The unseen side of magic mushrooms, from moms to home growers

SEATTLE — Using psychedelics to treat or and even cure depression. That’s what new studies are showing is possible.

Since the Seattle City Council passed a resolution last month showing unanimous support for decriminalizing the personal use, growing and gifting of things like “magic mushrooms,” people are sharing their experiences.

KIRO7′s Deedee Sun spoke with people who say psychedelics have changed their lives, including a mom who microdoses psychedelic mushrooms regularly.

Others are showing their home cultivation systems used to grow magic mushrooms right in their Seattle apartments.

Dana Phillips, 32, is mom to two girls. She lives in Skagit County and microdoses psychedelic mushrooms regularly – somewhere from every few days to every few weeks.

“We powder our mushrooms and put it in a little capsule,” Phillips said, pulling a brown pill out of her bag. “If I’m feeling stressed out or anxious that day, I take a little microdose,” she said.

“A lot of people would be surprised to hear a mom is microsoding on mushrooms,” KIRO7′s Deedee Sun said.

“Yes, oh definitely. And that’s part of the reason why I haven’t really shared my story,” Phillips said. “There is a lot of stigma behind psychedelics in general.”

The 1960′s and counterculture movement gave psychedelics a bad rep. Mushrooms and LSD were labeled as dangerous party drugs that could melt your mind. And with the launch of the War on Drugs during the Nixon Administration, studies on psychedelics were banned and any emerging research from the time were set aside.

Now, all of that is changing. More studies are being conducted from by major universities on the therapeutic possibilities of psychedelics, and the research is showing overwhelmingly positive results.

In a recent Johns Hopkins study, researchers found two doses of psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, produce “rapid and large reductions in depressive symptoms.” The patients were also guided by therapists. The study found most participants showed improvement, and half were still in remission four weeks later.

A NYU study found cancer patients experiencing challenges like depression and anxiety, showed mental health benefits even four years after treatment with magic mushrooms.

Phillips said she has been struggling with depression for the past decade. Her mental health declined after an abusive relationship.

“My first major boyfriend sexually abused me. It was pretty intense,” Phillips said. “A lot of mental abuse.”

She got out of that relationship and met her husband. But after the birth of her first child, the depression came roaring back.

" I actually got to a point where I was having really, really hard thoughts about not wanting to exist. So it was really tough for me to even move throughout my day and see that the people who loved me actually loved me and cared for me,” Phillips said.

She said while therapy helped, the depression never went away. Then it worsened again after her second pregnancy.

“I got to a point where I was journaling things like, oh I don’t know if I can stay in my relationship because it was just being torn apart from my emotions,” Phillips said.

That’s when she and her husband started researching psychedelics -- like magic mushrooms -- as an option for treating depression.

“We realized there’s a lot of research and studies,” Phillips said.

A quick search and you’ll find long lists of videos on YouTube – from TED Talks to videos from universities -- many of them scientists explaining how psylocibin, the active compound that makes mushrooms “magic”, can impact the mind.

“With psylocibin treatment, we were seeing immediate reductions in depressive symptoms, immediate relief that last for months without side effects,” said Dr. Rosalind Watts, in a TED Talk. Watts was a key researcher in a study on depression launched by Imperial College in London.

“That treatment produces rapid and large reduction in depressive symptoms, with most patients studied,” said Dr. Ronald Griffiths, with the Johns Hopkins psylocibin study.

For Phillips, on this past Mother’s Day, her husband surprised her with magic mushrooms.

“I was really nervous. And I was like okay,” Phillips said. They blitzed mushrooms -- not a microdose, but what’s called a “mega” or “hero” dose into a smoothie, drank it, and waited.

“What the first effects you started noticing?” Sun asked.

“It probably take about 20-ish minutes. And you really just start to feel like - you know when you get really big butterflies and nerves? You kind of start to get that all over your body. And everyone is different,” Phillips said.

The research studies are guided by therapists, but Dana was doing this on her own with her husband.

“I was really afraid of what I was going to find in there. Because I knew psychedelics help you open up and look at your own consciousness,” Phillips said.

Dana says the experience was profound - and immediate.

