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For thousands of years, psychoactive mushrooms have been used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes in some cultures. Psilocybin is the active ingredient in these mushrooms.
Researchers consider psychedelics like psilocybin a promising treatment for mental illness. There are past and present studies on the efficacy of psilocybin. Many of these relate to alcohol addiction, autism, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. John Hopkins has a new well-funded Center for Psychedelic Research. There are also a few such centers in Europe.
Psilocybin provides a “high” as well as changes in sensory perception. These are also common to other hallucinogenic drugs like LSD. Even though psilocybin is not addictive, users can experience many symptoms. Some of such side effects include anxiety, panic attacks, and hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not present).
As much as there may be possible benefits to mushrooms, let us not forget, though that it comes with its peculiar adverse effects. While these researches are ongoing, magic mushrooms are still seen as unsafe by healthcare professionals.
What is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic substance found in certain types of mushrooms. These mushrooms grow in regions like the United States, South America, Europe, and Mexico. Psilocybin is, perhaps, the best-known naturally-occurring psychedelic drug. Its effect on the brain is due to its active metabolite, psilocin.
Mushrooms that contain psilocybin are called magic mushrooms. They are found in the wild, but can be homegrown and are available fresh or dried. Psilocybin mushrooms are ingested orally by eating the dried caps and stems. They are also ingested by brewing in hot water and drunk as a tea. Typical doses are usually between 1 – 2.5 grams daily.
Some producers crush the dried mushrooms into a powder and package them in capsule form. In some cases, such capsules come in flavors like chocolate.
Drug dealers do not sell psilocybin under this name on the streets. Instead, they have more exotic names, including:
- Magic Mushrooms
- Simple Simon
- Sacred Mushrooms
- Mushroom soup
- Little smoke
- Purple passion
- Blue Meanies
- Liberty Caps
How Does Psilocybin Work?
This natural hallucinogen activates serotonin receptors in the brain. The part of the brain most activated is the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain affects perception, cognition, and mood.
After ingestion, psilocybin changes in the body to psilocin. The effects usually take about 30-40 mins to manifest and last about 4 – 6 hours. It can distort how people perceive objects and people within their environment. For some individuals, this can last for several days.
Effects of Psilocybin
Psilocybin effects are similar to those of LSD, another hallucinogen. Some of these presentations are:
- Changes in mood and feelings
- Change in the perception of time and space
- Euphoria (a sense of “high”)
- “Spiritual awakening.”
- Feeling of peacefulness
- Derealization (the feeling that your surroundings are not real)
- Dilated pupils
- Distorted thinking
- Visual distortion such as seeing vivid colors and halos of light
- Poor concentration
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not there)
- A “bad trip.”
- Poisoning from mistakenly eating a poisonous mushroom
Some people who use magic mushrooms experience persistent changes in the way they see the world. These changes are usually visual and can be very distressing. Also, they can last for weeks to even years! In the DSM-5, Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder is the term for this condition.
In some cases, individuals may experience a “bad trip.” This condition includes a feeling of despair, confusion, anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia. Sadly, such feelings may last for several hours to days. Hence, the need to avoid magic mushrooms for recreational use.
The risks of using psychedelics are mostly psychological, not physical. Physically, psilocybin mushrooms are considered to be one of the least toxic drugs known. Deaths from consuming usual doses of psilocybin mushrooms are rare.
Even though physical effects can occur, they are usually mild. Also, they vary from person to person.
Psilocybin Abuse Potential
Shrooms are not addictive. As a result, physical withdrawal symptoms are not common. Regular use can, however, lead to tolerance to the effects of psilocybin. Tolerance means that there is a need for an increase in the amount of psilocybin to achieve the desired outcomes. It also infers that there is a decrease in the effect with continued use of the same amount of psilocybin.
Interestingly, cross-tolerance can also occur with other drugs like mescaline and LSD.
Even though physical withdrawal is uncommon, psychological withdrawal can occur. This condition usually occurs after using psilocybin for several days. It can cause difficulty in adjusting to reality.
Drug Testing for Psilocybin
Drug testing is sometimes required for legal reasons or employment. Such standard testing rarely tests for psilocybin, however. One reason for this is the cost implication. On average, the detection time is about 15 hours for people who only use mushrooms once in a while.
When you consume mushrooms, the body breaks down psilocybin to psilocin. Drug tests can pick up both chemicals. Testing involves urine, blood, or hair.
Due to the low cost and ease, urine tests are the most common way of testing for mushrooms. It is rather unusual to test blood for shrooms. Blood testing may be done in research settings, though. Hair samples may yield psilocybin even up to four weeks after ingestion. Hair testing for mushrooms is rarely done, however.
