Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita, is a poisonous and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita. Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the southern hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous and coniferous trees.
The quintessential toadstool, it is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually red mushroom, one of the most recognizable and widely encountered in popular culture. Several subspecies with differing cap color have been recognized, including the brown regalis (considered a separate species), the yellow-orange flavivolvata, guessowii, formosa, and the pinkish persicina. Genetic studies published in 2006 and 2008 show several sharply delineated clades that may represent separate species.
Although it is generally considered poisonous, there are no documented human deaths from its consumption, and it is eaten as a food in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America after parboiling. Amanita muscaria is noted for its hallucinogenic properties, with its main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. It was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the peoples of Siberia, and has a religious significance in these cultures. There has been much speculation on traditional use of this mushroom as an intoxicant in places other than Siberia, but such traditions are far less well documented. The American banker and amateur ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson proposed that the fly agaric was the soma of the ancient Rig Veda texts of India; since its introduction in 1968 this theory has gained both followers and detractors in anthropological literature.
Amanita muscaria is the type species of the genus. By extension, it is also the type species of Amanita subgenus Amanita, as well as section Amanita within this subgenus. Amanita subgenus Amanita includes all Amanita with inamyloid spores. Amanita section Amanita includes the species which have very patchy universal veil remnants, including a volva that is reduced to a series of concentric rings and the veil remnants on the cap to a series of patches or warts. Most species in this group also have a bulbous base. Amanita section Amanita consists of A. muscaria and its close relatives, including A. pantherina (the panther cap), A. gemmata, A. farinosa, and A. xanthocephala. Modern fungal taxonomists have classified Amanita muscaria and its allies this way based on gross morphology and spore inamyloidy. Two recent molecular phylogenetic studies have confirmed this classification as natural.
Amanita muscaria varies considerably in its morphology, and many authorities recognize several subspecies or varieties within the species. In The Agaricales in Modern Taxonomy, German mycologist Rolf Singer listed three subspecies, though without description: A. muscaria ssp. muscaria, A. muscaria ssp. americana, and A. muscaria ssp. flavivolvata.
Contemporary authorities recognize up to seven varieties:
- var. muscaria, the typical red-and-white spotted variety. Some authorities, such as Rodham Tulloss, only use this name for Eurasian and western Alaskan populations.
- var. flavivolvata is red, with yellow to yellowish-white warts. It is found from southern Alaska down through the Rocky Mountains, through Central America, all the way to Andean Colombia. Rodham Tulloss uses this name to describe all "typical" A. muscaria from indigenous New World populations.
- var. alba, an uncommon fungus, has a white to a silvery white cap that has white warts but is similar to the usual form of mushroom.
- var. formosa, has a yellow to orange-yellow cap with yellowish warts and stem (which may be tan). Some authorities (cf. Jenkins) use the name for all A. muscaria which fit this description worldwide, others (cf. Tulloss) restrict its use to Eurasian populations.
- var. guessowii has a yellow to orange cap, with the centre more orange or perhaps even reddish orange. It is found most commonly in northeastern North America, from Newfoundland and Quebec south all the way to the state of Tennessee. Some authorities (cf. Jenkins) treat these populations as A. muscaria var. formosa, while others (cf. Tulloss) recognize them as a distinct variety.
- var. persicina is pinkish to orangish, sometimes called "melon"-coloured, with poorly formed, or at times absent remnants of universal veil on the stem and vassal bulb; it is known from the southeastern coastal areas of the United States, and was described in 1977. Recent DNA sequencing suggests this may be a separate species which may require naming.
- var. regalis, from Scandinavia and Alaska. is liver-brown and has yellow warts. It appears to be distinctive, and some authorities (cf. Tulloss) treat it as a separate species, while others (cf. Jenkins) treat it as a variety of the A. muscaria.
A 2006 molecular phylogenetic study of different regional populations of A. muscaria by mycologist József Geml and colleagues found three distinct clades within this species representing, roughly, Eurasian, Eurasian "subalpine", and North American populations. Specimens belonging to all three clades have been found in Alaska; this has led to the hypothesis that this was the centre of diversification for this species. The study also looked at four named varieties of the species: var. alba, var. flavivolvata, var. formosa (including var. guessowii), and var. regalis from both areas. All four varieties were found within both the Eurasian and North American clades, evidence that these morphological forms are polymorphisms rather than distinct subspecies or varieties. Further molecular study by Geml and colleagues published in 2008 show that these three genetic groups, plus a fourth associated with oak–hickory–pine forest in the southeastern United States and two more on Santa Cruz Island in California, are delineated from each other enough genetically to be considered separate species; thus A. muscaria as it stands currently is evidently a species complex. The complex also includes at least three other closely related taxa that are currently regarded as species: A. breckonii is a buff-capped mushroom associated with conifers from the Pacific Northwest, and the brown-capped A. gioiosa and A. heterochroma from the Mediterranean Basin and from Sardinia respectively. Both of these last two are found with Eucalyptus and Cistus trees, and it is unclear whether they are native or introduced from Australia.
