History Of Psilocybin Mushroom Use
We have all heard the term “magic mushrooms”. They might conjure up thoughts of psychedelic trips in hippies of the 1960s. The origin of the species, however, goes back much further than that.
Do you know the history of the magic mushroom? When it was first eaten? How people found out the effects it has on the body? Well…you’re about to. Here’s a brief history of the psilocybin mushroom.
What Are Psilocybin Mushrooms?
Psilocybin is a psychoactive drug that can be found in this particular type of mushroom. There are around 200 known species of these mushrooms that can be found worldwide. They are a type of fungi that are known to induce hallucinations and a sense of euphoria when eaten or consumed through a liquid like tea. They are among the oldest recreational drugs that human beings have ever consumed.
As popular as they are, people are still using them today. You might not have heard the term “psilocybin mushroom before…but you’ve probably heard of them under another name… Magic mushrooms. Shrooms. Psychedelic mushrooms.
“They are among the oldest recreational drugs that human beings have ever consumed.”
What Species Consume Psychoactive Substances?
Humans are certainly not the only species to actively seek out and consume psychoactive substances.
- Reindeer of Siberia and North America eat Amanita Muscaria Mushrooms.
- Dolphins ingest the venom of pufferfish
- Jaguars consume the vine, root, and leaf of the hallucinogenic Caape plant
It’s therefore easy to assume that humans also consumed psychoactive fungi before the time at which they became distinct from other creatures. You can find psilocybin mushrooms on every inhabitable continent. As a result, anything venturing out into the jungle and onto the savanna would have likely consumed them (probably unwittingly). Having experienced, and enjoyed, the heightened state of consciousness they felt as a result, they would then consume them again.
What Does Psilocybin Do?
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI, has been used to help understand how psilocybin works and what it does to the body. From research carried out, it appears to create a state of hyper-connectivity between brain networks. What does this mean? It drastically changes the way that we think, and it encourages an increase in neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells).
The result? When you add these effects together, it leaves the person who ingested the mushroom feeling like they can see and think things they never could before. They feel a deep sense of connection to people around them. It can feel like conversations you have are “on another level” that you have never experienced before. It allows people to feel like they can “think outside of the box”.
Some of the other effects linked with taking psilocybin mushrooms are:
- A heightened feeling of euphoria and constant giggling
- Intense feelings of wonder and deep thinking
- Feeling the need to stare at your hands
- An altered perception of time
- Experiencing seeing lights and other visuals
Historical Use Of Magic Mushrooms
Fungi have been around since time immemorial. The earliest known species of mushrooms dates back to a billion years ago. How far back do psilocybin “magic” mushrooms go? It’s impossible to say exactly. Evidence suggests that they have been used since around 10,000 B.C. in North African indigenous cultures. This is due to findings of rock paintings which appear to include shapes that would mimic that of the mushroom.
Where Else Can Mushroom Evidence Be Found?
There is evidence of the use of psilocybin mushrooms all over the world at different points in time.
Around 6000 B.C, rock paintings were made in Spain which suggests that the psilocybe hispanica mushroom was used in religious rituals near Villar del Humo. There is also evidence of Spanish Catholic missionary priests coming to the New World in the 16th century and bringing with them psychotropic substances.
Statues of what appear to be mushrooms can be found in Mayan and Aztec ruins. In Colima, an 1800-year-old statuette was found in a west Mexican shaft and chamber tomb. It is thought to depict a mushroom that closely resembles the hallucinogenic Psilocybe Mexicana. Aztecs are also believed to have used a substance called teonanacatl which translates to “flesh of the gods”. They named this substance flesh of the gods as they believed that, when they ate it, it helped them to communicate with god. They used it to induce a trance-like state and product visions that they believed to mean they were “on another plain” with the gods. It is thought that this substance was in fact psilocybin mushrooms.
Is it true?
The history of these mushrooms is believed by some and not others. Some people believe that none of the above is definitive and that people are choosing to interpret things how they want to for their own benefit. There is confirmed use, however, in several tribes of indigenous people in Central American including the Mazatec, Mixtec, Nauhua, and Zapatec.
Modern Use Of Psilocybin Mushrooms
It is thought that these mushrooms were first bought to the Western World around the 19th Century. Around 1800, there is documentation linking a British family to mushroom intoxication. It is thought that they unknowingly picked several mushrooms from the shores of the River Thames and cooked with them. The result? They started to feel intense euphoria and hysteria. Following on from this, the intake of psilocybin mushrooms (knowingly and intentionally) by Westerners dates back to the late 1950s.