“I processed through all of my emotional, abusive, traumatic - super traumatic relationships I had had throughout my 20′s. And I was able to see them from such a different perspective. I was able to actually able to forgive myself for putting me in those situations,” Phillips said. “My life is completely changed. I won’t ever look at my depression in the same way ever again,” she said.

If it sounds far-fetched to you - maybe a bit too “magical” - here’s the theory on how it works.

Scientists believe conditions like depression and anxiety, and even PTSD and addiction, travel across neurological paths in your brain. The thought patterns become ingrained and hard to break.

One idea is that psychedelics can break those patterns and allow neural networks to connect in ways people can’t achieve by themselves.

“I remember telling my husband, oh my gosh I just feel so alive. And he’s like you’re back! Thank you for coming back to me. Because he was worried that I was getting lost in my darkness again. It makes me want to cry right now,” Phillips said. “It’s not what I wanted for Mother’s Day, but it’s exactly what I needed,” she said.

Phillip’s experience treating her depression is considered illegal.

But now in Seattle, City Council has unanimously passed a resolution supporting decriminalization.

The resolution applies to most “entheogens” -- or naturally occurring psychedelics from plants and fungi.

It says the “the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of anyone engaging in entheogen-related activities … should be among the city of Seattle’s lowest enforcement priorities.”

That includes possessing, taking, gifting, or growing these substances.

“There are not very many resolutions that pass unanimously and we were extremely excited,” said Ben Sercombe, a Seattle resident who volunteers with Decrim Nature Seattle. The grassroots group has been fighting to get psychedelics decriminalized for years .

Other cities like Washington D.C.; Denver; Oakland, CA; and Cambridge, MA have all decriminalized psychedelics in some form. The state of Oregon has even legalized psilocybin therapy.

Detroit voters just decriminalized entheogens in a ballot measure this election.

Sercombe says getting the growing part included in city council’s resolution was critical.

“We see that as something that’s absolutely important because we know that if this was just through a medical model, not a lot of people can afford $2,000 treatments and that limits the scope of who can have access to these medicines,” Sercombe said.

He’s embracing Seattle’s new stance and showed KIRO7 how he’s setting up a psychedelic mushroom grow.

“I wanted to show my face and let people know a little more about the process about growing because it’s not this big bad scary drug that I think a lot of people maybe associate with it,” Sercombe said.

He used mushroom spores - essentially the fungi’s seeds - and started growing them jars of wheat berries.

The mushroom’s spores are legal to buy online because they don’t contain the active compound in magic mushrooms - psilocybin.

“This is mycelium which basically means the mushroom’s roots have colonized this jar of grain,” he said.

Then it’s time to actually grow the mushrooms. Sercombe mixed the jar of mycelium with something the mushrooms could continue to grow in.

“What we have is sterilized substrate, the coyer,” Sercombe said. He said it would take about a month before the psychedelic mushrooms would start to grow.

Sercombe said psychedelic mushrooms changed his life. He used to suffer from depression and anxiety and took an anti-depressant called “Celexa”.

“What I found was, anti-depressants weren’t working for me,” Sercombe said. “It was in college and it just made me feel so dull to the world. I remember just feeling like - something had happened that was pretty traumatic in my life and I just remember not being able to feel anything. And the inverse of that, if something happy would happen, I wouldn’t feel that happy. It was just like my emotions were muted,” he said.

He says a psilocybin trip opened his eyes.

“Instead of shielding you from a problem it exposes you to the problem. So you’re able to understand why am I feeling this way, what are the factors in my life that are making me depressed and bringing me down,” he said.

In clinical trials -- the guided psychedelic experiences did not work for everybody. But in all the studies conducted by major universities, most patients showed lasting improvement after one or two doses

It could reshape mental health treatment options for the 17 million Americans who suffer from depression.

Phillips said that’s why she wanted to share her story.

“I really want people to see how much this helps. It makes me emotional because I know there are so many other people in this space of feeling like they’re stuck,” she said.

She now sometimes microdoses mushrooms to help keep her depression and anxiety at bay and believes “magic mushrooms” have even helped make her a better mom.

“You never change unless you step out of your comfort zone,” Phillips said. “It’s time to shed the light,” she said.

Some people are worried about increased DUI cases with magic mushrooms, as prosecutors saw with marijuana. But KIRO7 did not find experts in the field who are against decriminalizing entheogen psychedelics.