It's magic, you know: mushrooms improve sex

C&I Issue 3, 2024

Read time: 1-2 mins


Psychedelics show promise for long-term improvements in sexual function.

Psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms and other hallucinogenic substances may improve sexual function for months after a psychedelic experience. This is the conclusion from a two-part study that used a questionnaire and results from a previous clinical trial (Scientific Reports, doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-49817-4).

‘There had been a lot of anecdotal evidence from the 1960s when psychedelics were more used as recreational drugs that these could have a positive effect on one’s sex life,’ says Tommaso Barba, a PhD student at the centre of psychedelic research at Imperial College London.

Since then, psychedelics have become illegal in many countries, but there has been some interest in using the compound psilocybin from mushrooms for treating depression. A 2021 trial for six weeks in 59 patients with depression found that psilocybin was at least as effective as the antidepressant escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI (New England Journal of Medicine, doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2032994).

Barba and his colleagues decided to conduct an online survey of adults who planned to travel to psychedelic ceremonies in countries such as Peru and the Netherlands and consume magic mushrooms, the traditional ayahuasca brew, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or other psychedelics. People answered a questionnaire before and after their experience and again six months later.

The use of psychedelics was linked with improved pleasure and communication during sex, and satisfaction with one’s partner and physical appearance.

The second part of the study took advantage of a controlled trial that compared psilocybin to escitalopram. An analysis of previously unpublished data showed that patients treated with psilocybin reported positive changes in sexual function, while patients treated with escitalopram did not.

Sexual dysfunction is a common side effect of SSRIs, reported by between 40 and 65% of patients. The study scientists say this is the first known scientific investigation into the effects of psychedelics on sex.

‘For now, the strongest evidence comes from psilocybin. It might be that other psychedelics improve sexual functioning, but we don’t know,’ says Barba. ‘This is like throwing the first stone in the lake, getting some attention and saying there might be something of interest here.’