From consuming them raw to precisely dosed capsules, many people are reaping the benefits of magic mushrooms left and right. This type of mushroom has the ability to become a powerful ally when it comes to alleviating a wide variety of ailments that affect us, both mentally and physically. But since they are experiencing a renaissance and have been less studied compared to other recreational and medicinal substances, it is necessary to be aware of their virtues and drawbacks, especially if you are thinking of trying them for the first time.
Magic mushrooms are classified as ‘psychedelics‘, a word first coined in 1957 to identify drugs that reveal useful aspects of the mind. However, psychedelics are not a new fad. Their use predates the written word and archaeologists can confirm its use in ritual and ceremonial contexts that are lost to the mists of time.
However, in recent years, scientists have begun to refer to psychedelic compounds as ‘entheogens‘, a Greek word meaning “generate the god within”. Entheogens are understood as compounds that promote life-altering experiences, fostering deep insights into the nature of existence and consciousness; and the term also alludes to the spiritual aspect of these substances and the idea of them as master plants.
One of the motivations for this name change was the concern among scientists that the name ‘psychedelics’ carried with it the negative cultural baggage of the 1960s, when these substances brought about a social revolution, which, like cannabis, led to their being buried under the concrete slab of the most atrocious neoliberalism. Thus, the use of the term entheogen is intended to allow patients, physicians, policymakers, and the general public to approach this emerging field of medicine and its discovery without stigma or prejudice.
What are magic mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms, also known as hallucinogenic mushrooms, grow naturally all over the world in humid environments (although you’re more likely to find them cultivated by someone) and is the term most often used to describe any species of fungus that contain psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid and the chemical responsible for the hallucinogenic effect when consumed.
How do magic mushrooms work?
When ingested, the human body metabolises psilocybin into psilocin, a hallucinogenic compound responsible for the psychoactive effect and which affects the serotonin signalling system in two main ways: by stopping serotonin reuptake (which leads to higher serotonin levels in the brain) and by binding directly to specific serotonin receptors. This increase in serotonin and serotonin signals is what causes altered mood and perception, that is, hallucinations also known as “trip“.
What is the experience of eating magic mushrooms like?
Everyone experiences the effects of magic mushrooms in different ways and many factors can influence a trip. But, in general, there are some things that can be expected from an average dose. The perception of everything around you will change. All your senses will be sharpened. Visually, you will hallucinate geometric or fractal patterns. Objects can transform, distort, or appear as if they are alive. You can also have some images with your eyes closed.
Mentally, you may feel as if you have left this reality. Time and space are so distorted that sometimes it feels like they don’t even exist. You may feel elated, emotional, and more open to your thoughts. Many users also report their trip as a mystical or spiritual experience. In a study of 18 participants at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 61% said the psilocybin experience was “the single most spiritually significant [experience] of their lives,” while 83% rated it between the top five.
Are there different types of magic mushrooms?
An integral part of consuming magic mushrooms safely is becoming familiar with the wide range of varieties available. Psilocybe cubensis, without a doubt the best known, has been used by humans since ancient times, mainly because they are very easy to grow, suitable for beginners and produce warm and spiritual energy. Also well-known is Psilocybe aurumescens which offers meditative guidance, visual distortion, and heightened emotions. Strains like Psilocybe azurescens are already playing in the Champions League, and produce intensely powerful hallucinations and transcendent journeys of great personal growth. The palette of psychedelic mushrooms is very wide, and novices can opt to microdose psilocybin for lighter effects or take larger amounts for an immersive experience.
Getting started in the world of magic mushrooms can be very confusing for the uninitiated, who usually don’t know the different strains or the correct dose to begin with. In this article, we clarify all your doubts, from the most suitable genetics to the right dose and the importance of the so-called set and setting.
Attitude and environment: preparation matters
The attitude and the environment, commonly referred to as ‘set & setting‘, are one of the most important factors in preparing to take hallucinogenic mushrooms. This refers respectively to internal and external factors that influence the psychedelic experience and it was LSD guru Timothy Leary who first introduced the concept in 1964; it is now ubiquitous throughout the psychedelic world. In this context, ‘set’ refers to your way of thinking when undertaking the journey, your mood, personality, beliefs, perceptions, etc.
