Jaden Smith said his mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, introduced him to magic mushrooms.
Jaden Smith was 24 when he shared that, a time when experts said brains may still be developing.
Neuroscientists explain how developing brains may be vulnerable to psilocybin’s negative effects.
An estimated 11% of adults in the US said in a 2021 survey they had taken psilocybin or mushrooms. But not everyone makes “magic mushrooms” a family affair.
Jaden Smith recently discussed his introduction to psychedelic mushrooms by his mother, Jada Pinkett Smith — who has credited mushrooms as helping her overcome crippling depression.
Jaden said at a psychedelic conference in Denver that taking them had improved his relationships with his siblings by helping him feel more in touch with his empathy and love for them.
Smith was 24 years old at the time he spoke about his experience with psychedelics. Experts told Insider that the human brain is still developing up to about age 25, adding that psychedelics may have a different effect on developing brains than adult ones.
“The developing brain is in a constant state of change, or plasticity, with periods of intense refinement called ‘critical periods’, which are largely absent in the adult brain,” Dustin Hines, a neuroscientist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who researches psychedelics, told Insider.
For that reason, taking ‘shrooms before the brain is fully developed isn’t the best idea, said Rochelle Hines, a neuroscientist who works alongside her husband in the Hines Lab.
A representative for Jada Pinkett Smith didn’t respond to a request for comment.
What we know about psilocybin’s effects on adolescents
Researchers have found that psilocybin is rarely addictive in adolescents and doesn’t pose a risk for lethal overdose in kids, unlike other drugs. But, in some cases, it can lead to short-term unpleasant side effects, including nausea, panic, anxiety, or paranoia.
For one 2019 study, college students answered an anonymous online survey about their use of hallucinogens, mental health issues, and certain traits like impulsivity. Researchers found that the students who said they took psilocybin were more likely to have mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and poor self-esteem. Psilocybin also correlated with higher levels of problematic alcohol and other drug use, more frequent unprotected sex, and general impulsivity.
But the study’s findings don’t necessarily mean that psilocybin use caused any of those issues in college students — more detailed research is needed on the “negative effects of hallucinogen use on brain function and mental health, especially in young people,” the researchers stated.
Another 2022 study found a significant association between psilocybin use and major depressive episodes among people ages 12-17 who completed a survey for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2008-18. Again, it’s unclear if one caused the other, and more research is needed to determine how exactly psilocybin is connected to poor mental health in adolescents.
It also seems that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to need emergency medical treatment during a mushroom trip. Usually, treatment is related to psychological symptoms like panic or confusion, but in some cases, more serious side effects can arise, like difficulty breathing or seizures.
The FDA has granted both psilocybin and MDMA “Breakthrough Therapy” status, opening the door for more research on psilocybin’s use in a controlled, therapeutic context.
But, so far, studies have primarily looked at the drug’s effects in adults. Further research on psilocybin use in adolescents might eventually take place because of the promising research on adults.
Is it a good idea for young people to try psychedelics?
Hines told Insider she does not recommend kids or teens take psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical in “magic mushrooms” — even in a safe, controlled setting.
“Much more information is needed in order to assess the long term outcomes,” she said.
She added that psilocybin might impact important developmental stages in young people — the “critical periods.”
During critical periods, some connections in the brain become strengthened while unnecessary ones become weakened, Rochelle Hines said. Critical periods are involved in learning language, for example, and during adolescence, they might contribute to the development of higher-order cognitive ability.
“We need critical periods to help our experiences shape and prepare the brain for the world around us,” she said. And since some research suggests that psychedelics reopen critical periods — these drugs could potentially interfere with changes the brain undergoes naturally during development, she said.
Although scientists lack research on how psilocybin affects the developing brain, “generally speaking, it’s an absolutely bad idea to give teens psychedelics for purely recreational or ‘personal growth.’ There are too many unknowns and too much to lose with a developing brain,” psychiatrist and neurobiologist Dr. David Feifel told Insider. Feifel is the chief investigator of a current research study on psilocybin for use in treatment-resistant depression.
“Some teens are high risk for developing schizophrenia, for example, and the highest risk for that condition to emerge is between late teens and mid-20’s,” Feifel added. “Theoretically, at least, psychedelics can push an already at-risk brain over the line into schizophrenia.”
The Hines’ and Feifel’s opinions, however, haven’t stopped young people from experimenting with psychedelics.
In 2022, 4.4% of 12th graders reported using hallucinogens in the previous 12 months — including, but not exclusive to, mushrooms, LSD, and peyote. And 8% of adults between ages 19-30 used hallucinogens in 2021, based on data from the project Monitoring the Future, which studies changes in US drug and alcohol use over the years.
How psychedelics affect the human brain
Psilocybin breaks down in the human gut to the compound psilocin, which binds to serotonin receptors in the brain and can increase activity in the visual and auditory cortex, causing hallucinations and some of the changes in perception that occur during a “trip.”
Psilocybin also affects how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. It reduces connections in some brain areas, and has the “powerful ability to promote new connections between brain cells — a process referred to as ‘neuroplasticity,'” Feifel said.
These changes to connections in the brain contribute to the expansive or egoless feeling that can occur when taking mushrooms.
But some research suggests that psilocybin might provide more than just a pleasant, mystical, or, sometimes, bad experience. A number of studies are looking at psychedelics, including psilocybin, to determine if they might help treat conditions like depression, PTSD, and alcohol use disorder.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how psilocybin works to help mental health conditions, but the leading theory focuses on its ability to temporarily disrupt the brain’s default mode network — a brain circuit responsible for our psychological self-identity, Feifel said.
Psilocybin’s effect on the brain’s default mode network and neuroplasticity may allow ingrained, but maladaptive, thought patterns associated with conditions like depression to be replaced by healthier ones, Feifel said.
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