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Psilocybin

Category: Actions

Type

Involuntary and voluntary

Introduction and description

Please note that the photos are in general not of these mushrooms, but have been selected for their beauty

not a psilocybin mushroom

Psilocybin [Psilocybine or 3-(2-Dimethylaminoethyl) -1H-indol-4-yl dihydrogen phosphate] is a naturally occurring compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms, collectively known as psilocybin mushrooms.

The most potent are members of the genus Psilocybe,  but psilocybin has also been isolated from several other genera.  Psilocybin is quickly converted by the body to Psilocin, which has “mind-altering effects”.  Psilocin is also known as 4-HO-DMT, psilocine, psilocyn, or psilotsin.  Psilocin is also found in some mushrooms, but as it is destroyed by oxidation may not be present in picked and dried mushrooms.

Psilocybin is a partial agonist for several serotonergic receptors. Psilocin has a high affinity for the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor in the brain, and binds less tightly to other serotonergic receptors 5-HT1A, 5-HT1D, and 5-HT2C.  This means it has the potential to produce considerable serotonin imbalance and its effects are largely mediated by this property.  In contrast to LSD, which binds to dopamine receptor D2, psilocybin and psilocin have no affinity for the dopamine D2 receptors.

Psilocybin as a 'medicine'

no ............ not a psilocybin mushroom

Extensive research was undertaken in the '50s and '60s  on the psychological effects of Psilocybin  - a compound for use in therapy and by psychologists. 

In a 1957 Life magazine article, Robert Gordon Wasson [see observations] described his experiences ingesting psilocybin-containing mushrooms during a traditional ceremony in Mexico, thereby introducing the plants to popular culture. Shortly afterward, the Swiss chemist Dr Albert Hofmann isolated the active principle Psilocybin from the mushroom Psilocybe mexicana. Hofmann's employer Sandoz then marketed and sold pure Psilocybin to physicians and clinicians worldwide for use in psychedelic psychotherapy.

Timothy Leary was also involved in psychological research in an experiment called the Concord Prison Experiment [see observations] that, as its name suggests, was undertaken on prisoners.

And research continues today, for example:

Increasing evidence suggests a link between attention, working memory, serotonin (5-HT), and prefrontal cortex activity. In an attempt to tease out the relationship between these elements, this study tested the effects of the hallucinogenic mixed 5-HT1A/2A receptor agonist psilocybin alone and after pretreatment with the 5-HT2A antagonist ketanserin. Eight healthy human volunteers were tested on a multiple-object tracking task and spatial working memory task under the four conditions: placebo, psilocybin (215 microg/kg), ketanserin (50 mg), and psilocybin and ketanserin. .....PMID: 16269092

 Since the 1990s, for example,  there has been a renewal of scientific research into the potential psychological therapeutic benefits of psilocybin for treating illness related to the psyche.  As this is serotonin mediated, the theory is that there might be benefit in restoring balance in cases of serotonin imbalance.

maybe ............... maybe not

In effect, there is renewed interest in psilocybin as an alternative to [but not a replacement of ] LSD as an 'ego-buster'. 

Ego inflation is often accompanied by loud talking, as a symptom!  The louder the person the more inflated the ego, this is a by-product of their feelings of self importance.  In those with 'over-developed- egos' - manifested through behaviour such as

  • Delusional behaviour-  including forms of over confidence and over estimation of mental and physical abilities
  • Aggression and dominant behaviour – including violent behaviour, lack of empathy and lack of compassion
  • Immoral or unethical behaviour.
  • Excessive appetite - for food, sex, drink or material possessions and wealth

Then psilocybin and psilocin are being investigated as a means of curing society of its current ills, restoring the serotonin balance.