Many factors determine how long psilocybin will stay in the body. Some of these include:
- Food intake
- Metabolic rate
- Level of hydration
- Liver function
- Kidney function
- the pH of the urine
- Type of mushroom
- Mode of ingestion
- Interaction with other drugs and medications
Can Psilocybin Treat Mental Illness?
Some studies show evidence of the benefits of psilocybin in treating mental illness. Quite a few well-funded legal researches were done in the mid-20th century. These showed that carefully monitored and controlled use of psilocybin may be beneficial for many psychiatric disorders. They also demonstrated benefits for personal and spiritual development and creative enhancement. Despite these results, however, psilocybin was banned in the 70s until the late 90s.
At this time, ongoing researches are showing promising results. Note, though, that all these researches occur in environments with reasonable control and monitoring. These studies aim to evaluate the safety and efficacy of psychedelics. Perhaps, very soon, these results will translate to general use.
The various ongoing studies are checking for benefits in disorders like:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Addiction to drugs and alcohol
- Cluster Headaches
Furthermore, some studies are looking at neuroimaging experiments to help understand the effects of psilocybin on the brain.
The approval process for research on substances like psilocybin is complicated. There is also some political influence due to the war on drugs. Because of these reasons, research funding from academic or government institutions is uncommon. As a result, most of the researches rely on non-profit organizations. Some examples are the Heffter Research Institute, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and the Beckley Foundation.
What is the Legal Status of Psilocybin Mushrooms?
Despite its long history and ongoing medical researches, psilocybin and psilocin are Schedule 1 substances on the Controlled Substances Act. This control is because they have a high potential for abuse and no currently approved medical use. At least, for now.
In the U.S., it is illegal to cultivate or possess psilocybin-producing mushrooms. Scientific researches can, however, use them with an exclusive license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Other than this, possession and sale is an offense with grounds for arrest.
A vital factor to consider is the risk of consuming poisonous mushrooms. Such ingestion can be dangerous. On the contrary, the risk of fatal overdose with psilocybin mushrooms is virtually non-existent.
Psilocybin can cause a conscious awareness of old memories, feelings of life circumstances, deep-seated fears, or fantasies. Thus, it is crucial for someone who uses shrooms to be prepared to deal with unusual feelings. The accompanying feelings, images, and thoughts can be challenging and overwhelming. Perhaps, it is better to have someone not using available. People are known to engage in strange and even dangerous activities when they use psilocybin.
It is difficult to predict what kind of experience you will have with magic mushrooms. This difficulty makes it crucial to be cautious if you have a mental illness.
Treatment for psilocybin mushroom may be necessary in extreme cases where someone loses touch with reality. In such a case, antipsychotics are helpful. The best way to avoid the effects of shrooms, however, is to stop ingesting it. Because of their mild effects on the body, it is easier to overcome using mushrooms – as compared to drugs and alcohol.
Treating underlying mental illness is also crucial. Disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder have readily available treatments. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers are helpful. Newer treatments like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Spravato are also available for depression.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic substance found in certain types of mushrooms. This psychedelic substance creates a mind-altering experience for users. The effects of psilocybin are similar to other hallucinogens, such as LSD, mescaline, and peyote.
Magic mushrooms are ingested by eating them, drinking it as a tea, and swallowing the capsules. Injecting and sniffing the powder is also common.
The body breaks down psilocybin to psilocin. These chemicals activate serotonin receptors in the brain. Magic mushrooms also cause many effects on the body and last 4 – 6 hours on average.
The effects of psilocybin vary tremendously. They affect different people, at different places, and at different times, with a lot of variabilities. In some cases, individuals may experience a “bad trip.” This condition includes a feeling of despair, confusion, anxiety, and panic attacks. Psychosis may also occur.
Addiction is unlikely, but people can develop tolerance and dependence on this substance.
Some studies have found that carefully monitored and controlled use of psilocybin is beneficial for some mental disorders. Benefits for creative enhancement, personal, and spiritual development have also been observed.
Note, however, that these studies utilize pharmaceutical grade compounds. In addition, these researches happen under proper supervision. It is not advisable to try mushrooms outside of a controlled environment without appropriate supervision.
There is no specific medical treatment for mushroom abuse. However, combining shrooms with other drugs like opioids and alcohol will require detox and treatment.
We do not recommend using mushrooms. Many ongoing researches should, hopefully, shed more light on this drug. Until then, the advice is to stay away from abusing this substance.