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Psilocybin

An Introduction to Psilocybin

Psilocybin is found naturally in mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms, shrooms, blue meanies, mushies, liberty caps, liberties, golden tops, philosopher’s stones, amani, and agaric, are fungi that contain psilocybin. Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound that can generate mystical-feeling experiences and powerful hallucinations along with other effects.

With over 180 species of mushrooms in existence that contain either psilocybin or psilocin, its derivative, this fungi is one of the most commonly used and popular psychedelics in the world. Psilocybin-containing mushrooms have a rich tradition of use in Mesoamerican religious and spiritual rituals, and today that type of use extends to other parts of the world and beyond use as a sacrament and mind-altering drug.

Psilocybin is also used in therapeutic settings to treat various disorders and ailments, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, cluster headaches, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and possibly other issues. However, despite promising research results and an ongoing trend toward decriminalization, psilocybin remain categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance, illegal at the federal level in the US.

Recently, though, we’ve seen a hopeful development: several small, well-controlled studies on the potential for medical and psychiatric use of psilocybin in humans have been allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The process of drug development and review in the context of psilocybin may also be accelerated given the FDA has designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for depression.

What is Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)?

Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) and psilocin (also known as 4-HO-DMT, 4-hydroxy DMT, psilocyn, psilocine, or psilotsin) are the active chemical compounds that lend hallucinogenic qualities to certain species of mushrooms found in South America, Mexico, and parts of the United States. There are over 180 of these psilocybin- or psilocin-containing species of mushrooms.

Psilocybin is an indole-alkylamine (tryptamine). Psilocin is a serotonergic psychedelic substance and a substituted tryptamine alkaloid.

These compounds are structurally similar to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and it is probably their action on central nervous system serotonin (5-HT) receptors that produce the “trip” of psychedelic, hallucinogenic, and euphoric effects. In fact, street psilocybin is sometimes actually LSD-laced species of non-psychedelic mushrooms.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms, like mescaline or peyote, have been used for centuries in religious rites. However, today both psilocybin and psilocin can be produced synthetically in a lab.

The Psilocybin Experience: What To Expect

Various factors, including dose, setting, mindset, and individual differences in body chemistry, contribute to the psilocybin experience. This means there’s no way to predict precise results and each individual journey is unique to the time, place, and person. However, being well-prepared and knowing what to expect from psilocybin will help you understand basically what’s coming.

Typically, people eat psilocybin mushrooms in their whole, dried form, although they don’t taste good. This causes people to take different steps to mask the flavor, such as putting them in something like peanut butter to disguise the flavor, blending them into a smoothie or juice, brewing them into a tea, or grinding them into powder for capsules.

Each of these delivery methods has slightly different results. For example, just as with other forms of edibles, eating psilocybin-containing mushrooms in food or swallowing them in capsules means it’ll take more time to feel the effects than it will if you drink a mushroom tea, especially if you hold it in your mouth.

The stages of a psychedelic mushroom trip include ingestion, onset, the peak or trip, and the comedown. Each stage is unique and has its own traits and observations, but the most intense psychological and sensory shifts come during the peak. This usually occurs within a couple of hours of ingestion, so it’s good to be ready for it—but at every phase, remember there is nothing to fear and what you’re experiencing is temporary.

A standard psychedelic experience on a moderate dose of psilocybin (via shrooms)—which is about 1 to 2.5 grams—produces a state in the brain that is similar to dreaming, according to neurological imaging studies. This state includes “hypnagogic experiences,” a form of altered psychological functioning common to the transition stage between sleep and wakefulness that’s similar to dreaming while awake; more intense emotional experiences; and increased introspection.

A psilocybin experience can produce a distorted sense of time and other perceptual changes, emotional shifts, more vivid colors, and synesthesia. You may also experience perceptual changes such as tracers, geometric patterns with closed eyes, halos around lights and other objects, and other distorted vision and visuals. The feeling that the whole world around you is alive and breathing is also common.

The psilocybin trip can also alter emotions and thoughts, creating a sense of openness to ideas, feelings, and thoughts that you typically avoid. It can produce a sense of delight and wonder and a sense of peace and connection with your own mind, the people in your life, and the world around you.

