Magic mushrooms, the psychedelic fungi infamous for its hallucinogenic effects, was dubbed the safest recreational drug by the Global Drug Survey in 2017. The report found that of the 12,000 people who reported taking mushrooms, just 0.2 percent required emergency medical care. That rate was five to six times lower than that of cocaine, MDMA, alcohol, and LSD. It was also three times lower than marijuana, which is also thought to be safe compared to other drugs. 

However, it does not mean mushrooms — that is, psilocybin and psilocin mushrooms — are free from negative effects. Though rare, these mushrooms are capable of producing overdose symptoms. And that’s just the beginning. 

There are also a number of incidents where recreational use resulted in serious injury or death. Take the case of 23-year-old Alex Lagowitz, who took a handful of mushrooms and plunged from the window of his 26th-floor apartment in 2017.   

According to the New York Post, Lagowitz landed on a third floor, outdoor patio. His death was ruled a suicide. Yet, one police source speculated that the mushrooms might have compelled Lagowitz to leap to his death.

“When you take these mushrooms, they make you hallucinate and, in some cases, if you take enough of them, they make you believe that you can fly like Superman,” the police source said. “Only problem is Superman is really a mirage.”   

So, while mushrooms are not considered physically or psychologically addictive, use can still invite a litany of dangers. They can inflict psychosis and resemble a mushroom that is far more toxic. The severity of their effects differs from person to person.

Read on to find out more about the effects and dangers of this enigmatic substance, along with professional treatment options. 

What are Mushrooms?

A belief exists that magic mushroom use dates back to 9,000 B.C. in North African indigenous cultures, based on depictions in rock paintings. There are mushroom-related statues from ancient Mayan and Aztec ruins in Central America. 

In fact, the Aztecs referred to the natural, psychoactive fungi as the “flesh of the gods. Mushrooms were integral to religious rituals. They were used to induce trances, establish contact with the spirit world, and produce visions.

Mushrooms regained popularity in the mid-1950s when Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, who was known for discovering LSD, isolated psilocybin and eventually developed 2-milligram (mg) pills that were distributed for research purposes. 

Scientists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals applied psychedelic substances like psilocybin to help aid in the treatment of various psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, and alcoholism. 

Nevertheless, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classified psilocybin mushrooms as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no acceptable medical use and carries high abuse potential.

Typically, magic mushrooms contain psilocybin and psilocin, two closely-related hallucinogenic substances. Approximately,  75 known species of mushrooms from South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the U.S. possess those two substances. Most mushrooms have about 0.2 to 0.4 percent of psilocybin and trace amounts of psilocin. It is the psilocin that is thought to be the source of physical and psychological effects. 

People usually ingest mushrooms whole, or they incorporate them into prepared food like pizza or with peanut butter to diminish their bitter taste. Or it can be made into a tea, according to the site, How to Use Psychedelics.

“Many people find that mushrooms can cause stomach upset for the first 60-90 minutes of their experience, which can be distracting. Taking the mushrooms in tea reduces this effect– chop the mushrooms up, boil them for 20 minutes, and drink the liquid…”

The Effects of Mushrooms

No one psychedelic experience is the same when it comes to mushrooms. The effects can vary wildly and depend on the age, type, and dosage of mushrooms. What’s more, the feelings one experiences while using mushrooms can also depend on the setting where the drug is being consumed. A “bad trip” or hallucinatory experience can result in negative environments. That is why many mushroom users ensure that when they do use, they do so with friends and loved ones. Also, user expectations, past experiences, and personality can be factors as well.  Mushrooms can take 20 minutes to two hours to go into effect and can last three to six hours. 

The physical manifestations of mushrooms include:

  • Weakness
  • Twitches
  • Yawning
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Numbness of tongue
  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Pupil dilation
  • Tearing
  • Dry mouth
  • Facial flushing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Body temperature
  • Sweating followed by chills and shivering
  • Feelings of physical heaviness or lightness
  • Feelings of floating

Mushrooms can also produce alarming psychological effects like

  • Difficulty focusing, maintaining attention, concentrating, and thinking
  • Tension, anxiety, and restlessness
  • Synesthesia 
  • Auditory, tactile, and visual hallucinations
  • Heightened sensory experiences and perceptual distortions 
  • Impaired judgment and preoccupation with trivial thoughts, experiences, or objects
  • Altered perception of space and time
  • Inability to distinguish fantasy from reality
  • A sense of detachment from body and surroundings and loss of boundaries between the two
  • A melding of past experiences with present
  • Feelings of unity with the environment
  • Feelings of involvement with intense spiritual experiences
  • Highly adverse reactions (“bad trip”), including frightening hallucinations, confusion, disorientation, paranoia, agitation, depression, panic, and/or terror

Poisonous Mushrooms and Mistaken Identity

Psilocybin mushrooms possess low toxicity, but it is identical to a mushroom that is highly toxic in nature. This mushroom is called Amanita phalloides and has a fitting nickname: the “death cap.” The mushroom has reportedly caused several deaths and illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of mushroom-related deaths are caused by Amanita phalloides.  

People can accidentally ingest the poisonous mushroom when they attempt to grow it on their own. Death caps can grow in the same areas as psilocybin and are difficult to distinguish with the naked eye. 

The symptoms that result from mushroom poisoning are confusion, delirium, and gastrointestinal issues.

Overdose Symptoms of Mushrooms

Yes, the toxicity of psilocybin mushrooms is very low. And they are not physically addictive. The more a user ingests mushrooms, the weaker the effects. That’s because a user can quickly develop a tolerance, making mushrooms a difficult substance to abuse. 

Overdose is very rare. When it does occur, it can produce distressing symptoms such as:

  • Longer, more intense “trips” or hallucinatory experiences
  • Psychosis
  • Death

What’s more, when a user abuses psilocybin mushrooms or other hallucinogenic drugs over a long period of time, they can develop hallucinogenic persisting perception disorder (HPPD). This can inflict psychological distress in the form of flashbacks that negatively impact vision, provoke anxiety, and make day-to-day functioning difficult. 

How Professional Addiction Treatment Help

Professional addiction treatment not only relieves someone of the immediate effects of mushrooms, but it also provides them with counseling and therapy that gets to the root of the issue. For substance abuse disorders involving mushrooms, outpatient treatment is the best solution. It provides clients with the counseling and therapy they need and the flexibility to attend to their life obligations.

Hallucinogenics like mushrooms can often produce mental health conditions and psychological distress. Help for a substance use issue and a co-occurring mental health disorder is offered through a dual-diagnosis treatment program.

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