Hallucinogenic mushrooms are believed to have a history that dates back 100,000 years ago; originating in East Africa, hallucinogenic mushrooms became part of the diet of early hominids that gathered them off the African grasslands when they expanded their diets of fruit and small animals to include underground roots, tubers and fungi. Archaeological evidence, including Mesolithic rock paintings in North Africa, mushroom-shaped statuettes and mushroom-shaped stones from Mesoamerica, and mushroom stones and motifs found in Mayan temple ruins of Guatemala and Mexico-suggests that hallucinogenic mushrooms were used by shamans and native peoples for religious communion, divination, and healing, from ancient and pre-Columbian times up to the present day. After the Spanish conquest, Catholic missionaries campaigned to have the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms suppressed because they believed that mushrooms allowed the Aztecs and others to communicate with “devils”.
In 1955, Valentina and R. Gordon Wasson became the first Westerners to participate in an indigenous mushroom ceremony. Having read their findings in Life Magazine, Harvard University professor Timothy Leary traveled to Mexico to experience hallucinogenic mushrooms firsthand. Upon returning to Harvard in 1960, he and fellow Harvard professor Richard Alpert started the Harvard Psilocybin Project (psilocybin being the active hallucinogenic component in hallucinogenic mushrooms), promoting psychological and religious study of psilocybin and other hallucinogenic drugs. After Leary and Alpert were dismissed from Harvard in 1963, they turned their attention toward introducing and promoting the psychedelic experience to the budding “hippie” culture in the United States.
The popularization of psychedelic mushrooms by Wasson, Leary, authors Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, and others has led to widespread recreational use of hallucinogenic mushrooms around the world. By the early 1970s, a number of psychoactive Psilocybe species were described from temperate North America, Europe, and Asia and were widely collected. The availability of hallucinogenic Psilocybe from wild and cultivated sources has made it among the most widely used of the hallucinogenic drugs.
Psilocybin mushrooms (commonly known in modern culture as magic mushrooms, and in indigenous Mesoamerican groups as Tenanacatl, Teotlaquilnanacatl, Xochinanacatl) are fungi that contain the psychoactive compounds psilocybin and psilocin. Biological groups that contain psilocybin mushrooms include Agrocybe, Conocybe, Copelandia; Galerina, Gerronema, Gymnolpilus; Hypholoma, Inocybe, Mycena; Panaeolus, Pluteus, Psilcybe, and Weraroa. There are approximately 190 species of psilocybin mushrooms and most of them fall in the genus Psilocybe.
Psilocybin and psilocin are listed as Schedule I drugs under the United Nations 1971 Convention On Psychotropic Substances-outlawing the preparation, sale, distribution and consumption by anyone-owing to that they are not recognized for medical use. Psilocybin mushrooms are not covered by UN drug treaties.
Psilocybin mushrooms are regulated or prohibited in many countries, often carrying severe legal penalties, such as under The U.S. Psychotropic Substances Act, the U.K. Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and Drugs Act 2005, and the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Hallucinogenic mushrooms in their fresh form still remain legal in some countries including Spain, Austria, and Canada. The Netherlands placed a ban on the cultivation and use of psilocybin-containing fungi in November, 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 hallucinogenic 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.
Hallucinogenic mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in shamanistic ceremonies, religious communions, divination, healing and vision quests. Beginning in the early 1960s, hallucinogenic mushrooms came into Western use by anti-establishment youth countercultures and became synonymous with the “hippie” movement that used hallucinogenic drugs to expand their minds and consciousness, stimulate musical and artistic creativity, and explore free love. Today, hallucinogenic mushrooms and similar drugs are used recreationally worldwide.
There have been calls 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 several accounts of psilocybin mushrooms sending both obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and OCD-related clinical depression into complete remission immediately and for up to months at a time.
Psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs can cause subjective changes in perception, thought, emotion, and consciousness. Unlike stimulants or opioids, hallucinogens do not merely amplify familiar states of mind, but rather induce experiences that are qualitatively different from those of ordinary consciousness. These experiences are often compared to non-ordinary forms of consciousness such as trance, meditation, and dreams.
The criteria for establishing that a drug is hallucinogenic is that in proportion to other effects, changes in thought, perception, and mood should predominate; intellectual or memory impairment should be minimal; stupor, narcosis, or excessive stimulation should not be an integral effect; autonomic nervous system side effects should be minimal; and addictive craving should be absent.
