Psychedelic Mushrooms: Just another Drug or a Powerful Medicine?
My interest in mushrooms first began when I was a small child. I remember
wandering through the forests of Switzerland searching for any type of fungus
I could find. As I grew older, my interest in mushrooms faded. I became preoccupied
with social life and didn’t have much time for other hobbies. Surprisingly enough,
my interest in mushrooms was rekindled by my social life when my friends started
talking about using “shrooms.” It worried me when my friends started trying
new drugs, so I made a habit of researching each new drug they brought up. My
main intentions behind the research were to see what kind of potential trouble
my friends were getting themselves into, and offer them advice if I thought
taking the drugs they were considering was a bad idea. My quest for knowledge
about psychedelic mushrooms took me to an internet site called The Shroomery.
This website had information ranging from how to grow or find psychedelic mushrooms
to the chemistry involved in the mind altering effects of the mushrooms. I ventured
onto The Shroomery’s forums and quickly became hooked. I took particular interest
in the mushroom hunting forum, perhaps as a result of my fascination with mushrooms
as a child. I bought several field guides and continued to learn about all mushrooms,
not just psychedelics. Eventually I became friends with the administrators of
the site and they realized that they could use my general knowledge of mushrooms,
and appointed me as a moderator of the mushroom hunting forum. The majority
of my time in the hunting forum is spent making proper identifications on mushrooms
which people believe to be psychedelic. Accurate identification is critical
when dealing with psychedelic mushrooms; it could mean the difference between
life and death.
am still an active member at The Shroomery and currently moderate 3 forums.
I have met and talked with several very knowledgeable people at The Shroomery
including: John W. Allen, an enthomycologist who has written several books,
discovered several species of mushrooms, and done research with some of the
top names in mycology (Guzman, Stamets, Gartz) and several prominent members
in various mycology clubs. I’ve developed several new interests as a result
of my work at The Shroomery. Mushroom hunting is one of these interests. It
has become one of my favorite past times. I hunt mainly for edible mushrooms,
but I will collect psychedelic mushrooms on occasion. After reading so much
about psychedelic mushrooms, I began to wonder what was so amazing about the
experience and decided to give them a try. My first psychedelic experience provided
me plenty of valuable insight. Over time I came to realize that when psychedelic
mushrooms are used properly, they can be a powerful tool that has many beneficial
effects on the mind.
mushrooms have been used by various cultures for thousands of years for their
mind-altering properties. According to Erowid.org, the first records of mushroom
usage were encountered around 5000 B.C., in Northern Algeria. There are also
records of various Central American cultures using psychedelic mushrooms. One
of the most important ancient cultures in which mushroom usage was prevalent
was the Mazatecs. The Mazatecs are particularly important because their culture
still exists and they are able to express what their ancestors’ reasons for
using psychedelic mushrooms were.
“The Mushrooms of Language,” Henry Munn discusses mushroom usage in the Mazatec
culture. In the past, psychedelic mushrooms were used by almost everyone in
a particular culture at some point in their life. The people were given mushrooms
by shamans. Shamans were considered to be experts in dealing with mental and
physical ailments. They would “prescribe” mushrooms to their people for various
reasons. Their reasons were always related to some sort of self improvement,
whether it be mental or physical. Munn stated “For the Mazatecs, the psychedelic
experience produced by the mushrooms is inseparably associated with the cure
for illness.” In the past, psychedelic mushrooms were viewed as a powerful medicine,
not just a drug (87-99).
order to comprehend how psychedelic mushrooms may be beneficial, it is essential
to understand some basic concepts over how these mushrooms “work.” The active
chemical found in psychedelic mushrooms is called psilocybin.
The pharmacology of psilocybin, Passie et al., the pharmacology and history
of psilocybin is explored. The chemical name of psilocybin is 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine.
Psilocybin is a chemical that acts strictly on the mind; it does not do physical
harm to the organs. Psilocybin’s chemical structure is very similar to serotonin,
a neurotransmitter naturally found in the brain. In fact, psilocybin binds with
the same receptor sites in the brain that serotonin does, the 5-HT1
and 5-HT2 receptor sites. In saying that psilocybin binds with 5-HT1
and 5-HT2 receptor sites, it is understood that it also binds
with all subtypes of these receptor sites (i.e.: 5-HT2A). Psilocybin
was first isolated from Psilocybe mexicana in 1957 by Albert Hoffman, the Swiss
scientist famous for accidentally discovering LSD. In the 1960s psilocybin
was synthesized by the pharmaceutical company Sandoz who marketed it as Indocybin®.
