Magic mushrooms, also known as shrooms, have been used for millennia for spiritual and medicinal purposes — here’s what you should know about their powerful effects.
TL;DR: Psilocybe mushrooms, also known as "magic mushrooms" or "shrooms," contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin and have been used for medicinal and spiritual purposes for thousands of years by indigenous cultures. After being classified as a Schedule I substance in the 1970s, recent research has shown potential therapeutic efficacy for psilocybin in treating substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD, and chronic pain. Psilocybin is metabolized in the body into psilocin, which produces its psychedelic effects by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain. The acute effects of shrooms last approximately four to seven hours. It's important to use psilocybin in a controlled context and follow applicable laws and regulations.
Psilocybe mushrooms, often referred to as "magic mushrooms" or "shrooms," are a type of mushroom known for containing the psychoactive compound psilocybin. Psilocybin is a tryptamine alkaloid, a distinct type of organic compound characterized by its tryptamine core within its chemical structure. Psilocybin is found in over 180 species of psychoactive mushrooms and is recognized as one of the classic psychedelics, alongside LSD, DMT, and mescaline.
Shrooms are known to grow in various climates around the world. They are mostly found in humid subtropical forests, however, they also grow in Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Europe, Siberia, Japan, and Southeast Asia.
Evidence from wall art indicates that humans have been using different varieties of shrooms for medicinal and spiritual purposes for millennia. For example, the ‘Selva Pascuala’ mural in Cuenca, Spain dating back to 6000-4000 BCE is thought to depict the ritualistic use of Psilocybe hispanica, a species of fungus in the family Hymenogastraceae.
Indigenous groups, such as the Aztecs, a Mesoamerican culture that thrived in central Mexico from 1300 to 1521 AD, as well as the Mazatecs and Zapotecs of Oaxaca, Mexico, have long held reverence for the visionary experiences induced by magic mushrooms. For centuries, these cultures have incorporated the use of psilocybin mushrooms in their ritual ceremonies for purposes of healing and divination. In the Aztec language of Nahuatl, these sacred mushrooms are referred to as teonanácatl, meaning “flesh of the gods.”
It's important to note that the cultivation or consumption of psilocybin-containing mushrooms is illegal in many countries, and even in places where they are legally regulated for medical or recreational use, it's important to follow all applicable laws and regulations.
When psilocybin is consumed, it is absorbed into the body and converted into psilocin, which is its most active metabolite. Psilocin then enters the bloodstream and the brain, where it produces its psychedelic effects. Psilocin undergoes two phases of metabolism, referred to as phase-I and phase-II.
During phase-I metabolism, psilocin is oxidized to 4-hydroxyindole-3-acetaldehyde, which can further be oxidized to 4-hydroxyindole-3-acetic acid, or reduced to 4-hydroxytryptophol. In phase-II metabolism, which occurs in the small intestine and liver, psilocin is conjugated with glucuronic acid to form a psilocin O-glucuronide conjugate. These psilocin metabolites are then excreted through the kidneys.
Research from a 2017 study estimated the elimination half-life of psilocin to be around 3 hours, meaning that it takes approximately 3 hours for half of the psilocin in the body to be eliminated.
The duration of a magic mushroom experience is largely dependent on the dose. Dosages of pure pharmaceutical-grade psilocybin are as follows:
Dosages of dry psilocybin mushrooms are as follows:
Importantly, the concentration of psilocybin in shrooms varies depending on the species, how well they are preserved, and whether they are fresh or have been dried.
The full duration of a shroom experience is approximately four to seven hours. The stages of a shroom experience are as follows:
The mechanism through which magic mushrooms produce their psychedelic effects has remained elusive to researchers due to the complex nature of the molecules involved.
However, researchers have discovered that action at 5-HT2A serotonin receptors, a type of protein found on the surface of nerve cells in the brain that act as receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin, is necessary for the psychedelic effects to occur.
The subjective effects of shrooms are typically characterized by changes in perception, cognition, emotion, and sense of self.
Psilocybin has been reported to induce profound spiritual and mystical experiences, particularly at moderate to high doses. In some cases, these experiences can be deeply meaningful and transformational, leading to a sense of transcendence and interconnectedness with the universe.
Importantly, shroom experiences can also be challenging for some individuals, and may involve intense emotions, challenging or confronting insights, and a sense of discomfort or confusion.
Clinical studies conducted during the historical era of psychedelic research in the 1960s-1970s revealed that psilocybin can induce non-ordinary states of consciousness characterized by various effects such as perceptual distortions, emotion enhancement, and reconceptualization of the self. These findings suggested potential therapeutic applications of psilocybin.
However, the increasing recreational use of shrooms, concerns about safety, and political and social factors led to psilocybin’s classification as a Schedule I substance in 1970, making all psilocybin use illegal, including scientific research investigating its therapeutic potential.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of psychedelic research, with studies showing varying degrees of clinical efficacy for substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD, and chronic pain conditions. Psilocybin is the most widely investigated psychedelic in human studies due to its relative safety, low toxicity rate, and good absorption in humans.
While psilocybin use is generally considered safe, it is important to note that it is illegal in many places and there are potential health risks associated with its use.
One of the most commonly reported risks is the possibility of a 'bad trip,' which can be a negative and sometimes frightening experience. “Set and setting” refer to the mindset and physical environment in which a person uses psilocybin mushrooms. Both factors can greatly influence the user's experience and outcomes.
For instance, a positive mindset and a safe, comfortable environment can increase the likelihood of a positive experience and positive therapeutic outcomes. Conversely, a negative mindset or an unsafe, uncomfortable environment can increase the risk of negative experiences, such as a bad trip.
Therefore, it's important to carefully consider and manage set and setting when using psilocybin mushrooms, particularly for therapeutic or self-exploration purposes. Caution and responsible use are key to ensuring a safe and positive experience.
Although rare, psilocybin has also been known to exacerbate psychotic disorders or instigate a prolonged psychotic reaction in some individuals. Screening for psychotic disorders and vulnerability is an important safeguard against psychotic reactions in clinical research.
Additionally, psilocybin has moderate cardiovascular effects, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate. Those with severe cardiac disease are excluded from clinical research and are advised to refrain from using magic mushrooms.
As more research is conducted, we may continue to uncover the potential benefits and risks of psilocybin mushrooms and further explore their potential role in modern medicine.
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