It is common to experience strong emotions of all kinds during a psilocybin experience, both challenging and wonderful. When negative feelings come, don’t fight them. Experience them and allow them to run their course without resistance.

Resisting negative emotions can cause a “bad trip.” Many users who report strong negative emotions also report feeling relatively detached and calm, particularly if they remember the emotions won’t last and don’t resist them.

The physical side effects of a psilocybin experience vary individually, but they might include arousal, dilated pupils, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, increased tendon reflexes, nausea, restlessness or relaxation depending on the person, tremors, and difficulties coordinating movement. Some research indicates that psilocybin can cause headaches in some people, but never severe headaches; in fact, psilocybin can treat cluster headaches.

Bad Trips

If you are interested in trying psilocybin or just curious about them, you are probably also curious about the infamous “bad trip.” This is a serious topic for anyone trying psilocybin for the first time. A bad trip can involve uncontrollable paranoia, wild and scary hallucinations, and out of control, reckless behaviors as a result.

However, you can minimize any risks associated with a psilocybin experience by following the psychedelic experience 6Ss: set, setting, substance, sitter, session, and situation. Make sure you have the right mindset or set, in a safe, comfortable setting, with a safe substance, a responsible and knowledgeable sitter, and that after the session you integrate the experience into your own situation.

Also, for your own sake, just ignore all of those pop culture portrayals of bad trips you’ve seen. Actors freaking out on camera are definitely not the same, and these scenes make bad trips seem both more out of your control and more common than they really are. In reality, users manage most bad trips without pharmaceutical intervention and with interpersonal support.

Psilocybin Effects: Pharmacology

Psilocybin is the active ingredient that makes psychedelic mushrooms…psychedelic. Typically, the lowest dose of dried mushrooms for feeling the effects of psilocybin is in the range of 0.2 to 0.5 grams, although this varies from person to person. Effects from a moderate 1 to 2.5 gram dose taken orally typically last from three to six hours.

But while psilocybin might get a lot of weird press and “bad trip” portrayals in the movies, it is actually about 10 times less potent than mescaline and about 100 times less potent than LSD.

The human body metabolizes psilocybin into psilocin, and both produce these psychedelic effects that mushrooms are famous for. In the brain, psilocybin and psilocin interact primarily with serotonin receptors.

In research on rodents, psilocybin interacts strongly with receptors in brain hub regions responsible for integrating sensory experiences. This may be why people report altered sensory experiences and effects such as synesthesia—the experience of tasting sounds, hearing colors, or other mixed sensory modalities—while using mushrooms.

Psilocybin Effects by Dose

Remember, psilocybin effects can and do vary significantly, especially at the lower ranges and doses. Furthermore, as laws change and more data becomes available, these notions may change.

Note: Dose ranges are for Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. Although certain species, such as P. semilanceata, may on average be more potent, many users still apply this reference loosely to other psilocybin-containing species.

  • Microdose – 0.1 to 0.3 grams: Just living your best life
  • Mini-dose – 0.35 to 0.75 grams: A little trippy
  • Museum dose – 0.5 to 1.5 grams: Now we’re Van Gogh-ing somewhere
  • Moderate dose – 2 to 3.5 grams: The full experience
  • Megadose – 5 grams or more: Dude, where’s my reality?

Microdose – 0.1 to 0.3 grams: Just living your best life

Microdosing is trendy because although the research remains ongoing, many people report their own positive benefits and others follow their lead. A microdose is a dose so tiny as to render its effects imperceivable and unnoticeable. This allows many people to incorporate microdosing into their daily or weekly schedules to enhance energy, creativity, and focus, while treating anxiety, stress, and emotional instability.

Common reported effects from microdoses of psilocybin include:

  • Enhanced mood
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased emotional stability
  • A sense of peace, mindfulness, and feeling present in the moment
  • Increased creativity
  • Open-mindedness and forgiveness
  • Clearer thinking, more connected ideation
  • More fluid conversation
  • Improved symptoms of even treatment-resistant forms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and ADD/ADHD
  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced motivation
  • Increased ability to meditate, enter flow states
  • Increased endurance, athletic performance, overall energy without subsequent crash or anxiety
  • For certain users, increased neuroticism or manic states

Mini-dose – 0.35 to 0.75 grams: A little trippy

It’s not a full-blown trip—it’s just a little trippy.

