Psilocybin, the main psychoactive compound in “magic mushrooms,” is in the midst of a renaissance. Just recently, a federal grant for research into psilocybin was awarded, the first time that’s occurred in more than 50 years. The $4 million grant will fund a three-year study into the potential for the therapeutic use of psilocybin to treat tobacco addiction.
Simultaneous to this reopening of psychedelic research is a burgeoning grassroots movement across America to decriminalize psychedelic substances like ayahuasca, psilocybin, and LSD, to name just a few. Suffice to say, access to psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms is only going to increase from here.
Though there are plenty of psychonauts—people who regularly use psychedelics for self-exploration—among us, there are countless more novices with no experience and plenty of curiosity. It’s no wonder why. A 50-plus-year prohibition in the western world has led to plenty of misinformation, ignorance, and trepidation.
All that being said, the short answer is no, psilocybin mushrooms are not addictive. In fact, they’re considered one of the safest drugs out there.
For one, they possess a near negligible toxicity. They also produce an experience so intense that users typically limit their use quite naturally. The beauty is that this strong experience only very rarely causes a user to need emergency medical treatment.
Plus, there’s the fact that the human body quickly builds tolerance to psilocybin, making it very difficult to experience any real effect after more than a few days of repeated use. And since other classic psychedelics like LSD work on similar brain receptors, cross tolerance is also an issue, further increasing tolerance and dissuading users from habitual use.
Finally, psychedelic users, according to the Global Drug Survey in 2017, are “generally very sensible and show some of the best preparation and adoption of harm reduction practices of any drug.”
When the federal government hands out a $4 million grant into something like psychedelic research, you can be sure it’s no shot in the dark. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research published a study in 2017 in which 15 participants took two to three moderate doses (20-30 mg of psilocybin/70 kg) of psilocybin in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for smoking cessation. Six months after their first psilocybin session, 80 percent of participants had yet to smoke. At a follow up twelve months after their first psilocybin session, 67 percent of participants had fully quit smoking. And at a long-term follow up—a mean interval of 30 months—60 percent of people had still successfully quit. Varenicline, widely considered to be the most effective smoking cessation drug, has about a 35 percent success rate.
This is by no means an endorsement to eat some magic mushrooms and expect to quit smoking, or to say that consuming psilocybin mushrooms doesn’t come with its own unique set of risks. But when compared to widely available drugs like alcohol or tobacco, psilocybin appears to have a much lower risk of addiction, abuse, and physical harm for users.
Remember that curating a healthy and safe mindset, setting, as well as knowing the source of your ‘shrooms remains your best bet at a pleasurable, potentially positive and life-altering experience.