Indocybin® was distributed for research and psychotherapeutical purposes (357-62).
psychedelic drug LSD is similar to Psilocybin in that it also binds with the
5-HT1 and 5-HT2 receptor sites (Barrett et al. 559). As
a result of their similarities, LSD exhibits many of the same beneficial properties
that psilocybin does and vise-versa. The immediate psychological effects of
psilocybin can vary greatly, but are generally characterized by extreme emotions,
a feeling of energy throughout the body, visual/auditory hallucinations, profound
or deep thinking, and occasionally paranoia and/or confusion. The psychedelic
experience is often referred to as a “tripping.” A trip can last from four to
six hours, depending on dosage. Psilocybin is found in over one-hundred species
of mushrooms from several different genera. Psilocybian mushrooms can be found
on every continent, with the exception of
Antarctica. Currently, psychedelic
mushrooms are illegal in the United States; psilocybin is a controlled substance.
mushrooms have a wide variety of medical uses. One of their most important medical
uses is their ability to cure obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. Their
ability to cure OCD symptoms was first documented by Francisco Moreno, MD and
Pedro Delgado, MD. A patient by the name of “Mr. A” had suffered from obsessive-compulsive-symptoms
since age six. Mr. A experimented with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and psychedelic
mushrooms. While most of the drugs he used either had no effect on or exacerbated
his symptoms, psychedelic mushrooms seemed to lessen them. Upon making this
realization, Mr. A consumed psychedelic mushrooms on a daily basis for four
years as a method of self-treatment for is his obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
Upon cessation of eating psychedelic mushrooms, his symptoms slowly returned
over a period of two years (1037-38).
Delgado and Moreno submitted their findings to the FDA, who approved them for
the first research involving the use of psilocybin on humans in 25 years (MAPS.org).
The purpose of their study is “to evaluate the effects of oral administration
of psilocybin on the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in 10 subjects
with this condition. The long-term objective is to evaluate the safety and therapeutic
potential of serotonin (5-HT)-2A/2C receptor agonist treatment of OCD” (Moreno,
Delgado, and Gelenberg). This study is currently being preformed; as of August
7, 2003 a total of seven patients have been treated (MAPS.org).
area in the medical field where psilocybin can be useful is in the treatment
of body dysmorphic disorder. In Serotonin, Psilocybin, and Body Dysmorphic
Disorder: A Case Report, Karl Hanes provides an overview of BDD as well
as a report of a patient using psilocybian mushrooms to treat his disease.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness which is closely related to
OCD. Patients with BDD become obsessed with the belief that something is wrong
with their physical appearance. In a case similar to the one studied by Moreno
and Delgado, a 27 year old patient by the name of Mr. A (not the same Mr. A
from the OCD report) had the obsessive belief that his cheeks looked emaciated.
He visited many plastic surgeons and dermatologists looking to improve his physical
appearance just to be told that his appearance was normal. His obsession with
his appearance prevented him from finishing his education and seeking a romantic
relationship. Mr. A recalled that while he was under the influence of psychedelic
mushrooms, his appearance changed and his deformities had disappeared. This
made him question whether or not his deformities really existed and he agreed
to undergo treatment of fluoxetine. Fluoxetine is an antidepressant drug which
acts on the 5-HT receptor sites (188-89). It might be possible that psilocybin
is a better treatment for diseases that are specific to the 5-HT receptor sites
because it has such a high affinity for these sites.
recent area of interest is the use of psychedelic mushrooms to treat cluster
headaches. Cluster headaches are a type of migraine headache that come and go
in “clusters.” A sufferer of cluster headaches may have sporadic, intense, disabling
headaches for a few weeks and then a long period of remission with no headaches.
a correspondence between Dennis O’ Connor and Ethan Russo, MD, in the article
Cannabis in Migraine Treatment Study, O’Connor states that there have
been several reports of people using psychedelic mushrooms to treat and prevent
cluster headaches on a popular internet-based cluster headache forum, clusterheadaches.com.