You don’t feel a true microdose, but with a mini-dose of psilocybin, you start into that level of feeling effects. With the mini-dose you breach the perceptual threshold and feel and experience effects around you, yet stay grounded and connected to your surroundings.

Common reported effects from mini-doses of psilocybin include:

  • Enhanced mood, excitement, or mild euphoria
  • A sense of peace, mindfulness, and feeling present in the moment
  • Open-mindedness and forgiveness
  • Improved symptoms of even treatment-resistant forms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and ADD/ADHD
  • Enhanced motivation
  • Increased ability to meditate, enter flow states
  • Increased insights, preference for introspective thought
  • Clearer thinking, more connected ideation
  • Increased enjoyment of everyday tasks and physical activity
  • Enhanced sensory perception, including increased light sensitivity
  • Visuals are mild if they occur
  • For some users, difficulties or discomfort with some cognitive tasks, with focusing or thought loops, or socializing
  • For some users, agitation, anxiety, or restlessness
  • For few users, possible manic states

Museum dose – 0.5 to 1.5 grams: Now we’re Van Gogh-ing somewhere

Although a museum dose still won’t give you a full psychedelic experience, the effects from its psilocybin are much more obvious than with a min-dose. Dr. Alexander Shulgin, a pharmacologist and biochemist, created the term “museum dose,” to refer to the idea that this dose allows users to experience notable psychedelic effects—such as those that might enhance viewing paintings in a museum—while still participating in public life in relatively normal ways without attracting too much attention, as you need to do to make the museum plan work.

Common reported effects from museum doses of psilocybin include:

  • Enhanced mood, excitement, euphoria
  • Amplification of existing mood, good or bad
  • Increased creativity
  • Enhanced and altered sensory perception, including increased light sensitivity and altered perception of sound
  • “Time stretch” or the sensation that time is either contracting or dilating
  • Visuals that are mild to moderate such as walls that appear to “breathe”
  • Increased empathy
  • Increased ability to enter flow states
  • Increased insights, preference for introspective thought
  • More fluid conversation
  • Enhanced appreciation for the arts, music, etc.
  • For some users, dilated pupils, and difficulty focusing
  • For some users, difficulty or discomfort socializing
  • For some users, the “no man’s land” frustration at dosage

Moderate dose – 2 to 3.5 grams: The full experience

At this dose, the full psychedelic experience including visual hallucinations, fractals and patterns, begins. Things like depth perception and time will be distorted, but they won’t lose all meaning. At this dose, you can still grasp reality and your (highly altered) surroundings.

Common reported effects from moderate doses of psilocybin include:

  • Increased flow of ideas including philosophical or introspective insights that feel life-changing
  • Amplification of existing mood and emotions, good or bad
  • Fascination with the mundane, and amusement with the otherwise unfunny
  • Enhanced appreciation for the arts, music, etc.
  • Strange sensory perceptions, including synesthesia, auras, patterns, and other open- and closed-eye visuals
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Clear pattern or cycle of coming up, peaking, and coming down
  • Compulsive yawning
  • Light sensitivity
  • In some users, “bad trip” experiences such as anxiety, fear, and disorientation
  • In some users, difficulty with cognitive tasks
  • In some users, nausea and dizziness

Megadose – 5 grams or more: Dude, where’s my reality?

A megadose causes intense hallucinations, as well as mystical experiences, ego death, and deep introspective thoughts. This is the dosage where you’ll totally lose connection with reality—so be careful.

Common reported effects from mega doses of psilocybin include:

  • Intense feelings of wonder and euphoria
  • Mystical experiences
  • Ego death
  • Increased flow of ideas including philosophical or introspective insights that feel life-changing
  • Powerful open- and closed-eye visions including experiencing people from the past and memories coming to life
  • Time losing all meaning
  • Synesthesia
  • For many users, compromised motor functions, lack of coordination
  • For some users, disorientation, extreme difficulty with cognitive tasks
  • For some users, extreme “bad trip” experiences including serious anxiety and fear
  • For some users, nausea and dizziness

Benefits and Risks of Psilocybin

Like any other substance consumed to alter the mind, there are many potential benefits and risks to consuming psilocybin mushrooms. Here is what we know.

