mushrooms in a cluster

Mind-Altering Drugs Are Going Mainstream Thanks to Netflix, Science, and…Joe Rogan

Have a nice trip (doctor’s orders).

Fresh off its Netflix release, psychedelics documentary series, How to Change Your Mind, has caught the attention of viewers around the world, but Joe Rogan isn’t surprised—he’s grateful.

In a recent Instagram post, Rogan thanks best-selling author Michael Pollan and Netflix for painting psychedelics in a positive light. Rogan has long touted the benefits of psychedelics on mental health and addiction—just take this 2019 podcast for example, where he and mycologist Paul Stamets discuss the benefits of microdosing mushrooms.

“These are very exciting times for psychedelics and their many beneficial applications. For a long time there was a massive stigma attached,” Rogan’s Instagram caption reads. “Kudos to [Michael Pollan] and [Netflix] for giving these amazing substances the attention and focus they deserve.”

How to Change Your Mind, based off Pollan’s number one New York Times best seller How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, is a four episode series exploring the history, benefits, and cultural implications of mind-altering drugs, including LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline.

While the show is careful with its medical and mental health claims, it pushes the conversation around mind-altering drugs forward–something science has already begun to do.

Science Backs Psychedelics

Negative social stigmas around psychedelics began in the 1940s and have pervaded the drug landscape since.

“The stigma didn’t start with the War on Drugs, but it put it into the world view,” says Anthony Giovanone, D.O., psychiatrist and Medical Director of CSS at Berkshire Medical Center and Psychiatry Director at the Center for Motivation and Change Berkshires. “It accelerated with Nixon and it’s been a hard-fought battle ever since they defunded psychedelic research.”

Once funding was reinstated, researchers avoided LSD due to an extremely negative stigma surrounding the drug. They went to psilocybin instead, a chemical compound found in over 180 species of mushrooms.

While psilocybin is the more popular (and better funded) psychedelic, MDMA is still a worthy contender. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, better known as MAPS, is a non-profit founded by Rick Doblin, Ph.D., funding and researching studies for MDMA, as well as cannabis and other psychedelics.

“MDMA is backed by science with studies showing phenomenal results, especially for PTSD,” says Giovanone. “But psilocybin has a lot of support and is pushed by money.”

It took psilocybin seven years to accomplish what MDMA did in 35 years, he adds.

Mental Health

Microdosing vs. Macrodosing

One recent study examined the effects of microdosing with psilocybin on 953 people and found improvements in mood, mental health, and psychomotor ability (physical movements related to cognitive processing). Researchers from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, led by Zach Walsh, Ph.D., and doctoral student Joseph Rootman, followed participants for 30 days and conducted a series of tests, including a smartphone finger tap test, commonly used for assessing Parkinson’s disease.

“Our findings of improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress add to the growing conversation about the therapeutic potential of microdosing,” Walsh told Medical Xpress.

This is a rare study for microdosing which hasn’t been widely researched, according to Giovanone. “There’s a lot of real world data from surveys and people anecdotally noting certain benefits, but macrodosing is where psychedelic therapy is at.”

Macrodosing is when you take a substance in large quantities under the care of a guide (responsibly, your therapist) in order to have a powerful, safe, and productive experience.

“This could be beneficial for someone seeking betterment and wellness, or someone seeking treatment for anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. The more powerful your experience, the better the outcome,” states Giovanone.

someone holding magic mushrooms in their hand

A Shift From Traditional Meds

Psychedelics may offer an alternate approach to treating mental health disorders as opposed to traditional pharmaceuticals like antidepressants (SSRIs), antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers.

But Giovanone is not sold.

“I don’t think psychedelics will replace these meds,” he says. “Psychedelics will be there along with traditional medication and people will have the option. If you aren’t comfortable with psychedelics, you can take the meds prescribed by your doctor and have an easy, comfortable solution. They’ll coexist.”

The more attention pop culture places on psychedelics, the better chance society has at breaking negative stigmas.

“This Netflix series will help people see the reality of these drugs. It brings you into the therapy sessions,” says Giovanone. “There are people that have problems with psychedelic drugs, but now that there’s funding behind the research and larger conversations at play, it’s becoming more accepted. And it’s bringing both sides of the political aisle together.”

“Research should be the thing that brings attention to psychedelics,” he says, “but as more people, like military veterans, share their success stories on the drugs, that’s what ultimately brings people together.”

An endorsement by Joe Rogan to his 15 million-plus Instagram followers doesn’t hurt either.