Ego-disturbances have been a topic in schizophrenia research since the earliest clinical descriptions of the disorder. Manifesting as a feeling that one's "self," "ego," or "I" is disintegrating or that the border between one's self and the external world is dissolving, "ego-disintegration" or "dissolution" is also an important feature of the psychedelic experience, such as is produced by psilocybin (a compound found in "magic mushrooms").
Fifteen healthy subjects took part in this placebo-controlled study. ... subjects received an intravenous infusion of saline on one occasion (placebo) and 2 mg psilocybin on the other. .... "ego-dissolution", was used as a primary measure of interest in subsequent analyses.
Employing methods of connectivity analysis and graph theory, an association was found between psilocybin and ego-dissolution .......individuals with lower diversity of executive network nodes were more likely to experience ego-dissolution under psilocybin.
These results implicate MTL-cortical decoupling, decreased salience network integrity, and reduced inter-hemispheric communication in psilocybin-induced ego disturbance and suggest that the maintenance of "self"or "ego," as a perceptual phenomenon, may rest on the normal functioning of these systems. PMID: 26010878

 

Side effects of use

 

At low doses, people experience hallucinations and visions, but as the dose increases, they can experience Out of body experiences and more. 

Some of the very potent life changing side effects of psilocybin containing mushrooms, especially when they have been consumed without regard for dosage, is that they can result in a near-death experience.  Those taking these mushrooms will hardly ever admit that this is what they had, but it is clear from the evidence, that the experiences they describe as 'mystic' are the first stages of near death - a tunnel and often a helper. 

Near death experiences may start with hallucinations or visions, proceed to out of body experiences and then progress to tunnels, spirit helpers and beyond - life reviews, education, and so on.

Serotonin in any quantity produces vasoconstriction and hypoxia, and many of those who have actually died from using these mushrooms died from heart failure and hypoxia related encephalitis - leading one to suspect that psilocybin/psilocin behaves in a very similar way to serotonin.  Those with weak hearts are specifically excluded from scientific studies for this reason.

Thus these mushrooms probably owe most of their so called 'spiritual effects' to  providing people with near death experiences - an experience almost guaranteed to bring changes in the person and to be regarded - with justification - as 'spiritual' and life changing. 

Generally speaking a near death experience does indeed cure a person of ego problems on a permanent basis.

no .......... not psilocybe ...........

The dangers

But what if a person has no problems with their ego - they do not have ego inflation? 

What if they are talented but unsure, quiet and introverted. 

What if they are just a little unhappy with themselves, lacking in confidence or drive?  And what if they are young or a girl? 

Then psilocybin could be a killer mentally.  It could lead to paranoia, depression, and brain damage on a major scale.  it might lead to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it might and it has.  Here is a paper on synaesthesia and autism:

Though synaesthesia research has seen a huge growth in recent decades, and tremendous progress has been made in terms of understanding the mechanism and cause of synesthesia, we are still left mostly in the dark when it comes to the mechanistic commonalities (if any) among developmental, acquired and drug-induced synesthesia.
We know that many forms of synesthesia involve aberrant structural or functional brain connectivity. .....
Studies of psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin, LSD and mescaline, reveal that exposure to these drugs can induce synesthesia. One neurotransmitter suspected to be central to the perceptual changes is serotonin.
Excessive serotonin in the brain may cause many of the characteristics of psychedelic intoxication. .... developmental synesthesia that occurs in individuals with autism may be a result of alterations in the serotonergic system, leading to a blockage of regular gating mechanisms. I conclude on these grounds that one commonality among at least some cases of acquired, developmental and drug-induced synesthesia may be the presence of excessive levels of serotonin, which increases the excitability and connectedness of sensory brain regions. PMID: 24155703

no ............... probably not ..............

Shamanic societies use these mushrooms with an intention - usually to heal, to get information to help the entire tribe.  The organisation of shamanic societies is such that only one shaman in a group has the responsibility to use these plants.  This is because it is known that the effects can be extremely unpleasant in the long term and the shaman who gives his life to using them to help his tribe is actually making a very big sacrifice.

 Serotonin imbalance  in some very sensitive individuals - even one ingestion of these plants - can create paranoia and permanent brain damage.  If you wish to read a cautionary tale read the section on Thelonius Monk.

If you are already gifted, already talented, have no problems with ego or happiness, then avoid these like the plague. 

Even if you're not, the risks are very very high.