Potentials Benefits

Many historical cultures have used psychedelic mushrooms for healing and cultural and social change. Today, people are beginning to recognize the benefits of these interesting fungi.

Research into psilocybin are being conducted across the United States and abroad, and evidence is strong that they are indeed drivers of personal growth. One study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found enduring increases in quality of life and decreases in anxiety and  depressed mood to be among the benefits of a single dose of psilocybin, even among patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses.

Research also suggests that psilocybin may also be effective because it affects the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to change, grow, and learn.

Well-known Risks

Despite what you may have seen in the movies, psilocybin is among the safest psychoactive substances. According to the 2017 Global Drug Survey, only 0.2 percent of all psilocybin users worldwide in 2016 needed emergency medical treatment, making psilocybin mushrooms among the safest of all recreational drugs available. That rate is far lower than for LSD, MDMA, and cocaine. Furthermore, even if you have a bad trip, there’s no known lethal dose, meaning that you’re unlikely to overdose—and psilocybin is non-addictive.

Of course, there is inherent risk in taking any drug. Toward the beginning and middle of a trip, psilocybin can trigger unpleasant physical side effects, such as perspiration, numbing, nausea, and tremors. It can also produce uncomfortable mental and emotional effects, such as mood swings, paranoia, anxiety, and panic attacks.

One survey found that up to 33 percent of respondents who had taken mushrooms experienced paranoia and anxiety at some point during their trip. However, long-term psychological and/or physical effects are rare, and are typically linked to latent psychological disorders, not the mushrooms themselves, when they do occur.

One suite of side effects, called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), is unique to psychedelics and is what users commonly experience as “flashbacks.” Unlike the flashbacks of PTSD, however, HPPD perceptual changes or flashbacks occur following the use of psilocybin (or other psychedelics). HPPD is considered a rare disorder although its exact prevalence is unknown, and it is not associated with any permanent neurological damage or physical changes.

Therapeutic Uses and Clinical Studies for Psilocybin

For an in-depth look at psilocybin therapy, see our entry on Psilocybin Therapy. But in brief:

Psilocybin has been used ritually for hundreds of years, but modern medicine is now catching on, too. Since the 1960s and 1970s in particular, psilocybin research has suggested that psychedelic mushrooms might play a promising role in the treatment of mood disorders such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); addiction including alcohol, opiates, and tobacco; cluster headaches; and a wide variety of other disorders.

However, in the 1970s the federal government reclassified psilocybin as a Schedule I drug. This focus on substance abuse rather than medicine chilled research into its therapeutic effects. The more recent third wave of interest into psychedelics has finally captured the attention of medical professionals—and regulators—as anecdotal evidence of psilocybin’s therapeutic effects becomes more mainstream. Today, many respected organizations fund this kind of research, including The Beckley Foundation, MAPS, and The Johns Hopkins University Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research.

Psilocybin and Personal Growth

Responsible use of psilocybin mushrooms to intentionally foster personal growth is a long-term trend. under supportive conditions, healthy adults in early trials reported lasting beneficial changes from psychedelics, including to attitudes, behaviors, personality, and values. In more recent laboratory research studies, about 40 percent of participants who consumed psilocybin reported long-term positive changes in their relationship to nature and aesthetic experience.

Of course these nascent research findings are supported by numerous anecdotal reports over the years. People frequently report increased imagination and creativity, more tolerance for others, and a greater appreciation of art, music, and the outdoors after a psilocybin experience.

A 2011 study reported that 14 months after a single psilocybin experience, users’ levels of openness remained significantly elevated according to self-reported measures. Researchers in that study and others attribute the lasting nature of these changes to the mystical experience aspect of the psilocybin mushroom trip.

A mystical experience is generally understood as feelings of interconnectedness and unity with all beings and things, feelings of joy and peace, ineffability, a sense of sacredness and of transcending normal space and time, and an intuitive idea that the the nature of reality is being revealed in the experience, which is a source of objective truth. But psilocybin-induced mystical experiences are not reserved for the religious. With people who have reported having profound mystical experiences during a mushroom trip there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between the depth of experience and religious belief—only between the amount of positive, long-term changes a person experiences and the intensity of their mystical experience.

