Functional mushrooms present an effective complementary treatment option for mental illness and mental health. 

While there is a heavy emphasis on the merits of psychedelic mushrooms, the merits of functional mushrooms are often underrepresented. 

Mental Illness Awareness: Beyond Psychedelics

Functional mushrooms can play an innovative role in supporting well-being, including mental illness and mental health. One of the most frequent uses we’ve noted for functional mushrooms is stress relief and anxiety reduction. While stress and anxiety are only fragments of a person’s experience of living with mental illness, these states play critical roles in day-to-day perception. 

We acknowledge that mental illness requires a range of treatments designed to serve an individual. The following suggestions are explorations of possibility, and not recommendations for action. 

There is no silver bullet when living with mental illness. The greatest course of action is medical support, compassion, and providing glimmers of possibility for the future.

Amanita muscaria - mushroom used for sleep and anxiety relief

Can Functional Mushrooms Play a Role in Treating Mental Illness?

While most of the conversations about mental health and mushrooms are around the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin and Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, functional mushrooms also present an opportunity for mental health support.

To honour the growing interest in holistic approaches to improving mental health, we put together a short literature review to demonstrate the therapeutic effect of the following functional mushrooms in mental illness and mental health:

Reishi: Mushroom of Immortality

Long touted by Traditional Chinese Medicine for its capacity to calm the mind and improve cognitive function, Reishi has a reputation for supporting health and well-being. 

Recent interest in functional mushrooms has prompted academic research and clinical trials to validate the properties presented by Reishi. Long studied for immune system enhancing properties in cancer treatment, research is now focusing on the mental health impacts. 

Reishi & Adulthood Psychiatric Disorders

Summary: Researchers assessing the connection between Early Life Stress and adulthood psychiatric disorders discovered that managing symptoms of inflammation in the central nervous system with Reishi reduced anxiety-like and depression-like behaviors. Reishi (40 mg/kg) was administered to adult mice daily for three weeks before exposure to sub-chronic stress. [15 days of exposure to mild stressors constitutes sub-chronic stress.] All inflammation was reversed via Reishi administration, and markers of anxiety and depression were reduced.

Reishi slices dried and reishi powder in a cup
Brain cross section

Details of the study: During infancy, this same population of mice was separated from their mothers for four hours per day from postnatal day 1 to postnatal day 21. Maternal separation increased inflammatory markers in the nervous system and brain, and activated microglia in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. All the abnormalities were reversed by Reishi administration in the adult population, with no adverse effects on immune organs (thymus, bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen), liver, and kidney function. 

Reishi Effects Mood & Quality of Life in Women with Fibromyalgia

The musculoskeletal pain associated with Fibromyalgia is often compounded by psychological and pain-specific distress, which directly affects perception, quality of life, anxiety, and depression. In this study, a group of Spanish women received 6 g of Reishi a day for 6 weeks. This group experienced improved levels of happiness and satisfaction with life, while demonstrating reduced symptoms of depression compared to the placebo group. 

Details of the study: This study included females aged 18 or over who were previously diagnosed with Fibromyalgia syndrome by a rheumatologist based in Spain. Participants were excluded from the study if they were taking immunosuppressants, vitamin C supplements, or anticoagulants.

Whole Reishi Mushroom

Both pre-clinical studies recommend more efforts into in-depth research, especially clinical trials. These trials will confirm the safety and efficacy for global clinical promotion of Reishi as a supplement with mental health benefits.

Mushrooms growing on a log in the wild

Lion’s Mane: Natural Nootropic

Lion’s Mane continues to gain popularity for its potential as a brain enhancer. This mushroom produces compounds (erinacines and hericenones) that contribute to nerve growth factor, as well as aiding in learning and memory. 

The widespread efficacy of Lion’s Mane is attributed to its ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier, which stimulates the growth of neurons, protective cells in the autonomic nervous system, and nerves in the hippocampus. Common conditions that change the hippocampus include Alzheimer’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, hypertension, and head injury. By supporting healthy nerve growth in the brain and hippocampus, Lion’s mane appears to be a candidate for inclusion in a mental health stack when paired with conventional antidepressants.

Lion’s Mane for Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder

A study found that Lion’s Mane supplementation normalized the behavioral alterations triggered by major depressive disorder. The research suggests Lion’s Mane improves altered behavior (including depression, anxiety, irritability) and neurochemical parameters (biological markers including monoamines, proinflammatory cytokines, and protein expressions) associated with major depressive disorder.

Details of the study: This study not only tested the efficacy of Lion’s Mane, but the application of Lion’s Mane in differing doses. Of five total groups, three received a myceliated Lion’s Mane product over a 4-week period. Delivered orally as a liquid, the groups were differentiated by the quality of Lion’s Mane consumed: 100 mg/kg, 200 mg/kg, and 400 mg/kg. The 200 mg/kg and 400 mg/kg doses proved most significant for antidepressant potential. Based on this data, the study authors wish to continue their study of the impact of Lion’s Mane on neurochemical parameters and behavioural responses.

Lion’s Mane for Alleviation of Depression During Menopause

Increasing rates of depression and poor sleep quality during menopause prompted a study addressing the role of Lion’s Mane on depression, anxiety, and sleep quality. For a 4-week period, a group of menopausal women consumed four Lion’s Mane-infused (500mg) cookies daily. Participants reported lower depression and anxiety scores after consuming Lion’s Mane, suggesting an opportunity to apply Lion’s Mane to boost mood in Menopausal populations. 

Details of the study: Thirty menopausal females aged 50+  living in Japan were provided with Lion’s Mane containing functional food in a controlled setting for a period of 4-weeks. Over the course of this study, the women responded daily to Kupperman Menopausal Index (KMI), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), and the Indefinite Complaints Index (ICI). All outcomes were based on the cumulative responses from these surveys. No biological markers were measured during the study.

While the antidepressant effects of Lion’s Mane require clinical validation, the mushroom significantly boosts monoaminergic modulation, neurogenic/neurotrophic factors, and anti-inflammatory pathways.

Lion’s Mane also promises to promote recovery of the gut microbiota, which is often related to mental performance and cognitive function. Like Reishi, clinical studies of Lion’s Mane recommended to confirm the safety and efficacy for global clinical promotion as a supplement with mental health benefits.

Mushrooms: Complementary Support for Mental Health?

Mental illness is one of the most common health conditions around the globe. Although many types of drugs are available to support individuals living with mental illness, individuals continue to look for complementary supplements to improve their daily lived experience. 

Mushrooms, among herbal medicines, can provide novel therapeutic compounds unavailable in other medicines. We chose two highly researched mushrooms, and we’re curious to see who clinical trials unfold for these mushrooms as a support to mental illness.

In the future, we plan to explore existing pre-clinical research on Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) in mood disturbance and Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris) in treating adults with major depressive disorder. 

In highlighting research on functional mushrooms in mental illness, we hope to demonstrate the medicinal potential of functional mushrooms as complements to conventional treatments. Evidence gathering has only just begun; many studies have been conducted on mice, while others rely on relatively small sample sizes in human populations. 

Yet, these studies show promising therapeutic application of functional mushrooms, prove the general safety of consuming mushrooms, and provide a foundation for the methods and procedures of future studies.