Can magic mushrooms take on menopause?

Can magic mushrooms take on menopause?

Helen Down heads to a special retreat to find out…

Main image: Beckley Retreats (c) Max Woodruff

Hot flushes. Brain fog. Erratic periods. Insomnia. Sore joints. If you’re a woman of a certain age, you’ll know we’re talking about the dreaded perimenopause. But that list of symptoms barely touches the sides. It’s arguably the insidious psychological symptoms – a pervasive malaise, unfathomable snappiness, a semi-permanent dusting of anxiety – that are more soul destroying. This latter set of symptoms, less physical and often less discussed, are the ones that, for me, suck the joy out of life. But there may be a way to replenish this joy: psilocybin, AKA magic mushrooms.

I first woke up to the idea of psilocybin easing menopause symptoms after hearing about the incredible results coming out of trials at King’s College London and Imperial. From treating drug resistant depression through to OCD, psilocybin is proving to be an effective treatment for many mental health issues. With the menopause often feeling like a mental health issue, I started wondering: could mushrooms weave their magic here too?

Embracing a new chapter and reframing the journey

In my mission to find out, I came across Dr Grace Blest-Hopley and her pioneering project, Hystelica, which is dedicated to understanding the safe and effective use of psychedelics amongst women. A neuroscientist with 10-years experience researching psychedelics, Dr Blest-Hopley speculates that psilocybin could improve (peri)menopausal symptoms. Hence, she’s currently designing a potentially game-changing observational trial on the effects of psychedelics on the menopause.

“There are similar mechanistic effects of psilocybin to oestrogen,” she explains, “for instance, in the way they both positively affect serotonin signalling. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that makes us happy and promotes neural activity in other parts of the brain used for memory and other cognitive processes”.

What’s more, with inflammation being another symptom of reduced oestrogen, Dr Blest-Hopley adds that, “There may be some interesting components to how psilocybin can act as an anti-inflammatory.”

Unfortunately, with research at such an early stage, we don’t yet have empirical evidence. So I decided to try Dr Blest-Hopley’s theory for myself. I decided to put myself in the very safe and experienced hands of Beckley Retreats, a five-day science-backed psilocybin retreat in The Netherlands, where psilocybin is legal, providing it’s consumed in the form of mushroom truffles.

Running across five days, Beckley Retreats, which are also available in Jamaica, encompass two eight-hour psilocybin ‘ceremonies’, two powerful breathwork sessions, incredible vegan food, yoga, meditation, a smattering of woo-woo and two vital integration days to help participants make sense of their journey. And I was lucky enough to attend Beckley’s first women’s-only programme – the ideal space for opening up about gender-specific issues like the menopause.

The comedian is making fun of the menopause on her tour

So there we were. A group of nine plucky women about to embark on a trip of a lifetime, albeit one that’s not for the faint-hearted. Within an hour of my first ceremony, I thought I’d made a terrible mistake. Consumed by anxiety and paranoia, I began to regret chomping my way through what felt like a vat of mushroom truffles. But once I managed to let go and place my trust in the mushrooms, I opened myself up to a life-changing experience.

After sinking to the depths of my subconscious and facing some demons, I soared so high that I momentarily tasted nirvana. It was here that I realised how teeny tiny – insignificant, even – I was in the cosmos, but also how connected I was to said cosmos. I felt pure, calm and blissful; I felt full of love. Nothing was a problem, especially not something as common or garden as the menopause. The thought of being bothered by something as trivial as an unexpected period felt so comical that I burst with laughter and delight.

After that first ceremony, a thunderstorm rolled in. Could the energy clashing above be menopausal frustration unleashing itself from my body? More importantly, would my newfound wisdom stay with me when I got home?

When I returned to the UK, both my mind and body were wrung-out. But once I’d had a chance to recover, I found myself making more time for the special people in my life. I began looking at old photos in a new light. I got better at recognising when situations start spilling over into stress. I began to realise all the self-criticism and self-doubt were unnecessary. And thanks to all the neural rewiring that was going on, I experienced a new surge of creativity, enough to help me plough on with writing my book and take a guitar lesson.

By rediscovering life’s delights, I went from exhausted to getting my first cycling QoMs (Queen of the Mountain) badges on Strava. I’ve always loved cycling, but the retreat has supercharged this love. I can only apologise to bypassers who may see an annoyingly upbeat middle-aged woman zipping around Richmond Park, bellowing an ebullient ‘hello’ to the deer while belting out the lyrics to Live Again.

So although the shrooms have given me the gift of tranquillity and love, they’ve also fuelled me with renewed energy and joy. So much of it, in fact, that the menopause now has little opportunity to drag me down.

Beckley runs psilocybin-assisted therapy retreats in The Netherlands and Jamaica. Prices start at $5,900.00 for a five-day retreat. The next women’s-only programme takes place in 2025 and the waitlist is now open.

If anyone would like to support research into how psychedelics affect menopausal symptoms, the Hystelica project can accept charitable contributions: