Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as psychedelic mushrooms, are mushrooms that contain psychoactive indole alkaloids. Common colloquial terms include magic mushrooms and shrooms. Biological genera containing psilocybin mushrooms include Copelandia, Galerina, Gymnopilus, Inocybe, Mycena, Panaeolus, Pholiotina, Pluteus, and Psilocybe. About 40 species are found in the genus Psilocybe. Psilocybe cubensis is the most common psilocybin mushroom in subtropical areas and the black market.
Psilocybin mushrooms have likely been used since prehistoric times and may have been depicted in rock art. Many cultures have used these mushrooms in religious rites. In modern Western society, they are used recreationally for their psychedelic effects.
The effects of psilocybin mushrooms come from psilocybin and psilocin. When psilocybin is ingested, it is broken down to produce psilocin, which is responsible for the psychedelic effects. Psilocybin and psilocin create short-term increases in tolerance of users, thus making it difficult to abuse them because the more often they are taken within a short period of time, the weaker the resultant effects are. Psilocybin mushrooms do not cause physical or psychological dependence (addiction).
Poisonous (sometimes lethal) wild-picked mushrooms can be mistaken for psilocybin mushrooms.
As with many psychedelic substances, the effects of psychedelic mushrooms are subjective and can vary considerably among individual users. The mind-altering effects of psilocybin-containing mushrooms typically last from three to eight hours depending on dosage, preparation method, and personal metabolism. However, the effects can seem to last much longer to the user because of psilocybin’s ability to alter time perception.
In internet surveys, some psilocybin users have reported symptoms of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, although this is uncommon and a causal connection with psilocybin use is unclear. There is a case report of perceptual disturbances and panic disorder beginning after using psilocybin mushrooms in a frequent cannabis user with a pre-existing history of derealization and anxiety.
Magic mushrooms were rated as causing some of the least damage in the UK compared to other recreational drugs by experts in a study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. Other researchers have said that psilocybin is “remarkably non-toxic to the body’s organ systems”, explaining that the risks are indirect: higher dosages are more likely to cause fear and may result in dangerous behavior.
One study found the most desirable results may come from starting with very low doses first, and trying slightly higher doses over months. The researchers explain the peak experiences occur at quantities only slightly lower than a sort of anxiety threshold. Although risks of experiencing fear and anxiety increased somewhat consistently along with dosage and overall quality of experience, at dosages exceeding the individual’s threshold, there was suddenly greater increases in anxiety than before. In other words, after finding the optimum dose, returns diminish for using more (since risks of anxiety now increase at a greater rate).
Noticeable changes to the audio, visual, and tactile senses may become apparent around 30 minutes to an hour after ingestion. These shifts in perception visually include enhancement and contrasting of colors, strange light phenomena (such as auras or “halos” around light sources), increased visual acuity, surfaces that seem to ripple, shimmer, or breathe; complex open and closed eye visuals of form constants or images, objects that warp, morph, or change solid colours; a sense of melting into the environment, and trails behind moving objects. Sounds seem to be heard with increased clarity; music, for example, can often take on a profound sense of cadence and depth. Some users experience synesthesia, wherein they perceive, for example, a visualization of color upon hearing a particular sound.
As with other psychedelics such as LSD, the experience, or “trip”, is strongly dependent upon set and setting. A negative environment could induce a bad trip, whereas a comfortable and familiar environment would allow for a pleasant experience. Many users find it preferable to ingest the mushrooms with friends, people with whom they are familiar, or people who are also ‘tripping’.
Spiritual And Well Being
In 2006, the United States government funded a randomized and double-blinded study by Johns Hopkins University which studied the spiritual effects of psilocybin in particular. That is, they did not use mushrooms specifically (in fact, each individual mushroom piece can vary widely in psilocybin and psilocin content). The study involved 36 college-educated adults (average age of 46) who had never tried psilocybin nor had a history of drug use, and who had religious or spiritual interests. The participants were closely observed for eight-hour intervals in a laboratory while under the influence of psilocybin.
One-third of the participants reported the experience was the single most spiritually significant moment of their lives, and more than two-thirds reported it was among the top five most spiritually significant experiences. Two months after the study, 79% of the participants reported increased well-being or satisfaction; friends, relatives, and associates confirmed this. They also reported anxiety and depression symptoms to be decreased or completely gone. Fourteen months after the study, 64% of participants said they still experienced an increase in well-being or life satisfaction.
Despite highly controlled conditions to minimize adverse effects, 22% of subjects (8 of 36) had notable experiences of fear, some with paranoia. The authors, however, reported that all these instances were “readily managed with reassurance.”
Some people have been asking for medical investigation of the use of synthetic and mushroom-derived psilocybin for the development of improved treatments of various mental conditions, including chronic cluster headaches, following numerous anecdotal reports of benefits. There are also studies which include reports of psilocybin mushrooms sending both obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and OCD-related clinical depression (both being widespread and debilitating mental health conditions) into complete remission immediately and for up to months at a time, compared to current medications which often have both limited efficacy and frequent undesirable side-effects. Recent studies done at Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine conclude, when used properly, psilocybin acts as an antidepressant as suggested by fMRI brain scans.
Dosage of mushrooms containing psilocybin depends on the potency of the mushroom (the total psilocybin and psilocin content of the mushrooms), which varies significantly both between species and within the same species, but is typically around 0.5–2.0% of the dried weight of the mushroom. A typical dose of the common species Psilocybe cubensis is about 2.0 to 3.5 g, while about 4.0 to 7.5 g dried mushroom material is considered a strong dose. Above 8 g is often considered a heavy dose.
The concentration of active psilocybin mushroom compounds varies not only from species to species, but also from mushroom to mushroom inside a given species, subspecies or variety. The same holds true even for different parts of the same mushroom. In the species Psilocybe samuiensis, the dried cap of the mushroom contains the most psilocybin at about 0.23%–0.90%. The mycelium contains about 0.24%–0.32%.
LegalityPsilocybin and psilocin are listed as Schedule I drugs under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Schedule I drugs are deemed to have a high potential for abuse and are not recognized for medical use. However, psilocybin mushrooms are not covered by UN drug treaties.
Psilocybin mushrooms are regulated or prohibited in many countries, often carrying severe legal penalties (for example, the US Psychotropic Substances Act, the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and Drugs Act 2005, and in Canada the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act).
Magic mushrooms in their fresh form still remain legal in some countries such as Austria. On November 29, 2008, the Netherlands announced it would ban the cultivation and use of psilocybin-containing fungi beginning December 1, 2008. The UK ban on fresh mushrooms (dried ones were illegal as they were considered a psilocybin-containing preparation) introduced in 2005 came under much criticism, but was rushed through at the end of the 2001-2005 Parliament; until then, magic mushrooms had been sold in the UK.
New Mexico appeals court ruled on June 14, 2005, that growing psilocybin mushrooms for personal consumption could not be considered “manufacturing a controlled substance” under state law. However it still remains illegal under federal law