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This Is Why Some Mushrooms Are Hallucinogenic

Jana is an 'amateur everything' when it comes to space, nature and science. She loves exploring mysteries, both classic and new.


The Magic Ingredient

Not all mushrooms are “magic shrooms.” But the species that are mind-altering contains a chemical called psilocybin. This psychoactive or psychedelic compound affects the human brain by playing with the brain’s serotonin receptors. It and can affect people in different ways. We’ll get into that a little later but right now, let’s see why some mushrooms have psilocybin.

A Pest Repellant

There are millions of fungi but only a small fraction of them evolved to produce psilocybin. Roughly 200 mushroom species today carries the chemical. A study found that this small group use psilocybin to stop insects from eating the mushrooms.

Interestingly, psilocybin does not make insects high. Instead, it appears as if the compound makes bugs lose their appetite so that they would stop munching on the mushrooms.


Ineffective Against Humans

This is where the mushrooms’ survival strategy goes wrong. The magic ingredient works perfectly as an insecticide but it has the opposite effect on humans - it attracts them!

Maybe if psilocybin also killed our appetite, there would be no such thing as “magic mushrooms.” But instead, the compound reacts very differently and in such a mind-altering way that countless people consume them (which, by the way, remains illegal in many countries).

How Psilocybin Influences The Human Brain

Ingestion and Time

If magic mushroom fans could moan about one thing (and they probably do) it’s the slow start. In most cases, it can take up to half an hour before a user begins to experience the first effects of the chemical. Once the effects take hold, they usually last between 4 and 6 hours but for some, things can drag on for several days.

Altered Personality

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine discovered something that blows a common myth out of the water. This myth states that the effects of magic mushrooms wear off after a while and that there are no lasting side effects.

What the researchers found was that, after someone ate a mushroom, the psilocybin could still be detected in their system a year later. But that was not all. Those who experienced mystical events while they were floating on the chemical also had lasting personality changes.

Unlike other addictive substances, the changes are not entirely bad. The University found that users became more artistic and aware of themselves and the environment. They also became more open about their emotions and feelings. In the words of the researchers, this was “unprecedented.”


The Dark Side Of Magic Mushrooms

The same University ran a survey in which nearly 2,000 people participated. They had one thing in common - a bad experience with this natural drug.

Frighteningly, almost 10 percent admitted that the mushrooms had given them the worst trip that they have ever experienced. Some even put themselves in dangerous situations or worse; they put others in harm’s way. A disturbing number of the participants also said that tripping on the fungus ranked among the top 10 worst events of their lives. After eating a mushroom, some became aggressive and a small number had to seek medical intervention. A small percentage (about 6 people) said they experienced suicidal thoughts.

The Medical Use of Magic Mushrooms

Such surveys might make you wonder why the medical establishment is giving these mushrooms to patients with serious conditions like cancer.

Needless to say, having a terminal condition or a life-threatening illness can give anyone anxiety and depression. Several studies have found that small amounts of psilocybin greatly reduce both anxiety and depression in such patients.

Finally, there is a difference here that might explain why mushrooms show up in cancer or end-of-life therapies. They are given to patients in the right amounts by trained staff and in controlled environments. Healthy users might experience bad trips because they lack such boundaries, often taking the wrong mushroom or too much.

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Fascinating Fungus

As it turns out, magic mushrooms never intended to make humanity high. They just wanted bugs to leave them alone. However, psilocybin has an interesting effect on people that sometimes change them for the better - or gives them the trip from hell. Magic mushrooms, when used by experienced medical professionals, also provide excellent emotional relief for patients that are facing devastating illnesses. Either way - casually chewed or professionally dispensed - these shrooms are here to stay.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jana Louise Smit


Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on June 17, 2021:

Thank you, Hira. That's for stopping by and reading the article. :)

hira from faisalabad on June 17, 2021:

Well Written

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on June 17, 2021:

Hi Umesh. Thank you very much for your lovely comment. May you have a great day. :)

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on June 17, 2021:

Very interesting information. Well presented. Blessings.

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on June 17, 2021:

Hi, John. Thank you for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed a closer look at these shrooms. :)

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on June 17, 2021:

Hi, Eric. No, the normal mushrooms we use in our homes and restaurants are completely free of the chemical. At this time, any species that produces a "high" is not allowed to be sold to the public for kitchen or personal use. :)

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 17, 2021:

This was a very interesting article. Thank you for sharing, Jana.

Errah Caunca on June 17, 2021:

Hi, Jana. Do the typical mushrooms that we eat have psilocybin?

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