing radiation, and psychological isolation need to be better understood in order to make spaceflight safer for astronauts of the fugure when we venture of to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond,” explains Robert Thrisk, former Canadian astronaut, during the launch of the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in 2019.
For the astromycological project Stamets engaged in with NASA, he and several research teams are trying to understand how mushrooms can contribute to space habitats and the mental health of astronauts. “Under carefully controlled conditions, our astronauts being able to take psilocybin in space and look at the universe and not feel distant and alone but feel like they’re part of this giant consciousness will give them a better frame of mind – psychologically, emotionally – to work with other astronauts and stay on mission,” Stamets disclosed to Scientific American. “I feel that isolation, loneliness, and depression are going to be major issues that astronauts face,” he added.
However, it’s going to be a long while until astronauts do actually bring psilocybin into space with them. But Stamets thinks that it’s going to be worth it.
“I say this with great sincerity: NASA and anyone else working and looking at the settlement of space, you should consider that psilocybin mushrooms should be an essential part of your psychological toolkit for astronauts to be able to endure the solitude and challenges of space and isolation,” Stamets said.
The Importance of Astronauts’ Mental Health
Of course, a stable mental health is important for anyone. But this is even more important for astronauts because they are doing high-performance jobs and must be able to stay that way to complete their mission.
This is a gargantuan task, though, given that they have to work in extreme environments, have a lot of work to do and will be far away from their loved ones. Aside from anxiety and depression, astronauts struggle with sleep too. That’s why it’s paramount to keep astronauts healthy both physically and mentally so that they don’t affect the mission. Even if the whole basis of hiring astronauts is to choose people who are psychologically and psychiatrically stable, the kind of environment their job puts them in already compromises mental health.
Using psilocybin mushrooms while in outer space might seem like the ultimate trip. Realistically speaking though, maybe Stamets is onto something; the humble magic mushrooms do indeed have a strong body of evidence that it can help anyone, astronauts included, keep their head on when they need it the most. Of course, it may not be advisable to take psilocybin in large amounts while there, but microdosing can help.
It’s no surprise why there has been heightened interest in microdosing psychedelics over the last few years. Taking large amounts of any psychedelic can increase the risk of a bad trip, though with microdosing, which involves consuming tiny amounts that don’t result in hallucinogenic effects, can still yield promising results.
A large study was recently conducted, and its results were published in the Scientific American. It revealed that individuals who microdosed psilocybin exhibited significant improvements in mental health compared to those who did not microdose. It was the largest clinical study to date analyzing microdosing psilocybin involving a control group.
“We found psilocybin microdosing to be associated with improvements in mood and mental health, which adds to the growing body of research that suggests positive benefits of microdosing specifically in the domains of mental health and cognition,” explains the study’s co-author, Joseph Rootman. “We hope that our findings will help facilitate the development of more rigorously designed clinical trials,” he adds.
In addition, the ability of psilocybin to enhance neuroplasticity and forge the birth of new neurons is also promising for astronauts.
Right now, NASA still has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drug use of any kind. But they do have a project called TRISH (Translational Research Institute for Space Health) which has been focused on helping develop new technologies and approaches to keep astronauts healthy while in space. The main role of TRISH is to seek out and fund solutions that are in their early stages which would help them identify medications that would help astronauts in on-board space missions; it would basically mean that astronauts would be able to make their own drugs while in space.
These are fascinating developments nonetheless, but hopefully it wouldn’t be too long before the NASA reconsiders the benefits of psilocybin mushrooms for their astronauts.
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