By Ina Woolcott
History of Psilocybe Mushrooms
From pre-Columbian times up to this present day, the hallucinogenic Psilocybe mushrooms have been used among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for spiritual communion, healing and divination.
To the Mexicans, psilocybin was known as teonanácatl, which literally translated means ‘god mushroom’. Apparently these were dished up at the coronation of Moctezuma II in 1502. Sadly, after the Spanish conquest, the use of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms, like other pre-Christian traditions, was forcibly, sometimes in the most horrible of ways, suppressed and driven underground.
The non-natives, by the 20th century, believed that the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms was gone for good. BUT THEN…Valentina and R. Gordon Wasson became the first Westerners to take part in an indigenous psilocybin mushroom ceremony. They did a lot to publicise their discovery, even publishing an article based on their experiences in Life in 1957. Please see the related link below. The article is from the Life magazine.
In 1958, Albert Hofmann identified psilocin and thereafter psilocybin as the active compound in these mushrooms.
Today hallucinogenic mushroom use has been reported amongst various groups, from central Mexico to Oaxaca, including groups of Mixtecs, Nahua, Mixe, Mazatecs, Zapotecs, as well as others.
Entheogens were made widely popular by the Wasson’s and Timothy Leary, leading into an explosion in the use of hallucinogenic Psilocybe globally. Books telling of methods on how to cultivate Psilocybe cubensis in large quantities were also published. The pretty much easily available hallucinogenic Psilocybe from wild and cultivated sources has made it among the most widely used amongst hallucinogenic drugs.
Effects of Psilocybe
Psilocybin contained in the psilocybe mushrooms is absorbed through the lining of the mouth and stomach, with effects beginning 10-40 minutes after ingestion. The mushroom is held in mouth for 20 minutes to an hour, or swallowed on an empty stomach.
A minute number of people are unusually sensitive to psilocybin’s effects, and smaller than normal does can induce in effects usually associated with medium to high doses. There are also people who need pretty high doses of psilocybin to gain low-dose effects.
Some find themselves hooked on the substance, and may need treatment and recovery from mushroom addiction later on.
An individual’s brain chemistry and metabolism determine a person’s response to psilocybin. The effects are generally pleasant and ecstatic feelings that last 2-6 hours depending on species, dosage and individual metabolism. Also, a deep sense of connection to others, the universe and nature can be felt as well as confusion, hilarity (the most mundane things or most serious situations can suddenly appear laughable, and people will think why do I worry so much, about things that aren‘t actually even that important)
One may experience a bad/difficult trip when in a poor setting – such as no support, being an inexperienced person without guidance of an experienced guide. Also if one were to take an unexpectedly high dose, or if the difficult areas of ones psyche were activated one could have a bad time.
Low doses usually bring on hallucinogenic effects, such as breathing walls, a vivid enhancement of colour and sound, and the animation of organic shapes. Higher doses will bring on experiences that are generally less social and more entheogenic, often giving spiritual experiences.
Psilocybin is mainly metabolised in the liver where it becomes psilocin and is broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase.
Consuming psilocybin MAY cause HPPD Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. Those with schizophrenia should not ingest psilocybin or any hallucinogenic drug at all due to the risk of triggering a psychosis.
Medical and Psychiatric Uses
In some Mesoamerican native tribes, healers for centuries have used the hallucinogenic Psilocybe for divining the causes of illness and as part of psychological counselling. In medical and psychiatric studies, contemporary researchers usually prefer using the purified form of psilocybin. However in practice, whole Psilocybe cubensis is frequently used.
In 1961, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert ran the Harvard Psilocybin Project, conducting a series of experiments using psilocybin in the treatment of personality disorders and other uses in psychological counselling.
In the USA, an FDA approved study supported by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) took off in 2001 to look into psilocybin’s effects on patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In 2006, this study found psilocybin effective in relieving OCD symptoms, in some cases for more than a few days.
MAPS has also proposed researching psilocybin’s potential in treating cluster headaches based on anecdotal evidence given them by a group suffering with cluster headaches.
There is a study taking place momentarily, led by Charles Grob, where12 subjects are being given psilocybin or a placebo in 2 separate sessions, in the hope of reducing the psychological distress linked with losing a loved one.
Is it legal?
The United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances psilocybin and psilocin are listed as Schedule I drugs.
Schedule I drugs are those with the potential for abuse and that have no recognised medical use (or ignored beneficial medical uses). This is reflected in the drug laws of the majority of the world’s nations. Therefore, using and possessing psilocybin mushrooms, including the bluing species of Psilocybe, is prohibited by extension. But in many national, state and provincial drug laws, there is a lot of vagueness about the legal status of psilocybin mushrooms, as well as selective enforcement in some places.
The legal status regarding Psilocybe spores is even more unclear, as they contain neither psilocybin nor psilocin – hence they are not considered illegal to sell or possess in many jurisdictions, though there are many jurisdictions that can prosecute under broader laws prohibiting items that are used in drug manufacture.
Related link: The Wasson’s Experiences with Psilocybe