These feelings of interconnectedness and other subjective effects are probably caused by the ability of psilocybin to decrease interconnectivity between the brain’s integration hubs and increase cross-talk between regions of the brain that typically remain segregated. Scientists think that this may produce a more flexible, unconstrained state of cognition, allowing us to think far outside the box.

The brain produces similar activity patterns during various states of meditation. Researchers have also found that psilocybin can produce lasting increases in trait-level prosocial behaviors and attitudes and in healthy psychological functioning.

Microdosing Psilocybin

Microdosing is the consumption of unnoticeable or sub-perceptual amounts of any mind-altering substance or psychedelic compound. Psilocybin mushrooms are ideal for microdosing, and many enthusiasts report higher energy levels, more creativity, improved relational skills, increased focus, and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Some users also find that microdosing psilocybin helps them enhance their sensory perception and heighten their spiritual awareness.

Of course modern interest in psychedelics spans the 20th and 21st centuries, but the book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys by Dr. James Fadiman fueled new interest in microdosing starting in 2011. It was this book that brought the term microdosing into the mainstream.

Legality of Psilocybin

The legality of psilocybin is a little tricky, and may change depending on where you are and whether you’re buying psilocybin mushrooms or trying to grow or harvest them.

Buying Psilocybin

In most countries, psilocybin is and has been illegal for decades. But in some regions, such as the Netherlands, the British Virgin Islands, Brazil, and Jamaica, psilocybin in some form falls into a legal grey area or even a loophole.

In November 2020, Oregon decriminalized the use or possession of psilocybin mushrooms for medical reasons and legalized psilocybin for people aged 21 and older. Psilocybin is also decriminalized for personal possession and use for adults aged 21 and older in Santa Cruz and Oakland, California; Denver, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Somerville, Massachusetts; and Washington, DC.

Growing and Harvesting Psilocybin via Mushrooms

Psilocybin remains illegal in the US at the federal level, but in 2005 the state of New Mexico deemed psilocybin mushrooms—as long as they are undried—legal to possess and grow. New Mexico remains alone in this stance since the Florida state legislature overruled a 1978 Florida supreme court ruling that essentially legalized harvesting wild psilocybin mushrooms. Today, harvesting wild psilocybin mushrooms is largely unregulated across the US, although possessing the fungi alone is enough trouble in most locations.

Surprisingly, except for Georgia, California, and Idaho, it is perfectly legal to possess psilocybin mushroom spores in the US, because the spores themselves don’t contain the chemicals federal law specifically regulates under schedule I:  psilocybin and psilocin. Of course, you can’t use the spores to grow the psilocybin mushrooms—but that’s another story.

History of Psilocybin Use

The Sahara Desert has revealed archaeological evidence of humans using psychedelic mushrooms at least 7,000 years ago, and prehistoric art images of these mushrooms span the globe.

Psilocybe hispanica was depicted in prehistoric rock art in Spain near Villar del Humo, indicating that approximately 6,000 years ago people in the area were using psychedelic mushrooms in religious rituals.

From pre-Columbian days to modern times, the native peoples of Mesoamerica have a history of use of the hallucinogenic species of the Psilocybe genus for divination, religious communion, and healing. Typically, the fungi are used to celebrate rites of passage, and recognized as religious symbols.

In Guatemala and other parts of Central America, travelers well through the time of Hernán Cortés observed mushroom motifs and stones in locations where religious rituals were undertaken. Once the Spanish and the Catholic missionaries came to Central America, together they campaigned against and suppressed the use of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms along with the rest of the cultural tradition of the Aztecs and other pre-Christian traditions. However, there remain many accounts of psilocybin use among the pre-Columbian Aztec and Mayan cultures of Guatemala and Mexico.

The London Medical and Physical Journal made the first mention of hallucinogenic mushrooms in European medicinal literature in 1799 when it related the tale of a man who unwittingly served his whole family a breakfast of Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms he picked in Green Park, London. The treating physician described the youngest child experiencing fits of laughter that he could not restrain, even when his parents threatened him.

