Magic mushrooms also known as shrooms, mushies,caps, blue meanies, golden tops, liberty caps, philosopher’s stones, liberties, amani, and agaric, purple passion, boomers, buttons, champiñones, hongos, Alice, tweezers
What are magic mushrooms?
Psilocybin mushrooms are fungi that naturally contain the hallucinogenic substance psilocybin.
There are more than 180 different types of psilocybin-containing mushrooms that can produce psychedelic and hallucinatory effects when consumed. Body processes turn psilocybin into psilocin, which is the substance that actually causes the psychedelic effects. Baeocystin and norbaeocystin are two other compounds that are frequently present in trace amounts, while it is unknown how much they contribute to the total effects.
The Psilocybe Cubensis species is the one that is most frequently produced and utilized; although its hallucinogenic effects are less potent than those of certain other strains, it is simple to grow indoors.
What are the different forms of psilocybin mushrooms?
Psilocybin mushrooms grow naturally outdoors — they either grow out of the ground or are cultivated from mycelium spores. There are mamy different strains of psilocybin mushrooms that grow naturally all over the world and some people forage for them. Picking these mushrooms yourself, however, can be dangerous. There are over 10,000 species of known mushroom, many of which are poisonous to humans. Without knowledge of the different types, species and dangers of various fungi, it can be easy to confuse one mushroom with another.
Mushrooms consist of ove 90% water and so when dried they lose around 90% of their weight. This means that the same dose of magic mushrooms in a dried form will be around 10x lower in weight than a fresh dose.
If the moisture isn’t extracted from mushrooms when they’re picked they can rot fairly quickly, which destroys not only the mushroom itself but also the psilocybin contained within. Eating rotten magic mushrooms is never a good idea — the mould could cause severe stomach issues without any kind of psychedelic experience.
Due to the fact that psilocybin mushrooms are prohibited in practically all nations, the market for magic mushrooms is uncontrolled and unlawful. The risk of buying magic mushrooms of any kind, whether fresh or dried, is that you won’t know precisely which strain you’re buying unless you’re an expert. Psilocybe mushrooms come in a wide variety, and some are more potent than others. Consuming what you perceive to be a low dose could have unanticipated and unpleasant effects.
Magic mushrooms can also come in powdered form; sold as capsules or as the powder itself. The dangers of purchasing/receiving psilocybin in this form are greater than the fresh or dried variety.
It is important to recognise that natural products tend to vary in strength even within the same species and across locations. Psilocybin mushrooms are consumed in many ways, fresh or dried, for example, brewed into a tea, put into food, ground-up or just eaten as they are. As mushrooms are almost entirely water, a dose of fresh mushrooms will weigh around 10 times more than the same dose dried.
How does psilocybin work as a drug in the body and brain?
Psilocybin and psilocin are known as psychedelic tryptamines and they have very similar molecular structures to a key chemical messenger called serotonin. Serotonin has some very important functions in our brains and digestive systems, including large influences over-regulating our moods, sleep cycles and stress-coping mechanisms.
Due to this similarity in molecular structure, psilocin molecules activate the same receptors in the brain that serotonin activates, particularly at a specific receptor site known as 5HT2A. This particular receptor mediates many different functions in our minds; like mood, imagination, learning and perception.
A large portion of these 5HT2A receptors are located in cells in the cortex; an area of the brain associated with reasoning and rational thought. These cells are also quite long they span an area of the brain larger than many other cells and therefore have a wider influence over brain activity.
Psilocin sits into these receptors and activates them, thereby producing the characteristic ‘trip’ of a magic mushroom experience, which can include changes in mood, imagination and perception. Recent research has also shown psilocin has an effect on a part of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN).
Our DMN’s are like our brain’s main information highways. They act as consolidation centres while we go about our daily lives, compiling information quietly in the background. They also allow us to ‘time travel’ in our minds, giving us the ability to think back to the past and plan into the future. Some also theorise our DMN’s are home to our individualities; that they house our senses of ‘self’.
Psilocin temporarily disables one or more of the DMN’s ‘connector hubs’. This temporary shutdown of our brain’s main information highway means the brain cannot connect with the different parts of itself like it usually does, and is instead forced to connect in ways it does not usually. This means the brain starts communicating with parts of itself it doesn’t normally ‘talk’ to, which means the brain creates new connections while under the influence of psilocin.
Our understanding of exactly how psilocin affects the brain is not yet complete, and scientific research continues.
What are the effects of psilocybin mushrooms?
Psilocybin mushrooms produce changes in a user’s consciousness, mood, perception and sensory experience. These changes are classically known as a psychedelic ‘trip’, and can last anywhere between 2–6 hours. The intensity of the trip is directly related to the dose consumed and the strength of the mushrooms in terms of their psilocybin content.
