Shrooms, magic mushrooms and psychedelic mushrooms are street names for mushrooms containing psilocybin.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychoactive molecule that is found in many species of fungi. Mushrooms that contain psilocybin are known colloquially as “magic mushrooms,” and can be ingested to produce a profound psychedelic trip lasting several hours. Psilocybin is the psychoactive molecule used at the Synthesis retreat to produce a guided transformational experience.
Where is psilocybin legal?
Psilocybin itself is a prohibited substance in most countries. However, in some countries it is legal to possess, grow, or even sell psilocybin mushrooms.
In Brazil, there are no specific laws against the possession or consumption of psilocybin mushrooms, and use of magic mushrooms could even be covered under laws protecting the sacramental use of substances.
The British Virgin Islands prohibit the sale of magic mushrooms, but allow for possession and consumption. You will often find vendors selling mushroom shakes without apparent fear of prosecution.
In Jamaica, the authorities appear to turn a blind eye to psilocybin mushrooms, allowing its use in commercial retreats and for private personal use.
The Netherlands is a unique case: psilocybin mushrooms are illegal, but psilocybin truffles are legal. Truffles are just an earlier stage of mushroom development, and still contain psilocybin at high levels. The Synthesis retreat uses these magic truffles at our location in Amsterdam, setting up a safe and legal environment in which people can enjoy the transformative effects of psilocybin.
A number of other countries also provide leeway for the cultivation or use of psilocybin mushrooms, to various extents – although none are currently as safe and clear-cut in their policies as the Netherlands.
What are psilocybin mushrooms?
Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms, are any species of fungi that contain psilocybin. There are dozens of different types of psilocybin mushrooms. They differ in appearance, taste, and even the amount of psilocybin they contain.
How do you identify psilocybin mushrooms?
You can find psychedelic mushrooms quite commonly in moist, sheltered conditions. They grow well in dung and dense forests near bodies of water.
Mushroom species are wildly varied, and the same goes for the psilocybin-containing ones. So far, there are 227 known species. There is no single feature based on which magic mushrooms can be distinguished from regular ones.
These are some of the most common species of psychedelic mushrooms found in the wild, and their features:
Psilocybe cubensis are the most well-known species of magic mushrooms. They appear as classic stubby-stemmed parasol-shaped mushrooms with predominantly light-to-golden-brownish caps that are bulbous before fruiting, and flat and wide in diameter when fully mature. A certain kind of P. cubensis is known worldwide as the “Golden Teacher.”
Psilocybe semilanceata are commonly found in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. They also go by the name “Liberty Caps”, because of their dark bell-shaped tops. Their stems are slim, and can be wavy.
Psilocybe cyanescens are quite easily recognized due to their undulating tops. For this reason, they are commonly referred to as “Wavy Caps.” They can be found on the West Coast of the USA, south of the Bay Area, in Central and Western Europe, New Zealand, and parts of Western Asia.
Panaeolus or Copelandia cyanescens, also known as the “Hawaiian” shrooms, are not the most distinct species, with long, slim stems and light brown to light grey caps. They grow all over the world: in North and South America, Western Europe, Central Africa, South and Southeast Asia and throughout Oceania.
Psilocybe azurescens are frequently found on the West Coast of the USA, specifically Oregon and Washington. They display a slim stem and a convex caramel-colored cap with a conical top.
What are magic truffles?
Magic truffles are an earlier stage of mushroom development, that still contain psilocybin, and will have psychedelic effects if ingested.
If psilocybin mushroom spores are planted in the correct environmental conditions, they will grow into sclerotia: a hardened mass of fungus that stores nutrients in preparation for the growth of mushrooms. These truffles will remain in this state until the environment is beneficial for mushroom growth.
Magic truffles can be grown industrially, and in the Netherlands are sold in headshops and used in psychedelic retreats, due to their legal status.
Psilocybin levels will differ in magic truffles compared to magic mushrooms. Sometimes, the wet truffles will contain more psilocybin per weight than wet mushrooms, but dried truffles will contain less psilocybin per weight than dried mushrooms, due to the higher water content of magic truffles. When sold in shops, psilocybin truffles will usually have dosage information on their packaging. The truffles used at Synthesis are labeled in this way, so we can accurately tailor the dosage to each person’s preference.
Where does psilocybin come from?
There are over 100 species of psilocybin-containing mushrooms with varying potencies, said Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who studies psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin.
