Can Psychedelics Stop Oppression? Magic Mushroom Compound Shown to Soften Authoritarian Views

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Hallucinogenic mushroom Psilocybe Cubensis. Flickr

A new experimental research program has provided the first evidence that psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in hallucinogenic mushrooms, might decrease authoritarian views.

"Magic" mushrooms have become inextricably linked to the nature-loving, political counterculture that often seeks them out. But what if psilocybin was actually what led people to exhibit those traits, rather than the other way around?

Scientists from the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London conducted a study using seven participants with treatment-resistant depression, which refers to chronic depression that doesn't respond to therapy or medication, or most likely a combination of the two.

The researchers asked the participants about their relationship with nature and had them respond to questions designed to determine their position on the libertarian-authoritarian axis—in other words, where their personal belief system falls between the opposite extremes of maximizing individual freedoms and restricting them. They then dispensed two oral doses of psilocybin; the first one 10 milligrams and the second 25 milligrams. (A typical recreational dose is usually somewhere between half a gram and five grams.)

The participants' responses were assessed after one week, and then again after seven to 12 months had passed, according to psychology news site PsyPost. The researchers compared the data to that gathered from seven psychologically healthy control patients who'd been asked the same questions, but not given any psilocybin.

The psilocybin group experienced a significant reduction in authoritarian leanings, with noticeable changes holding up even at the seven- to 12-month mark. The control group exhibited no such change. "These results suggest that psilocybin therapy may persistently decrease authoritarian attitudes post-treatment with psilocybin," the team  wrote in a new paper describing their research, which was published in the scientific journal Psychopharmacology.

There have been loads of previous studies on the temperamental effects of psilocybin, including ones that have found the substance makes people feel more connected to nature and that users tend to be more liberal in their political beliefs.

There are substantial caveats to this study, the first being its sample size—seven people is an unusually small number for this sort of thing. Another is that it's possible the reduction in depression the participants reported is what caused any ideological changes.

Nonetheless, as the authors wrote in their paper, these findings “tentatively raise the possibility that given in this way, psilocybin may produce sustained changes in outlook and political perspective."