Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic substance obtained from certain types of mushrooms found in regions of Europe, South America, Mexico and the US.
Also known as “magic mushrooms,” psilocybin is a schedule I controlled substance, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and serves no legitimate medical purpose.
Similar in effect to LSD, individuals use psilocybin recreationally for the feelings of euphoria and sensory distortion that are common to hallucinogenic drugs.
Although it is not considered an addictive substance, users can experience disturbing hallucinations, anxiety and panic from using psilocybin.
Fast facts on psilocybin
Here are some key points about psilocybin. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Psilocybe mushrooms cause hallucinations because they contain the psychotropic tryptamines psilocybin and psilocin
- The word “psilocybin” comes from the Greek words “psilo” (meaning “bald”) and “cybe” (meaning “head”)
- Psilocybin is found in more than 100 known species of mushrooms
- Ritual use of psilocybin mushrooms dates back more than 3,000 years
- Psilocybin and the mushroom species it belongs to (Psilocybe Mexicana) were officially identified in the 1950s by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman
- Psilocybin was used in psychiatric settings in the US from the 1960s up until 1970 when it became a schedule I controlled substance
- Use of psilocybin is associated with both positive and negative physical and psychological consequences
- Craving and addiction do not develop with the use of psilocybin
- Hallucinogens, including psilocybin, can trigger psychotic episodes
- Individuals with a family history of schizophrenia or early onset mental illness are particularly vulnerable to developing an adverse psychiatric reaction to psilocybin
- Combining alcohol with psilocybin can provoke risky and dangerous behavior.
What is psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a tryptamine hallucinogen that primarily activates the body’s serotonin receptors, most prominently in the brain’s prefrontal cortex – an area involved in mood, cognition and perception.
The hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin typically occur within 20-30 minutes of ingestion.
Hallucinogens also work in other regions of the brain that regulate arousal as well as stress and panic responses. It is important to note that psilocybin does not cause actual hallucinations; rather, it distorts the perception of objects and stimuli in the user’s environment.
After ingestion, psilocybin is metabolized to psilocin and then absorbed gastrointestinal tract. Hallucinogenic effects usually occur within 30 minutes of ingestion with a duration of effect of 4-6 hours.
The euphoric and hallucinogenic effects typically occur within 20-30 minutes of ingestion and last for 4-6 hours. In some individuals, the changes in sensory perception and thinking can remain for several days.
Mushrooms containing psilocybin are small brown or tan mushrooms. In the wild, they can be easily mistaken for any number of inedible or poisonous mushrooms.
Psilocybin is usually consumed orally as a brewed tea or prepared with a food item to mask its bitter taste. Dried mushrooms can also be crushed into a powder and prepared in capsule form. Some users coat the mushrooms with chocolate.
The potency of a mushroom depends on the species, origin, growing conditions, harvest period and whether it is ingested fresh or dried. The amount of active ingredients in dried mushrooms is about 10 times higher than the amount found in fresh mushrooms.
Extent of psilocybin use
Use of hallucinogenic mushrooms has continued to decline since 2001 to the present, with less than 2% of 15- to 34-year-olds reporting use within the last year.
When psilocybin is used, it is likely at raves, dance clubs or in select groups of people seeking a transcendent spiritual experience.
In medical settings, psilocybin has been used experimentally for cluster headaches, end stage cancer anxiety, depressionand other anxiety-type disorders.
Street names for psilocybin
- Magic mushrooms
- Simple Simon
- Little smoke
- God’s flesh
- Sacred mushrooms
- Purple passion
- Mushroom soup
Psilocybin: Effects and Health Risks
Written by Kathleen Davis FNP Knowledge center
Published: Monday 11 April 2016
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Effects of psilocybin
In general, the effects of psilocybin are similar to those of LSD. They include altered perception of time and space and intense changes in mood and feelings.
Possible effects of psilocybin include:
Feelings of joy and happiness (euphoria)
Quickly changing emotions
Derealization, or a feeling that one’s surroundings are not real
Depersonalization, or a dreamlike feeling of being disengaged from your surroundings
Visual alteration and distortion such as halos of light and vivid colors
Lack of coordination
Unusual body sensations
The effects of psilocybin vary from person to person. They are strongly influenced by the differences in the mental state and personality of the user as well as the “setting” of the immediate environment. If the recreational user is mentally unstable or feeling anxious about using the hallucinogen, there is a greater chance of a bad experience.
Psychological distress in the form of extreme anxiety or brief psychosis is the most often reported adverse event with recreational use of psilocybin.
Health risks of psilocybin
People who have taken psilocybin in uncontrolled settings may engage in reckless behavior such as driving while intoxicated.
A man is having a hallucination.
Alterations in perception caused by psilocybin have the potential to be distressing to the user.
Some people may experience persistent, distressing alterations in perceptions (mostly visual) that can last from anywhere from weeks to even years after hallucinogen use.
This condition is now diagnosed as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), also referred to as a flashback. A flashback is a traumatic recall of an intensely upsetting experience; with hallucinogen use, a “bad trip” would be the upsetting experience.
The psychological consequences of psilocybin use include hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality. Some individuals experience more unpleasant effects, such as fear, agitation, confusion, delirium, psychosis and schizophrenia-like syndromes, requiring a trip to the emergency room.
In most cases, these unpleasant effects are treated with medications such as benzodiazepines and resolve in 6-8 hours as the drug’s effects wear off.
Finally, though the risk is small, some psilocybin users risk accidental poisoning from mistakenly ingesting a poisonous mushroom by mistake. Symptoms of mushroom poisoning may include muscle spasms, confusion and delirium.
Because hallucinogenic and other poisonous mushrooms are common to most living environments, all mushrooms should be regularly removed from areas where children are routinely present in order to prevent them from accidentally ingesting one. Most accidental mushroom ingestions result in minor gastrointestinal illness, with only the most severe requiring medical attention.
Abuse potential of psilocybin
Psilocybin is not physically addictive, and there are no expected physical withdrawal symptoms after stopping its use. However, with regular use, tolerance to the effects of psilocybin will occur. In addition, cross-tolerance occurs with other drugs, including LSD and mescaline – users must wait at least several days between doses to experience the full effect.
It is possible that after several days of psilocybin use, individuals may experience a psychological withdrawal and have difficulty discerning or adjusting to reality. Regular use of psilocybin is rarely desirable.
Recent developments on psychedelic drugs from MNT news
BMJ opinion piece calls for reclassification of psychedelics
An opinion piece in The BMJ by James Rucker, a psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London in the UK, argues that psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin should be legally reclassified to encourage research on their clinical applications.
Psychedelic drug use ‘does not increase risk for mental health problems’
An analysis of data provided by 135,000 randomly selected participants – including 19,000 people who had used drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms – finds that use of psychedelics does not increase risk of developing mental health problems. The results are published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic, illegal substance that occurs naturally in certain mushrooms. Other drugs in this class include mescaline, LSD and DMT. Hallucinogens alter sensory, visual perception, as well as thoughts and feelings.
Although psilocybin is not considered an addictive substance, and ingestion rarely results in life-threatening symptoms, experimenting with the substance is not risk-free. Users can experience severe enough adverse psychological responses that immediate emergency medical services are necessary, and the long-term physical and mental health complications of psilocybin use are not yet known.