The history of psilocybin, often known as magic mushrooms, is complicated and controversial. Psychedelic mushrooms have received a serious reputation as a result of Hollywood, Disney films, and word of mouth. Are they drugs? Are they a medicine? Are they safe? Are they the key to paradise or hell?
Let’s set aside the rumors and look at what we know thus far.
It has been suggested that because psilocybin mushrooms most commonly grew in cattle droppings, and these animals have been revered and followed by humans and religions for thousands of years, it is unlikely that our forefathers ignored these mushrooms and ignored experiencing their mind-bending effects.
Plant species outweigh mushroom species ten to one. And their mycelium grows far and deep under the ground, connecting with, communicating with, and integrating a fractal network of many different living forms.
Psilocybin and the Ancient World: the first wave
Mushrooms were utilized by the Aztecs, Mayans, Mazatecs, and even earlier civilizations in Mexico. Psilocybin cubensis mushrooms grow in cow manure and may be found in almost any tropical grassland with cattle. For hundreds of thousands of years, they have lived in close proximity to human civilizations and nomadic cattle-breeding cultures. They’ve also been seen in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia.
Because most traditional psychedelics need human involvement, psilocybin mushrooms were most likely the first to be identified and were extensively disseminated in tropics and subtropics. It’s probable that the initial wave of encounters with these mushrooms would have led the person to believe they’d been poisoned.
However, after a time, the phenomenon would have been seen as heavenly, otherworldly, and perhaps an encounter with death and rebirth. The psyche is resurrected. When the Spanish conquistadors explored new territories in present-day Mexico, they came across numerous indigenous tribes performing strange rites.
In Southern Mexico, a 16th-century Aztec statue of Xochipilli was discovered with engravings of holy psychotropic plants such as tobacco, Morning Glory, and many other flowers, as well as the Psilocybe aztecorum fungus.
Xochipilli statue from the 16th century with hallucinogenic flora and mushrooms carved on it.
Hallucinogenic mushroom rites, according to Maya researcher Stephen F. De Borhegyi, were fundamental to Mayan faiths. The mushroom stones of the Guatemalan Highlands are said to date back to at least 1000 B.C. and were used to honor and crush the dried mushrooms before usage.
Guatemalan Preclassical Mushroom Stones
Some think that these mushrooms, or the ergot fungus that grew on barley, were employed in the legendary Kykeon drink of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The precise formula has never been discovered, and the final vestiges of the Eleusinian Mystery Academy were destroyed by King Alaric of the Goths, who led a Christian assault to destroy the ancient monuments. This invasion marked the beginning of the new religion’s lengthy rule in town, which prohibited the use of plant sacraments.
Psilocybin and the Sixties: the second wave
R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur mycologist and J.P. Morgan banker, traveled to Sierra Mazateca in southern Mexico in 1956 to see a curandera (healer) called Maria Sabina.
Sabina was well-known in her shamanic hamlet for using strong mushroom rituals to cure her people. She decided to invite Wasson into one of the ceremonies in the hope that he would take photographs, but none would be released. This was done to preserve the holy space of people being treated, as well as to keep others from learning too much about their ceremonies. Wasson consented and continued to photograph Maria Sabina in secret, enlisting the help of mushroom spirits to cure her.
Wasson shared these photos with Life magazine, which published Watson’s photographs on May 13, 1957, and the tale of the mushroom rites raced across the Western world.
Flocks of Americans started to pour into this tiny hamlet in quest of the greatest mind-expanding experience possible.
Sabina was quoted as stating that it doesn’t work like that. Instead of bringing mankind to God, the spirits of the mushrooms assist to cure humanity from sickness. However, by this time, the Western world had been captivated by the promises made about these mushrooms. Soon after, university studies started, although not without opposition.
The first psilocybin experiments were conducted at Harvard University by psychology professor Timothy Leary. Leary went to Mexico in 1960 for his first psilocybin encounter. The event profoundly influenced his thoughts and the path of his life. When he returned from Mexico, he co-founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project with colleague professor Richard Alpert (Ram Dass).
Despite the fact that LSD and psilocybin were legal at the time, the trials sparked debate over their scientific value and safety by 1962. The project was terminated in 1962 before the research could be finished. Under duress, Harvard dismissed Leary in 1963, claiming he was not fulfilling his teaching responsibilities. The same year, Richard Alpert was dismissed for administering psychedelics to students.
Prior to the project’s demise, Leary and Alpert showed that psilocybin combined with psychotherapy decreased recidivism in jail prisoners from 60% to 20%.
The third wave: what science tells us now
Dr. Roland Griffiths, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, resumed their psilocybin study in 2000, 40 years after these experiments and after the ban on psychedelics was lifted. Griffiths had begun meditating and was interested in shifting states of awareness. He was originally dubious that psilocybin could create profoundly spiritually important mystical experiences, but the evidence eventually spoke for itself.
