Psychedelics, Seasonal Affective Disorder & Winter Blues

When the weather starts to get dark and grey as the winter months approach, it’s easy for the lack of sunlight and colour to affect our mood. Many people feel lethargic, tired, hopeless and many display signs of depression. Psychedelic (magic mushrooms) therapy can help manage feelings of depression and improve those winter blues.

Psychedelics for Seasonal Depression

When we talk about the winter blues, what we are typically describing is seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder. However, when we refer to these symptoms as the winter blues, it takes away from the experience and discourages many people from taking tangible steps to treat them.

Seasonal depression is a type of depression related to the changing of the seasons. It typically begins in fall, leads into the winter months and then ends in the spring when the days get brighter and the weather warmer and clearer.

Symptoms typically include,

  • Feeling depressed often
  • Losing interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Low energy
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

Typically, seasonal depression is treated with light therapy, lifestyle changes, medication (like SSRIs), or psychotherapy. However, many people are turning to psychedelic therapy for managing symptoms of depression, not just in the winter months but all year long.

woman suffering from seasonal depression

Magic Mushrooms and Depression

Many people are turning to magic mushrooms for treating depression. While the research supports psilocybin treatment for depression, it’s primarily focused on depression related to end-of-life care, as this is where the legal exemptions have been made. However, the research continues to expand and support the use of psilocybin therapy for managing symptoms of depression in the broader population.

We are beginning to see the most significant result in comparing psilocybin therapy to treatment with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which are one of the most common treatments for depression.

Psilocybin vs SSRIs

A 2021 study comparing psilocybin to SSRIs, particularly escitalopram, found no significant difference between psilocybin and the SSRIs when compared on the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology–Self-Report (QIDS-sR), which means psilocybin was as effective as escitalopram in managing symptoms of depression during the study.

However, one of the researchers, Robin Carhart-Harris, notes that there were some significant differences within the 16 items in the QIDS-sR. These differences include:

  • 70% of the participants in the psilocybin group responded to treatment compared to 48% in the SSRI group.
  • The rate of remission was 57% in the psilocybin group compared to 28% in the SSRI group.
  • The psilocybin group showed larger reductions in suicidality and anhedonia (the lack of ability to feel pleasure).

Of course, because this is new research, more clinical data is necessary to understand the differences between psilocybin therapy and SSRI treatment fully.

Why is this significant?

While SSRIs can manage the symptoms of depression for many individuals, there are numerous downsides. Not only do SSRIs have many challenging side effects, but it often takes several tries to find an effective medication, and many people build up a tolerance over time.

The advantage of magic mushrooms over SSRIs is that side effects are minimal, and even though you can build up a tolerance, the effects last much longer, so it is reasonable to leave a significant amount of time between trips or take a month or more break between microdosing.

Psilocybin Therapy and Psychotherapy

It’s important to note that in the study, like most other trials involving psilocybin, participants received approximately 30-40 hours of psychotherapy. However, this does not mean that psychotherapy is necessary as part of psilocybin therapy. Still, some additional work is important ­– this is part of the integration process.

It’s interesting to note that one participant in this study who had been experiencing depression for decades noted, “People describe psychedelic therapy as 25 years of therapy in one afternoon. And it can absolutely feel like that, but it’s not a silver bullet—and it’s just an afternoon,” Schneider says. “The real magic in this is not in the dosing day; it’s in the work that you do afterward.” This quote reinforces the importance of integration.

Microdosing for Depression

For those who don’t want to experience a full psychedelic trip, microdosing can be an excellent solution for managing symptoms of depression.

A microdose is a small dose (often 100mg) of a psychedelic substance, like magic mushrooms, used for a therapeutic purpose without the hallucinogenic experience. Therefore, microdosing is the process of consuming this small dose at regular intervals – typically every three days.

Microdosing is just as effective as macrodosing for most people. It doesn’t disrupt your day because you don’t experience the hallucinogenic effects. Additionally, you don’t have to worry about having a bad trip.

Learn more about the difference between microdosing and macrodosing here and the different ways of consuming magic mushrooms.

Other Ways of Managing Seasonal Depression

While magic mushrooms, particularly microdosing, can effectively manage symptoms of depression, it’s even more beneficial when combined with other treatment methods and lifestyle changes. Here are five small things to consider when you begin experiencing the winter blues.

man using mushrooms and exercise to get through depression
  1. Regular routine. Maintain a normal and structured routine that helps you schedule important healthy activities like exercise and taking your microdose at the same time. This also should include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, which may mean rising earlier to catch more of the daylight in the winter months.
  2. Absorb the light. If possible, expose yourself to natural light shortly after getting out of bed – yes, even if it is cloudy. Natural light helps to signal the start of the day and has many other nurturing benefits. Consider getting out in nature if you can.
  3. Consider Vitamin D. Vitamin D is likely something you’re lacking in the winter months; consider adding vitamin D to your morning routine.
  4. Consider light therapy. A UV Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp mimics sunlight and can help you get all those things you’re missing from the sunlight. Sit in front of it for 20-30 minutes after you’ve taken your microdose to help bring positive energy to your day.
  5. Remember, this will end. Seasonal depression happens every year for many people, so even though it’s challenging, you know it will end.

Consider taking your microdose of mushrooms in the morning alongside your vitamin D and other supplements to combat seasonal depression. Then sit in front of your SAD lamp or get outside for a nice walk before starting your day. A routine like this will go a long way in giving you energy and lifting your mood during the cold, dark winter months.

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