Want know about mushrooms? These amazing living creatures can be: food, medicine, a ritualistic substance, a therapeutic approach… Come dive with us in this subject!
Neither animal nor plant: the mushrooms are so special that they have a kingdom of their own, the fungi. They are so interesting that many believe that they communicate underground, using a special type of connection through the mycelium – a network that links their roots, as Paul Stamets would say. It’s like you can communicate with your friends using telepathy!
But what is even more incredible is that magic mushrooms are one of the most ancient ritualistic substances, some people even believe they helped out to shape human consciousness. The first records of its uses are even older than those of cannabis! Currently, science has been rescuing this ancient knowledge, and started developing studies and clinical trials that have shown how specific mushrooms can be an important tool to treat many conditions.
This is our third content in the series “Cannabis and other drugs/substances”, we will travel through the world of mushrooms to understand how they act in our bodies, how science recognizes them and about its traditional uses.
Come on? Come dive with us in this psychedelic world!
What are mushrooms?
Mushrooms are organisms that belong to the kingdom of fungi, as well as mold and yeasts. Many people confuse fungus with plants, and even science, in the past, has classified them that way. However, with the study of cellular structures, it was possible to see that they have numerous differences and characteristics, such as:
The fungus cell does not have chlorophyll, so it does not have the ability to do photosynthesis;
Its cells have rigid walls, but they are not formed by cellulose, as with plants;
In the cells of the fungi there is chitin, a substance also present in the bark of some animals, such as insects.
Fungi can be single-celled, like yeast, used as yeast in the manufacture of pasta and even in fermentation of beverages, or multicellular, such as mushrooms. They live freely or not, and are found in the most varied environments, especially in humid places and rich in organic matter.
Pluricellular fungi usually have hyphae – filaments that intertwine forming a network called mycelium. They grow and live hidden under the soil, under the bark of the tree trunk or under organic matter, that is, the remains of living beings. Through it, there is a kind of communication between these fungi, as we mentioned at the beginning of the text. It’s bizarre and incredible how we are surprised by nature, right?
Fungi reproduce asexually or sexually through spores.
But we know that there are mushrooms, and also that we love to eat pasta or risotto with it as an amazing munchies food, but now we will talk more about the special magic mushrooms. Large parts of the magic mushrooms differ from others by the presence of psilocybin, a substance that can be found in more than 100 species of mushroom. After consumption, it is metabolized and becomes psilocin.
Psilocybin, present in the famous magic mushrooms, is a tryptamine-type hallucinogen that mainly activates the body of serotonin receptors, the most prominent in the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the area responsible for our mood, cognition and perception.
After ingestion, psilocybin is absorbed and metabolized in a process that lasts around 30 minutes, and the length of the trip can vary from four to six hours. The main effects reported after the consumption of mushrooms are:
Feelings of joy, happiness and euphoria;
Tranquility and a “spiritual awakening”;
Rapid change of emotions;
Derealization, or the feeling that your surroundings are not real;
Depersonalization, or a dreamlike feeling;
Distorted thinking, with visual alteration and distortion, halos of light and vivid colors;
Dizziness, drowsiness, yawning and difficulty concentrating;
Muscle weakness and lack of coordination;
Nausea and vomiting.
Psilocybin is usually taken orally by itself, as in teas or food. Dried mushrooms can also be crushed into a powder and prepared in a capsule form. Some users coat the mushrooms with chocolate – to remove some of the characteristic bitterness. The potency varies widely, and may depend on the species, origin of the mushroom and whether it is eaten fresh or dry. The amount of active ingredients in dry fungi is about 10 times that of fresh mushrooms.
These mushrooms are found in the wild. In Brazil, magic mushrooms can be easily found in fields full of cows. The funny thing is that they appear in the middle of the manure, which is full of organic matter. People have to be very careful to find mushrooms in nature and consume them. It is important to know for sure how to identify them, as it is possible to confuse them with poisonous mushrooms! In every country or region the mushrooms can be different, so make sure you do some research before!
According to the Global Drug Survey, a public health survey of 120,000 drug users in 50 countries, psilocybin is the safest chemical in the world. 10% of respondents, 12,000 people in all, said they had used psychedelic fungi in 2016. Only 24 of them – 0.2% – needed emergency medical assistance after the experience.
This rate is at least three times lower than that of any other drug, natural or synthetic.
The therapeutic effects of psilocybin
The magic of these mushrooms are real, and they can help us out a lot in many contemporary issues! Happily, in the last 15 to years we have a bunch of new researches that show us the proof that they are magical and not only for a psychedelic trip. Here, we selected some of the most recent ones:
Psilocybin can help you to release some “addictions”, such as cigarettes and alcohol. That’s right! In a 2017 study looking at tobacco use, it produced impressive results that far surpass any conventional treatment option. At 12 months after the experiment, 67% of the participants were smoke-free. The substance, in 2015, was also effective in treating a group of individuals with problems related to alcohol consumption.
