According to mycologists, there are over 10,000 known species of mushrooms. Of these 3,000 are classified as edible, with about 200 of these regularly eaten by people. Around 130 mushroom species are prized for their medicinal properties.
But what about the mushrooms that can make you high?
What Are Magic Mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms, also known as psilocybin mushrooms and shrooms, are a group of mushrooms that contain the naturally occurring compound known as psilocybin. This psychedelic compound is converted by the body into psilocin after ingestion.
Contrary to what some people may believe, psilocybin mushrooms aren't drugs. It is psilocin that is primarily responsible for the effects associated with shrooms including the distortion of the senses.
The Magic Behind Magic Mushrooms
Wondering why some mushroom species are classified as magic mushrooms while others are not?
Upon close inspection of the different magic mushroom species, you may notice that most of them have few qualities in common. This has puzzled some biologists, with some theorizing that the fact that these mushrooms contain psilocybin might be possible because of the process known as horizontal gene transfer. In this process, unrelated species may share similar traits because of their similar response to the same stressors in the environment.
According to mycologists, one of the possible reasons why psychedelic mushrooms produce psilocybin is that they were able to exchange psilocybin-producing genes in an environment where there is plenty of manure and fungus-eating insects.
Essentially, psilocybin is produced by magic mushrooms as a defense mechanism against the insects that prey upon them. After insects ingest magic mushrooms, their appetites decrease.
Psilocybin does not directly poison the animals that eat magic mushrooms. Instead, the naturally occurring compound alters the minds of the animals that eat shrooms.
The History of Magic Mushrooms
While many parts of the world are beginning to decriminalize or even legalize magic mushrooms, in most places, these fungi are still banned and considered illegal. On top of that, some people still frown upon the use of magic mushrooms, associating them with the psychedelic community.
But that wasn't always the case. Like edible mushrooms, psychedelic mushrooms were prized for their effects in various cultures and civilizations.
Psilocybin mushrooms in Prehistory
While there is no definitive evidence that proves that prehistoric humans actually consumed magic mushrooms, there are a few bits and pieces that humans did use shrooms as far as 6000 years ago.
One example of that is the rock murals in Australia which date back as far as 10,000 BC. Residents of Ancient Siberia and North America were also thought to have consumed Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, taking their cues from the reindeer that ate them.
There are also a few experts that push the "Stoned Ape Hypothesis" which states that ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms may have contributed to human evolution, along with other factors like cooking with fire.
Magic Mushrooms in ancient history
Various ancient civilizations have been known to consume psilocybin mushrooms for religious and ceremonial purposes.
For example, the Mayans, Aztecs, and Toltects of Central America called psychedelic mushrooms "flesh of the gods," saying that these fungi came directly from one of their deities.
Local tribes in Siberia ingested Amanita Muscaria mushrooms for their rituals. But aside from that, Siberians used these mushrooms to help them survive in a tough environment where temperatures can go to extremes.
Other notable civilizations that were thought to have used psilocybin mushrooms include the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
Egyptians believed that magic mushrooms were placed in the world by the gods since they did not grow from seeds. The use of magic mushrooms in Egypt was reserved only for priests and royalty.
Ancient Greeks who worshipped the goddess Demeter concocted a psychedelic brew that included Psilycbe mushrooms for a ceremony known as the Eleusinian Mystery. This secret ceremony is thought to provide participants with hidden knowledge. Participants included philosophers, scholars, artists, and the upper crust of society.
Psychedelic mushrooms in modern times
The mycologist and banker named R. Gordon Wasson is one of the people credited for introducing the Western World to magic mushrooms. In 1955, Wasson traveled to Mexico and was invited to participate in a local ceremony that involved the use of psilocybin mushrooms.
Amazed by the ceremony, Wasson penned an article detailing his experience that was published in Life Magazine two years later. The article drew the attention of many people who will eventually become essential figures in the psychedelic community including the chemist Albert Hoffman and the mycologist Roger Heim. Hoffman, who many call the father of LSD, was able to identify and isolate psilocybin and psilocin from magic mushroom samples.
Timothy Leary is another key figure in the psychedelic movement inspired by the article written by Wasson. Leary, along with Richard Alpert, who will later call himself Ram Dass, started the controversial Harvard Psilocybin Project. The two believed that magic mushrooms can help solve some of the pressing problems of Western civilization.
United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Drugs
During the fifties, magic mushrooms were generally accessible. But more than that, many scientists were drawn to fungi because of their potential to treat psychological and psychiatric conditions.
