If you think traveling to the opposite end of the world is hard on your body, imagine catching a ride to space! Space travel isn’t just physically intense; it’s also mentally strenuous, particularly because it involves long periods of stark isolation. That’s why a team of scientists from a biotech company are proposing that astronauts take psilocybin mushrooms in space to alleviate depression, trauma, or PTSD from traveling beyond the atmosphere, according to a study in Frontiers in Space Technologies.
It’s fascinating, considering NASA is the most anti-drug crew of space travelers around. The agency currently has a zero-tolerance policy toward drug use, so psilocybin consumption — even in therapy — isn’t permitted. It should be noted that the biotech scientists who conducted the study have no experience in space science or any clue about the culture of space travel. They’re people looking for new applications for algae and mushrooms.
Nonetheless, the authors insist: “To astronauts, psychedelics may be what citrus fruits were to long-distance sea travelers in the 18th Century — breakthrough and facilitatory.” Citrus ensured scurvy was kept at bay.
Citing several preclinical studies conducted on animals, the researchers speculate that psilocybin may enhance neuroplasticity and the creation of new neurons, which in theory would alleviate the cognitive impacts of space travel. While no studies have been conducted on human subjects, the alleged capacity of psychedelics to promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity is the foundation on which therapeutic claims have been made about this class of drug.
According to the study’s authors, psychedelics may also boost healthy gut bacteria and counteract the deleterious impacts of cosmic radiation on astronauts’ microbiomes.
The researchers even went as far to say that taking psychedelic drugs like DMT could even prepare space travelers for encounters with extraterrestrials. Users of this particular psychedelic regularly report seeing “entities” during their trips, and while there’s no indication that these entities are actual aliens, the authors claim that such experiences could “provide some limited familiarity” with the other inhabitants of our universe.
The authors cite several other studies that suggest the use of psychedelic mushrooms as a tool to relieve existential stress in terminal cancer patients. Applying this to space exploration, they insist that “[long-haul] space travelers may be faced with a situation where return to Earth is impossible, and death in space is inevitable.” while it may sound bleak, taking psychedelics could help doomed astronauts come to terms with death and find peace during their final days.
All of this is theoretical for now. We do not know the safety of taking mushrooms in space. It’s also extremely unlikely that NASA would be down to test this theory out. But if astronauts start taking ‘shrooms in space, the term “psychonaut” will undoubtedly have a new meaning.