Psilocybin mushrooms have long, slender stems topped by caps with dark brown edges, according to the DEA. In the U.S., magic mushrooms are found in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest often growing in pastures on cow dung, Johnson told Live Science. They also grow in Mexico, Central and South America. The most potent species in the world is considered Psilocybe azurescens, which is found mainly in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
In the early 1950s, an American banker and mushroom enthusiast named R. Gordon Wasson came across an indigenous tribe using psychoactive mushrooms when he was on vacation in Mexico, according to Drug Policy Alliance. Wasson sent samples of the mushrooms to Albert Hoffmann, a Swiss chemist known for discovering LSD. Hoffmann isolated psilocybin from the mushroom Psilocybe mexicana in 1957, and he developed a way to produce a synthetic version of the psychedelic compound a year later.
Since 1970, psilocybin and psilocin have been listed by the DEA as Schedule I substances, the federal government’s most restrictive category. Drugs in this category are believed to have a “high potential for abuse” as well as “no accepted medical use,” according to the DEA.
How does it work?
Psilocybin along with other drugs, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline, are considered “classic psychedelics” because they can induce changes in mood, thought and perception by mimicking neurotransmitters in your brain.
Once it enters the body, psilocybin is broken down into psilocin, a substance that acts like the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood. Psilocybin is known to activate a specific type of serotonin receptor in the brain that triggers its psychedelic effects, Johnson said.
Its hallucinatory effects can cause a person to see images, hear sounds and feel sensations that seem real but aren’t, according to Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Someone on psilocybin may experience synesthesia, or the mixture of two senses, such as feeling like they can smell colors.
Besides sensory enhancement and visual hallucinations, participants in psilocybin-assisted therapy sessions have described the drug’s effects as a life-changing experience where they gain deep insight that shifts the way they think about themselves.
A mystical type of experience has also been linked with the use of psilocybin, Johnson said. People have described feeling at one with humanity, feeling a sense of unity, and feeling a sense of self dissolve after consuming the psychedelic compound, he explained.
Studies have shown that after taking psilocybin, there is a sharp increase in communication between areas of the brain that normally don’t talk to each other, which may partly explain the new insights people experience. There’s also a quieting of deeply entrenched thought patterns that contribute to addictions, anxiety and depression, Johnson said.
Psilocybin therapy research
Psilocybin has shown promise for treating a variety of difficult-to-treat health conditions.
For example, the results are extremely positive for the use of psilocybin in the treatment of smoking cessation and depression, Johnson said. Recent clinical trials have reported that just one to three doses of psilocybin given in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy have helped patients quit their smoking habit, he said. Afterward, people feel more confident in their ability to change behavior and manage their addictions.
Results are also promising for the use of psilocybin in reducing cancer-related anxiety and treatment-resistant depression — two areas where there is a huge need for better treatment options, Johnson said.
Psilocybin along with supportive therapy appears to help people come to grips with problems and learn from these experiences, he said. The treatment may induce insights and novel perspectives that promote mental flexibility and may cause lasting behavior changes six months to a year later.
Small studies of psilocybin have also suggested benefits as a treatment for alcohol addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Potential risks of psilocybin
The most common negative side effect of psilocybin is the potential for a “bad trip,” Johnson said. High doses of psilocybin can cause overwhelming feelings of anxiety, fear and confusion that can lead to dangerous behavior if not used under medical supervision.
Psychedelics are very intoxicating substances, and their side effects can be challenging to manage even in the relatively safe framework of a research setting, Johnson said. Researchers reduce these risks by prohibiting people with a history of psychosis from participating in psilocybin studies. Psilocybin can also moderately increase blood pressure, which is why people with heart problems are excluded from studies, he added. Other possible side effects of psilocybin use include nausea, vomiting, headaches and stomach cramps.
How does psilocybin affect the brain?
Psilocybin itself is not technically psychoactive. Upon entering the body, the psilocybin molecule is quickly metabolized into psilocin, which is responsible for the well-known psychedelic effects.
Psilocin acts on serotonin receptors, increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain, and producing profound changes in perception. It is psilocin’s actions at the 5-HT2A receptor that are thought to be most important for its psychoactive effects.
Once psilocybin enters the body, it is quickly converted into psilocin, and the psychological effects will become apparent after around twenty minutes. The activation of the 5-HT2A receptor is linked with changes in cognition such as visual and auditory hallucinations, tactile perceptions (such as tingling or warmth), and synaesthesia (the merging of senses).
