Psilocybin mushrooms contain a substance that is among the most popular psychedelic drugs in the world along with LSD and mescaline. This potent fungus, often called a magic mushroom, can lift your mood, cause giddiness, and even induce hallucinations. Users also report spiritually transcendent experiences when taking these mushrooms, and researchers are exploring the drug’s potential therapeutic qualities.
But are psilocybin mushrooms safe to consume or can they cause potentially dangerous overdoses like other drugs? Learn more about what happens to your brain and body when you take psychedelic mushrooms.
Psilocybin Mushroom Toxicity
Psilocybin mushrooms, like many psychoactive substances, have a limit to the amount you can safely ingest. To measure this, scientists and medical practitioners look at toxicity, or the damage a substance can do to your body. Substances that are highly toxic will require smaller amounts to do significant damage. However, psilocybin mushrooms have very low toxicity and require very large amounts to be dangerous or fatal. Still, other psychedelics such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) don’t have a known level of toxicity, and there have been no reported deaths because of toxic interactions with these substances.
A substance’s toxicity is measured in a median lethal dose, which refers to the size of the dose that would kill 50 percent of a given population. Toxicities are usually compared in rat or mouse studies. When the harm potential of psilocybin mushrooms was tested in rabbits, it showed to have a median lethal dose of about 12 milligrams per kilogram.
Researchers have estimated that it would take about 280 milligrams per kilogram to be potentially lethal to a human being. That means the average person would have to ingest 6 grams of the mushroom for it to be deadly. That’s 1,000 times the effective dose. A single mushroom only contains psilocybin equal to 1 percent of its total weight. It’s estimated that you’d have to eat 3 pounds of the dried mushroom for it to be fatally toxic.
However, toxicity isn’t the only way you can take too much psilocybin.
While an overdose on psilocybin that causes dangerous physical consequences is unlikely, it’s possible that a large dose can cause unpleasant and even damaging psychological issues. In some cases, ingesting psychedelic mushrooms can cause severe side effects including violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and convulsions. While these side effects are rare, there are three reasons you might experience these unpleasant symptoms:
- The mushrooms were given to you without your knowledge, and their potent psychoactive effects came at a surprise.
- You took a high dose that you were psychologically unprepared for.
- You took the mushrooms while you were in a loud, disruptive setting.
The effects of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin are largely subjective and can vary widely from person to person. Because they play on a person’s thoughts, perception, and state of consciousness, the effects of a mushroom can be changed by internal and external circumstances. Among psychedelic users and researchers, a concept called “set and setting” may determine a person’s experience with the drug. The word “set” refers to the mindset, thoughts, and feelings one has while going into mushroom use.
Someone who’s extremely anxious, angry, frustrated, or depressed may have an overall negative experience when they use psilocybin. At the same time, someone who is calm and relaxed may have a generally positive experience.
“Setting” refers to the environment you are in when you take the drug. Someone who takes the drug in a quiet room with one other person may have a different experience than someone in a loud, disruptive area. Most experienced users recommend quiet and dark settings, but many people use the drugs in party settings, which may have large crowds, flashing lights, and loud noises. Disruptive sights and sounds might cause unpleasant psychological side effects in someone who is under the influence of psilocybin like panic.
Beyond set and setting, users and researchers report that intention plays a big role in the subjective effects you might encounter. People who use mushrooms as a recreational drug might experience giddiness or increased empathy. People who use mushrooms to seek enlightenment may become more introspective. For that reason, users who take the drug unknowingly may become frightened by its effects and experience more disturbing adverse reactions.
A 2009 study into the potential therapeutic effects of the drug found that several users reported mild perceptual disorders, which is the impaired ability to discern the nature of objects with the senses. Mushrooms have also been shown to produce psychosis symptoms that are similar to schizophrenia, like an impaired ability to distinguish reality from imagined objects or circumstances.
In most people, psychotic symptoms are temporary, but these effects can be more dangerous in people with mental health problems or a history of schizophrenia. Psychedelic drugs can be extremely triggering for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. If you have been using psychedelic drugs and while you have a psychological problem, it may be necessary for you to seek help. Speak to your doctor or an addiction treatment specialist the learn more about treatment options.
While psilocybin has very low toxicity, there is another mushroom that has incredibly high toxicity and they, unfortunately, look identical. A mushroom scientists call Amanita phalloides, is colloquially known as the death cap. In 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on several deaths and illnesses caused by this mushroom.
During the mushroom season, it is moist enough for all kinds of fungi to grow in yards and along forest trails. Mushrooms are common as food items and some people go out hunting for wild mushrooms to spice up their meals. However, other people would consider it a boon to find a batch of the psychedelic variety, without having to pay for them from an illicit dealer.
Psilocybin not only looks virtually indistinguishable from death caps, but it also may be growing in the same areas you might find these poisonous mushrooms. With the naked eye, it would be difficult for even an experienced mushroom enthusiast to spot the difference. Most mushrooms that are consumed are grown intentionally from known mushrooms.
As fungi, mushrooms aren’t grown from seeds but mushroom fungus. Farmers control the type of mushroom they grow by seeding with the right fungus, so there’s very little risk that you’ll be getting the wrong kind of mushroom. If you are getting psilocybin from an illicit dealer, you can only hope they are getting their supply from a reputable source and not traipsing around in the woods during mushroom season.
Nausea is common when you ingest psilocybin, but if you start to experience extreme nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping, you may need medical attention immediately.