The name ‘Magic Mushrooms’ refers to a number of varieties of wild mushrooms which produce psychedelic effects when eaten. As hallucinogens, these mushrooms produce a range of psychedelic and psychoactive effects that alter the subjective experiences and cognitions of the drug user.
There are a number of different species of mushroom which produce these effects, and most, but not all, of these belong to the Psilocybe, Copelandia and Panaeolus genus’ of mushrooms. The Amanita genus also contains types of mushroom that are known for their psychedelic properties (the most common being Amanita Muscaria, or ‘Fly Agaric’), but their hallucinogenic effects are produced by different active chemicals.
In Psilocybe mushrooms the active chemicals that affect users are known as psilocybin and psilocin. In Fly Agaric mushrooms the psychoactive chemicals are primarily ibotenic acid and muscimol. The latter are generally more toxic, and can cause extremely unpleasant effects when consumed in large numbers, so they are used far less frequently than Psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms.
The exact species of mushrooms consumed can vary depending on what is available locally and regionally. Two of the most commonly consumed species of magic mushroom in western countries are Psilocybe Semilanceata, commonly known as the ‘Liberty Cap’ mushroom, and Psilocybe Cubensis.
All psilocybin mushrooms produce their hallucinogenic effects through the same mechanisms, but the levels of active chemicals found within them can vary widely. As a naturally grown drug, determining dosage can be highly difficult, as the exact content of each mushroom will vary.
The effects of consuming magic mushrooms are somewhat similar to taking LSD, but the hallucinogenic ‘trip’ is supposedly milder in severity. The exact effects can vary depending on the quantity taken and the amount of active chemicals found inside them. These can include euphoric feelings, heightened and altered senses, visual/ auditory hallucinations, intensified emotions and other cognitive distortions.
Mushrooms may be eaten raw or dried and then cooked with other foods. Some people also use them to make tea.
The active chemicals in psilocybin mushrooms, Psilocybin and Psilocin, are classed as Schedule I drugs by the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. However in many cases, the actual mushrooms themselves have not been historically outlawed, only dried preparations of them. This led magic mushrooms to be available freely and legally from both wild sources and ‘head shops’ in many countries.
However this legal position has changed in some countries over the past decade. In the UK for example, the law changed in 2005, effectively making both dried and fresh unprepared mushrooms a Class A drug subject to severe criminal punishment for sale or possession.
Common street names for magic mushrooms in general include Mushrooms, Shrooms, Mushies, Magics, Psilocybin Mushrooms, Caps, Buttons, Boomers.
There are of course specific species of mushroom which are known for their psychedelic effects, and each of these has its own scientific name, while some of the more commoner varieties have their own slang names. As previously discussed one of the most common is Psilocybe Semilanceata or Liberty Cap mushroom, but there are many others.
Other commonly consumed species of magic mushroom are Psilocybe Baeocystis (‘Bottle Cap’), Psilocybe Cubensis (‘Golden Cap’), but there are many others which grow wild or are cultivated.
All mushrooms which contain Psilocybin and Psilocin are outlawed in the UK and other countries. However Amanita Muscaria, or Fly Agaric, is not illegal in the UK, and remains unscheduled in other countries, as it contains different active chemicals.
As a hallucinogenic, the main properties of magic mushrooms are that they induce a psychedelic experience in which sensory perceptions are distorted and hallucinations occur. As with LSD, this is usually referred to as a ‘trip’ and the exact effects can vary widely between individuals.
Though some people assert that mushrooms have provided them with a positive, happy, even spiritual experience, others report having ‘bad trips’ in which they are immersed in a world of nightmarish visions, panic and anxiety. There is no way of telling whether a trip will be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and once begun, the drug user has no choice but to let the trip run its course. The effects of magic mushrooms generally start around half an hour after consuming them, and can last anywhere between 3-6 hours.
In addition to the unpleasant hallucinations of a bad trip, users may also experience physical discomfort as a side effect of ingesting the mushrooms, including nausea, vomiting and painful stomach cramps.
By far the most dangerous risk associated with taking magic mushrooms though is the fact that users may accidentally consume a poisonous or even lethal species of mushroom. In instances where users are collecting wild mushrooms for consumption as a psychedelic misidentification is a very real risk, and one which has resulted in a number of deaths.
There have also been cases of accidental death while taking magic mushrooms – a result of the users’ distorted perceptions and delusional thoughts.
Magic mushrooms consumed by recreational drug users come from a number of different sources.
Firstly, as species’ of wild growing fungus they are found growing naturally throughout the world, usually in relatively small quantities. These are generally picked by local users who are actively searching for species of mushrooms containing the psychoactive compounds psilocybin and psilocin. Identification is far from easy and can be particularly risky. There have been numerous cases in which magic mushroom users have mistakenly picked a toxic form of poisonous mushroom, leading to severe sickness, injury and even death.
