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Some mushrooms growing in Europe and America contain a chemical called psilocybin, whose psychotropic effects cause mushrooms containing it to be called “magic mushrooms”.

People tend to use psilocybin as a recreational drug, some people believe that hallucinogenic mushrooms can also cure depression. What it causes are feelings of euphoria, and distorted perceptions that are common in hallucinogenic drugs like LSS.

Studies conducted at the Johns Hopkins Center have highlighted the effects of psilocybin, which can be both negative and positive, as well as the possibility of using this substance for the treatment of various medical conditions.

In 2020, the state of Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin, but with a two-year statutory period during which its intake will be monitored and prescription-only.

Psilocybin is classified as a substance with a high potential for dependence and abuse, which has not yet been used in medicines. Indeed, the substance is not thought to be necessarily addictive, but doctors have reported side effects such as anxiety, panic and hallucinations after taking it.

What exactly is psilocybin?

hallucinogenic mushrooms

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring hallucinogen that, as we mentioned, people ingest through certain types of mushrooms. Its effects are produced as the substance activates serotonin receptors, basically in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain influences mood, but also cognition and perception. However, hallucinogens also affect other parts of the brain that regulate sexual arousal and feelings of panic.

Psillocybin does not always cause visual or auditory hallucinations. Its action is more subtle, going to work on the way people who take the drug perceive the objects and people who are really around them. We do not see what does not exist, therefore, but we perceive in a different way what exists.

Based on the amount of drug that a person consumes, but also to his past experiences and expectations, the effect can vary. As a rule, the hallucinogenic effect is produced within 30 minutes of ingestion, and lasts from 4 to 6 hours. In some individuals, however, the sensory changes can last for several days. This also depends on the type of mushroom: the species, the origin, the way it was grown and when it was harvested, and also whether you eat it fresh or dry, as the dose of psilocybin contained in a mushroom dry is 10 times higher than the fresh product.

The consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms

Psilocybin mushrooms are usually small and brown or beige in color. In the wild, people often confuse them with other mushroom species that are poisonous. 

As for the actual consumption, this can usually be done with a tea, or by inserting the mushrooms into the food to make them taste better, since they usually have a bitter taste. Some also grind dried mushrooms into a powder which they then enclose in capsules. Another very popular type of consumption is the one with chocolate.

But why is psilocybin used? The answer is not as obvious as you think. In fact, in addition to the recreational purpose, some use it for mystical or spiritual purposes, for example in esoteric rituals - a tradition that dates back to pre-Columbian times -. In addition, another of the uses is to reduce disorders related to anxiety, panic, depression and headaches. 

In fact, the effects can be considered similar to those of some drugs that treat depression: not only change of mood and perceptions, but also euphoria, sense of peace, spiritual awakening, sensation that what surrounds us is not real, depersonalization, thought distorted, distorted vision, dilated pupils, dizziness, lack of concentration, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, unusual physical sensations, nausea and vomiting, confusion, frightening hallucinations.

The effects vary from subject to subject, but also based on the simple expectation of people who, if they are anxious about taking it, will more easily develop an anxiety-producing response to the substance.

Psilocybin as a treatment for depression

Studies have shown that psilocybin can be used to reduce the symptoms of depression without affecting emotions, especially in combination with psychological support. Other studies have also shown that even induced hallucinations can produce positive effects.

There are however risks. First, a permanent shift in perceptions, with a tendency to have flashbacks of traumatic events. Additionally, feelings of agitation, fear, and psychotic delusion have been noted in psilocybin users, and in some cases the symptoms have been shown to be similar to schizophrenia. 

In most cases, these effects can be treated with benzodiazepines, and they go away within 8 hours. But not always. For example, there is a risk of poisoning leading to muscle spasms, confusion and delirium, and having a longer treatment time. This is one of the reasons why it is recommended to remove these mushrooms from areas visited by children, to avoid the risk of accidental intake.