When it comes to eating magic mushrooms it is essential to make sure you first feel happy and healthy. Do not have important commitments for the rest of the day, as this can stress you out. If you don’t feel good about something in your life, it can affect you negatively. Setting out your intentions for the trip is highly recommended. Ask yourself why you want to take magic mushrooms and what you hope to gain from the experience.
The ‘setting‘ refers to everything that happens outside, in the physical environment such as the place, the people around you and their behaviours, the music that plays, the smells and the weather in the air, and even the cultural forces that are not so visible. The most important thing is that you are in a comfortable place. The world around you will change during the trip, so a familiar environment that you know is very important. If you do it with other people, make sure they are people you know well and trust. Having a friend act as your guide, especially someone who has taken magic mushrooms before, can be very beneficial.
Ideally, it’s also good to do it in a safe space where you can sit or lie down, that isn’t too hot or too cold, and has easy access to water, a bathroom, and whatever else you might need during the day. Also, it’s good to get outside for at least part of the trip. Some even advise that mushrooms be taken outdoors to interact with ambient wisdom. Driving is prohibited and you probably won’t want/know how to order an Uber at the top of your trip.
To summarise, internal and external factors can determine the general course of your experience. Any psychedelic journey that begins without reverence for these factors is at the mercy of whatever comes up, physically, socially, or emotionally. Although there will always be parameters that we cannot control, we can do our best to surround ourselves with support and attend to those needs before taking the step.
How long does the magic mushroom experience last?
To allow the psilocybin to be absorbed into the body faster, some users do not eat anything for at least 3 hours beforehand. This way, they get the most out of their mushroom trip and also reduce the chance of nausea in the initial phase of the trip. It always helps to have an empty stomach, especially if you are going to eat dried mushrooms because when your body realises that you have consumed them, it will try to get them out of there.
Keep in mind that it can take a couple of hours for the effects to really kick in (depending on what’s in your stomach). The entire experience can last six to eight hours, with side effects lasting up to another six hours after the trip, depending on the dose. Therefore, it is also important to eat and drink something during this period.
To settle into the vibes you can also make a music playlist to deepen the experience. Mushrooms can also spark creativity, so users can paint or have a colouring book to bring out their inner child.
How many magic mushrooms should I take?
In addition to choosing the right mushroom for a first trip, quantity is also extremely important: the dosage is vital. For the first experience with magic mushrooms, you should start small. You can always eat more, but if you’ve had too much, you can’t eat less. Experts recommend 0.8 grams of dried mushrooms to start. A common dose is 1 to 2.5 grams, depending on the potency and variety of mushrooms. If you take more mushrooms and feel uncomfortable, then all you can do is wait until the psilocin leaves your body system.
It is recommended to always weigh the mushrooms carefully with precision scales before using them. It should also be noted that there is an important difference between fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms. Although the level of psychoactive substances is the same, much of the weight is lost during drying, as fresh mushrooms consist largely of moisture. Some mushrooms lose 90% of their weight when dried, which is why you should also consume much fewer dried mushrooms compared to fresh ones.
What are the forms in which they can be taken?
Whether fresh or dried, magic mushrooms can be taken in a wide spectrum of preparations. Although the most common way is to eat them on their own, they can also be mixed into food to hide their bitter taste (with fruits or nuts, but not in dairy products) or they can be infused in herbal tea. There are also methods to increase the psychoactive experience by consuming oranges, ginger and a number of other companions. As magic mushrooms are usually dried, they can also easily be ground into a capsule so that the dosage can be controlled effectively. Those looking for a tasty trip can also choose to cook mushrooms.
Are magic mushrooms safe?
Psilocybin mushrooms are among the least dangerous recreational substances in the world. The potential for physical and psychological dependence is low, acute toxicity is moderate, chronic toxicity is low, and criminal and public health aspects are negligible. According to the World Drug Survey, psilocybin mushrooms are considered the safest of all recreational substances, thanks to their limited toxicity and extremely low addiction potential. An analysis of this large international drug survey states that only 0.2% of magic mushroom users have sought emergency medical care after use. The findings, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, further suggest that such adverse incidents are often of psychological nature and resolve themselves within 24 hours.
