Shrooms are a type of mushroom that contains the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin. There are over 75 mushroom species known to contain this ingredient, the most common being Psilocybe cubensis (liberty caps). However, these species occur naturally and are native to tropical and subtropical areas of South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States. The mushrooms can also be grown in labs or at home.
Psilocybin is considered a hallucinogenic. It is converted to psilocin in the body, which affects the central nervous system by altering the interaction of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Its effects vary considerably depending on a number of factors, including the type, age, and dosage of the mushrooms. In addition, the user’s setting, mindset, drug use experience, and personality will influence the effects.
Shrooms themselves are technically not scheduled by the Controlled Substances Act. However, psilocybin (found in all types of magic mushrooms) is a Schedule I drug. This means it is illegal, has a high potential for abuse, and has no known medical usage.
Common street names for shrooms include:
Historically, several civilizations in Central and South America used psilocybin mushrooms as part of social and religious ceremonies. They used them to induce hallucinations and visions in order to heal, solve problems, and contact spirits. However, the new drug policy introduced in the U.S. in 1968 made them illegal.
Users will feel the effects of shrooms approximately 20 minutes to 2 hours after ingesting them. They will experience a “trip” that lasts from 3 to 6 hours, or possibly longer, depending on the dose.
Physical effects of psilocybin include:
Mental effects of psilocybin include:
There seem to be few or no long-term adverse mental health problems associated with occasional psychedelic drug use. Some people even believe that psychedelic experiences with shrooms, LSD, MDMA or peyote may have some medical use for treating mental health conditions. The FDA has granted a couple of drugs in clinical trials containing psilocybin "breakthrough therapy designation," in order to fast-track their approval to treat treatment-resistant depression.
Short term side effects of shrooms that may cause danger or harm to the user include:
Some users may be susceptible to having a “bad trip,” and experiences highly adverse reactions, including:
The most significant reported long term effect of shroom usage is the occurrence of “flashbacks.” The DSM-V classifies these as Hallucinogen-persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). A “flashback” is a spontaneous recurrence of psychedelic mental effects. These may include “halo” vision, trails attached to moving objects, flickering or intensification of lights and colors, and false motion in peripherals, among others.
Research suggests that fatigue and delayed headache due to nitric oxide release is a common adverse short term effect of psilocybin-containing mushroom usage.
There are no reports classifying shrooms as addictive. However, users can develop a pattern of consistent use that resembles addiction. This is known as Hallucinogen Use Disorder. Repeated use of shrooms will cause a person to quickly build up a tolerance. Furthermore, a cross-tolerance to other drugs, including LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) and mescaline, may be developed. This means that with regular, repeated use, no amount of the drug will achieve the desired effects. However, with a period of abstinence, tolerance levels will decrease.
Like all psychedelics, LSD and shrooms have some shared effects on your consciousness. These include hallucinations, feelings of unity, heightened senses, and distortions of reality. However, there is a big difference in the historical and social context of each drug.
LSD was invented in 1938 and became popular in the 1950s and 1960s. In contrast, psychedelic mushrooms usage has been widespread for centuries or possibly even millennia. LSD is a synthetic chemical, whereas psilocybin is naturally occurring.
Many users report the effects of LSD to be “extrospective” — meaning that they are focused on the world around them. This is contrary to mushroom users, who generally report the experience to be “introspective,” or focused on the contents of their own mind. This may be due to the different effects of the drugs, the context in which they are used, or a combination of these factors.
While hallucinogenic mushrooms are not considered addictive, users may need treatment for adverse responses to the drug. “Bad trips” may require the user to be hospitalized. Here, trained medical staff will help them “come down” by placing them in a safe and secure room with minimal sounds and motion. If necessary, a low to medium dose of a benzodiazepine may be administered. The patient should be monitored directly to make sure that they do not harm themselves or others.
In the case of “flashbacks” or HPPD, there is currently no known medical treatment. However, studies suggest that some anti-seizure medications, including lamotrigine and clonazepam, may provide lasting relief. Recommended treatment options also include mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and talk therapy.
If you or someone you know is suffering due to the use of shrooms, the best procedure is to seek help and explore treatment options.
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Drugs of Abuse. 2017 ed., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, 2017., https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/drug_of_abuse.pdf
Johnson, Matthew W, et al. “Psilocybin Dose-Dependently Causes Delayed, Transient Headaches in Healthy Volunteers.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Behavioral Biology Research Center, 1 June 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22129843
Studerus, Erich & Kometer, Michael & Hasler, Felix & Vollenweider, Franz. “Acute, Subacute and Long-Term Subjective Effects of Psilocybin in Healthy Humans: A Pooled Analysis of Experimental Studies.” Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2011, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20855349/
Krebs, Teri S., and Pål-Ørjan Johansen. "Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study." PLoS ONE 8.8 (2013). Print., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3747247/