However, people began looking at psychedelics in a different light around 1965. This change in perspective was one of the reasons why psilocybin mushrooms were banned in America. With the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Drugs, many other countries followed America's stance on magic mushrooms.
The convention meant that magic mushrooms were classified as Schedule I controlled substances. However, the reasons behind this classification aren't convincing. Schedule I controlled substances do not have any therapeutic benefits. Furthermore, these substances have a high potential for abuse.
However, magic mushrooms have been the subject of much medical research for their possible use as a treatment for a variety of conditions, even before their ban. And more importantly, magic mushrooms aren't capable of making people have a physiological and psychological dependence. This simply means that they aren't addictive.
The ban on magic mushrooms continues to remain in more than 180 countries.
Magic Mushrooms: Effects and Risks
With new studies emerging, the days when most people thought of magic mushrooms as merely recreational drugs seem to be almost over. But before delving into that, it is helpful to understand the effects as well as the potential risks of consuming psilocybin mushrooms.
Magic mushrooms and the human brain
Contrary to what some people might believe, psilocybin is not the mushroom compound that is responsible for the effects associated with shrooms.
After ingesting shrooms, whether in the form of raw or dried shrooms or shroom tea, psilocybin is converted into psilocin. Psilocin is very similar to another psychedelic drug - DMT. The two have the same molecular structure with one main difference - DMT has an extra molecule.
Another noteworthy difference is that the human body produces DMT. However, scientists remain unsure why. Some experts suggest that the DMT produced in the body may be responsible for producing dreams. This might be the reason why people under the influence of DMT enter a dream-like state.
Because psilocin is similar to DMT, ingesting shrooms can also lead to a dream-like state. However, the intensity may be a bit less intense.
Psilocin interacts with serotonin receptors in the body, including parts of the brain that is responsible for cognition, mood, and perception. The body's receptors have an affinity for a specific chemical. This means that if a chemical does not match the shape of the receptor, it won't interact and activate it.
In the case of psilocin, it will only activate serotonin receptors because both chemicals have the same shape. These same receptors interact with other hallucinogenic substances, including mescaline, DMT, LSD, and MDMA.
Psilocin can also temporarily disrupt the brain's Default Mode Network or DMN. The DMN consists of different brain regions associated with the ability to look back and forward in time. Additionally, the DMN consolidates various pieces of information. Experts also say that the DMN is the seat of one's self.
Psilocin disrupts the DMN by disabling one or more of its connections. When this happens, the brain has no other option but to find new connections. This allows the brain to communicate with the other regions that it does not normally interact with.
Magic mushroom effects
Half an hour after ingesting psilocybin mushrooms, you will begin to feel its effects. Most of the effects last anywhere between three to six hours. However, it is worth mentioning that the time it takes for shrooms to take effect will vary from one person to another based on different variables. These factors include your age, weight, height, dosage, metabolism, personality, expectations, environment, and history of drug use.
The effects can also vary from one person to another. However, there are a few common effects that you may encounter. These include auditory and visual hallucinations, euphoria, changes in your perception of your environment, lightness or heaviness, and for some people, a spiritual or magical experience.
Ingesting shrooms can also lead to a few unpleasant effects, especially when consumed in large doses. These side effects include nausea and vomiting, chills, increased pulse rate, elevated heart rate, dizziness, high blood pressure, and numbness of the mouth and tongue.
Risks of taking magic mushrooms
Magic mushrooms have been recognized as one of the safest recreational drugs. That, however, does not mean that there are no risks to taking magic mushrooms.
One of the biggest risks of ingesting shrooms is taking poisonous mushrooms. Many magic mushroom species look like poisonous mushrooms. This is why it is critical to use magic mushrooms that come from reputable sources. If you are foraging psilocybin mushrooms, it is important to correctly identify them before taking them.
Consuming a large dose of psilocybin mushrooms can also lead to a few adverse side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, agitation, and seizures. In some cases, taking potent shrooms can cause one to fall into a coma.
What Is A Bad Trip?
Another risk associated with taking mushrooms is having a bad trip. A trip means being intoxicated with a psychedelic substance like magic mushrooms. Some psychonauts say that it is called a psychedelic trip because of the marked difference in your perception of your environment after taking shrooms.
A bad trip, on the other hand, is the negative equivalent of a trip. People who have experienced this say that they felt confusion, agitation, and extreme fear because of their hallucinations. Others say that they felt scared because time seemed to stand still.
Bad trips are one of the risks of taking magic mushrooms and other psychedelics. However, there are a few things that can increase your risk of getting a bad trip.