Users of psilocybin report entering a profound state of mind where the usual limits of consciousness are expanded. Realizations about the self and the universe may come to the forefront, and people will often describe feelings of unity, interconnectedness, and unconditional love.
During a psilocybin trip, rushes of emotion are particularly common, including euphoria and a sense of total immersion in your surroundings. These are often accompanied by visual changes; the boundaries between shapes may blur, the air may take on a substantial, hazy quality. Surfaces may develop swirling patterns. Your thoughts may surprise you; drawing connections between seemingly disparate ideas, or spinning out into personal epiphanies. Your sense of self may even dissolve altogether as you become one with your surroundings: a process known as ego-dissolution.
The colours you see may be brighter, more intense, or change completely. Characters that are encountered in this altered state of consciousness may morph, take on new significances or identities; objects may feel different to touch. You may be drawn towards exploring the outdoors; the beauty of plants and flowers can become mesmeric.
Studies have shown that psilocybin induces a mystical experience, and that the intensity of this directly correlates with the benefits that users report following the trip. It is this mystical aspect that retreats like Synthesis hope to amplify in order to bring the benefits of psychedelics to their participants.
Additionally, psilocybin has been shown to reduce the control of a brain network known as the DMN (default mode network), and this has been linked to a boost in creative thinking and reductions in negative thought-patterns.
The “resetting” of this DMN by psilocybin has also been suggested to be a factor in the significant antidepressant effects of psilocybin, where a single dose of psilocybin can reduce symptoms of depression for months following the treatment.
How long does psilocybin stay in your system?
Although psilocybin is metabolized into psilocin, it stays in your system for longer than its psychoactive metabolite. It takes around a day for all the psilocybin in your body to be excreted. Psilocin, on the other hand, will be be almost totally gone from your body after six hours.
Can psilocybin be found in a drug test?
Both psilocybin and psilocin can be detected in a urine drug test, although they will have left your system a day after ingestion. A blood test would also pick up psilocybin in your body, although this would only work within the first six hours after ingestion.
Hair follicle testing would potentially show the presence of psilocybin, although it would have to be administered a few days after ingestion. Psilocybin could be potentially detected for several weeks after ingestion by this method. However, it is unlikely you’ll come across this kind of test, as it requires high-end lab equipment and is relatively invasive.
How do you take psilocybin?
The most common way of ingesting psilocybin is by eating magic mushrooms. They can be eaten on their own, fresh or dried; although many people dislike the taste and often report nausea.
To get around the sometimes unpleasant taste, dried mushrooms can be ground up into a powder and then distributed into capsules. Alternatively, the powder can be dissolved in chocolate milk or other pleasant beverages.
Magic truffles can be ingested in the same manner as magic mushrooms, although the taste is reported to be somewhat different.
How do you make psilocybin tea?
Some people prefer to brew their mushrooms into a tea to make the ingestion more pleasant. This can also be done with magic truffles, and is the approach that Synthesis takes during its retreats.
A tea can be made with either fresh or dried mushrooms/truffles. Too much heat will destroy the psilocybin in the fungus, so do not boil the mushrooms. Instead, brew your tea with whatever flavorings you desire, then take the water off the heat and add your dried or fresh mushrooms once the water has stopped boiling. Let the mushrooms steep in the tea for 10-15 minutes, then strain the liquid into a cup and drink!
Recommended additions to psilocybin tea are ginseng, ginger, and honey. They can help mask the taste and also aid digestion to prevent nausea. Synthesis uses ginger in its truffle tea.
What dosages should I use?
The dosage of psilocybin to ingest depends on many factors. Different people will respond differently to the same dose of psilocybin, and the same person might respond differently to the same dose on different days. This is why any suggested dosages are just guidelines, and you should always dose with caution until you learn your preferred range.
Keep in mind that different species of psilocybin mushrooms will contain different quantities of psilocybin. For example, fresh Psilocybe cyanescens can contain up to 16mg/g psilocybin, while fresh Panaeolus sphinctrinus can contain as little as 2mg/g.
Fresh psilocybin truffles can contain more or less psilocybin than fresh psilocybin mushrooms, but again there will be variation between species. Remember that truffles contain more water than mushrooms, so when both are dried, magic truffles may contain a higher quantity of psilocybin per weight than dried psilocybin mushrooms.
This is a good general guide for dosing, although we strongly recommend researching your mushrooms beforehand:
|Wet mushrooms/truffles||Dried mushrooms/truffles|