Certain kinds of mushrooms are consumed because they cause changes in perception that result in an altered state. These psychoactive mushrooms are commonly known in layman’s terms as “magic mushrooms.” The active compound they contain is called psilocybin.
Consuming them can cause a variety of effects, from a high and a feeling of calm to vomiting or even psychosis. These mushrooms are sold illegally in the United States under a variety of street names. Psilocybin is a controlled substance in the U.S.
What Are Mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms are classified as psychedelics or hallucinogens, similar to drugs like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or mescaline. They are hallucinogenic because they contain a compound called psilocybin.
While they are used recreationally in the U.S., historically these mushrooms were considered sacred by indigenous peoples in Central and South America. These cultures used mushrooms for spiritual purposes.
These mushrooms are small and brown and don’t look particularly unusual. They originate in areas of Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States.
Dried magic mushrooms are often prepared as a tea or as a powder that has been encapsulated (packed in capsules). Although these mushrooms may be found in the wild, harvesting them can be dangerous because it can be easy to mistake poisonous mushrooms for magic mushrooms. Consuming poisonous mushrooms can cause serious side effects including death.
People take mushrooms recreationally, often at dance clubs, or as part of a spiritual experience.
What Is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms. It can also be produced synthetically. Psilocybin is not addictive. It serves no proven medical purpose. It is used as a recreational drug by users who want to experience the euphoria, or “high,” and distortions of reality that psilocybin causes.
In the United States psilocybin is regulated as a Schedule I controlled substance because it has a potential for abuse and has no official medical purpose. However, this classification still allows for scientific research on the drug.
While psilocybin is not physically addictive, it can sometimes cause troubling hallucinations, anxiety, and panic attacks. It can also cause psychotic episodes. Individuals who have a family history of schizophrenia should not use psilocybin because it might trigger psychosis.
Although psilocybin currently isn’t recognized as a medical treatment, researchers have studied its potential as a treatment for several conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, alcohol dependence, tobacco cessation, and cluster headaches. Some results appear promising.
Like many illicit drugs, psilocybin has several street names, including:
- Magic mushrooms
- Mushroom soup
- Sacred mushrooms
- Simple Simon
- Purple Passion
- Little Smoke
Psilocybin affects different people in different ways. Effects occur within about 30 to 40 minutes. General effects include an altered state with a distorted sense of time and space and extreme changes in mood and perception.
Other potential effects may be caused by psilocybin, including:
- Dilated pupils
- Distortions in thinking
- High (euphoria)
- Feeling of calm
- Spiritual awakening
- Difficulty concentrating
- Rapid mood changes
- Sense of unreality
- Strange sensations
- Scary hallucinations
Flashbacks are another risk associated with psilocybin. Flashbacks happen when a person experiences the hallucinogenic effects again months or even years after taking the drug.
Sometimes psilocybin causes delirium, psychosis, fear, agitation, and confusion. While not very likely, it’s also possible to mistakenly consume a poisonous mushroom instead, which can be extremely dangerous.
How Addictive Are Mushrooms?
A study conducted in the U.S. by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that between 2009 and 2015, about 21 million people surveyed reported that they had used psilocybin or mushrooms.
Compared to the recreational use of many other illicit substances, psychedelic drug use—which includes mushrooms/psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, peyote, and “Ecstasy” or MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) — is low.
Unlike many other drugs, psilocybin doesn’t cause physical addiction or withdrawal symptoms. But mushrooms can be habit-forming, and if someone uses them often, they can develop a tolerance. This means that they will have to take increasingly larger amounts of the drug to get the same effect.
Cross-tolerance with other hallucinogens such as LSD and mescaline can also happen. If a person develops a strong tolerance for psilocybin and these other hallucinogens by taking them regularly, they will reach a point where the drugs no longer cause a hallucinogenic effect unless they stop taking them for a while.
While physical addiction doesn’t occur with mushrooms, it’s possible to develop psychological withdrawal symptoms if a person stops taking the drug. To stop abusing mushrooms, a person who has developed a psychological addiction to them may benefit from stress management techniques. Talking with a counselor who specializes in addiction therapy may also help. Contact a reputable addiction treatment center for further guidance or recommendations.
Psychoactive or “magic” mushrooms cause hallucinogenic effects because they contain a compound called psilocybin. Psilocybin is a controlled substance because of the potential for abuse and its lack of medical purpose. People take it for recreational purposes. Taking mushrooms, or psilocybin, can result in a range of effects. It can sometimes cause dangerous side effects, including psychosis. Don’t take psilocybin if your family has a history of early-onset mental illness.