A commonly reported effect is that the mind seems to become more open under the influence of psilocybin and sensory experience can become very intense.
This means things which a person would normally find aesthetically pleasing (art, nature, music etc) can become far more beautiful on psilocybin than when sober, but it can also mean that normal sensory experience can become overwhelming. Being in a crowded place like a street or a nightclub, for example, can become difficult because of the sheer amount of sensory input which can easily overwhelm the mind and the senses. The optimum physical setting for a psilocybin mushrooms experience is somewhere comfortable and familiar, where the amount of sensory input is low or can be controlled, like at home or in a peaceful open space.
Key effects of the experience include thinking in new, interesting or peculiar ways; having emotions far more connected to sensory experiences; having your gaze directed inward toward your own emotions or character; experiencing time distortions; experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations; and, at very high doses, experiencing ego death.
Given that psilocybin seems to connect parts of the brain in novel and interesting ways; different, fascinating, odd and sometimes scary ways of thinking can present themselves to the user. There is little one can do to predict the ways a psychedelic trip will go, and the best practice is to ensure a positive mindset and comfortable setting prior to the trip.
Hallucinations can occur based on the strength, type and dosage of the magic mushroom consumed and can include changes in perception of sounds, closed-eye visuals and open-eye visuals.
Closed-eye visuals can range anywhere from seeing fractal patterns and vivid colours to experiencing dream-like sequences and deeply-set memories, all with your eyes closed.
Open-eye visuals can include hallucinations of your environment, like colours becoming much more vibrant, surfaces seeming to ripple or ‘breathe’ before your eyes, patterns forming, moving or rotating as you observe and much more. At higher doses objects and environments may morph into different things and you may experience things that are not really there.
Auditory hallucinations can include sounds becoming clearer, crisper or more distorted or layered with meaning. The perception and appreciation of music or words/language can also change.
At very high doses users may experience something known as ego death. This is an intense experience when your sense of self can (seemingly) cease to exist, which can be frightening, strange, or enlightening, or all three. A high dose is not recommended, especially to first time users or those not overly familiar with the trip, as ego death can be a very intense experience.
Shrooms: A History Through Time
Magic mushrooms have been used for more than 10,000 years in various spiritual and medical rituals for their ability to alter consciousness and trigger mystical experiences.
As the story goes, R. Gordon Wasson, an American banker, and mushroom enthusiast was vacationing with his wife in Mexico in 1955 when they became the first outsiders to participate in the Mazatec Indians’ sacred mushroom rituals with a healer named Maria Sabina. He brought some of the mushrooms back to his home in New York City, and later shared his experience in Mexico in a Life magazine article published in 1957, when LSD—a chemically-similar psychedelic but about 1000 times more potent—was already being studied for its ability to treat alcoholism and other psychiatric illnesses. (A 25 mg dose of psilocybin is equivalent to approximately 250 micrograms of LSD.)
Three years later, two Harvard psychologists—Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert—began to explore how cognition, perception, and emotion are impacted by psychedelic drugs. They started the notorious Harvard Psilocybin Project, which involved administering psilocybin to student volunteers to document its effects. Bear in mind, psilocybin and LSD were legal then, but both Leary and Alpert were also tripping during their experiments, which ultimately got them fired in 1963.
By now, psychedelics were gaining a reputation in mainstream culture as being dangerous. Numerous states began banning their use, and in 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act and classified both psilocybin and LSD as Schedule 1 drugs. With both now illegal, funds for research on psychedelics disappeared and research slowed to a drip.
But it didn’t stop altogether, and decades of findings slowly accumulated, showing the benefits of psilocybin. In 2018, the FDA took note of studies looking at its ability to ease treatment-resistant depression, and designated it as a Breakthrough Therapy, a classification that indicates significant therapeutic potential, and fast-tracked the development and review process.
Another sign of its potential as a clinical treatment: Johns Hopkins University launched the Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research in September 2019, where research continues to reveal psilocybin’s therapeutic effects. A small handful of other, reputable centers for psychedelic research have also cropped up including the Center for Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme at Imperial College London.
What the Psilocybin therapy research shows
What’s most interesting about psilocybin is its ability to address a few different types of conditions. “The most promising potential is for addiction—smoking, alcoholism, cocaine,” says Matthew W. Johnson, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and associate director of the Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. His ongoing pilot study on nicotine addiction has found that 80% of participants who underwent psilocybin therapy quit smoking, and 60% of them were still abstinent 16 months later—impressive compared to the 35% success rate of varenicline, the most effective of other smoking cessation therapies.
“The idea that something could be efficacious for multiple substances is, itself, very atypical and exciting,” says Johnson. “There’s a very good case that psilocybin can treat the psychology of addiction, not just alleviate the withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.”
