Psilocybin Mushrooms in General (Overview)
Psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms, are a polyphyletic informal group of fungi that contain psilocybin which turns into psilocin upon ingestion. Biological genera containing psilocybin mushrooms include Copelandia, Gymnopilus, Inocybe, Panaeolus, Pholiotina, Pluteus, and Psilocybe. Psilocybin mushrooms have been and continue to be used in indigenous New World cultures in religious, divinatory, or spiritual contexts. Psilocybin mushrooms are also used as recreational drugs. They may be depicted in Stone Age rock art in Africa and Europe, but are most famously represented in the Pre-Columbian sculptures and glyphs seen throughout North, Central and South America.
The effects of psilocybin mushrooms come from psilocybin and psilocin. When psilocybin is ingested, it is broken down by the liver in a process called dephosphorylation. The resulting compound is called psilocin, which is responsible for the psychedelic effects. Psilocybin and psilocin create short-term increases in tolerance of users, thus making it difficult to misuse them because the more often they are taken within a short period of time, the weaker the resultant effects are. Psilocybin mushrooms have not been known to cause physical or psychological dependence (addiction). The psychedelic effects tend to appear around 20 minutes after ingestion and can last up to 6 hours. Physical effects including nausea, euphoria, relaxation, drowsiness, and lack of coordination may occur.
As with many psychedelic substances, the effects of psychedelic mushrooms are subjective and can vary considerably among individual users. The mind-altering effects of psilocybin-containing mushrooms typically last from three to eight hours depending on dosage, preparation method, and personal metabolism. The first 3–4 hours after ingestion are typically referred to as the ‘peak’—in which the user experiences more vivid visuals and distortions in reality. The effects can seem to last much longer to the user because of psilocybin’s ability to alter time perception.
Sensory effects include visual and auditory hallucinations followed by emotional changes and altered perception of time and space. Noticeable changes to the auditory, visual, and tactile senses may become apparent around 30 minutes to an hour after ingestion, although effects may take up to two hours to take place. These shifts in perception visually include enhancement and contrasting of colors, strange light phenomena (such as auras or “halos” around light sources), increased visual acuity, surfaces that seem to ripple, shimmer, or breathe; complex open and closed eye visuals of form constants or images, objects that warp, morph, or change solid colours; a sense of melting into the environment, and trails behind moving objects. Sounds may seem to have increased clarity—music, for example, can take on a profound sense of cadence and depth. Some users experience synesthesia, wherein they perceive, for example, a visualization of color upon hearing a particular sound.
As with other psychedelics such as LSD, the experience, or ‘trip’, is strongly dependent upon set and setting. Hilarity, lack of concentration, and muscular relaxation (including dilated pupils) are all normal effects, sometimes in the same trip. A negative environment could contribute to a bad trip, whereas a comfortable and familiar environment would set the stage for a pleasant experience. Psychedelics make experiences more intense, so if a person enters a trip in an anxious state of mind, they will likely experience heightened anxiety on their trip. Many users find it preferable to ingest the mushrooms with friends or people who are familiar with ‘tripping’. The psychological consequences of psilocybin use include hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality. Panic reactions and psychosis also may occur, particularly if a user ingests a large dose. In addition to the risks associated with ingestion of psilocybin, individuals who seek to use psilocybin mushrooms also risk poisoning if one of the many varieties of poisonous mushrooms is confused with a psilocybin mushroom.
Dosage of mushrooms containing psilocybin depends on the psilocybin and psilocin content of the mushroom which can vary significantly between and within the same species, but is typically around 0.5–2.0% of the dried weight of the mushroom. Usual doses of the common species Psilocybe cubensis range around 1.0 to 2.5 g, while about 2.5 to 5.0 g dried mushroom material is considered a strong dose. Above 5 g is often considered a heavy dose with 5.0 grams of dried mushroom often being referred to as a “heroic dose”.
The concentration of active psilocybin mushroom compounds varies from species to species, but also from mushroom to mushroom within a given species, subspecies or variety. In the species Psilocybe samuiensis, the dried cap of the mushroom contains the most psilocybin at about 0.23%–0.90%. The mycelium contains about 0.24%–0.32%.