"The visions were not blurred or uncertain. They were sharply focused, the lines and colors being so sharp that they seemed more real to me than anything I had ever seen with my own eyes. I felt that I was now seeing plain, whereas ordinary vision gives us an imperfect view; I was seeing the archetypes, the Platonic ideas, that underlie the imperfect images of everyday life. The thought crossed my mind: could the divine mushrooms be the secret that lay behind the ancient Mysteries? Could the miraculous mobility that I was now enjoying be the explanation for the flying witches that played so important a part in the folklore and fairy tales of northern Europe? These reflections passed through my mind at the very time that I was seeing the visions, for the effect of the mushrooms is to bring about a fission of the spirit, a split in the person, a kind of schizophrenia, with the rational side continuing to reason and to observe the sensations that the other side is enjoying. The mind is attached as by an elastic cord to the vagrant senses..."
- from "Seeking the Magic Mushroom" by Robert Gordon Wasson, published in Life magazine in 1957
Magic mushrooms are almost the quintessential psychedelic drug. Beloved of hippies, they are natural, have evidence of a long history of human use, and grow in many places throughout the world, not being limited to any one, particular culture. The mushrooms contain a range of psychedelic and psychoactive compounds, most notably psilocybin, but also psilocin, norpsilocin, baeocystin, norbaeocystin, and aeruginascin (recent research has placed more of an emphasis on the 'entourage' of chemicals accompanying the main psychoactive ingredient in botanical drugs such as mushrooms and cannabis).
Psilocybin and cohort are tryptamines meaning, in layman's terms, that they bare a similarity to tryptophan, an essential amino acid used in the body to create proteins. Some of the body's neurotransmitters - used to send messages between brain cells - are also tryptamines, such as serotonin, melatonin, and bufotenin. This means that tryptamine drugs like psilocybin etc bind easily to receptor sites in the brain, consequently affecting brain function. There are many species of 'magic' mushroom, growing in many different spots around the world.
While all contain psilocybin, presence of other chemicals seems to vary from species to species. The most famous species are psilocybe cubensis, which grows in Central and South America, India, Australia, New Zealand and some parts of Southeast Asia, and psilocybe semilanceata, otherwise known as the liberty cap, which is native to Europe.
Magic mushrooms are illegal to possess and take in many parts of the world. They are legal in Jamaica and Brazil and decriminalised in Portugal. In Holland, the mushrooms are tolerated in the truffle stage of their life cycle. They are decriminalised in the US city of Denver Colorado, since May, 2019.
They have an increasing medical use in cutting-edge treatments for mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression and research into their clinical applications is growing. The mushrooms have been difficult to study for many years since they were made illegal in America and elsewhere in the 1970s.
It is commonly believed that 'magic' mushrooms have been the subject of traditional religious use for thousands of years. There is evidence of their use in Africa, Europe and South America in prehistoric times.
The first recorded account of mushroom use in the modern western press is that published by Robert Gordon Wasson in 1957. He reported having taken part in a religious ceremony presided over by shamans and participated in by Mazatec natives of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Following consumption of the mushrooms, the candles were blown out and people sat in darkness while the shamans sang songs. Later, people would ask the shamans questions about how to solve the problems they were facing.
This is reflected in the use envisaged by modern medicine for psilocybin, which seeks to find a role for it as an aid to psychotherapy, presided over by medical professionals. The aim is to help people overcome depression and other mental health concerns using the psychedelic as a tool for exploration and self-discovery.
Between the two models exist fifty years or so of folk-use during prohibition, much influenced by Wasson's account. Psilocybin was also popularised by Timothy Leary and other psychologists who studied its use in a clinical setting prior to criminalisation in the United States in 1971, and by the ethnobotanist Terrence Mckenna, who proposed that mushrooms were involved in prehistoric religion.
A 'threshold' dose of 'magic' mushrooms is generally agreed to be 1gm of dried mushroom. Terrence Mckenna, who erred on the side of excess, recommended a "heroic" dose of 5gm. An effective dose varies depending on the experience, constitution, and bodyweight of the individual involved. Suffice it to say that doses exceeding 5gm of mushrooms are not recommended for beginners.
When it comes to pure psilocybin, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a dosage of 30mg per kg of bodyweight most effective for inducing spiritually significant experiences.
The content of psilocybin and other chemicals per gram of mushroom varies widely from species to species and research is not complete. However, it appears that psilocybe cubensis is about 0.63% psilocybin and 0.60% psilocin, while psilocybe semilanceata is about 0.98% psilocybin and 0.02% psilocin. This means you would need to take about 5gm of cubensis and about 3gm of semilanceata to hit the Johns Hopkins "sweet spot".
'Magic' mushrooms are the safest drugs to take according to a Global Drug Survey of 2017. People are far more at risk from picking and eating the wrong mushrooms than from the effects of the mushrooms themselves.
The lethal dose of psilocybin has been extrapolated to be 6gm. According to the above numbers, this would mean eating 952 gm of cubensis and 612 gm of semilanceata. If the 'street' price of mushrooms is taken to be $10 per gram, this would mean consuming more than $6000 worth of mushrooms.