When psilocybin is ingested, it is broken down to produce psilocin, which is responsible for the hallucinogenic effects. As is common with many psychedelic substances, the effects of psychedelic mushrooms are subjective and can vary considerably among individual users. The mind-altering effects of psilocybin mushrooms typically last anywhere from three to eight hours, depending on dosage, preparation method, and personal metabolism.
Psilocybin mushrooms induce hallucinations, often referred to as “trips”. Trips can be good or bad, depending on set and setting. A good trip can be a lot of fun, while a bad trip can be an utter nightmare. Any sort of trip can have random and sometimes very frightening effects, feeding off a person’s imagination. One person can spend six hours in a very happy place while someone else who’s taken the same mushrooms can spend six hours lost in their own fears and paranoia. The quality of the trip depends on who a person is, how they’re feeling and how comfortable they are with the people around them.
Noticeable effects of mushrooms on the audio, visual, and tactile senses include:
- Enhancement and contrasting of colors
- Strange light phenomena (auras and halos)
- Increased visual acuity
- Surfaces that seem to ripple, shimmer, or breathe
- Complex open and closed eye visuals of images and objects that warp, morph, or change solid colors
- Sense of melting into the environment
- Trails behind moving objects
Sounds are experienced and heard with increased clarity; music can often take on a profound sense of cadence and depth. Some users experience synesthesia, where they perceive a visualization of color upon hearing a particular sound.
Controversially associated long-term effects of hallucinogenic mushroom use include panic attacks, anxiety, depression and paranoid delusions.
The term “psychedelic” is used interchangeably with “psychotomimetic” and “hallucinogen”, thus it can refer to a large number of drugs such as classical psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants.
Commonly used classic hallucinogens include:
- Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD
- Peruvian Torch
- Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
Enactogens produce distinctive emotional and social effects, including feelings of empathy,love, and emotional closeness to others. These drugs include MDMA (the active component in Ecstacy) and cannabioids, such as Marijuana.
Dissociative drugs produce analgesia, amnesia and catalepsy at anesthetic doses. They also produce a sense of detachment from the surrounding environment. Dissociation of sensory input can cause derealization, the perception of the outside world as being dream-like or unreal, and depersonalization, which includes feeling detached from one’s body; feeling unreal; feeling able to observe one’s actions but not actively take control; being unable to recognize one’s self in the mirror while maintaining rational awareness that the image in the mirror is the same person.
Dissociate drugs include:
- Dextromethorphan (DMX)
- Nitrous oxide
- Salvia divinorum.
Deliriants are a special class of dissociative which are sometimes called true hallucinogens, because they do cause hallucinations in the proper sense: a user may have conversations with people who aren’t there, or become angry at a ‘person’ mimicking their actions, not realizing it is their own reflection in a mirror. They are called deliriants because their effects are similar to the experiences of people with delirious fevers. Deliriants have effects similar to sleepwalking, during which one does not remember the experience, while dissociatives have effects similar to lucid dreaming, the state in which one is consciously aware of dreaming. Common deliriants include such plants as Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Henbane and Datura; pharmaceutical drugs with deliriant effects include Benadryl, Dramamine and hydroxyzine.
The prohibition of psilocybin mushrooms is under criticism because psilocybin mushrooms are considered soft drugs with a low potential for abuse, very low toxicity, and no risk of addiction. Psilocybin mushrooms are non-addictive and rarely abused. They do 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. Although an individual uneducated in the proper identification of hallucinogenic mushrooms may pick poisonous (sometimes lethal) wild mushrooms mistaken for psilocybin mushrooms, true psilocybin mushrooms are non-toxic, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a branch of the Center For Disease Control, rated psilocybin less toxic than aspirin. Even with the potential risks of panic attacks, anxiety, depression and paranoid delusions, magic mushrooms were rated as one of the safest of all recreational substances by experts in a study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. Leading researchers have said that psilocybin is “remarkably non-toxic to the body’s organ systems”, explaining that any risks are indirect.
Hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms carry no risk of addiction or physical dependence; therefore, no recognizable withdrawal symptoms have been witnessed, experienced or documented.
Researchers and recreational users have found the most desirable results of ingesting psilocybin come from starting with very low doses first, but high dosages of psilocybin are likely to cause fear and anxiety, and may result in dangerous behavior.
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 Psilcybe samuiensis Guzman, Bandala and Allen, the dried cap of the mushroom contains the most psilocybin at about 0.23%-0.90%. The mycelia contain about 0.24%-0.32%.
A typical dose of the rather common species, Psilocybe cubensis, is approximately 1 to 2.5 grams, while about 2.5 to 5 grams of dried mushroom is considered a strong dose. Above 5 dried grams is often considered a heavy dose.