Shrooms vs Acid: a comprehensive review of shrooms and LSD, including their characteristic effects, safety profiles, and best practices for use.
For centuries, magic mushrooms and LSD have been two of the most well-known and widely used psychedelics consumed for various purposes cross-culturally, ranging from recreational use to spiritual enlightenment. However, despite their popularity, many people may not be aware of what distinguishes these two substances.
By gaining a nuanced understanding of the distinct chemistry, brain effects, and subjective experiences induced by shrooms and acid, individuals can make more informed decisions regarding their personal experimentation.
Classic psychedelic compounds — psilocybin (the active component in magic mushrooms), LSD, DMT, and mescaline —produce their characteristic effects via interaction with serotonin receptors, specifically the 5-HT2A receptor subtype, also known as serotonin 2A receptors. Although this receptor is responsible for mediating the psychedelic effects of classic psychedelic drugs, other mechanisms likely contribute to the experience in minor ways.
Psychedelics can be broadly classified into two categories based on their molecular structure; tryptamines, which include LSD, psilocybin, and DMT; and phenethylamines, which include mescaline, as well as some other non-classic, atypical psychedelics such as MDMA, 2-CB, and 25I-NBOMe. Like the classics, 2C-B and 25I-NBOMe act as 5-HT2A receptor agonists, however, MDMA exerts its pro-social, euphoriant properties by facilitating the release of serotonin and norepinephrine and blocking their reabsorption into neurons.
The dramatic changes in one’s experienced world that result from the use of psychedelic drugs are complex and multifaceted, involving alterations in affective, cognitive, and perceptual domains.
Shrooms, magic mushrooms, and psilocybin mushrooms are the names given to mushrooms containing the classic psychedelic compound psilocybin that have a long history of ritualistic use for religious and medicinal purposes.
Ancient, indigenous cultures from around the world, most notably the Mazatec of Oaxaca, Mexico, among whom Psilocybe mexicana is revered as sacred, have utilized the visionary qualities of shrooms and other naturally occurring psychedelics to tremendous effect.
A 2017 Global Drug Survey found that nearly 21% of people who have used drugs have tried shrooms at least once in their lifetime, making it one of the most widely used psychedelics in the world.
The principal psychoactive component of shrooms, psilocybin, is considered relatively low-risk compared to other psychedelics. Considering what we already know about the safety profile of psychedelics (i.e., that they are among the least harmful of all recreational substances), this should give you an indication of just how safe shrooms are.
Importantly, the effects of shrooms can vary depending on the species (some are more potent than others), one’s mindset, and the social and physical setting in which one’s shroom experience takes place. In fact, the aforementioned study found that the most common reasons for adverse psychological symptoms were poor mindset, poor setting, and mixing magic mushrooms with other psychoactive agents.
Now, scientific studies are demonstrating the therapeutic value of psilocybin in treating certain psychiatric conditions.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a semisynthetic derivative of lysergic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in the parasitic rye fungus Claviceps purpurea. This powerful psychedelic was first synthesized in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann who at the time was working at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland. It wasn't until 1943 however that Hofmann accidentally discovered LSD’s fascinating effects on the mind.
In the 50s and 60s, LSD was used as an adjunct to the psychotherapeutic treatment of thousands of patients suffering from a variety of mental health and chronic pain conditions. The drug’s extraordinary ability to loosen defenses, amplify the unconscious contents of one’s mind, and produce personally meaningful visionary experiences are just some of the ways in which LSD is thought to promote healing.
Unfortunately, media propaganda, association with the youth-led counterculture movement, and an uptick in irresponsible recreational use saw the banning of LSD in the late 1960s. Despite its classification as a Schedule I substance, widespread recreational and underground therapeutic use continued.
Now, however, after decades of baseless condemnation from ill-informed policymakers and brainwashed civilians, there is renewed scientific interest in LSD-assisted therapies as a treatment option for people suffering from mental health difficulties.
Despite the body of evidence in support of its very favorable safety and potential clinical efficacy as a psychotherapeutic aid and experimental tool, very little clinical research on LSD has occurred since the 1970s.
The effects of shrooms vary depending on dose, metabolism, set (expectations and mindset), and setting (physical environment), but commonly include feelings of relaxation and euphoria, a sense of well-being, enhanced senses, and perceptual distortions.
In some cases at moderate-high doses, shrooms can elicit mystical states characterized by a sense of unity and sacredness that is experienced as more real or true than everyday waking consciousness. Such experiences can produce enduring positive changes in perspective and behavior.
A common recreational dose of dried shrooms is between 1 and 2.5g, which corresponds to approximately 10-25 mg of psilocybin. The most commonly used species, Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe semilanceata, contain approximately 10 mg of psilocybin per gram of dried mushroom weight. However, the psilocybin content of shrooms varies considerably within and across species, so it is important to interpret dosing guidelines with caution.
Psychedelic trips occasioned by psilocybin mushrooms typically last 4 to 6 hours in total, consisting of a 1-2 hour come up, 2-3 hour peak, and 1-2 hour offset as the drug effects begin to fade. Psilocybin's psychedelic effects typically become apparent 30-60 minutes after ingestion.
