Psilocybin, also called magic mushrooms, are a potent naturally occurring psychedelic drug. It may be the most commonly used psychedelic when compared to other options like DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) or mescaline. Psilocybin is a compound that’s found in a wide variety of mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe, though the compound can also be found in mushrooms outside this genus.
It has similar effects to other psychedelic drugs like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and DMT, though users would tell you that the experiences have some distinct differences. Generally, psilocybin can cause euphoria, hallucinations, changes in perception, time distortion, transcendental experiences, and adverse reactions such as panic and nausea.
There is evidence in the form of cave paintings and murals to suggest that humans have used psilocybin since prehistoric times. In Mesoamerica, the mushrooms may have been used for spiritual purposes. By the middle 20th century, scientists were hard at work studying psychedelic drugs like LSD, and a Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann isolated psilocybin from a mushroom. After that, it was briefly sold as a psychotherapy medication until the 1960s.
Today, there is a push to decriminalize and legalize psilocybin in the U.S., and more researchers are interested in studying the drug for its potential benefits in psychotherapy. It has even been studied as a potential depression treatment, and researchers found that it was safe and effective enough to warrant further study.
But are psilocybin mushrooms safe to use or are they as dangerous as other psychoactive drugs? Learn more about psilocybin use and the effects it can have on the human brain.
Why Do People Use Psilocybin Mushrooms?
Psilocybin is commonly used as a recreational drug for its euphoric effects. Mushrooms can cause a wide variety of pleasant symptoms including elevated mood, relaxation, and novelty enhancement (easily amused). However, the effects of the drug can be difficult to predict, and they can vary from person to person. Recreational doses are generally small because high doses cause hallucinations and more extreme effects.
Higher doses are often used when seeking spiritual experiences. Users claim that the drug offers enhanced self-awareness and transcendent experiences. An ethnobotanist named Terence McKenna suggested that psilocybin mushrooms offer a deeper understanding of human connection with nature.
A recent movement of “microdosing” has reportedly grown in popularity in the U.S and around the world. It’s said to be popular among business executives and in Silicon Valley because the drug increased cognitive flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving.
Are Mushrooms Addictive?
Psilocybin mushrooms aren’t chemically addictive in that other psychoactive substances are, like alcohol or heroin. The drug does cause you to build up a tolerance quickly and taking it more than once within a few days can result in diminished effects. However, tolerance dissipates after a few days of abstinence. The drug’s effects also don’t usually cause impulsive redosing as cocaine does, so users often can use it once without feeling the need to use again or binge.
Physical dependence doesn’t occur with repeated use of the drug, and the brain doesn’t seem to integrate it into its chemical balance like it would with addictive chemicals. At the same time, drugs that produce euphoria can often cause psychological dependence, though even that is rare. If the drug is taken in a party setting, it may be used alongside other drugs like alcohol. Polydrug use can often lead to substance use disorders and addiction.
Is Psilocybin Dangerous?
When psilocybin is compared to other psychoactive drugs, especially other illicit drugs, it’s on the safer end of the spectrum when it comes to adverse effects. In terms of physical effects, mushrooms can cause pupil dilation, changes in heart rate, blood pressure changes, hypotension, hypertension, nausea, tremors, and loss of coordination. The effects are typically mild and don’t pose a serious threat to healthy individuals.
However, the effects the drug has on your heart rate could be dangerous in some people. One study found that psilocybin only moderately elevated heart rates for about an hour after ingesting the drug. However, even this can cause problems in someone who has a pre-existing heart condition or hypertension. It may also be dangerous for people who are also taking medicine for hypertension, especially if the mushroom caused their blood pressure and heart to potentiate the medication, causing a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
As with other drugs that hinder your mobility and body control, the loss of motor control you experience on mushrooms can also lead to injury. Most self-proclaimed psychonauts would encourage mushroom users to use the drug in a safe environment and to avoid standing or moving around. Still, some users take the drug in party settings, which can be potentially dangerous if you take it in high doses.
As with other psychedelics, the psychological effects of psilocybin are often the most cause for concern. Mushrooms are used for the feelings of joy, giddiness, and euphoria they can produce. But it can also produce introspection, perceived spiritual insight, and an altered state of consciousness. However, adverse psychological symptoms can include anxiety, panic, frightening hallucinations, and depression.
Studies have shown that the drug can also produce psychosis effects that are similar to schizophrenia symptoms. For most people, these symptoms are only temporary, subsiding as the drug leaves their system. However, it may present a more significant threat to people with pre-existing psychological disorders like schizophrenia or to people who are predisposed to mental issues involving psychosis.
As with other psychedelics, mushrooms are more likely to cause unpleasant psychological effects depending on your “set and setting.” The term “set and setting” refer to the place you take the drug and the mindset you’re in when you take it. If you take a moderate-to-high dose of psilocybin in a crowded setting when you are feeling anxious, you are more likely to experience a “bad trip” or a high with unpleasant psychological symptoms.
Psilocybin Mushrooms and Addiction Treatment
It’s rare for someone who uses psilocybin alone to require the full continuum of care in addiction treatment. However, if mushroom use leads to mental health disorders and psychological dependence, you may benefit from some level of addiction treatment. Common therapies in addiction treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are useful in treating addiction and mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and post-traumatic stress (PTSD).
The level of care you require will be determined after you go through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to identify your needs. If you used other drugs like benzodiazepines or alcohol, you might require medical detox to get through withdrawal symptoms safely and as comfortably as possible. If you don’t require 24-hour medical treatment, but you do have high-level medical or psychological needs, you may go through an inpatient program.
If you can live on your own, you may be able to go through an intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment program. Outpatient treatment allows you to live at home while you go through the addiction therapies that have been chosen to be a part of your treatment plan. Outpatient treatment is a common option for people who have developed psychological addictions that don’t have a high risk of a dangerous relapse.