Psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
Psilocybin is the psychotropic compound found in what is known as ‘magic mushrooms,’ which are a group of fungi numbering over 180 species of different mushrooms found all over the world in nature. These types of mushrooms have a long history of spiritual and healing ritual use. More recently, psilocybin has been recognized for its medicinal value in mainstream medicine to treat a variety of conditions ranging from depression, anxiety, and PTSD to cluster headaches and addiction with promising early results and recent recognition by the USD FDA of psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” drug for depression.
Psilocybin is a serotonergic psychedelic, meaning it is similar to the chemical makeup of serotonin and binds to serotonergic receptors, especially one subtype called the 5-HT2A receptor in the brain. It causes changes in the brain’s ‘filtering’ information system, quiets down parts of the brain including something called the default mode network, and causes changes in perception as well as visual changes and hallucinations which create the psychedelic experience often known as a ‘trip.’ This psychedelic experience can range from being life-changing and spiritual to ‘having fun’ to, in some cases, feeling terrifying or emotionally extremely difficult, overwhelming or include the re-emergence of buried memories, including traumatic ones. Specifically with magic mushrooms more so than other similar psychedelics, possible nausea and stomach upset as well as headaches after the trip wears off can happen, which tend to be dose-related in terms of intensity but are generally mild in most cases.
Whether the experience is positive or negative, enlightening, scary, or sad depends a lot on what is known as ‘set and setting.’ What this means is the mindset of the person, including factors like mental preparedness and expectations as well as your mood and emotional state when you take your trip. Part of the set would generally involve sitting down before your trip in the days leading up to the experience and taking time for quiet reflection the day before. Take time to ask yourself if there are any goals or self-information or insight you would like to gain or questions you would like to ask yourself. You may also think about any preconceived notions you have about the substance and the experience or any anxieties you may have around it. Ideally, these reflections are discussed before the trip with your guide or ‘sitter’ as a pre-trip debrief to help create the best ‘setting’ too. Setting refers to the environment, which generally should feel safe and supportive and include a ‘trip sitter’ who can watch out for you and if experienced, help guide you on your trip. Taking a trip in a crowded nightclub with people you don’t know and with alcohol, for example, would be a bad setting vs. taking it in a safe uncluttered space where you may have access to nature would be considered a more therapeutic setting.
Typically a trip on magic mushrooms peaks a few hours after ingesting the mushrooms or isolated psilocybin molecule. This part of the trip is when the most intense sensory perception and thinking alterations occur, which may include ‘visuals.’ The entire experience including the comedown phase can last around 6 hours.
Risks & Cautions: psilocybin is illegal in most countries, although magic mushrooms have been decriminalized in some jurisdictions such as in CO, USA. They are legal in Brazil. In the Netherlands, although fresh and dried magic mushrooms are illegal, a legal loophole exists for psychoactive mushroom species classified as truffles, which are fully legal which has led to the setting up of therapeutic ‘personal growth’ magic mushroom wellness retreats. It is not considered addictive.