Psilocybin

Other names:

  • Magic mushrooms
  • Mushrooms
  • Shrooms

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in more than one hundred mushroom species. It is usually consumed orally by eating either dried or fresh mushrooms, adding them to food or tea, or by taking a capsule of its dried material. It usually takes under an hour for the psychedelic effects to become noticeable, and the experience usually peaks one to three hours later. The entire trip can last six to eight hours.

Indigenous communities in Mexico and Central America have used psilocybin-containing mushrooms in celebrations, healing rituals, and religious ceremonies for millennia. In the 1950s and 1960s, psychiatrists investigated the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, though less extensively than LSD. In the United States, most human psychedelic research halted in 1971 after President Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act—Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970—went into effect, designating psilocybin as a Schedule I drug.

In 2000, researchers at Johns Hopkins University received federal and institutional approvals to give psilocybin to human volunteers who had never taken a psychedelic, leading to the landmark 2006 publication “Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance.” Since then, studies have suggested that in combination with therapy psilocybin can be used to alleviate anxiety and depression in cancer patients, substance abuse disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers are also investigating the use of psilocybin to treat anorexia nervosa and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. In some research volunteers, psilocybin has been shown to increase nature relatedness and overall well-being and life satisfaction.

In a 2016 survey study, nearly two thousand respondents reported effects associated with their worst “bad trip” on psilocybin mushrooms. Eleven percent said they had put themselves or others at risk of physical harm, and 8 percent said they had sought treatment for enduring psychological symptoms at least a year after their trip. The survey also found that three cases appeared associated with the onset of enduring psychotic symptoms and three others with attempted suicide. Despite the negative effects, 84 percent of respondents reported that they benefited from the challenging aspects of their sessions.

In the United States, psilocybin is listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal outside of specially approved research settings, though some states including Oregon, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, as well as municipalities including Denver, Oakland, and Detroit, have decriminalized it or deprioritized the local enforcement of laws against it. 

Psilocybin-assisted therapy is legal in Oregon. In other states, some patients can receive this therapy by participating in federally-approved clinical trials. (Learn more about clinical trials here.)

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