Gordon Wasson, who formerly led J.P. Morgan & Company as vice president, had an intense obsession with psilocybin mushrooms. In 1955, he and his wife Valentina Pavlovna Wasson traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, to meet Maria Sabina, a mushroom shaman and part of the indigenous Mazatec tribe. There, taking their first mushroom trip, the Wassons became the first European Americans ever known to actively take part in a psilocybin mushroom ceremony. The Wassons essentially began the modern Western psychedelic mushroom movement when, in 1957, they published their experiences in a photo essay in Time Magazine, “Seeking the Magic Mushroom,” in which Mr. Wasson reported feeling like his soul had left his body.

The Wassons also brought back a sample of Psilocybe mexicana, a psychoactive mushroom, from Mexico. In 1956 Roger Heim identified the species, and in 1957, Albert Hofmann, the well-known Swiss chemist and originator of LSD, isolated psilocybin in the lab for the first time from the samples. Psilocybin was produced synthetically one year later for the first time.

Timothy Leary was inspired by the Wassons’ Life article to travel to Mexico and experience psilocybin mushrooms himself. In 1960 he returned to Harvard and founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project with Richard Alpert to promote the study of the psychological and religious aspects of psychedelic drug use, including psilocybin.

Throughout the 1960s, Alpert and Leary worked with prisoners to test the effects of psilocybin on recidivism. Their work revealed that six months after treatment, the recidivism rate had decreased below 40 percent, beyond expectations. Alongside other controversial experiments, the research caused problems for the pair, who Harvard dismissed in 1963. Alpert and Leary went on to fuel interest in the hippie counterculture in psychedelic experiences.

According to the UN’s Convention on Psychotropic Substances, since 1971, the US has listed psilocybin as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is illegal within our borders for all uses and is considered to have high potential for drug abuse—with the exceptions we listed above. Because psilocybin mushrooms were not part of the UN convention itself, though, all signatory countries such as the US can regulate psilocybin as they choose since the convention is basically a treaty. However, as explained above, in most countries today psilocybin is illegal, although there are exceptions.

Some people believe that ancestors of humans did use mushrooms, and that their psychedelic experience might have shaped prehistoric culture, including spiritual beliefs, arts, and even the underlying social values that regulated life. The more extreme version of this idea include the “Stoned Ape Hypothesis” from psychonaut and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, which suggests that among the benefits of early humans using psychedelic mushrooms were the very intellectual advancements that led to the evolution of the modern human mind. However, there is a high level of skepticism—mostly due to the lack of evidence in support of it—toward this theory in the scientific community.

Current Use of Psilocybin in Culture and Statistics on Psilocybin Use

Today, groups of Mazatecs, Mixe, Mixtecs, Nahua, Zapotecs, and others from central Mexico to Oaxaca continue to report psilocybin mushroom use. But use is at least as widespread among Westerners, with people ages 34 and younger choosing psilocybin among psychedelics the most frequently. One 2012 study found that almost 30 percent of 409 northeastern US university students had tried psilocybin-containing mushrooms at least once.

The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) collected and analyzed data on how people use psychedelics—a category which includes not only psilocybin-containing mushrooms, but also LSD, MDMA, mescaline, PCP, and peyote—compared to other drugs, including prescription antidepressants and antipsychotics. A report on the data shows that about 1.2 percent of the population of people 12 years of age and older used psychedelics within the past month. Interestingly, psychotherapeutics such as prescription antipsychotics are used illegally far more often than are psychedelics.

Surveys of people aged 15 to 24 in 12 EU member states found that less than 1 to 8 percent of young people had taken psilocybin. In the UK in 2004/2005, the final year before they were completely illegal, nearly 340,000 people ages 16 to 59 had used psilocybin mushrooms.

Types of Psilocybin Mushrooms

Psilocybin as we know it today evolved from ancestor compound muscarine approximately 10 to 20 million years ago. Today psilocybin is present on every continent except Antarctica in about 200 species of Basidiomycota mushrooms in varying concentrations.

In a 2000 review of the global distribution of psilocybin mushrooms, Gastón Guzmán et al found that psilocybin mushrooms are distributed among the Psilocybe, Gymnopilus, Panaeolus, Copelandia, Pluteus, Inocybe, Pholiotina, and Galerina genera with 116, 14, 13, 12, 6, 6, 4, and 1 species, respectively. In 2005, Guzmán et all increased their estimate of the number of psilocybin mushrooms to 144 species.

