What is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic chemical in certain mushrooms that grow in Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States. Mushrooms that contain psilocybin are known as magic mushrooms. It’s used in spiritual rituals, recreationally, and as medicine.
Psilocybin has hallucinogenic effects. It can be obtained from both fresh and dried mushrooms in varying concentrations. It can also be created in a lab. There’s increased interest in using pure psilocybin for addictions, depression, and other mental and psychological disorders due to its potential to stimulate certain areas of the brain. In October 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin. This allows for a 2-year period to consider regulatory and prescribing requirements.
How it works
Psilocybin works by activating serotonin receptors, most often in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain affects mood, cognition, and perception. Hallucinogens also work in other regions of the brain that regulate arousal and panic responses.
Psilocybin does not always cause active visual or auditory hallucinations. Instead, it distorts how some people that use the drug perceive objects and people already in their environment.
The quantity of the drug a person consumes, their experiences, and their expectations of how the experience will take shape can all impact the effects of psilocybin.
The hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin usually occur within 30 minutes after a person ingests it and last 4–6 hours. In some individuals, changes in sensory perception and thought patterns can last for several days.
The potency of a magic mushroom depends on:
- growing conditions
- harvest period
- whether a person eats them fresh or dried
The amount of psilocybin in dried mushrooms is about 10 times higher than that found in their fresh counterparts.
Some people who take psilocybin may experience persistent, distressing alterations to the way they see the world. These often take the form of a visual flashback, which is a traumatic recall of an intensely upsetting experience. People can continue to experience flashbacks anywhere from weeks to years after using the hallucinogen. Physicians now diagnose this condition as a hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder.
Some individuals who use psilocybin may also experience fear, agitation, confusion, delirium, psychosis, and syndromes that resemble schizophrenia, requiring a trip to the emergency room.
In most cases, a doctor will treat these effects with medication, such as benzodiazepines. Symptoms typically resolve in 6–8 hours as the effects of the psilocybin wear off.
Finally, though the risk is small, some psilocybin users risk accidental poisoning from eating a poisonous mushroom by mistake. Symptoms of mushroom poisoning may include muscle spasms, confusion, and delirium. A person should visit an emergency room immediately if these symptoms occur.
Because hallucinogenic and other poisonous mushrooms are common in most living environments, people should regularly remove all mushrooms from areas where children are routinely present to prevent accidental consumption.
Most accidental mushroom ingestion results in minor gastrointestinal illness, with only the most severe instances requiring medical attention.
When taken by mouth: Psilocybin is possibly safe when used as a single dose under medical supervision. Single doses of psilocybin have been used in controlled settings without serious side effects. The most common side effects include confusion, fear, hallucinations, headache, high blood pressure, nausea, and paranoia. Despite being a controlled substance in the US, the risk for abuse seems low. Withdrawal symptoms and physical dependence don’t appear to be a major concern.
There isn’t enough reliable information to know if psilocybin is safe to use without medical supervision at any dose, including microdoses.
Psilocybin is not chemically addictive, and no physical symptoms occur after stopping use. However, after several days of psilocybin use, individuals might experience psychological withdrawal and have difficulty adjusting to reality.
Regular use can also cause an individual to become tolerant to the effects of psilocybin, and cross-tolerance occurs with other drugs, including LSD and mescaline. People who use these drugs must wait at least several days between doses to experience the full effect.
A bad trip?
A “bad trip” can include feelings of despair, confusion, paranoia, anxiety, and panic. These feelings can persist for hours to days.
To avoid this, first, you will not have a bad trip or any trip at all if you choose not to ingest the mushrooms. If the mushrooms have a higher, stronger dose than expected, this can increase your chances of having a negative experience.
For someone going through a personal crisis or using mushrooms in an unsafe, unsupportive environment, the chances of a “bad trip” increase.
There are no guarantees with mushrooms since they are an unprocessed plant product, and bad trips can and do happen. If someone has ingested mushrooms and is experiencing panic, anxiety, or is in any danger of harming themselves or others, seek medical assistance immediately.