Only a small number of mushroom species are psychedelic in nature, and some of these look very similar to inert and poisonous forms of mushrooms.
Prior to the tightening of drug laws concerning sale and possession of fresh unprepared mushrooms, large-scale mushroom farms were operated openly in some countries such as the Netherlands. However, the subsequent criminalisation of fresh mushrooms in the Netherlands and elsewhere has driven production underground. Little is known about the amount or exact details of mushroom cultivation that takes place today, except from occasional reports of drug busts on mushroom growers.
In many cases mushrooms are cultivated by small-scale independent growers indoors, though there have been cases of larger mushroom growing operations. Growing magic mushrooms is relatively simple and requires only a basic knowledge, and so it is often undertaken by individual users seeking to procure a personal source of the drug. Such cultivation requires the spores of the specific species of mushroom that are intended to be grown, and the legality of buying or possessing these spores remains a grey legal area. While technically they do not contain any of the outlawed active chemicals, the instant they are cultivated they are illegal in many countries.
Magic mushrooms are not known to be addictive in the same way that other illegal drugs are, and have few if any withdrawal effects. Despite the lack of physical addiction however, some users may abuse them on a regular basis, in pursuit of the ‘trippy’ psychedelic experience that it offers them. Some describe these experiences in transcendental and spiritual terms.
As with LSD consumption, over time and frequent use an individual can build up a tolerance to the drug, meaning that they need more and more mushrooms to get the same effect. The long-term effects of heavy use are not well researched, so such use can be unpredictable psychologically and physiologically.
Furthermore, while for many people magic mushrooms are a one-off or occasional experimentation, for some it can become a way of escaping the mundane real world and their own lives. This can have clear and obvious negative effects on their ability to cope with daily life, and may lead to them losing touch with reality. Such users may also experience hallucinogenic ‘flashbacks’ even when they are not under the influence of magic mushrooms.
Outward signs that a person may be addicted to magic mushrooms include unusual behaviour, strange attitudes towards life and everyday experiences, paranoia and delusions. While under the influence of a ‘trip’ this will be particularly noticeable, as their cognitive senses will be distorted and they may react to things which are not physically there.
Dried or fresh mushrooms may be found about their person or hidden in their belongings. If they are picking their own then identification books for mushrooms may be found, while if they are attempting to cultivate their own mushrooms, ‘grow kits’ and other paraphernalia may be present.
Magic mushrooms are not known to be addictive, meaning that they do not create in the user a physical dependence on the active chemicals found within them. Nor are they known to lead to strong drug-seeking behaviours and psychological cravings, as is the case with most other Class A (UK) drugs, such as Heroin and Cocaine. There are also no known withdrawal effects.
However their psychedelic effects can be very disturbing and disruptive to some individuals, mentally and emotionally. They can also lead to dangerous behaviours while in a hallucinogenic state, coupled with the inherent dangers involved in consuming wild mushrooms. In individuals with a prior history of mental disorder, or a latent psychological illness, the effects of these conditions can be triggered or made worse.
For heavy users of magic mushrooms, treatment of addiction can be handled in a number of different ways. Because they do not create as physical chemical dependence on the brain or body of the user, their use can be discontinued immediately with little or no appreciable side effects.
However, the psychological aspect of their relationship with the drug can be much harder to shake, and for this reason a variety of counselling and therapies may be needed to help the user.
As with other hallucinogenic drugs, magic mushrooms produce within some people a particularly strong desire to return to the psychedelic state that they experienced while under the effects of the active chemicals.Treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and expert counselling can help them to associate with the world and their own lives in a way that does not depend on a potentially harmful psychedelic substance.
While in most cases it may not be necessary, in some instances an extended stay as an inpatient in a specialised drug rehabilitation centre may help the user to stay off magic mushrooms. As well as preventing relapse, being in a ‘safe’ environment with plenty of support may be reassuring to the individual as they attempt to switch to substance-free behaviours.
If the user has been taking magic mushrooms for an extended period of time then they may require substantial professional counselling as well emotional and psychological support to adjust to life without psychedelic drugs. In addition to treatments that deal specifically with their mushroom experiences, they may also benefit from more generalised addiction treatments. These aim to break the pattern of recurring destructive behaviours and actions that continue to lead the user back to drugs.
These therapies will help the user to discontinue using magic mushrooms, while at the same time helping to ensure that they do not simply replace one crutch or habitual act with another.
Sometimes magic mushroom use is accompanied by other addictions to legal and illegal drugs. If this is the case then a consultation with an experienced rehabilitation professional may be required to plan a strategy for dealing with the overall addiction dynamic. An extensive of programme of appropriate treatments may then be undertaken to deal with each addiction in turn, and as part of the whole.