Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic substance people ingest from certain types of mushrooms that grow in regions of Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States.
The mushrooms containing psilocybin are known as magic mushrooms.
According to the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, Psilocybin is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and serves no legitimate medical purpose.
Individuals use psilocybin as a recreational drug. It provides feelings of euphoria and sensory distortion that are common to hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD.
Researchers at John’s Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research published a landmark study in 2006 on the safety and positive effects of psilocybin.
In October 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin. This allows for a 2-year period to consider regulatory and prescribing requirements.
Although medical bodies do not consider psilocybin to be an addictive substance, users can experience disturbing hallucinations, anxiety, and panic from using the drug.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogen that works by activating serotonin receptors, most often in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain affects mood, cognition, and perception.
Hallucinogens work in other regions of the brain that regulate arousal and panic responses. Psilocybin does not always cause active visual or auditory hallucinations. Instead, it distorts how some people that use the drug perceive objects and people already in their environment.
The quantity of the drug, past experiences, and expectations of how the experience will take shape can all impact the effects of psilocybin.
After the gut ingests and absorbs psilocybin, the body converts it to psilocyn. The hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin usually occur within 30 minutes of ingestion and last between 4 and 6 hours.
In some individuals, the changes in sensory perception and thought patterns can last for several days.
Mushrooms containing psilocybin are small and usually brown or tan. In the wild, people often mistake mushrooms containing psilocybin for any number of other mushrooms that are poisonous.
People usually consume psilocybin as a brewed tea or prepare it with a food item to mask its bitter taste. Manufacturers also crush dried mushrooms into a powder and prepare them in capsule form. Some people who consume these mushrooms cover them with chocolate.
The potency of a mushroom depends on:
- the species
- growing conditions
- harvest period
- whether a person eats them fresh or dried
The amount of active ingredients in dried mushrooms is about 10 times higher than the amount found in their fresh counterparts.
Extent of use
In the U.S., the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggested that between 2009 and 2015, around 8.5% of people reported using psilocybin at some point in their life.
The ritual use of psilocybin for mystical or spiritual purposes dates back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies and continues to this day. Psilocybin is often used recreationally at dance clubs or by select groups of people seeking a transcendent spiritual experience.
But some scientists have questioned its effectiveness and safety as a therapeutic measure.
Street names for psilocybin
Drug dealers rarely sell psilocybin under its real name. Instead, the drug may be sold as:
- magic mushrooms
- simple Simon
- little smoke
- sacred mushrooms
- purple passion
- mushroom soup
The effects of psilocybin are generally similar to those of LSD.
They include an altered perception of time and space and intense changes in mood and feeling.
Possible effects of psilocybin include:
- spiritual awakening
- quickly changing emotions
- derealization, or the feeling that surroundings are not real
- depersonalization, or a dream-like sense of being disengaged from surroundings
- distorted thinking
- visual alteration and distortion, such as halos of light and vivid colors
- dilated pupils
- impaired concentration
- muscle weakness
- lack of coordination
- unusual body sensations
- frightening hallucinations
The effects of psilocybin vary between people, based on differences in the mental state and personality of the user and the immediate environment.
If the recreational user experiences issues with mental health or feels anxious about using the hallucinogen, they face a higher risk of having a bad experience.
Psychological distress is the adverse event most often reported after recreational use of psilocybin. This distress can take the form of extreme anxiety or short-term psychosis.
Psilocybin as a treatment for depression
Discussions are ongoing about whether psychological specialists can use psilocybin and similar hallucinogens as a treatment for depression.
Two studies have looked at psilocybin as a treatment. One study examined the ability of psilocybin to reduce depression symptoms without dulling emotions, and the other
While some researchers are looking into some therapeutic uses for psilocybin, they still, at present, regard psilocybin as unsafe and illegal.
People who have taken psilocybin in uncontrolled settings might engage in reckless behavior, such as driving while intoxicated.
Some people may experience persistent, distressing alterations to the way they see the world. These effects are often visual and can last anywhere from weeks to years after using the hallucinogen.
Physicians now diagnose this condition as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, also known as a flashback. A flashback is a traumatic recall of an intensely upsetting experience. The recollection of this upsetting experience during hallucinogen use would be a bad trip, or a hallucination that takes a disturbing turn.
Some individuals experience more unpleasant effects than hallucinations, such as fear, agitation, confusion, delirium, psychosis, and syndromes that resemble schizophrenia, requiring a trip to the emergency room.
In most cases, a doctor will treat these effects with medication, such as benzodiazepines. These effects often resolve in 6 to 8 hours as the effects of the drug wear off.
Finally, though the risk is small, some psilocybin users risk accidental poisoning from eating a poisonous mushroom by mistake.
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning may include muscle spasms, confusion, and delirium. Visit an emergency room immediately if these symptoms occur.
Because hallucinogenic and other poisonous mushrooms are common to most living environments, a person should regularly remove all mushrooms from areas where children are routinely present to prevent accidental consumption.
Most accidental mushroom ingestion results in minor gastrointestinal illness, with only the most severe instances requiring medical attention.
Psilocybin is not chemically addictive, and no physical symptoms occur after stopping use.
But regular use can cause an individual to become tolerant to the effects of psilocybin. Cross-tolerance also occurs with other drugs, including LSD and mescaline. People who use these drugs must wait at least several days between doses to experience the full effect.
After several days of psilocybin use, individuals might experience psychological withdrawal and have difficulty adjusting to reality.
How likely is it that I will have a bad trip taking magic mushrooms?Anonymous
A “bad trip” can include feelings of despair, confusion, paranoia, anxiety, and panic. These feelings can persist for hours to days.
To avoid this, first, you will not have a bad trip, or any trip at all if you choose not to ingest the mushrooms. If the mushrooms have a higher, stronger dose than expected, this can increase your chances of having a negative experience.
For someone going through a personal crisis or using mushrooms in an unsafe, unsupportive environment, the chances of a “bad trip” increase.
There are no guarantees with mushrooms since they are an unprocessed plant product, and a bad trip can, and does, happen. If someone has ingested mushrooms and is having a “bad trip” experiencing panic, anxiety, or in any danger of harming themselves or others, seek medical assistance immediately.Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHTAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.