Psilocybin 101: History, Legality, Experimentation, and “Bad Trips”
Psilocybin, magic mushrooms, and shrooms are all words you’ve probably heard, and they all relate to the same substance. The hallucinogenic chemical psilocybin is found in “magic mushrooms.” Psilocybin is naturally occurring and hence generated in the mushroom (thus the names are interchangeable), and is capable of generating hallucinations, the ability to feel the fullness of the cosmos, or a sensation that all things are related and death is not to be feared. You know, everyday stuff. “Shrooms” is simply a shorthand for “magic mushrooms,” of which there are over 180 kinds that contain psilocybin.
It appears that humans have always sought spiritual experiences. Archaeological evidence suggests that people have been taking psychedelic mushrooms for at least 7,000 years, however it’s hard to determine whether enlightenment was the “intention” when our forefathers took magic mushrooms and whether they considered their attitude and surroundings beforehand. Some historians trace the usage of mushrooms back to 9000 BC, when they were shown on rock art and statues in Central America, possibly as sacred emblems used in ceremonies commemorating rites of passage. Because they may produce a transcendent condition, it appears that plant-based therapy is one of our closest links to our history.
Terence McKenna, an ethnobotanist and psychonaut, created the term “Stoned Ape Hypothesis,” which proposes that mushrooms spurred our species’ intellectual achievements. He claims that hallucinogenic mushrooms helped us to transcend who we were in leaps and bounds, which contributed significantly to the modern mentality. Of course, the scientific world is divided on this idea, as well as the history of our early use of mushrooms in general. Some say that the evidence is inconclusive and that people see what they want to see in paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts. That is entirely correct.
It wasn’t until four youngsters unintentionally got high on psilocybin mushrooms in 1799 that the first contact with psilocybin mushrooms in the West was documented. They were unintentionally given the hallucinogenic mushroom Psilocybe semilanceata when their father unknowingly collected and prepared them into a stew, resulting in a humorous but also perplexing day in their young lives.
Westerners began consuming magic mushrooms consciously and deliberately in the 1950s, with no stew necessary. This boom began in 1955, when mycologist R. Gordon Wasson (later vice president of J.P. Morgan & Company) was studying mushrooms in the Oaxaca region in southern Mexico. He encountered Mazatec mushroom shaman Maria Sabina and took part in a mushroom ceremony that would permanently influence the course of psychedelics. In 1957, he published an essay in Life Magazine detailing his experience, including the sensation that his soul had been scooped out of his body. The title “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” was created by an editor, not Wasson, and so the vernacular term “magic mushrooms” was formed and continues to exist. The curiosity waned.
Harvard University academics Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert established the somewhat ambitious Harvard Psilocybin Project after hearing about Wasson’s soul-scooping event and then flying to Oaxaca to have a taste of the activity for themselves. They were let go. Instead of giving up and going underground, they began the psychedelic movement in 1962, and soon the 1960s counterculture was swooning to psilocybin’s beautiful serenade. The movement would come to an end a decade later. Psilocybin was classified as a Schedule I substance in the United States by the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971, rendering it prohibited for all uses. The mushrooms, on the other hand, were not. Isn’t it perplexing? To this day, this “loophole” permits governments to regulate psilocybin-containing mushrooms however they see fit. We’ll go over this in further detail in the section under “legalities” below.
What does it feel like to be “on shrooms”?
One of the most often used words nowadays is “microdosing,” which refers to the practice of ingesting a sub-perceptual dosage of a psychedelic. It’s not a vacation; it’s just “a wonderful day.”
A psychedelic trip of any type is never one-size-fits-all, and it is never reproducible, just like any real experience. While managing your environment and being in sync with your thoughts are both encouraged, giving up control is a big part of having a good experience. Aside from that, dosage should be considered and addressed with both curiosity and prudence. The medication is supposed to be respected, and setting an intention will help you.
Brew your mushrooms in tea, ground them up, put them in a pill, combine them into a smoothie, or eat them whole—whatever you do, enjoy the trip. The onset period for each mode of intake will be slightly variable. Drinking your mushrooms, for example, will produce the benefits more faster than taking them in a capsule.
Although every trip is unique, there are a few things you can typically expect if you take a modest dosage of mushrooms (1-2.5g) – a condition best characterized as a transition between awareness and sleep. The universe takes on the appearance of a dream, with soft peripherals and a whimsical aspect to its very existence. Paintings and carpets may appear to dance before your eyes, your hands may become a particular point of interest, emotions may intensify, you may be able to taste the color blue (synesthesia), time may become entirely irrelevant (either by realizing it is a construct or not thinking about it at all), and love is all that truly matters. This condition of in-between-ness is referred to as “hypnagogic experiences” in a mouthful of a term.
Perceptual changes are also likely, such as seeing halos around lights, objects, and people, as if they have suddenly taken on an otherworldly quality; colors will appear more vivid; beauty will become arresting; you will suddenly “get” jazz; the world around you may begin to breathe (yet another reason why being in nature is profound); and when you close your eyes, you will experience a kaleidoscopia.
Emotionally, it is likely that you will feel open and connected to others around you, that words will become unimportant in expressing your appreciation, and that you will be overtaken by the deep “nowness” of the current moment. Giddiness, playfulness, and joy may wash over you like a soft flood when you recall what it was like to look at the world with wonder as a youngster. You’ll say to yourself, “Why shouldn’t I feel like this all the time?” It may be absurd to squander your days doing activities that do not offer you joy or to disregard the person you know you might be for the sake of worldly goods. All of these concepts will appear to fit perfectly in your head, as if they have always been there. Avoidance will appear ridiculous, as would fear, pain, jealously, envy, or any other feeling you understand as impediments to the natural flow of the world. None of this is certain, but it is all conceivable.
Difficult emotions may also make their way into your thinking. When these unwanted individuals come—if they appear at all—it is better to invite them in and give them a place at the table of your consciousness, since they may have something essential to teach you. Behaviors that may be holding you back, whether conscious or unconscious, tend to pay us a visit in this world, not with malice in mind, but merely to assist us in growing from the deep, dark, fertile soil of our unresolved trauma. What you reject persists—and nowhere is this more true than on a vacation. Remember to breathe and to remind yourself (or a trustworthy friend/guide) that this sensation, whatever it is, is just temporary. You are secure and cherished, and you have chosen to engage with this plant medicine for a purpose. As much as you might want to plan for what that reason is, and as much as intention might help set the tone, you never know who will walk up at your door until they knock. With acceptance in your heart, though, there is no good or bad—there simply is.
So, what exactly is a “poor trip”?
There is no known fatal dose of psilocybin, and there are minimal long-term physical and psychological consequences. Taking any medication, on the other hand, comes with dangers. According to the 2017 Global Drug Survey, psilocybin is the safest recreational drug, having five times fewer medical emergencies than MDMA, LSD, and cocaine. Even yet, “bad trips” are conceivable, though overdose is extremely uncommon.
On the more extreme end of the spectrum of potential negative side effects is something known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), a rare disorder that causes a person to keep reliving the visual element of an experience caused by hallucinogenic drugs without the mental intoxications, also known as “flashbacks.” HPPD is characterized by disruptions in your field of vision in the weeks or months following a psychedelic encounter, which can be unsettling, irritating, and sometimes debilitating. There is no evidence that HPPD causes physical changes or brain impairment.
On the milder side, various physical side-effects, such as an upset stomach, perspiration, or the sensation of being temporarily numb, may be noticed at the start or throughout a psilocybin trip. Emotionally, there may be a broad sense of “too much-ness,” leading in worry, paranoia, and mood swings.