When Russo was asked about this, he provided the following explanation:
real reason the mushrooms may work is neurochemical. […] To treat migraine
(and cluster) acutely, one desires a drug or plant that will stimulate serotonin
type [5-HT] 1 (1A or 1D) receptors. To treat headaches preventively, one desires
a drug or plant that will inhibit serotonin type [5-HT] 2A receptors. (MAPS.org)
explanation seems very feasible as psilocybin is known to bind with 5-HT1
and 5-HT2 receptor sites. Due to psilocybin being a classified substance,
there has not yet been research to support this idea. Nonetheless, people continue
to report psychedelic mushrooms aiding in the treatment of cluster headaches.
Psychedelic mushrooms also have a wide variety of usage in the field of psychiatry.
Their use is particularly helpful in psychotherapy. In Psychedelics
as Catalysts of Insight Oriented Therapy, Lester Grinspoon and Rick Doblin
explain the beneficial aspects of using psychedelics in psychotherapy. Patients
under the influence of psychedelics are less depressed/anxious, more self-accepting,
tolerant, or sensually alert and have reduced feelings of guilt. There are two
types of psychotherapy that can be utilized with psychedelic mushrooms: psycholitic
and psychedelic. Psycholitic literally translates to “mind-loosening.” This
type of therapy involves low dosages of psychedelics; it is usually used to
treat neurotic and psychosomatic disorders such as depression and anxiety. Psychedelic
therapy is performed by giving the patient a high dosage of psychedelic drug.
Psychedelic therapy is most often used to reform alcoholics and criminals (679-80).
ability to treat alcoholism by means of psilocybin was studied in Hallucinogenic
Drugs Attenuate the Subjective Response to Alcohol in Humans, Barrett et
al. Drugs that act on the 5-HTP1 and 5-HTP2 receptor sites
(like psilocybin) have been shown to alter alcohol intake and effects in rats.
In a study done on the effects of mixing psilocybin and alcohol 60 percent of
the subject involved reported diminished effects of alcohol while under the
influence of psilocybian mushrooms (559-60). Perhaps with more research, psilocybin
or a similar chemical can be used to “sober up” those under the influence of
has also shown that psilocybin can be a valuable asset to hypnosis, as it increases
people’s susceptibility to hypnosis (Van Nuys 34). Because of the wide variety
of hypnosis uses, the possibilities of using psychedelic mushroom-initiated
hypnosis ranges from curing alcoholism or cigarette addiction to curing eating
mind altering effects of psilocybin have proved to be more desirable than those
of other drugs in the field of psychopathology. In the article Psychopathological,
neuroendocrine and autonomic effects of 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDE),
psilocybin and d-methamphetamine in healthy volunteers, Gouzoulis-Mayfrank
et al., psilocybin was compared to the drugs MDE (similar to MDMA, aka
ecstasy), and methamphetamine. Psilocybin proved to have the strongest overall
effect on the mind, ranking highest in most psychopathological categories studied.
These categories included positive/negative symptoms, mania, melancholia, altered
state of consciousness, hallucinogen, anxiety, and vegetative liability.
In percentage comparisons, psilocybin scored the highest in the positive symptoms
category, and lowest in the mania category. While psilocybin also ranked highest
in anxiety and melancholia, it is mentioned that when patients became disturbed
they could easily be talked down (41-6).
mushrooms are not only beneficial for the mentally ill; the mentally healthy
can benefit from them just as much, if not more. Alan Watts provides an excellent
outline of how psychedelics can be beneficial for healthy people in Psychedelics
and Religious Experience. Psychedelics allow one to disregard the stresses
and inhibitions of everyday life. With inhibitions gone, one is able to examine
the intricate details of objects that surround them. They are able to observe
details that would not be seen by most people who are burdened with inhibitions.
With a lack of inhibitions, one is able to pay attention the intricate details
of everything that surrounds them. Psychedelics often provide an experience
described as “ego death,” or a complete loss of ego. With the ego gone, one
is able to see things from an unbiased point of view. Connections between two
things that are completely opposite (i.e.: saints and sinners) are often made
(75-7). A person under the influence of psychedelics would be able to forget
all negative ideas they have about sinners and make a connection to things that
they hold positive, such as saints. Bringing one’s self to a plane where no
judgments are made allows them to better understand many elements of the universe.
