Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic drug. It is the main psychedelic compound in Psilocybin (‘magic’) mushrooms, but is has also used been as a drug in its own right.
The main sources of the chemical in nature are specific mushrooms in a number of genuses – most notably Psilocybe and Copelandia. These are collectively known as Magic Mushrooms, and dried preparations of these are the most commonly ingested form of Psilocybin, along with the related active chemical, Psilocin. Psilocybin-containing mushrooms are thought to have been used in spiritual ceremonies and rituals by some native cultures around the world for thousands of years.
Aside from the consumption of whole mushrooms, Psilocybin may be taken for recreational and psychedelic purposes in a number of ways. Sometimes fresh mushrooms are boiled to make a ‘tea’ beverage infused with Psilocybin. In other instances, they may be dried, ground up into powder and placed inside capsules.
In 1958, Albert Hoffman (the Swiss chemist who discovered the hallucinogenic drug LSD) synthesised Psilocybin in a laboratory for the first time. At this time, much research was being carried out into the use of hallucinogens like LSD and Psilocybin for the treatment of mental illness. During this time, synthetic Psilocybin was given to patients in pills and other medicinal forms, including mental patients and convicts.
However, by the mid-1960s this research was largely discontinued and production of synthetic Psilocybin ceased, due to the unpredictable effects of chemicals such as Psilocybin on the human mind.
As a chemical for recreational abuse, Psilocybin became very popular during the psychedelic ‘hippie’ movement of the 1960s, most notably in its natural mushroom state.
This widening use and abuse of the drug led to many world governments banning it in the 1960s.
Since then, the use of Psilocybin and Magic Mushrooms has declined markedly, but illicit use continues today by recreational drug users seeking a psychedelic experience.
The effects of Psilocybin are said to create a similar experience for the user as LSD, but one which is more ‘natural’ and less intense. However the Psilocybin enters the body, its principle method of action is that it flows through the blood to Serotonin receptors in the brain, which it then binds with. This disrupts normal functioning, resulting in a hallucinogenic ‘trip’ in which the individual commonly experiences hallucinations, distortions of time and other perceptions, euphoria and a range of other departures from normal brain functioning.
The main form of Psilocybin use is through the consumption of mushrooms containing the compound, including Psilocybe Semilanceata and Psilocybe Cubensis. These may either be picked in the wild, or bought on the black market. Street names for mushrooms that contain Psilocybin include Magic Mushrooms, Shrooms, Caps, Mushies and Buttons.
Prior to the mid-2000s, although Psilocybin was illegal, fresh mushrooms containing it remained legal in many countries. Since then however it has become illegal to sell or possess both fresh and dried mushrooms.
Dried preparations of Psilocybin mushrooms may be sold as a powder, sometimes referred to as ‘mushroom dust’. This powder may also be used in capsule form.
Though it is in theory possible to manufacture synthetic Psilocybin (phosphorylated 4-hydroxy-dimethyltryptamine), this is rarely done for black market consumption due to the high costs involved, low demand and the availability of Psilocybin in mushroom form.
As a hallucinogenic drug, Psilocybin produces a ‘psychedelic experience’, or ‘trip’, generating an altered state of awareness from that which is normally experienced.
Such trips can vary in intensity, depending on the amount of Psilocybin consumed and the individual. Common effects experienced include visual and auditory hallucinations, altered cognitive perceptions, euphoric feelings and intensified senses.
One of the primary reasons that legitimate Psilocybin research was discontinued and the drug is judged by the US government to have no useful medical purpose is that its effects are so unpredictable. It is impossible to tell for certain whether someone taking the drug will have a happy, positive trip or a traumatic and disturbing ‘bad trip’. Even those who have taken the substance many times before and are of generally sound mind can suffer a bad trip – essentially a hallucinogenic nightmare.
These bad trips can last as long six hours, and these unpleasant hallucinatory visions may be accompanied by feelings of intense anxiety, paranoia, and delusions.
Even in individuals who do not have a bad trip, Psilocybin-induced hallucinogenic states can be dangerous. The distortion of their perceptions of the external world can make them more prone to accidents. They may also make very poor and risky judgements based on their state of mind while under the influence of the drug.
Frequent users of Psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs can lose touch with reality somewhat at the expense of their livelihood, mental health and interpersonal relationships. Those with pre-existing mental health problems may have their condition triggered or worsened by Psilocybin abuse.
Synthetic Psilocybin was once produced in reasonably large quantities for use in the experimental treatment of psychological disorders. This was done most commonly in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, and was generally used in pill or capsule form. However, once it was established that Psilocybin was too unpredictable to be used for this purpose, its academic, scientific and psychiatric use declined.
In part due to its negative connotations of recreational drug abuse, only very limited scientific research has been carried out on Psilocybin in the intervening years, and thus it is unlikely that any substantial quantities of the synthetic chemical have entered the black market through this route. As a Class A/ Schedule I substance in the same category as Heroin and LSD, Psilocybin is a tightly controlled chemical with high penalties for illicit production.
Though details of the chemical reactions needed to produce synthetic Psilocybin are widely available, there is no evidence that it has been substantially manufactured by illegal labs in the same way as other psychoactive drugs. This is in part because of the complexity of the process relative to obtaining natural Psilocybin from mushrooms, and because there is little potential for organised criminals to make money in this way.