Mushrooms containing psilocybin

According to Ratsch plus Stammets et al, the characteristics of any fungi which contains psilicin or psylocybin is that it has a bluish green stem, or when crushed produces  the same coloured bruising on the cap or stem

  • Psilocybe mushrooms– One of the obvious plants to contain psilocybin are the family of Psilocybe Mushrooms. Most Psilocybe mushrooms contain psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin.  Paul Stamets lists about 42 that are potent. The best known ones are probably  cubensis – the so called magic mushroom; cyanescens – the wavy cap; mexicana – the mexican magic mushroom and semilanceata – the Liberty cap.  The Liberty cap is common throughout Europe and according to Gartz is ‘the psychotropic mushroom of Europe with regard to its distribution, study and use’.  It is also very potent/poisonous.  This LINK takes you to a table which is, according to Wikipedia, a list of all the Psilocybe mushrooms that contain psilocybin.
some mushrooms can be grown in the laboratory

Again according to Wikipedia, Ratsch, Stammet etc, other mushrooms that may contain psilocybin include:

  • Copelandia/Panaeolus  - Practically all species of Copelandia/Paneolus are known to contain psilocin and psilocybin.  It is commonly known as the ‘Blue meanie’ and often grows on horse dung.  Species include [sources Rasch and Manoguerra]
    • P. africanus
    • P. anomalus
    • P. ater
    • P. bisporus
    • P. cambodginiensis
    • P. chlorocystis
    • P. cinctulus
    • P. cyanescens
    • P. fimicola
    • P. foenisecii
    • P. mexicana
    • P. olivaceus
    • P. papilionaceus 
    • P. subbalteatus 
    • P. tropicalis
    • P. westii
  • Pluteus family - Pluteus salicinus contains  psilocybin and psilocin. It is widely found across Europe and the United States and is often found on alder and willow. It is always found growing on wood. “The 'Knackers Crumpet' is a localised, common name referring to Pluteus salicinus!   A number of mushrooms in this species are listed by Ratsch as having both psilocybin and baeocystin
    • P. cervinus
    • P. cyanopus
    • P. nigriviridis
    • P.  salicinus is a mushroom which is widely distributed.  It contains  psilocybin and psilocin.
    • P. villosus
  • some are small but lethal
    Gymnopilus mushrooms - The Gymnopilus genus has 200 species worldwide,  14 members of Gymnopilus are said to contain psilocybin.  Stamets lists just 5; Rasch lists 10 as follows
    • G. aeruginosus
    • G. braendlei
    • G. junonius
    • G. intermedius
    • G. leteoviridius
    • G. liquiritiae
    • G. luteofolius
    • G. luteoviridis
    • G. luteus
    • G. purpuratus
    • G. sapineus
    • G. spectabilis var. juononius
    • G. validipes
    • G. viridans
  • Inocybe mushrooms - While the vast majority of Inocybes are toxic, “seven rare species of Inocybe are hallucinogenic” [Ratsch],  having been found to contain psilocybin.  In general however, experts warn against the use of this mushroom as identification is so difficult.  Please follow the link for more details.
  • wrong kind of blue ............
    Conocybe mushroomsC.  smithii is a rare member of the genus Conocybe which contains psilocybin.  Conocybe cyanopus contains psilocin, psilocybin, and baeocystin.
  • Pholiotina smithii -  a rare member of the genus Pholiotina. It was formerly known as Galera cyanopes.  It contains psilocin, psilocybin, and baeocystin. Most mycologists recommend against using this mushroom because it is difficult to identify
  • Galerina – only one member of this species  - G, steglichii  - has psilocybin according to Ratsch, the others are extremely poisonous so one must be very careful in identifying this mushroom
  • Mycena – amicta, cyanorrhiza  and  cyanorrhiza are reported to contain psilocybin – sources Fries, Quelet and Melenovsky.

And something just in from our friends in Amsterdam....

Magic truffles (Psilocybe hollandia) - The underground sclerotia of mushrooms. Raw, they taste a bit like tangy pickled walnuts. When the sale of dry and fresh mushrooms became illegal in the Netherlands in 2008, truffles slid into the market void. A sclerotia is not a mushroom, say mycological experts, and does not contravene the UN drug conventions, add lawyers. Main active ingredient: psilocybin

 

Method

The need to use the plants not the chemicals

Although there is widespread belief amongst the ‘recreational drug community’ that the active drug is psilocybin, like most plants, the reality is that it is the entire plant and all the combination of its constituents – every chemical – that is key to the effects of the mushrooms used by shamanic societies.  In the same way that morphine is not the same or as subtle as opium, psilocybin is not as subtle or effective as these mushrooms.