In addition to treating addiction, psilocybin has also shown impressive results in treating depression and death anxiety. For instance, one small recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that patients with major depressive disorder experienced significant improvement after being treated with psilocybin in combination with psychotherapy, and more than half were in remission four weeks afterward. “The most advanced work is with patients with life-threatening cancer, where we saw dramatic reductions in depression and anxiety that showed persistent benefits six months later, which is extremely atypical,” says Dr. Johnson.
Beyond those applications, researchers are also looking at psilocybin for anorexia, Alzheimer’s (related to both depression and cognitive decline), post-traumatic stress disorder, demoralization syndrome (suffering characterized by feelings of hopelessness and loss of purpose/meaning in life) experienced by long-term HIV survivors, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “We don’t have the answers yet, but I would say they’re good bets,” says Johnson.
Microdosing Magic Mushrooms
Microdosing psychedelics is the practice of consuming very low, sub-hallucinogenic doses of a psychedelic substance, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or psilocybin-containing mushrooms. According to media reports, microdosing has grown in popularity, yet the scientific literature contains minimal research on this practice. There has been limited reporting on adverse events associated with microdosing, and the experiences of microdosers in community samples have not been categorized.
In the present study, we develop a codebook of microdosing benefits and challenges (MDBC) based on the qualitative reports of a real-world sample of 278 microdosers.
We describe novel findings, both in terms of beneficial outcomes, such as improved mood (26.6%) and focus (14.8%), and in terms of challenging outcomes, such as physiological discomfort (18.0%) and increased anxiety (6.7%). We also show parallels between benefits and drawbacks and discuss the implications of these results. We probe for substance-dependent differences, finding that psilocybin-only users report the benefits of microdosing were more important than other users report.
These mixed-methods results help summarize and frame the experiences reported by an active microdosing community as high-potential avenues for future scientific research. The MDBC taxonomy reported here informs future research, leveraging participant reports to distil the highest-potential intervention targets so research funding can be efficiently allocated. Microdosing research complements the full-dose literature as clinical treatments are developed and neuropharmacological mechanisms are sought. This framework aims to inform researchers and clinicians as experimental microdosing research begins in earnest in the years to come.
Types of Psilocybin producing mushrooms:
The way that magic mushrooms are spoken about in some circles, you could be forgiven for thinking that the term refers to just one specific psychedelic mushroom species. In reality, the world of psychedelic fungi is considerably more diverse than most people might realize.
Current estimates put the number of different psychedelic mushrooms at over 180 unique species belonging predominantly to the genus Psilocybe (117 species), but also from the genera Gymnopilus (13 species), Copelandia (12 species), and Panaeolus (7 species) to name just a few. These mushrooms naturally produce amounts of the tryptamine alkaloids psilocybin and psilocin, which can elicit powerful subjective psychedelic experiences in humans if ingested in high amounts.
These psychedelic mushroom species can be found worldwide and different species have been used by indigenous groups around the globe for cultural and medicinal purposes for centuries. The Aztecs, for example, used a substance called teonanácatl (“flesh of the gods”), which is understood to have been a psychedelic mushroom, and cave paintings at Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria suggest that indigenous north African groups may have been using magic mushrooms as early as 9,000 years ago.
Each unique psychedelic plant species differs in terms of its geographic prevalence, its ideal growth conditions, and even its subjective psychotropic effects.
Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms are the archetypal psychedelic mushroom. Unlike other members of the Psilocybe genus that thrive naturally on lichenous substrates, P. cubensis prefers to grow on well-manured ground or animal dung, but they are also one of the easiest species of psychedelic mushroom to grow indoors. As a result, P. cubensis has gained popularity to become the most commonly used psychedelic mushroom. As such, the species has spread from its natural habitat in the tropics to be cultivated indoors by growers the world over.
There are significant differences in appearance between P. cubensis mushrooms that are grown in the wild and those cultivated indoors, and this has only been exaggerated by years of strategic cultivation to create newer, more potent strains of the P. cubensis species.
Mycologist Paul Stamets wrote in his 1996 book Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World that P. cubensis “gets a rating of ‘moderately potent’.” Other research indicates that P. cubensis contains approximately 0.63 percent psilocybin and 0.6 percent psilocin. In contrast, Penis Envy, a particularly potent (and brazenly named) strain of P. cubensis, is thought to contain up to 50 percent more psilocybin and psilocin than its wild predecessor. As a result of this intensive genetic isolation, the Penis Envy strain has extremely thick stems (get it?) and underdeveloped caps as compared to less modified P. cubensis strains.