Griffiths discovered that of all the psychedelics studied, psilocybin was the easiest to deal with in a therapeutic context. It didn’t have the cultural baggage that LSD had. Psilocybin has a shorter duration of effect (4-6 hours) than LSD and mescaline (10-12 hours). DMT, on the other hand, has a very short half-life (on the range of minutes), and although it may be extended by using an MAO inhibitor, this complicates the pharmacology and makes FDA clearance more challenging.
In certain ways, psilocybin may be considered orally active DMT. Because DMT is not usually ingested. Despite the fact that the molecules are extremely similar, the mind-expanding experiences are not as comparable as they seem.
Each hallucinogenic chemical, known as tryptamine, is organized in a particular manner to activate certain neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing each psychedelic plant to produce a unique set of effects. And it all comes down to the neurotransmitters that the drugs affect. Psychedelica is distinguished by its ability to imitate serotonin. Serotonin enables human awareness to construct the consensual world that we normally inhabit. And it also provides us with a feeling of self and identity. Psilocybin mushrooms help to break down the stiff impressions that come with regular awake awareness.
Psilocybin and the network’s default mode
The impact of psilocybin on the default mode network of the brain is similar to what is seen in the brains of long-term meditators. This network is active in anxiety and depression, and psilocybin is believed to calm it, which accounts for its antidepressant benefits.
The fact that brain imaging now shows comparable findings between the advantages of psilocybin and meditation not only confirms what Tim Leary and Richard Alpert were searching for in the initial Harvard research, but it also seems to give credence to the therapeutic powers of ancient shamanic cultures.
Some point to an implicit conclusion: that human disease is rooted in our ideas about ourselves and our place in the world.
Because scientific technology has progressed much since the 1960s Harvard research, the effects of psilocybin on the brain are more well known today. We can see what functions of the brain retain trauma in the body because of the instability of the default mode network in the brain, which causes inter-neural communication to alter significantly.
Brain connections in a person on psilocybin (right) and in a person given a placebo (left).
The majority of physiological disease that has been conditioned into us is seen as a breakdown in communication between brain areas. When someone is given the chance to observe their life, beliefs, world, and relationships in a fresh and impartial light, as psychedelics often do, it seems that the inherent intelligence of the human being can detect the communication mistake and restore neurochemical processes to balance.
Whereas most pharmaceutical medications just treat symptoms, and most of the time only cover them, psilocybin has been shown to address the root of these symptoms, creating a long-lasting ripple impact in all aspects of life.
Meanwhile, in order to get the mind-bending and life-changing experiences that they provide, individuals have been forced to utilize covert ways to obtain them, keeping this age-old sacrament and its shamanic usage alive in the underground.
Mushrooms are recolonizing the globe one basement at a time right now.
Dr. James Fadiman pioneered microdosing psychedelic plants, calling this sub-perceptual dosage a “problem solution quantity” after 40 years of experience, while moderate doses are helpful for therapy and large doses for spirituality. As a result, the phenomenon has lately appeared in unexpected areas such as the workplace in Silicon Valley and other analytical professions.
Magic mushrooms and trauma release
We know that the likelihood of experiencing a meaningful experience rises with dosage. However, the likelihood of having an unpleasant encounter rises. Those profoundly painful experiences, quite frequently, offer a window of opportunity through which individuals may explore and move through, in order to open up to bigger experiences. So many often, the most fascinating and important experiences are those that people later characterize as challenging.
Trauma is usually very unpleasant throughout the adoption process since it is an experience that is too intense or complicated to comprehend all at once. So the memory is kept in the neurology and tissues of the body, waiting for the right time to emerge and continue to be processed so that it may ultimately be surrendered and let go of.
This is believed to be why moderate to high dosages are most therapeutically helpful. They disrupt the brain’s habitual processes, which most likely function as a diversion and suppression of trauma and undesirable parts of the psyche.
However, once this neuronal habituation is disrupted, the human being’s inherent healing intelligence enters house cleaning mode and previous wounds are treated.
Are we now on the brink of comprehending these psychedelic drugs and their unique effects on human consciousness and neurochemistry as science marches forward with new tools to investigate traditional methods for healing and spiritual transformation?
Psilocybin is the most ancient classical psychedelic with a long history of shamanic usage. Perhaps we are seeing a resurgence of ancient Eleusinian-style secrets, and these mysteries are finally being deciphered and disseminated. A large-scale medication that has been extensively repressed, vilified, and misunderstood. Finally, it is in the hands of people who want to cure the world’s problems and go into the unknown.
For decades, researchers have worked hard to dispel institutionally ingrained misconceptions, remove these substances off Schedule One, and legally deliver psychedelic aided psychotherapy.
The first FDA clearance may be granted as early as 2022.