Mushrooms originate from fungi that are naturally grown in the ground. They are commonly referred to as psychedelic mushrooms, shrooms, or magic mushrooms. Seventy-five known species contain the chemical psilocin or psilocybin, which is responsible for inducing the psychedelic event. Fungi share a long history and have been used for centuries to invoke feelings of higher consciousness. The naturally grown substance is shown in important rituals dating as far back as 9,000 B.C. in North African indigenous cultures.
The substance also has been used in ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures in Central America where the substance is referred to as “teonanacatl.” The name in English means the “flesh of the gods.” There is mention in journals left behind by Spanish Catholic missionaries of mushrooms when they came to the new world in the 16th century, and it shows the widespread nature of the drugs. They have been around for centuries, but it isn’t until now that scientists have a better grasp of the effects they cause.
The psychedelic substance can take hold in a person’s body in as little as 20 minutes after consumption. The drug can be eaten alone or consumed with food, or it is often brewed like tea and drank. The effects can last anywhere from four to six hours depending on the dose. It is enough time to create profound alterations to the body and brain chemistry to have harmful effects leading to chronic health conditions.
Mushrooms contain LSD-like properties and produce alterations of autonomic function, motor reflexes, behavior, and perception. The psychological consequences of psilocybin use include hallucinations, an altered perception of time, and an inability to discern fantasy from reality.
Panic reactions and psychosis may also occur, but more often when a user consumes large doses of the drug. Long-term effects such as flashbacks, a risk of psychiatric illness, impaired memory, and tolerance have also been mentioned.
A Vice article delves into a mushroom trip the author had when visiting the Southeast Asian country Laos. The author describes being at a restaurant that offered an illegal menu consisting of mind-altering substances. They opted to consume a “mushroom pizza” because it seemed less intense than the other drugs being offered (cocaine and heroin). The author and their buddies began consuming the pizza, and slowly discovered that “reality completed melted away.” It began a long and uncomfortable trip for the pair.
The author describes a feeling of sheer panic and how they felt as though they were back home in the streets of Vancouver. “I started losing touch with reality very quickly.” They also go onto add, “I got locked in this psychological loop where I thought I was dead. I was in hell, and hell was an eternal loop where you’re forced to believe you’re alive so that you can go through the hell of realizing you’re dead again.”
It was a frightening experience that made the author realize the strength of the drug. The trip caused long-term effects, which we’ll touch on later in the article.
Physical Harm from Mushrooms
Many of the effects of psilocybin are isolated to being short-term, but those who consume the drug with pre-existing conditions risk the effects to become much more harmful. Some short-term effects include:
- Increased heartbeat
- Loss of muscle control
- Poor coordination
- Rapid or abnormal breathing
- High blood pressure
Changes to one’s heart rate and blood pressure have the potential to trigger heart attacks, strokes, or pulmonary embolisms in those who have underlying heart conditions. An individual who abuses psilocybin or psilocin mushrooms often may cause a heart problem they were previously unaware of having. Other drugs like amphetamines or cocaine can cause heart damage because they also increase heartbeat and blood pressure, and when they’re abused, the changes can result in heart failure.
Other physical effects of mushrooms include:
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea
- Drowsiness, yawning, lightheadedness
- Pupil dilation
- Tearing, dry mouth, facial flushing
- Increased body temperature
- Numbness of the tongue, lips, or mouth
- Feelings of physical heaviness or lightness and feelings of floating
Breathing changes from mushrooms may lead to lung failure. If someone can survive this, oxygen deprivation may cause long-lasting brain or muscle damage, requiring lifestyle changes due to a new disability. Changes in judgment that result from drug intoxication including a loss of reality, muscle control, and physical coordination can cause someone to have an accident. Broken bones or damage to other organs can lead to a permanent disability.
One long-lasting physical effect from abusing psilocybin is what is known as cross-tolerance. Mushrooms work similarly to LSD and marijuana, and someone who abuses a lot of the substance will develop a high tolerance as a direct result of use. Few reports suggest that mushrooms are addictive, or lead to physical tolerance, but there is not enough information to verify those anecdotal reports.
Psychological Impact of Mushrooms
The primary impact of the drug is psychological, and it has been compared to expanding consciousness. The changes to the brain state and neuron interactions can initiate chronic effects. One of the most terrifying of these is intense panic attacks and paranoia. In the story listed above, the individual recalls having to seek therapy and suffered from panic attacks for nearly a year after the event.
Those who consume the drug one time can experience panic attacks, feel like they are being watched, or detach from reality and display psychotic symptoms. These feelings will intensify for those who abuse mushrooms, and users can end up harming themselves or others with violent outbursts. It can lead to hospital visits with lasting damage from accidental harm during a state of detachment.
Psychosis that is caused by psilocybin is similar to schizophrenia outbursts, and someone who is at risk for developing the disorder may trigger the mental condition by abusing psychedelics. The changes to brain chemistry may disrupt normal pathways and make anxiety or bipolar disorders much more intense.
Other psychological effects include:
- Heightened sensory experiences and perceptual distortions
- Auditory, tactile, and visual hallucinations
- Seeing music or hearing colors, known as synesthesia
- Inability to focus, maintain attention, concentrate, or think
- Impaired judgment and preoccupation with trivial thoughts, experiences, or objects
- Altered perception of space and time
- Unable to distinguish fantasy from reality
- Mood changes
As with other hallucinogens, mushrooms can cause flashbacks even after a single use. Flashbacks could result in a mild experience or severe hallucinations. While they last for a brief period, they can be disruptive. Changes to one’s mental state can happen after a single use, but for some, it may never occur. We are all different in how our brains operate, which makes it difficult to determine who will be more prone to these changes. For this reason alone, you should never try the drug. Unfortunately, if you have become tolerant to the effects of the drug, there is help available.