The Study of Mushrooms in the 1950s
A mushroom study was carried out by R. Gordon Wasson as he was traveling through Mexico in 1955. He wrote that he witnessed and participated in a ritual ceremony where mushrooms were used. A Shaman of the Mazatec tribe conducted the ceremony. The Mazatec tribe is a group of people who live in the Oaxaca region of Southern Mexico. Wasson wrote an article about his findings which was published in Life magazine. An individual by the name of Timothy Leary read Wasson’s article in 1957 and began experimenting with them at Harvard University. Leary was a clinical psychologist at Harvard University and worked on the Harvard Psilocybin project between 1960 and 1962. He is famous in the world of psychotropic drug experimentation. Leary believed that psilocybin could be used in treatments linked to psychiatry.
Unfortunately, this research was halted by Harvard University in 1963 when Leary was fired from his post. It appears that the termination of his post, and therefore the study, was as a result of Leary himself taking hallucinogens and also pressuring students to do the same as part of his classes in order to graduate!
Roll on the hippie movement in the 1960s: magic mushrooms are everywhere. A search for a new form of spirituality throughout the decade tied the use of mushrooms to the hippies for the majority of the decade. There was a sense of needing to try and find the true meaning behind life and experimentation was not only accepted but encouraged in the movement. Moving forward from this, popular culture brought mushroom use into general acceptance. People believed that taken in small amounts i.e. “microdoses” could improve your mood and reduce anxiety without a full-blown trip. This continued throughout the 1960’s.
Banning The Use Of Magic Mushrooms in the 1970s
In the 1970s, it was made illegal to have, take, grow, or buy psilocybin mushrooms. Why? In 1971, an international treaty known as the Convention on Psychotropic Substances was developed by the United Nations. Around 180 countries signed up to be a part of the treaty and make psilocybin mushrooms illegal. The purpose? To ban production, distribution, and consumption of psilocybin mushrooms, amongst a number of other substances. Following on from this, America introduced the Controlled Substances Act in the same year, symbolizing the beginning of the War on Drugs. Psilocybin is listed as a Schedule I drug under the Act. Heroin is in the same category.
These drugs are thought to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use (according to the federal government). Since this point in time, magic mushrooms have been illegal in the US, and continue to be illegal.
A number of states have started to decriminalize the use of magic mushrooms and there is evidence others may follow. What is decriminalization? In short…it means that the mushrooms are still technically illegal, but it is unlikely law enforcement would take any action should they find them in your possession. As for making them legal…well there is little evidence of this on the horizon right now.
Scientific research of Psilocybin Mushrooms
Scientists are working on researching psilocybin, its effects, and whether it can be used for medicinal purposes. When these mushrooms were banned in the 1970s, they could then only be used for medical research.
For some years, nothing really happened in the medical community. Research only really began in 2018 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Compass Pathways permission to research mushrooms as a treatment for depression. The hope is that a mixture of psilocybin with intense therapy can be used in finding better ways to combat depression where traditional medicine is not working. The number of people in this position is not negligible. In fact, it is thought that there are around 100 million people worldwide who are impacted in this way. In 2019, Johns Hopkins University unveiled its Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. The plan? Scientists will evaluate psilocybin as a treatment for numerous different things. From opioid addiction to Lyme disease, PTSD, nicotine, and alcohol dependency as well as many other things.
What Do We Currently Know About Psilocybin Mushrooms?
There is still so much we do not know about how these mushrooms can be used for good…and bad. A lot of the information we have is reliant upon the reported effects of people who have taken them. While many people experience relatively positive effects, some have had frightening hallucinations, paranoia, and anxiety as a result. This might be linked to not knowing how much is safe to take, potential contamination, or possible poisoning.
Right now, researchers all over the world are starting to dig into the possible medicinal benefits. What is trying to be discovered is exactly how magic mushrooms interact with our bodies and minds and what impact this has on us. In particular, we need to know more about the long-term effects they might have before they can be prescribed for medicinal purposes.
What Does The Future Look Like?
Interestingly, the future for psilocybin mushrooms may be changing. It is now legal to own mushroom spores in all but 3 states of the USA. Since 2019, Denver, Santa Cruz, and Oakland, California have all decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms.
If you want to learn more about mushroom spores and get started on your own microscopy, take a look at the different varieties of mushroom spores for sale here at Shaman Mushroom Spores.
Essentially, psilocybin mushrooms produce what are known as mushroom spores in the gill of the mushroom (the part underneath the cap). These mushroom spores do not contain psilocybin and therefore they are not illegal to possess under the Controlled Substances Act. What does this mean? Well…it means that there is considerable research underway, as a result, to understand how mushrooms can be used for medical purposes.
As for decriminalization…what does this mean? Well, right now…it is unclear. We don’t know how many states might follow suit, or if there is ever going to be a point that magic mushrooms are legalized in the US, rather than simply decriminalized. To learn more about if mushroom spores are legal, you can read more on our post Are Mushroom Spores Legal?
What it is fair to say is that, for psilocybin researchers, advocates, and enthusiasts…it’s an exciting time.
Watch this space…