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The scientific case for magic mushrooms in space

During the health crisis, most of the residents on planet Earth have finally had a taste of what it’s like to be an astronaut in space. No, not because we’ve all had the chance to launch ourselves into “the last frontier,” but because we’ve grappled with loneliness, isolation, and feelings of estrangement from a world we once thought we knew.

While in space, astronauts have to deal with extended periods of limited social contact (constrained to the “bubble” of team members aboard the spaceship), which as we all know can certainly lead to depression or even just bad days. However, mycologist Paul Stamets suggested to Scientific American that when astronauts are feeling lonely, traumatized, or sad, they should turn to psychedelic mushrooms for a bit of a pick-me-up.

It may seem like an outlandish idea, but there’s already quite a lot of evidence out there that demonstrates that psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, has a variety of mental health benefits.

“Under carefully controlled conditions, our astronauts [being] able to take psilocybin in space and look at the universe and not feel distant and alone but feel like they’re part of this giant consciousness will give them a better frame of mind—psychologically, emotionally—to work with other astronauts and stay on mission,” Stamets explains to the magazine. “I feel that isolation, loneliness, and depression are going to be major issues that astronauts face.”

However, Stamet’s work doesn’t just focus on feeding magic mushrooms to astronauts. NASA is funding his research so that they can investigate all the potential ways that mushrooms can facilitate life in space. This includes constructing shelters out of fungus and terraforming extraterrestrial environments with the help of mushroom’s ability to break down regolith into farmable soil so that it can more easily host life.

“It’s much easier to take one seed and grow your food than it is to take a ton of food to space, right?” Stamets says. “Nature is incredibly efficient in terms of a payload. It’s much better for nature to generate a payload of food than for your rocket to carry a payload of food.”

The idea of sending pioneers on spaceships to settle other planets is still in its early stages, but Stamets is firm in his belief that “NASA and anyone else working and looking at the settlement of space… should consider… psilocybin mushrooms… an essential part of [the] psychological tool kit for astronauts to be able to endure the solitude and challenges of space and isolation.”

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