Psilocybin can help treat depression and existential anxiety. A follow-up study of the first pioneering trial exploring this subject reported that, six months after the session, 31% of participants with treatment-resistant depression reported long-lasting antidepressant effects. Another six-month follow-up study revealed a shift from a sense of disconnection (from oneself, others and the world) to connection, and from a state of emotional avoidance to acceptance.
Meanwhile, three separate studies, at UCLA, Johns Hopkins and NYU, explored the potential of psilocybin to treat existential anxiety in patients with terminal cancer.The experience with psilocybin was considered highly effective in most participants and the benefits also appear to be highly lasting, with sustained antidepressant and anxiolytic effects.
Psilocybin can increase empathy, connection with nature and with the divine. In addition to being a potent transformative treatment for a range of difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, psilocybin also has value for healthy people. This study reported that, even at lower doses, psilocybin was still able to increase empathy and well-being until seven days later. Another analysis found that people were less prone to authoritarian opinions and reported feeling more connected to nature up to a year after using the substance.
This other research concluded that the mystical experiences of psilocybin, in combination with spiritual practices such as meditation and journaling, produced lasting changes in prosocial values and behaviors, while promoting healthy psychological functioning.
Ritualistic uses and contexts
Magic mushrooms are, like ayahuasca, extremely important elements within shamanism and have been part of many religions and rituals. In the book Return to Archaic Culture, by Terence Mckenna, he says that “for perhaps tens of thousands of years, human beings have been using mushrooms for the purpose of divination and inducing shamanic ecstasy” and that he intended “to demonstrate that the interaction between men and mushrooms is not a static symbiotic relationship, but a dynamic one, through which at least one party is able to reach higher cultural levels ”.
Countless people have used this type of substance in rites. In America, for example, the Mayan people used Teonanácatl (Psilocybe Mexicana). Its first use dates from 1502, during the coronation of Emperor Montezuma. Known as the “Carne de Deus”, it is the ancient mushroom of the Mexican Indians until today.
Like any substance, mushrooms also require your care when consuming. As for the dosage, although there is no way to know 100% how much psilocybin is present in each mushroom, there are the following parameters:
For light effects, from 0.5 to 1.2 grams;
For moderate purposes, from 1.2 to 2.5 grams;
For strong effects, above 2.5 grams.
It is also important to tell a trusted friend that you are taking the substance, as well as making sure that you have water, food, blankets and a calm environment available. Also prepare yourself according to your expectations: know that you will be able to feel good or bad things, and that you should deal with them calmly, without panicking. Remember that a large part of the experience with any psychoactive depends on the set and setting – that is, where you are physically and psychologically when consuming.
Care with potential risks
People taking psilocybin should not, under any circumstances, direct or perform any action in which motor coordination is necessary.
Some people may experience persistent and distressing changes in perceptions (especially visual) that can last from minutes, hours, weeks to even years after the use of hallucinogens.
Some individuals with propensity may experience more unpleasant effects, such as fear, agitation, confusion, delusion or psychosis.
Finally, although the risk is small, some psilocybin users suffer accidental poisoning by ingesting a poisonous mushroom by mistake. Symptoms of mushroom poisoning can include muscle spasms, confusion and delusions.
Psilocybin interactions with cannabis
According to the Safe Drug Combination Guide, care must be taken when using psilocybin and cannabis concurrently. This is because, as with LSD, the mixture can cause unwanted effects in some people – such as paranoia, panic and other unpleasant sensations. The mixture does not represent a risk of death, but it must be done with caution!
When we love a subject like that, it’s normal to extend it a little bit, right? This theme yields a lot, and is full of incredible nuances to discover and study.
Amanita Muscaria, another active ingredient
Remember Mario’s mushroom? The one who gave him life?
Officially, the mushroom is called amanita muscaria, and basically all its parts are highly psychoactive. The problem is that, unlike psilocybin, the substances in this fungus can be quite dangerous.
Amanita muscaria is a mushroom variety that grows widely almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere. It is listed as poisonous in most sources of mycology and the use is not common because its effects can be somewhat unpleasant, although it has been used traditionally by various cultures. There are conflicting reports as to whether there was ever a fatality caused by it; so, the tip is to be very careful! It can be poisonous in high doses or for sensitive individuals.
So, did you like to know all this? Tell us if you’ve had an experience with mushrooms here in the comments!