Small-scale independent synthesis may take place in ‘home labs’, but there is little evidence to suggest this. However, some entirely unrelated legal highs and other illicit psychedelics have been deceptively marketed or passed off as ‘Synthetic Psilocybin’.
Therefore the main source of Psilocybin is Magic Mushrooms.A range of mushrooms growing wild around the world are known to contain Psilocybin, most notably the Liberty Cap (Psilocybe Semilanceata), Golden Cap (Psilocybe Cubensis) and Bottle Cap (Psilocybe Baeocystis).
Magic Mushrooms which are ingested to produce psychedelic effects can be obtained by users in a number of ways. In areas where they grow naturally in the wild, the individual may research Psilocybin-containing strains and simply pick them from where they grow. This can be highly dangerous and potentially fatal, as it can be easy to misidentify a mushroom and instead pick one which is highly poisonous and lethal.
Prior to changes in the law in the past decade, the possession and sale of fresh unprepared Psilocybin mushrooms was entirely legal in countries such as the UK, and so they were available for purchase in certain shops and market stalls. However, they have since become illegal in any form, driving the distribution and sale of them underground.
Like many fungi, Magic Mushrooms are relatively easy to cultivate with the right knowledge. On top of this, there remains some ambiguity over the legality of mushroom spores for Psilocybin producing varieties. As the spores contain no Psilocybin themselves, they are legal to purchase for research purposes and there have been a number of instances in which people have been found to be growing Psilocybin mushrooms illegally in their own homes. Larger mushroom growing operations have also been discovered in places such as derelict and disused buildings, but these are not as common as with other illicit drugs.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that Psilocybin or Magic Mushrooms are physically addictive in the chemical sense. However they may be used frequently by recreational drug users, often in conjunction with a wider psychedelic drug habit, which may include other illegal hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD (Acid) and Mescaline.
Someone who is frequently taking Psilocybin mushrooms may appear to have strange points of view and beliefs which seem divorced from the physical reality surrounding them. They may act uncharacteristically, appear delusional and seem blasé and unconcerned about important matters.
If they are physically under the influence of a Magic Mushroom ‘trip’ then the signs will be all too clear to see; They may respond to stimuli that are not really there, appear confused and drowsy or excitable and agitated, and they are likely to have trouble engaging in conversation in a normal way. However, many of these same signs can also suggest use of an alternative hallucinogenic substance, such as LSD.
Use of pure synthetic Psilocybin is exceptionally rare, but if this is the case then a white crystalline powder, or tablets containing said powder, may be found. More commonly, dried and ground up mushroom powder may be found on its own or in capsule form.
The most common form of Psilocybin abuse is via Magic Mushrooms. These may be fresh if they have just been picked, or they could be dried ready for consumption. Literature relating to wild mushrooms, mushroom spores or related topics might also be found amongst the individuals possessions.
Despite not being chemically addictive, Psilocybin can still form the basis of a strong psychological addiction.
For many people, Magic Mushrooms and other Psilocybin products are either one off experimentations or occasional indulgences. However for some people, abusing Psilocybin and Psychedelics in general can become an all-consuming habit, which is detrimental to their mental health and their life.
Over time and regular use, users can build up a tolerance to Psilocybin and require more and more to achieve the psychedelic effects they desire. Little research has been done on the effects on the body of long term use of Psilocybin in large quantities for long periods of time. No significant physiological effects have been witnessed, but some anecdotal and limited psychiatric evidence suggests that such abuse of the drug may lead to psychosis in some users.
Because of the tendency of long term psychedelic users to experiment and regularly consume many different drugs however it is impossible to say to what degree Psilocybin may be responsible for these effects.
Due to the intense and ‘mind-bending’ subjective experiences of Psilocybin, some users may be disturbed or traumatised by their use of the drug. Alternatively, they may have developed substantial delusions that persist even when they have ceased using the drug. In such instances, psychological treatment or counselling may be necessary to help them return to a balanced mental state.
Psilocybin and other Psychedelics can also trigger latent mental and personality disorders, or exacerbate those which are already present.
These individuals may require much more specialised psychiatric help and support, and will benefit from a diagnosis by a mental health professional.
There is no specific detoxification treatment pattern that is required for recovering Psilocybin users. Because it is not an addictive substance chemically, there are no severe withdrawal effects on cessation of the drug as is the case in drugs with chemical dependencies such as opiates.
However the psychological compulsion to take more of the drug can be great and lead to relapse without proper support. If the individual chooses to they can stay for a period in a rehabilitation centre, but this is certainly not essential for treatment. What is important is that the individual can come to terms with and admit their psychological dependency on the drug.
They may benefit from talking therapy and counselling sessions aimed at uncovering the root causes for their drug use, assisting them in reasserting conscious control over their lives and establishing healthy new habits.
The ‘normal’ state of being for a heavy Psilocybin user is quite different than that experienced in everyday drug-free existence, so the patient may require specific help with readjusting to a more mundane type of reality than they are used to. One of the key steps that needs to be taken may be finding alternative ways to deal with their desire to escape from reality.
If they have been taking Psilocybin in conjunction with other drugs, then these too will have to be taken into consideration when planning a treatment programme.