As to be expected with a species that has so many different strain variants, it is impossible to neatly sum up the type of psychedelic experiences that come with using these mushrooms. Adding to the complexity, most of the scientific research relating to psychedelic mushrooms tends to use synthetic psilocybin, and so it is equally challenging to verify the experiences that are reported by users. Psilopedia, an online encyclopedia of psychedelic mushroom strains, reports that the Penis Envy strain tends to be associated with feelings of intense euphoria. Other well-known strains, such as Golden Teacher and Hultua, are reportedly well-known for their ability to induce spiritual or mystical experiences.
Although most psychedelics research opts to use synthetic psilocybin, there are still a number of active researchers who are specifically interested in investigating P. cubensis.
Psilocybe azurescens is generally regarded as the most potent wild mushroom that has been discovered to date, containing on average around 1.8 percent psilocybin and 0.4 percent psilocin. P. azurescens also contains significant amounts of another tryptamine alkaloid, baeocystin, which is an analog of psilocybin.
The Azurescens name refers to the blue bruising that develops on the mushrooms’ stalk when handled, but they are also commonly nicknamed the “Flying Saucers” on account of their broad, flattened mushroom caps.
As the story goes, P. azurescens wasfirst discovered in 1979 by a group of boy scouts on a camping trip in Oregon, although they were not counted as an official species until the late 1990s when Paul Stamets published his findings on the mushroom. But it is arguably remarkable that these mushrooms were discovered at all; unlike the other mushroom species that grow over multiple countries and continents, the P. azurescens species is highly localized to the coastal dune grasses in Oregon and Washington state.
Likely due to the large volume of tryptamine alkaloids it contains, there are some reports of P. azurescens users experiencing temporary paralysis when using high doses of the mushroom. However, this high potency has also made these mushrooms a popular option among those looking to practice microdosing.
Psilocybe semilanceata is thought to be one of the oldest and most commonly recognized Psilocybe mushrooms. The earliest reliable report og P. semilanceata intoxication dates back to 1799, in which a doctor in the London Medical and Physical Journal[ describes the effects of a man serving P. semilanceata to his family for breakfast, after having found the mushrooms in London’s Green Park. The doctor who attended the family reported that one of the children was “attacked with fits of immoderate laughter” along with “vertigo, and a great degree of stupor.”
The species name semilanceata derives from a Latin term meaning spear-shaped, though this species is also sometimes called the “Liberty Cap” mushroom in reference to the distinctive shape of the Phrygian liberty caps worn by groups in ancient Turkey and eastern Europe.
The P. semilanceata is the third-most potent of the common Psilocybe mushroom species, after P. azurescens and P. bohemica, with around one percent psilocybin content. It is also considered the most widespread species of mushroom in terms of its natural habitats as it is prevalent across most of the northern hemisphere and in certain pockets within Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and New Zealand.
Psilocybe cyanescens is the last of the four most predominant Psilocybe strains. It owes its prevalence in part to increasing human urbanization, as it grows readily on humus soil enriched with materials such as twigs, chopped wood, and sawdust. From its roots in the Pacific Northwest and central Europe, the strain has used the lumber and mulch production industries to increase its spread around the globe.
P. cyanescens mushrooms are also commonly known as Wavy Caps on account of their distinctive rippled mushroom head that is unique among the common Psilocybe species. However, this is a similar profile to the very toxic Galerina marginata fungus – known colloquially as the Funeral Bell or the Deadly Skullcap – which enjoys the same growth conditions as P. cyanescens and can often be found growing nearby.
Although P. cyanescens has a reasonably high potency of the psychedelia-inducing tryptamine alkaloids, it is generally not cultivated by mushroom enthusiasts to the same extent as the other common Psilocybe species as it can be challenging to grow indoors. Similar to P. azurescens, there are also anecdotal reports of P. cyanescens inducing a temporary paralysis when consumed in high enough amounts.
Copelandia cyanescens, aka Panaeolus cyanescens
Copelandia (Panaeolus) cyanescens is one of the most notable non-Psilocybe species of psychedelic mushroom, though a confusing naming convention means that it can often be confused with the Psilocybe cubensis strain Blue Meanies – C. cyanescens mushrooms are also commonly nicknamed Blue Meanies due to the blue and blue-green colored bruising that can easily develop on their stems and caps when handled.
The species is sometimes also referred to as Copelandia Hawaiian, or simply the Hawaiian, as Hawaii is where the species is most commonly found and consumed, but it can also be found throughout south-east Asia, the Caribbean, and other tropical and neotropical environments.
According to the American ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox, C. cyanescens is cultivated in Bali for use in native festivals and for the tourist trade. In Samoa, Cox reports that the caps of C. cyanescens mushrooms are boiled to form a black juice which is mixed into coffee and drunk. The effects of this brew are said to produce feelings of euphoria with visual and auditory hallucinations that can last for many hours.