That said, it is possible to develop an addiction to these mushrooms, but the addiction is psychological as they are not physically addictive. In another study by Professor David Nutt, a former senior adviser on drugs to the UK government, he ranked a range of substances according to their potential harm to people and society at large: magic mushrooms came last, with very little risk to the consumer and none to society.
What are the risks?
But although there is little risk, some do exist, and the most common problem associated with taking magic mushrooms is having a bad trip. For some, they can cause confusion, fear, anxiety, or paranoia, which can make the experience quite overwhelming. Set and setting are key to minimising the risk of this side effect, but it still does happen. The Zendo Project, a psychedelic harm-reduction group, states that “difficult is not the same as bad.” According to this group, instead of fighting these feelings, it is usually better to “let go.” A difficult or challenging journey may be happening for a reason and can lead to learning and personal growth.
Another study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine outlines safety guidelines in its hallucinogen research. These same guidelines should be followed for recreational use. And one thing to keep in mind is that psilocybin is known to trigger psychotic episodes in people who are prone to them, so it’s wise to know your family history and avoid mushrooms if there is an incidence of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other psychotic disorders that may increase the chances of developing a prolonged psychosis.
Don’t combine a mushroom trip with other narcotics, they don’t mix well and it’s best to keep the experience pure. The use of alcohol is also not recommended, as where magic mushrooms expand the mind, alcohol has the opposite effect. That is why it is not a sensible combination. Although many experienced mushroom users combine their trip with cannabis, it can also be inadvisable: weed can have an unexpectedly strong and somewhat unpredictable synergy with psychedelics.
Magic mushrooms should also not be mixed with any medication that affects the serotonin system. For example, certain antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac, escitalopram…) or serotonin supplements such as 5-HTP (oxitriptan). There is also a risk of developing hallucinogen-induced persistent perception disorder. Essentially, this is when a user experiences hallucinations or “flashbacks” after the ride ends. However, reported cases of this disorder are rare.
What are the potential benefits?
If you have thought about trying magic mushrooms for their therapeutic effects, they have been shown to help with depression. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for depression as far back as 2018, stating that “preliminary clinical evidence shows that it may demonstrate substantial improvement regarding available therapies”.
Other scientific studies have also shown that psilocybin can help with suicidal thoughts, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcoholism, and tobacco dependence. But there are plenty of other benefits, even for those who don’t have a problem with any of the above.
Magic mushrooms have a high potential for lasting personal growth. In a one-month follow-up of the Johns Hopkins study of its participants, 94% of volunteers said the experience “moderately or greatly increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction, and 89% rated moderate or high changes in positive behaviour”. Ratings remained high even 14 months later. The types of behaviour change most frequently cited by the volunteers were better social relationships with family and others, increased physical and psychological self-care, and increased spiritual practice.
When consumed responsibly, magic mushrooms can produce extremely pleasurable effects, especially when you find the right dose for you. For example, microdosing psilocybin can reduce anxiety and improve mood. On the other hand, large doses can lead to what some may call a spiritual awakening. In fact, the use of magic mushrooms as a spiritual tool dates back thousands of years. Like other psychedelics, magic mushrooms can catalyse unique experiences that help a person feel more in tune with themselves and the world around them. Many experience “ego death” and it changes the way they see the world forever.
So, if after reading this, you’ve decided to use magic mushrooms, you can be sure that you’re going to try the least addictive and least toxic recreational substance that exists, according to the Global Survey on Drugs. However, that doesn’t mean you should start buying magic mushrooms online like candy. As with all psychedelics, it is extremely important to take them responsibly and pay close attention to dosage, mood, and setting: this will ensure your own safety and get the most out of a promising experience.
- Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: Immediate and persisting dose-related effects. R. Griffiths, M.W. Johnson, W. A. Richards, B.D. Richards, U. McCann, and R. Jesse.
- Human Hallucinogen Research: Guidelines for Safety. Matthew W. Johnson, William A. Richards and Roland R. Griffiths.
- Adverse experiences resulting in emergency medical treatment seeking following the use of magic mushrooms. Emma I Kopra, jason A ferris and James Rucker
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