In 1957, an article in Life magazine by journalist turned banker Gordon Wasson titled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” introduced magic mushrooms and their “vision-giving powers” to modern western society for the first time.
Since then, a lot has happened. But what exactly are magic mushrooms, where do they come from, how do they work, what’s their legality, and where are they headed?
Join us for a trip down the magic mushroom rabbit hole.
From Maria Sabina to Baba Ram Dass
When Wasson returned to America in 1957 to recount his experience of taking magic mushrooms at a velada (healing ceremony) in the hills of Hualta de Jimenez, Mexico, with Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina, the story took the country by storm. Soon thereafter, everyone from hippies to scientists began flooding the small Oaxaca town searching for Sabina and the magic mushrooms promising a glimpse of God.
Simultaneously, Albert Hoffman — famed for being the first man to synthesize and take lysergic acid (LSD) — began working with a sample of magic mushrooms sent to him by Wasson, eventually isolating, synthesizing, and naming psilocybin and psilocin, the main psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms. The company Hoffman worked for, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, began to produce and sell synthesized psilocybin under the product name Indocybin for psychotherapy purposes.
Eventually, Indocybin ended up in the hands of Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert — later known as Baba Ram Dass — two psychology professors at Harvard University who began personally and professionally experimenting with the drug as part of the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Both men later became central figures in the 1960s counterculture and psychedelic movement, the classic slogan of that time, “Tune in, turn on, drop out” the brainchild of Leary. Aldous Huxley, famed author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, also took part in the experiments.
Taste the Rainbow
So, what exactly is it that makes magic mushrooms, well, magic?
Psilocybin, kind of.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring tryptamine alkaloid that’s been found in more than 180 different species of fungi, the most common and classic psilocybin-containing mushroom being Psilocybe Cubensis. If you’ve ever consumed magic mushrooms it was probably P. Cubensis, as it’s the easiest psilocybin-containing mushroom to cultivate and therefore dominates the black market.
Yet it isn’t psilocybin that gives you those trippy visions. Instead it’s psilocin, which is what your body converts psilocybin into once you eat a few magic mushrooms and they meet your gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. In a sense, psilocin is the true psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, though a host of other alkaloids likely work in tandem with psilocin to create the classic psychedelic experience.
Psilocin is structurally similar to serotonin and works as an agonist at a variety of serotonin receptors, but especially at the 5-HT2A receptor. This receptor plays critical roles in modulating behavior, cognitive function, and motor function, meaning that much of psilocin’s effects have to do with alterations in mood, perception, and cognition.
Increased introspection, dream-like states, illusions, synesthesia, and altered perceptions of time and space are common, as is euphoria. Panic and dysphoria can also occur. Two factors — i.e. mindset and the physical setting of the experience, colloquially called “set and setting”— have been found to strongly influence the experience, meaning that with proper intention and preparation, less desirable effects can often, but not always, be avoided.
Typically, effects are felt within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion, with the peak experience coming within two hours of ingestion and the total experience lasting no more than six hours. As is the case with any substance, effects and length of experience are dosage dependent.
This Experience Will Not Be Televised
In part due to a dramatic rise in psychedelic usage during the 1960s counterculture movement, psychedelics including psilocybin and psilocin were ultimately banned in the United States in 1968, and then classified as a Schedule I drug in the Federal Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Under the act, Schedule I drugs are substances with no currently accepted medical use, a lack of accepted safety, and a high potential for abuse. Yet all three of these stipulations, recent research suggests, do not apply to psilocybin. (It’s worth noting though, that the spores of psilocybin-containing mushrooms are legal in most states)
The End of an Era
Public opinion, science, and local laws are ever changing. In the wake of a rash of scientific research and study at prestigious schools like John Hopkins University and the Imperial College of London that have demonstrated psilocybin’s efficacy in treating depression in patients whom typical treatments have failed — as well as other studies showing psilocybin’s power to treat addiction and anxiety — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin-based medicines as a breakthrough therapy and placed it on a fast track toward approval.
In addition, over the past two years Denver (CO), Oakland (CA), Santa Cruz (CA), Ann Arbor (MI), Washington D.C., Somerville (MA), Cambridge (MA) and Northampton (MA) have all effectively decriminalized the possession of entheogenic plants and fungi like psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca for personal use.
And last November, Oregon became the first state in the country to legalize medical psilocybin in therapeutic settings, while also decriminalizing small possessions of a host of other substances including cocaine, heroin, ayahuasca, and MDMA.
Suffice to say, the times are a-changing quickly. But no matter what appears at the end of this rabbit hole, we at Troop will be ready to educate, produce, and distribute whatever mushrooms we feel hold the fundamental medicinal properties we believe in within the parameters of the law.
- Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs (Sixteenth Edition), The International Encyclopedia of Adverse Drug Reactions and Interactions; 2016, Pages 1048-1051