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spaceSpace and Physics

Scientists Propose Sending Astronauts Into Space With Magic Mushrooms

Sometimes counterintuitive ideas actually work. But only sometimes.

author

Ben Taub

Freelance Writer

clockSep 19 2022, 13:16 UTC
Psychedelic astronaut
Let's hope we're not tripping when we meet the aliens. Image: ivan_kislitsin/Shutterstock.com

Scientists are yet to fully understand the ramifications of taking psychedelic drugs on Earth, yet a pair of researchers are already calling for the use of these hallucinogenic compounds in orbit. In a new paper, the authors propose that magic mushrooms could help astronauts deal with the extreme mental and physical pressures of space travel and facilitate long-haul cosmic journeys.

Before going any further, it’s worth pointing out that giving psychedelics to astronauts ranks very highly on the list of things that NASA isn’t cool with and the agency currently has a zero-tolerance policy toward drug use. It’s also important to keep in mind that the new study was not penned by space scientists, but by representatives of a private biotechnology firm that seeks to find new uses for algae and mycelia.

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Nonetheless, the authors insist 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.” Be gone, space scurvy!  

Highlighting several preclinical studies conducted on animals, the researchers speculate that psilocybin may help to alleviate the cognitive impacts of space travel by enhancing neuroplasticity and the creation of new neurons. While these effects are yet to be observed in human subjects, the apparent capacity of psychedelics to promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity is thought to underlie the therapeutic properties that have been attributed to this class of drug. 

According to the study authors, psychedelics may also boost healthy gut bacteria and counteract the deleterious impacts of cosmic radiation on astronauts’ microbiomes.

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Getting a little bolder in their claims, the researchers say that taking drugs like DMT could even prepare space travelers for encounters with extraterrestrial life forms. Users of this particular substance regularly report seeing “entities” during their trips, and while there’s no indication that these bear any resemblance to actual aliens, the authors claim that such experiences could “provide some limited familiarity” with the other inhabitants of our universe.

Finally, the writers cite several studies supporting the use of psilocybin as a tool to alleviate existential stress in terminal cancer patients. Applying this to cosmic 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.” Taking psychedelics, they say, could help doomed astronauts to come to terms with their eternal banishment from Earth and find peace during their final days.

Obviously, there is no scientific evidence to support the safe use of psychedelic drugs in space, and all of the claims made by the authors are unproven and theoretical. It’s therefore highly unlikely that anyone will be sent into orbit with a baggie full of 'shrooms any time soon.

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The study was published in Frontiers in Space Technologies.


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