Over 50 species of them occur in Latin America, the world’s hotspot for psilocybin mushrooms, with dozens sprinkled throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, and still other varieties found in Africa and Australia and the Pacific Islands. Typically, species containing psilocybin are gilled, dark-spored mushrooms that are found in woods and meadows and thrive in the tropics and subtropics—generally in soil that is rich in plant debris and humus. Most species occur in humid, subtropical forests.

In tropical areas, P. cubensis is the most common psilocybin mushroom, while P. semilanceata predominates in more temperate regions. In fact, this ability to thrive throughout North America, Europe, South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, has made P. semilanceata the most widely distributed psilocybin mushroom in the world, although ironically it cannot be found in Mexico.

Of the more than 180 known species of mushrooms with psychedelic benefits, these are the most widely consumed types:

Psilocybe cubensis: The most widely cultivated and well-known psilocybin mushroom—the default version, when you think of “shrooms,” this is probably it in a classic sense.

[See our complete reference on Psilocybe cubensis here.]

Psilocybe semilanceata: The most widespread species of psychedelic mushroom in the world.

Psilocybe cyanescens: Less famous than either psilocybe cubensis or psilocybe semilanceata, but more cultivated than in the past, particularly because they are slightly more psychoactive.

Psilocybe azurescens: Probably the world’s most potent psilocybin mushroom, discovered in the mid-1990s by world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets.

Amanita Muscaria (Fly Agaric): This famous-looking red and white mushroom was used regularly in Siberian and Baltic shamanic traditions and contains the psychoactive compounds muscimol and ibotenic acid.

How to Identify Psychedelic Mushrooms

Warning: No matter what your goal is, when you’re trying to identify ANY kind of mushroom, use extreme caution. Many varieties of mushrooms look very similar to each other, yet they exhibit varying levels of toxicity, and often only fungi hunters who are very well-trained can differentiate between species. It’s highly unlikely to select a deadly species if you know what to look for, but misidentified mushrooms can cause illness or even death.

Regular old dried mushrooms are dirty brown with patches of lighter colors, typically. Psilocybin mushrooms look like ordinary dried mushrooms, but usually with whitish-gray stems that are more slender and longer and dark brown caps that are lighter in the middle.

In tropical zones globally, Psilocybe cubensis grows in abundance. These classic-looking parasol-shaped, stubby-stemmed mushrooms feature mostly light golden-brown caps. Before fruiting the caps are bulbous, but once they reach maturity they appear wider and flatter.

Another variety eager psilocybin fans often spot is Psilocybe azurescens, which is endemic to the United States along the West Coast. This variety appears more convex and slimmer.

In some places you can find liquid psilocybin, usually presented as a small vial of clear brown liquid.

How to Grow Psychedelic Psilocybin Mushrooms

Disclaimer: Remember, it is usually illegal to grow psilocybin mushrooms for any reason, including for consumption. We do not support, condone, or encourage any illegal activity.

Growing psilocybin mushrooms yourself eliminates the risks from the potentially dangerous practice of collecting and misidentifying mushrooms in the wild. It also enables an interesting hobby and a stable supply of psilocybin all year long.

It is almost always best to start from scratch, although you can find ready-made mushroom kits online. Whether you buy a kit that includes it or you make your own, you’ll start with a living mycelium substrate, the underlying material mushrooms grow in. Making your own is less likely to suffer from contamination, and is more consistent.

Myths and Facts About Psilocybin

Myth: Psilocybin-containing mushrooms cause brain bleeds, kidney failure, stomach bleeding, and/or other serious health risks.

Facts: A brain bleed is technically a hemorrhage, stroke, or aneurysm. There is no evidence of any link between ingesting mushrooms containing psilocybin and hemorrhage, stroke, or aneurysm.

No mushrooms containing psilocybin cause kidney problems, but incompetent mushroom identification can. The mushrooms in the family Cortinarius closely resemble the psychedelic species of mushroom Psilocybe semilanceata, and while the latter does not hurt the kidneys, the former are harmful to the kidneys.

There is no evidence to suggest that psilocybin mushrooms cause stomach bleeding.

