Advice from the Trenches: Foraging for a Cure

Dear Dr. B:

I have been researching mushrooms and read that there are some that can help with my depression better than the medications that doctors keep trying to give me. What are your thoughts about these? They are not only free, but grow in the woods behind my house.

Backwoods Bob


Dear Bob:

Don’t do it! You are correct in that this is where psychiatry is going, but I am very worried. A lot of new meds being developed are derived from psychogenic mushrooms. They make one feel good rapidly, but feeling good isn’t related directly to being good. In fact, sometimes the faster you feel good the less likely you are to make a effort to BE good. Someone I once knew dropped his psychiatric meds for mushrooms he found in his backyard. Luckily, he knew a lot about them, so he didn’t poison himself by accident. Poisonous mushrooms can grow in or on non-poisonous ones and mushrooms aren’t easily identified from a book, so I wouldn’t advise trying this yourself. The guy felt great, but over time, unexpected side effects took over. He became paranoid about his wife, stopped taking care of his child and eventually he lost everything. Last I heard he was living in his truck.

Our culture, along with my own psychiatric field, emphasizes feeling good. This is our measure of wellness these days if you go by psychological testing and check lists. Unfortunately, on many levels feeling good isn’t related directly to being good. Reality isn’t based on how you feel, but on what you do. Doing the right thing won’t always make you feel good. If you copy the behaviors dictated by social norms you stand a good chance of being successful – but you may not feel happy when you do. Reality is ambiguous, not everyone reacts the same way – the interpretation of your reality is your choice. You have a right to interpret it however you want, but just don’t forget that your interpretation doesn’t give you the right to behave in such a way that makes everyone else around you miserable. Short cutting or skipping coping skills that can lead to a more stable and consistent living condition can’t last, no matter what your choice of medication does for you. Happiness is a choice, the conditions for which came as a result of your behaviors.

Dr. B


C says: Holy Moly! What are you, nuts? This is a prime example of the “I heard that ____ is good for you” syndrome. People who are grasping for a magic bullet hear any news about another alternative miracle cure, and they run for it like lemmings to the sea.

Can I be honest? You would find a better natural cure for your depression if you went digging in the soil that your mushrooms are growing in. There is a microbe, Mycobacterium Vaccae, present in earth that produces an effect remarkably similar to drugs like Prozac. Backyard gardeners inhale or ingest it while working, making them happier and more relaxed. The microbe is, quite literally, as common as dirt and it can stimulate serotonin production without costing a cent. It would be fair to say that gardening was the earliest form of psychiatric medicine.

Here’s what I suggest – spend some time planting, or just making mud pies, in your garden. Aside from the antidepressive microbes you will be immersed in, it’ll give you time to think about why you were looking for antidepressants to begin with. That’s where your truth lies. Feeling better won’t make the source of your depression go away, especially if there are real problems in your life that need to be solved. If the source of your depression is a physiological serotonin deficiency, there are still non-pharmaceutical solutions – with some effort on your part, cognitive therapy will reset your neurotransmitters too, and the only side effect is that you gain some coping skills you didn’t have before.

Just remember – any state of happiness you achieve while under the influence of a drug can only exist while you are on that drug. When the effect of the drug wears off, the realities of life take the place of the drug reality. Life can be uncomfortable on an emotional level and has requirements that force us into jobs and servitudes. If a drug can help you escape the stress of bill paying reality, that’s great. But it ain’t gonna pay your bills – it’ll probably just add to them.

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