Space travel causes changes to an astronaut’s body that some argue can benefit from psychedelics

2022-10-03

Ever wondered if using psychedelics might be able to help mitigate the deleterious effects of long-duration space travel that some hope is part of the not-too-distant future?

“Ensuring the physical health and mental well-being of astronauts will inevitably supersede the need for technological innovation, as the major challenge in long-duration space travel,” write Dr. Leonard Lerer, founder, and Jeet Varia, chief innovation officer, of Back of the Yards Algae Sciences. The company focuses on finding new uses for algae and mycelia, which “exemplifies how the microscopic elements of fungi can combine to form a larger whole.”

A review of space exploration’s burden on the mental health of astronauts, published in 2021, found “the dangers that astronauts may face are not minimal, and the impacts on physical and mental health may be significant.”

Specifically, authors noted “symptoms of emotional dysregulation, cognitive dysfunction, disruption of sleep-wake rhythms, visual phenomena and significant changes in body weight, along with morphological brain changes, are some of the most frequently reported occurrences during space missions.”

According to Scientific American, crew members “live in confined environments with limited social interactions and at long distances from home. Meanwhile, their work is high-stakes and under intense public scrutiny.”

Another study, also published in 2021, sought to investigate any associations between lifetime classic psychedelic use and markers of physical health. Classic psychedelics include LSD, mescaline and psilocybin.

Based on feedback from users, respondents who reported “having tried a classic psychedelic at least once in their lifetime had significantly higher odds of greater self-reported overall health and significantly lower odds of being overweight or obese versus having a normal weight.”

Those who are in space for a long time will see their muscles and bones weaken, “primarily in the legs and lower back,” according to the Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate. “In space, where gravity is very weak, posture can be maintained without standing on your legs, and there’s no need to use your legs to move about. Muscles weaken and bone mass decreases if you stay for a long time in space,” it points out.

The Government of Canada reports that “studies have shown that astronauts experience up to a 20 per cent loss of muscle mass on spaceflights lasting five to 11 days. The loss of muscle mass corresponds to a loss of strength that can be potentially dangerous if an astronaut must perform a strenuous emergency procedure upon re-entry into the Earth’s gravitational field.”

Authors of the newly released article write that “psychedelics research is in the midst of a renaissance and psychedelics are being explored not only for their therapeutic potential in psychiatry, but also for their ability to promote neuroplasticity, modulate the immune system and reduce inflammation.”

While the authors accept “there is no direct experimental evidence to support the role of psychedelic mushroom consumption during space missions,” the article reads, they contend their viewpoint is supported by mycologist Paul Stamets, as reportedly noted in Scientific American.

“NASA and anyone else working and looking at the settlement of space, you should consider that psilocybin (psychedelic) mushrooms should be an essential part of your psychological tool kit for astronauts to be able to endure the solitude and the challenges of space and isolation,” Stamets is quoted as saying.

The authors of the new article posit that “psychedelics may be to long-duration space travel in the 21st century, what citrus fruits were to long-distance sea travel in the 18th century — breakthrough and facilitatory.”

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