Myth: Shrooms cause insanity or can trigger a psychotic break.

Facts: Although scientists have seen similarities between trips caused by psilocybin and the psychotic episodes you might see in a disorder such as schizophrenia, they also note that the effects of psilocybin are temporary and that users return to normal within hours. This is true even among people admitted to the emergency room after taking psilocybin mushrooms. In fact, a recent population-wide study of those who use classic psychedelics such as LDS and psilocybin found a reduced likelihood of suicidality and other psychological distress.

Myth: Psilocybin mushrooms are toxic or poisonous.

Facts: Psilocybin mushrooms can alter the consciousness and intoxicate, but based on that they are not any more poisonous than caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, or cannabis. Actual psilocybin mushrooms do not cause mushroom poisoning. Certain non-psychedelic species are in fact poisonous mushrooms, but these are not psilocybin mushrooms.

Psilocybin (and Psilocybin-Containing Mushrooms FAQ

Can a drug test detect psilocybin?

Most standard drug screens do not include psilocybin and related metabolites, but they are sometimes included in extended drug screens.

Can using psilocybin cause emotional harm or psychological trauma?

Using psilocybin will not cause emotional harm or psychological trauma for those who follow the 6Ss of psychedelic use. For some people, especially without the 6Ss in place, psilocybin can lead to a “bad trip,” which is a short period of acute psychosis.

To avoid this, stick to the 6S rules for psychedelics:

  • Get Set with the right mindset by focusing on your intentions and goals
  • Choose a safe, comfortable Setting
  • Use a safe, reliable Substance in the right dose
  • Trust only a Sitter or guide you trust to get you through the experience
  • Understand the stages of a psychedelic Session, including ingestion, onset, opening up and letting go, plateau, gentle come down, and the end of the session
  • Integrate your experiences into your existing Situation

Anyone with a family history of mental illness should also avoid taking psychedelics. This is because some researchers think that psilocybin may trigger latent mental health issues—although there is no concrete evidence to support that.

How can I be sure these mushrooms contain psilocybin?

There are many species of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and some look eerily similar to mushrooms that are poisonous, so be careful to correctly identify your mushrooms. Only purchase mushrooms from a trusted source. Recognize many varieties of psilocybe mushrooms by their short cone-like caps and long, thin stems.

As we discussed above, it is illegal to grow, buy, or possess psilocybin-containing mushrooms in most places in the world. However, it is legal to buy and possess the spores in many places—just don’t let them grow.

How do I take psilocybin via mushrooms?

You can eat psilocybin-containing mushrooms whole, disguised or cooked into food, or brewed in a tea. Weigh a moderate dose of 1 to 2.5 grams on a scale.

How do I microdose with psilocybin?

Although everyone’s tolerance is different, typically psilocybin can be microdosed at a dose of about 0.1 to 0.3 grams.

Does psilocybin tolerance exist? How does it work?

Wait at least three days between doses of psilocybin doses, because even a moderate dose of psilocybin produces immediate tolerance. Taking it again will generate a weaker effect.

Can I mix psilocybin with other drugs?

In general, avoid mixing psilocybin with other substances. Avoid mixing psilocybin with amphetamines, cannabis, or cocaine. And never mix psilocybin and Tramadol, which can cause serotonin syndrome.

Final Thoughts on Psilocybin

We hope this detailed guide to psilocybin-containing mushrooms has been useful. The increasing popularity of “shrooms” and other hallucinogenic drugs is bringing this amazing substance into the mainstream, so we expect more and more people to be curious and seek out this information.

Disclaimer: Depending on where you are in the world, psilocybin is a potentially illegal substance. We do not condone or encourage the use of any illegal substance. However, information is imperative to responsible harm reduction and illegal drug use occurs. This guide is intended to offer accurate information to ensure the safety of anyone who chooses to use this substance.

Author

  • Ed Markey

    Ed Markey is a former special education teacher turned psychedelics enthusiast. His goal is to help shine a light on the emerging potential of psychedelics to help improve people's lives--focusing especially on writing in-depth pieces, research based, to help educate those interested in how psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine, and more can potentially help improve mental health (when taken in conjunction with medical supervision, in states where it is legal to do so).