Magic mushrooms can induce lasting improvements in color blind vision

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Score on questions 1 to 21 of the Ishihara test after self-administration of psilocybin. All scores are self-reported except for final administration at 436 days after administration. Credit: Drug science, policy and law (2023). DOI: 10.1177/20503245231172536

Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Health at the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute in Ohio have written a case report on the positive effects of psilocybin on color blindness.

Published in the journal Drug science, policy and lawthe researchers highlight some implications surrounding a single self-study of vision improvement reported by a colleague and cite other previous reports, illustrating the need to better understand how these psychedelics might be used in therapeutic settings.

Previous reports have indicated that people with color vision deficiency (CVD), commonly referred to as color blindness, have better color vision after using lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or psilocybin (magic mushrooms) . There is a lack of scientific evidence for these claims, as research on the effects of these drugs has been very limited.

Color vision depends on a group of three types of photoreceptors known as cones – red-, green-, and blue-sensitive retinal photoreceptors with light-sensitive pigments. If one or more of these pigments are missing, the result is color blindness. Red-green CVD, which causes difficulty distinguishing red from green, is usually an inherited condition caused by X-linked recessive mutations in genes coding for cone components. It is the most common type of CVD, occurring in 8% of men and 0.5% of women.

People with color blindness can only perceive about 10% of hues and color variations compared to normal color vision, with some shapes lacking the ability to distinguish between red and green.

Life with color blindness can be difficult; in addition to making occasional wardrobe color mistakes, it can make maps and infographics indecipherable, disguise the ripeness of fruit or the freshness of meat in the fridge, and can restrict career choices where the vision of colors is an advantage or required, as an airline pilot, graphic designer, textile and painting professions.

There is no treatment to correct color blindness, although there have been attempts to work around it. One of the most accessible options for specific types of color blindness is glasses with special lenses, such as those made by EnChroma, which selectively filter the wavelengths of light at the point where the red and green frequencies overlap to a color blind person, which makes the two distinct.

In the present case, a subject with red-green CVD (mild deuteranomaly) self-administered the Ishihara test to quantify the degree and duration of color vision improvement after using 5 g of dried psilocybin magic mushrooms. Subject self-reported Ishihara test data revealed partial improvement in cardiovascular disease, peaking at 8 days and persisting for at least 16 days after psilocybin administration.

In the previous experiments that led to the more controlled self-experiment, the subject reported using MDMA once, psilocybin mushrooms twice, oral LSD five times, and inhalation seven times. DMT (dimethyltryptamine). After these prior episodes of psychedelic use, the subject noted an improvement in color vision that persisted for months.

Prior to mushroom ingestion, the subject self-administered the Ishihara test, a series of graphs composed of a mosaic of dots varying in color, hue, and size. The test cards are designed to hide test images from a color blind person that would be clearly visible to a person with color vision. For example, a graph of red and green dots might have the number “3” made up of only red dots, most clearly apparent but invisible to the color blind individual.

During this baseline test, the subject reported rolling 14 on plates 1-21, indicating mild red-green blindness, with an additional set of four cards indicating deuteranomaly, a version of CVD that makes greens more red.

While the subject reported an intensification of colors under the acute effects of psilocybin, the score showed only a slight improvement at 15 to 12 hours after administration. 24 hours after administration of the mushroom, the score reached 18, one above the threshold of 17 required by the Ishihara test for the classification of normal color vision. The score peaked at 19 on day eight and was still within the normal vision range four months later.

The researchers suggest that it is likely that the visual phenomena induced by psychedelics result primarily from alterations in brain activity rather than their direct effects on the retina and peripheral eye. Based on the delay between psilocybin and color vision, the fungus may have catalyzed a learning process around color interpretation, possibly altering the connectivity between visual regions.

Interestingly, but not in the case report, wavelength filtered glasses, like EnChroma, don’t work instantly. It takes about 15 minutes to an hour for the filtering effect to “kick in” and for the newly separated waves to be interpreted by the brain, which also suggests that a brain learning process is involved.

Despite color blindness usually resulting from a genetic defect, the report authors state that while this single use of psilocybin may produce lasting partial improvements in color vision, it raises the possibility that psilocybin may induce lasting impairments in visual processing. in some people. The authors conclude that future research in this area should determine whether psilocybin-induced enhancement occurs in the most severe cases, explore the relationship between psilocybin dosage and enhancement, and investigate the underlying mechanism of this curious phenomenon.

More information:
Brian S. Barnett et al, Case report: Sustained improvement in mild red-green color vision deficiency after use of psilocybin mushrooms, Drug science, policy and law (2023). DOI: 10.1177/20503245231172536

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