In 2013, leading drug researchers published a multicriteria decision analysis study which found that psilocybin causes the lowest individual and societal harm of all recreational substances, narrowly edging out LSD by just one point. Interestingly, alcohol was observed to be the most harmful recreational drug overall.
Data from large-scale surveys on drug use and health consistently demonstrate that psilocybin’s potential for harm is relatively very low.
Acute physiological effects of shrooms are mild and emergency medical treatment following their use occurs in just 0.2% of people, who present mostly with psychological symptoms like panic and anxiety. In addition, shrooms show no evidence of neurophysiological deficits, organ damage, or addiction potential.
Aside from its favorable safety and tolerability, lifetime use of psilocybin is associated with:
Rather than taking too much and risking a challenging, potentially destabilizing experience, users should start with a low dose of shrooms. Once users gain experience and become familiar with the effects of shrooms, doses can be gradually increased.
As with other psychedelics, LSD can produce significant changes in consciousness and perception, the intensity and nature of which depend on the dose, method of consumption, mindset, and setting.
Active at the microgram level, LSD is one of the most potent of all psychedelic drugs. Orally ingested LSD is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and starts to take effect within about 30-90 minutes, while intravenously or intramuscularly administered LSD takes effect within 15-30 minutes. The subjective effects of LSD typically last for 6-12 hours.
Users may experience physiological effects such as stimulation, dilated pupils, mild increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, appetite suppression, analgesia, and euphoria.
The effects of LSD bear many resemblances with those of psilocybin.
Psychological effects may include deeply felt positive mood, intensified mental processes, and detailed changes in perception often characterized by enhanced sensory experiences, brightly-colored visuals, and a distorted sense of time and space.
Everyday objects and emotions are often perceived with greater intensity and significance under the influence of LSD, and users often gain deep insights into themselves, their relationships, and the universe. Like psilocybin, LSD can produce mystical states at higher doses.
In rare cases, users may experience adverse psychological effects such as anxiety and paranoia, but these are not typically observed at low to common doses when set and setting are accounted for.
LSD has one of the most favorable safety profiles of all recreational substances. Studies have proven that LSD is physically safe and well tolerated, showing moderate cardiostimulant effects, no neurophysiological deficits, no organ damage, and no dependence liability.
As with psilocybin, the risks associated with LSD are psychological rather than physiological, and can be largely mitigated by safe, controlled use.
Both psilocybin and LSD elicit their effects via interaction with the serotonin system in the brain. However, there are also some notable differences between the two drugs.
As mentioned above, common doses of shrooms and LSD differ in the onset and duration of their effects. Recent research has shown that LSD’s long duration of action may be the result of serotonin receptors trapping the LSD molecule inside the cell.
Shrooms and LSD also differ in their pharmacology (brain effects) and pharmacokinetic properties (how they are absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and eliminated by the body). For example, unlike most classic psychedelics, LSD displays activity at dopamine receptors at high doses, while psilocybin’s active metabolite psilocin has weak affinity for the serotonin transporter.
While both drugs are known to produce similar effects, many experienced psychonauts report that psilocybin produces a more sedating, introspective, and awe-inspiring experience wherein users have the sense of being rather passive, while LSD creates a more stimulating, expansive or cosmic experience with users feeling as if they have an element of control over the direction or trajectory of the experience.
Anecdotally, visuals produced by psilocybin are more soft and rounded as opposed to the more geometric imagery of LSD, while a roughly equal number of users find either LSD or shrooms to be significantly more anxiety-inducing than the other.
It has yet to be fully determined whether the different pharmacological profiles of shrooms and LSD produce different experiences. However, a recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, in which 28 healthy individuals were given LSD (100 and 200 µg), psilocybin (15 and 30 mg), or placebo, found that the primary differences between shrooms and LSD are dose- rather than substance-dependent.
The researchers at University Hospital Basel found no evidence of qualitative differences in the states of consciousness produced by LSD or psilocybin, concluding that 20 mg psilocybin is equivalent to 100 μg LSD, and 30 mg psilocybin is equivalent to 150 μg LSD. The author’s findings have been subject to much debate, however.
Psychedelics are very powerful drugs, and their use should be approached responsibly and carefully. If you are considering using LSD or psilocybin, it is essential to educate yourself about the potential risks and benefits of these drugs. This can help you make an informed decision about whether or not they are suitable for you.
One important factor to consider is your personal and family health history. People with underlying health issues and personal or familial history of psychoses, bipolar or neuropsychiatric disorders may be more susceptible to harmful effects or adverse reactions. Some medications, particularly ones that interact with the serotonin system, may also be contraindicated with shrooms and LSD.
It is advisable to speak with a licensed healthcare professional before experimenting with psychedelic compounds to assess risk and determine appropriateness.
It is also important to consider your mindset going into the experience and the setting in which the drugs are to be consumed. LSD and psilocybin can produce intense and potentially unsettling experiences, and it is essential to be in a safe and supportive environment. This may include having a trusted and sober individual present to provide support and assistance if needed.
Ultimately, shrooms and acid occasion very similar visionary experiences and exhibit similarly favorable safety profiles, differing most significantly in their duration of action.
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