Watts also says that when the mind is altered by psychedelics one is able to
see things on a “larger scale.” One is able to place themselves on different
hierarchal levels and think about aspects of the universe from other perspectives.
provides an example of changing one’s perspective to that of a fruit fly:
realize that fruit flies must think of themselves as people, because, like
ourselves, they find themselves in the middle of their own world—with immeasurably
greater things above and smaller things below. To us they all look alike and
seem to have no personality—as do the Chinese when we have not lived among
them. Yet fruit flies must see just as many subtle distinctions among themselves
as we among ourselves (78).
ego destruction involved with psychedelics enables one to look at the world
from another person’s (or animal/plant’s) perspective. This level of understanding
helps to create a better sense of unity with all of one’s surroundings. The
ability to achieve new perspectives, levels of understanding, and ability to
sense detail enables one to make connections in everyday life to their religious
beliefs. The religious connections brought about by psychedelics aid in making
life seem more purposeful and relevant.
It is apparent that if psychedelic mushrooms are used in the proper manner,
they can benefit the mind in many ways. Ancient civilizations have long known
the capabilities of psychedelic mushrooms. Although current US laws prohibit
research of psychedelic mushrooms without prior approval, current research has
been enough to show that these mushrooms have proved useful in treating and/or
preventing many serious mental afflictions. In addition, healthy people can
also benefit from the use psychedelic mushrooms by expanding their understandings
of the universe and religious beliefs. Perhaps with new research, the current
laws will be revised and everyone will be able to experience the benefits of
these powerful learning and healing tools.
Barrett, Sean P., Jennifer Archambault, et al. “Hallucinogenic Drugs Attenuate
the Subjective Response to Alcohol in Humans.” Human Psychopharmacology.
15 (2000): 559-565
Erowid. “Psilocybe Mushroom History.” Erowid
Psilocybin Mushroom Vault : Psilocybe Mushroom
History. 23 April 1999. Erowid.org. 23 Nov 2002. <http://www.erowid.org/plants/mushrooms/mushrooms_history.shtml>
Gouzoulis-Mayfrank, E., Thelen, B. et al. “Psychopathological, neuroendocrine
and autonomic effects of 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDE), psilocybin
and d-methamphetamine in healthy volunteers.” Psychopharmacology. 142.1
Grinspoon, Lester and Rick Doblin. “Psychedelics as Catalysts of Insight-Oriented
Psychotherapy. Social Research 68.3(2001): 667-695
Hanes, Karl R. “Serotonin, psilocybin, and body dysmorphic disorder: A case
report.” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 16.2 (1996): 188-189
MAPS.org. “Cannabis in Migraine Treatment Study”
MAPS: Cannabis in Migraine Treatment Study. Feb. 2000. MAPS.org.
22 Nov 2002. <http://www.maps.org/mmj/0200cluster.html>
MAPS.org. NEW FDA-APPROVED
PSILOCYBIN RESEARCH NEEDS DONATIONS.
20 Aug. 2003. MAPS.org. 22 Nov. 2003. <http://www.maps.org/news/1099news.html>
Moreno Francisco, A., Pedro Delgado, and Alan J. Gelenberg. “Effects of Psilocybin
in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”
Psilocybin in the Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 20
Aug. 2003. MAPS.org. 22 Nov. 2003. <http://www.maps.org/research/psilo/azproto.html>
Moreno, Francisco A., and Pedro L. Delgado. “Hallucinogen-Induced Relief
of Obsessions and Compulsions” American Journal of Psychiatry. 154.7
Munn, Henry. “The Mushrooms of Language.” Hallucinogens and Shamanism.
Ed. Michael J. Harner. London: Oxford University Press, 1973. 86-122.
Passie, Torsten, Juergen Seifert et al. “The Pharmacology of psilocybin.”
Addiction Biology. 7 (2002): 357-364
Van Nuys, David Whitman. “Drug use and Hypnotic Susceptibility.” International
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 20 (1972): 31-37
Watts, Alan. “Psychedelics and Religious Experience.” The California
Law Review. 56.1 (1968): 74-85