One of these factors is taking a large dose of psilocybin mushrooms. If it is your first time using shrooms, or if you haven't taken psilocybin mushrooms in a long time, it is best to start with a lower dose.
Another possible reason behind bad mushroom trips is having a negative emotional state. This is particularly true for most psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms. Too much stimulation can also cause bad trips in some people.
Using other substances like alcohol and marijuana with shrooms is another potential reason behind bad trips. While fairly popular among many psychonauts, the use of other substances can cause not only bad trips but potentially, accidents and injuries.
Preventing bad trips
While it is not completely possible to prevent bad trips when taking shrooms or other psychedelic drugs, there are a few things that you can do to minimize your chances of getting one.
For starters, make sure that you take the appropriate dose. Taking a large dose of shrooms, especially if you have little to no experience with psychedelics can leave you vulnerable to a bad mushroom trip.
It also helps to prepare the area where you are taking a trip. As much as possible, keep the room comfortable with a minimal amount of possible sources of disturbance. Remove anything that can cause accidents or injuries.
Before going on a trip, it is a good idea to set your intentions and allow yourself to enjoy the journey. The more you try to control your mushroom trip, the more likely it will be to have an unpleasant experience.
Finally, enlist the help of a trusted person who will act as your trip sitter. A trip sitter will keep themselves sober and attend to your needs while you are on a psychedelic trip.
Remember, if things are turning unpleasant, your trip will come to an end. Do not panic and try to calm yourself as you let the mushrooms
Potential Benefits of Magic Mushrooms
Magic mushrooms have often been classified as recreational drugs. But they have the potential to be more than that, judging from the current body of research available today.
According to scientists, psilocybin has the potential to treat and manage a diverse array of conditions. These include cluster headaches, end-of-life distress, treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and substance addiction.
In recent years, various parts of the world, most notably Colorado, Denver, and Oregon have moved to decriminalize magic mushrooms, reducing the stigma surrounding them and pushing for more research on them.
What does the current body of research say about magic mushrooms and their potential therapeutic benefits?
The FDA has designated psilocybin therapy as a breakthrough therapy. This is a major win for magic mushroom advocates because this designation fast-tracks research on psilocybin for treating depression.
End-of-life anxiety refers to the extreme distress patients experience as they near the end of their lives. This is quite common among the elderly and seriously ill people.
According to psychiatrists, a single dose of psilocybin can increase the quality of life of patients while minimizing their anxiety and depression.
Psilocybin has the potential of helping people quit a variety of substances. For example, researchers from Johns Hopkins University reported that smokers were able to keep themselves off cigarettes even for up to a year through the help of psilocybin therapy.
With this in mind, other researchers are looking into the possibility of using psilocybin to help people triumph over their addiction to substances like alcohol and cocaine.
Psilocybin works on substance abuse by helping people shake off their established routines. According to experts, addiction causes people to cling to a narrow set of mental and behavioral routines.
Beyond Recreational Use
For many people, magic mushrooms are just recreational drugs. But going by the current body of research, psilocybin mushrooms can be more just than that. They have the potential to become a solution for a host of medical conditions that continue to stump experts. With further research and a change of perspectives, new pathways can open up for patients looking for effective and long-term relief for their conditions.
With many places in the world decriminalizing and legalizing magic mushrooms, including the United States, advocates are hopeful that these fungi receive the recognition they truly deserve.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are magic mushrooms safe?
The 2017 Global Drug Survey ranks magic mushrooms as one of the safest recreational drugs. Unlike other substances, magic mushrooms account for a small number of emergency room visits. However, ingesting shrooms isn't exactly risk-free. As such, be aware of the risks involved before taking mushrooms.
Do shrooms show up on drug tests?
Mushrooms do not usually show up on routine drug tests because they do not usually look for them. Additionally, the body flushes magic mushroom compounds in about a day, making it harder to detect them. However, there are specialized tests that have been designed to detect shrooms.
Can you flush mushrooms out of your system faster?
Drinking more fluids can help your body flush out mushrooms out of your system much faster. However, in most cases, this is not necessary as your body eliminates most of the shroom compounds out of your body after a day.
How long do shrooms stay in your system?
The kidneys are fairly efficient in flushing out mushroom metabolites from your body. After three hours, your body has eliminated about 66% of the mushrooms. And after 24 hours, drug tests can no longer detect shrooms from your urine.
Are magic mushrooms legal?
While many places in the world have decriminalized magic mushrooms, they remain illegal in various countries and are classified as Schedule I substances.