Every mushroom is different

 

Even individual mushrooms within the same species can vary in toxicity.  One may have some effect, another may make you violently ill.  Just because they are of the same species and all contain psilocybin, does not mean they are all safe.
Like several other psilocybin mushrooms in the genus, Psilocybe, mushrooms like Psilocybe mexicana have been consumed by indigenous North American and Central American peoples for centuries.  But there are mushrooms in the list above that for example contain cyanide ...................

In autumn 2004, 59 cases of acute encephalopathy were reported across 9 prefectures in Japan, 24 from Akita Prefecture with 8 deaths..........the amounts of hydrogen cyanide (HCN)  exceeded the detoxication limit of HCN, resulting in HCN poisoning. ....Many typhoons came across Japan and landed 10 times in 2004, and mushroom size was larger than usual one, and HCN contents in fruit-bodies seemed to be increased especially in the late-stage of their growth.  Thirteen species of magic mushrooms were prohibited by the law from 2002 in Japan. They include Copelandia (Panaeolus) cyanescens, Panaeolus papilionaceus, Panaeolus sphinctrinus, Panaeolus subbalteatus, Psilocybe argentipes, Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe fasciata, Psilocybe lonchophorus, Psilocybe subaeruginascens, Psilocybe subcaerulipes, Psilocybe subcubensis, Psilocybe tampanensis, and Psilocybe venenata. PMID: 19344063

 Effects

You need to go to a site like EROWID for more details, however, here are some details derived from toxicologists and EROWID itself.

graph from EROWID

Mushrooms, Psilocybin - Anthony S Manoguerra from the ScienceDirect web site
Toxicokinetics
The onset of symptoms typically begins 20–60 min following ingestion of the mushroom, although it has been reported to be delayed up to 3 h. The typical hallucinogenic experience lasts B3 or 4h.
Mechanism of Toxicity
These mushrooms contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin and, in some cases, also the lesser active substance psilocin. Psilocybin is highly stable and is not destroyed by cooking or drying. Psilocin is rapidly destroyed by oxidation. Psilocybin can be extracted from the mushroom by boiling the  mushroom in water.

 Dose

the wrong kind of blue ....................

It doesn't matter whether what Leary says is true or not, because it is representative of the overall approach that people have taken with these mushrooms, as we have said you don't know the dose because you don't know how much of the chemicals there are in each plant.

Dr Timothy Leary – High Priest
There were two kinds – females and males.  The lady mushrooms were the familiar umbrella shape, but black, ominous, bitter looking.
The male's anatomy was so phallic there was no need to ask why they were called males.  Wondrous trances.  The words meant nothing.  We moved out to the pool.
The mushrooms were in two large bowls, male and female separate, on the table under the huge beach umbrella.  Gerhart was still lecturing, now about the dosage.
Six females and six males.
The effect should begin after an hour.  Then he stuffed a big black mouldy damp mushroom in his mouth and made a face and chewed and I watched his Adam's apple bounce as it went down.  Gerhart was voyager number one.............
Gerhart was telling us that the males had no effect and served only a ceremonial function.  Everyone was listening to his own stomach expecting to be poisoned.  Quite a picture, six of us sitting around on the sunlit terrace in our bathing suits waiting, waiting; asking each other, how many did you take?  Males or females?  Do you feel anything?

 In reality, because this is a plant, you never know how much of the various constituents are in the plant, it depends on the soil, the environment, the rain........ this is why Leary and his researchers moved onto pills, because the dose could be measured, but on the other hand, the pills only had psilocybin and not the rest of the mushroom constituents.

The intensity and duration of the effects of psilocybin are variable, depending on species or cultivar of mushrooms, dosage, individual physiology, and set and setting, as was shown in experiments led by Timothy Leary at Harvard University in the early 1960s.

 

How it works

Serotonin imbalance leading to vasoconstriction and hypoxia.

References and further reading

the wrong kind of mushrooom ...............
 
 

Websites

EROWID has a great deal of useful information on psilocybin, follow the LINK

Books

Rätsch, Christian (2005) [1998]. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications.

Paul Stamets  - Psilocybin mushrooms of the world

Related observations