What to Know About Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybe cubensis 'Magic Mushrooms'
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Magic mushrooms are wild or cultivated mushrooms that contain one or both of two psychoactive, hallucinogenic ingredients called psilocybin and psilocin. They are considered one of the most well-known psychedelics, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations. 

Although certain cultures have known to use the hallucinogenic properties of some mushrooms for centuries, psilocybin was first isolated in 1958 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, who also discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Magic mushrooms are often prepared by drying and are eaten by being mixed into food or drinks, although some people eat freshly picked magic mushrooms.

Also Known As: shrooms, mushies, blue meanies, golden tops, liberty caps, philosopher's stones, liberties, amani, agaric

Drug Class: psychedelic

Common Side Effects: nausea, yawning, feeling relaxed or drowsy, introspective experience, nervousness, paranoia, panic, hallucinations, psychosis

How to Recognize Shrooms

Mushrooms containing psilocybin look liked dried ordinary mushrooms with whitish-gray stems and dark brown caps with light brown or white in the center. Dried mushrooms are rusty brown with isolated areas of off-white. Magic mushrooms can be eaten, mixed with food, or brewed like tea for drinking, or smoked, mixed with cannabis or tobacco. There is also liquid psilocybin, which is the naturally occurring psychedelic drug found in liberty caps. The liquid is clear brown and comes in a small vial.

What Do Magic Mushrooms Do?

Magic mushrooms are psychodelic drugs, meaning they can cause you to see, hear, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. The effects take 30 to 90 minutes to begin and can last up to 6 hours—the same amount of time it takes for psilocin to enter the bloodstream and be eliminated through the kidneys in the urine. Psilocybin is converted to psilocin in the body and is believed to influence serotonin levels in the brain, leading to altered and unusual perceptions.

 A number of factors influence the effects of magic mushrooms, including dosage, age, weight, personality, emotional state, environment, and history of mental illness.

What the Experts Say

Magic mushrooms often appeal to young people who are just starting to experiment with drugs and may assume that because magic mushrooms grow in the wild, they are also a legal high.

They may also believe that naturally occurring drugs like magic mushrooms, weed, and mescaline are harmless, and even sacred herbs that enable people to attain superior spiritual states. However, this attitude is both illogical and dangerous.

Magic mushrooms are not only illegal but they and their psychoactive constituents (psilocybin, and psilocin) are classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. As such, they carry the most severe penalties of illicit substances.

If you are tempted to buy prepared magic mushrooms, beware. A study of 886 samples alleged to be psilocybin mushrooms and analyzed by Pharm Chem Street Drug Laboratory, showed that only 252 (28%) were actually hallucinogenic, while 275 (31%) were regular store-bought mushrooms laced with LSD or phencyclidine (PCP), and 328 (37%) contained no drug at all.

Off-Label or Recently Approved Uses

Magic mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for both spiritual and medicinal uses among indigenous people of America and Europe.

In 2018, researchers from John Hopkins University recommended reclassification of the drug (from Schedule I to Schedule IV) in order to allow for medical use. Studies suggest that psilocybin can be used to treat cancer-related psychiatric distress, depression and anxiety, nicotine addiction, and substance use disorders.

In 2019, Denver, CO, became the first city to decriminalize mushrooms; Oakland, CA, became the second city less than a month later. This does not mean that shrooms are legal, but that the city is not permitted to "spend resources to impose criminal penalties" on people in possession of the drug.

Common Side Effects

All hallucinogens carry the risk of triggering mental and emotional problems and causing accidents while under the influence. Among adolescents, magic mushrooms are frequently taken in combination with alcohol and other drugs, increasing the psychological and physical risks.

The amount of psilocybin and psilocin contained in any given magic mushroom is unknown, and mushrooms vary greatly in the amounts of psychoactive contents. This means it's very hard to tell the length, intensity, and type of "trip" you'll experience.

On the one hand, eating a magic mushroom could result in disappointment and a stomach ache, either through the mushroom itself or as a result of ingesting a parasite.

Consuming shrooms could also result in a mild trip causing the user to feel relaxed or drowsy to a frightening experience, marked by hallucinations, delusions, and panic. In the worst-case scenario, magic mushrooms have even been known to cause convulsions.

Side effects of magic mushrooms can include:

Physical effects:

  • Nausea
  • Yawning
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Headaches

Mental effects:

  • Euphoria
  • Having introspective (spiritual) experiences
  • Hallucinations (visual or auditory)
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Panic reactions
  • Distorted sense of time, place, and reality
  • Psychosis

Since magic mushrooms look similar to poisonous mushrooms, poisoning is yet another potential risk of taking these drugs. Mushroom poisoning can cause severe liver damage and even death if not treated (often via a liver transplant) in time. 

Help for Mushroom Poisoning

If you suspect that your or someone you care about ate a poisonous mushroom, call poison control right away at 800-222-122. Don’t wait for symptoms to occur. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

More research is needed on the long-term, lasting side effects of magic mushrooms—yet users can experience long-term changes in personality, for more than a year after, as well as flashbacks long after taking mushrooms.

Signs of Use

If your loved one is using shrooms, he may be nauseous or appear nervous or paranoid. In the case of drug use, it's always important to pay attention to any changes in sleeping and eating patterns as well as shifts in mood and personality and social activities.

Myths and Common Questions

There are many myths about magic mushrooms. Some people will state, for example, that magic mushrooms are "safer" and produce a "milder" trip than other hallucinogenics.

In fact, in addition to their potential to poison anyone who takes them, magic mushrooms are just as unpredictable in their effects as other drugs. Some people have reported much more intense and frightening hallucinations on magic mushrooms than on LSD.

Many people confuse fly agaric mushrooms with psilocybin-containing mushrooms—but they are not the same. Fly agaric mushrooms contain the psychoactive chemicals ibotenic acid and muscimol, which are known to cause twitching, drooling, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and delirium. 

Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

Like most drugs, the more you use it, the more tolerance you develop. This means that you need more of the drug to achieve the same effect. This can especially risky with shrooms because consuming a large amount can result in overdose symptoms, which while not fatal, can include agitation, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, panic or paranoia, psychosis, seizures, and coma. 

How Long Does Psilocybin Stay in Your System?

The short-term effects of magic mushrooms typically wear off in 6 to 12 hours. Users can experience long-term changes in personality and flashbacks long after taking the drugs.

The average half-life of psilocin is 50 minutes, and it generally takes five to six half-lives for a substance be eliminated from your system through the kidneys in the urine.

The typical urine drug screening for employment does not test for psilocybin; there are specific tests that can be ordered to test for the powerful hallucinogen. Like many other drugs, magic mushrooms can be found in hair follicles for up to 90 days. 

Addiction

Psilocybin is not addictive and does not lead to compulsive use. This is partly because the drug can cause an intense “trip.” Plus, people can build a tolerance to psilocybin fairly quickly, making it hard to have any effect after several days of repeated use. 

Withdrawal

While users rarely report physical symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using the drug, you may experience psychological effects, which may include depression

How to Get Help

If you suspect your teen is experimenting or regularly using magic mushrooms, consider having a firm yet loving conversation with him or her about the risks of psychedelics, especially when combined with alcohol or other drugs. At this time, it’s also important to emphasize that you are there to help and support them. 

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