A large conspicuous mushroom, Amanita muscaria is generally common and numerous where it grows, and is often found in groups with basidiocarps in all stages of development. Fly agaric fruiting bodies emerge from the soil looking like white eggs. After emerging from the ground, the cap is covered with numerous small white to yellow pyramid-shaped warts. These are remnants of the universal veil, a membrane that encloses the entire mushroom when it is still very young. Dissecting the mushroom at this stage will reveal a characteristic yellowish layer of skin under the veil; this is helpful in identification. As the fungus grows, the red colour appears through the broken veil and the warts become less prominent; they do not change in size, but are reduced relative to the expanding skin area. The cap changes from globose to hemispherical, and finally to plate-like and flat in mature specimens. Fully grown, the bright red cap is usually around 8–20 cm (3–8 in) in diameter, although larger specimens have been found. The red colour may fade after rain and in older mushrooms.
The free gills are white, as is the spore print. The oval spores measure 9–13 by 6.5–9 μm; they do not turn blue with the application of iodine. The stipe is white, 5–20 cm high (2–8 in) by 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in) wide, and has the slightly brittle, fibrous texture typical of many large mushrooms. At the base is a bulb that bears universal veil remnants in the form of two to four distinct rings or ruffs. Between the basal universal veil remnants and gills are remnants of the partial veil (which covers the gills during development) in the form of a white ring. It can be quite wide and flaccid with age. There is generally no associated smell other than a mild earthiness.
Although very distinctive in appearance, the fly agaric has been mistaken for other yellow to red mushroom species in the Americas, such as Armillaria cf. mellea and the edible Amanita basii—a Mexican species similar to A. caesarea of Europe. Poison control centres in the U.S. and Canada have become aware that amarill (Spanish for 'yellow') is a common name for the A. caesarea-like species in Mexico. Amanita caesarea can be distinguished by its entirely orange to red cap which lacks the numerous white warty spots of the fly agaric. Furthermore the stem, gills and ring of A. caesarea are bright yellow, not white. The volva is a distinct white bag, not broken into scales. In Australia, the introduced fly agaric may be confused with the native vermilion grisette (Amanita xanthocephala), which grows in association with eucalypts. The latter species generally lacks the white warts of A. muscaria and bears no ring.
Amanita muscaria poisoning has occurred in young children and in people who ingested the mushrooms in order to have a hallucinogenic experience. Occasionally it has been ingested in error, because immature button forms resemble puffballs. The white spots sometimes wash away during heavy rain and the mushrooms then may appear to be the edible A. caesarea.
Amanita muscaria contains several biologically active agents, at least one of which, muscimol, is known to be psychoactive. Ibotenic acid, a neurotoxin, serves as a prodrug to muscimol, with approximately 10-20% converting to muscimol after ingestion. A toxic dose in adults is approximately 6 mg muscimol or 30 to 60 mg ibotenic acid; this is typically about the amount found in one cap of Amanita muscaria. The amount and ratio of chemical compounds per mushroom varies widely from region to region and season to season, which can further confuse the issue. Spring and summer mushrooms have been reported to contain up to 10 times more ibotenic acid and muscimol than autumn fruitings.
A fatal dose has been calculated as 15 caps.Deaths from this fungus A. muscaria have been reported in historical journal articles and newspaper reports but with modern medical treatment, fatal poisoning from ingesting this mushroom is extremely rare. Many older books list Amanita muscaria as "deadly", but this is an error that implies the mushroom is more toxic than it is. The North American Mycological Association has stated there were no reliably documented fatalities from eating this mushroom during the 20th century. The vast majority (90% or more) of mushroom poisoning deaths are from eating the greenish to yellowish "death cap", (A. phalloides) or perhaps even one of the several white Amanita species which are known as destroying angels.
The active constituents of this species are water soluble, and boiling and then discarding the cooking water at least partly detoxifies A. muscaria. Drying may increase potency, as the process facilitates the conversion of ibotenic acid to the more potent muscimol. According to some sources, once detoxified, the mushroom becomes edible.
Muscarine, discovered in 1869,was long thought to be the active hallucinogenic agent in A. muscaria. Muscarine binds with muscarinic acetylcholine receptors leading to the excitation of neurons bearing these receptors. The levels of muscarine in Amanita muscaria are minute when compared with other poisonous fungi such as Inocybe erubescens, the small white Clitocybe species C. dealbata and C. rivulosa. The level of muscarine in A. muscaria is too low to play a role in the symptoms of poisoning.
The major toxins involved in A. muscaria poisoning are muscimol (3-hydroxy-5-aminomethyl-1-isoxazole, an unsaturated cyclic hydroxamic acid) and the related amino acid ibotenic acid. Muscimol is the product of the decarboxylation (usually by drying) of ibotenic acid. Muscimol and ibotenic acid were discovered in the mid-20th century. Researchers in England, Japan, and Switzerland showed that the effects produced were due mainly to ibotenic acid and muscimol, not muscarine.These toxins are not distributed uniformly in the mushroom. Most are detected in the cap of the fruit, rather than in the base, with the smallest amount in the stalk (Lampe, 1978; Tsunoda et al., 1993). Quite rapidly, between 20 and 90 minutes after ingestion, a substantial fraction of ibotenic acid is excreted unmetabolised in the urine of the consumer. Almost no muscimol is excreted when pure ibotenic acid is eaten, but muscimol is detectable in the urine after eating A. muscaria, which contains both ibotenic acid and muscimol.
Ibotenic acid and muscimol are structurally related to each other and to two major neurotransmitters of the central nervous system: glutamic acid and GABA respectively. Ibotenic acid and muscimol act like these neurotransmitters, muscimol being a potent GABAA agonist, while ibotenic acid is an agonist of NMDA glutamate receptors and certain metabotropic glutamate receptors which are involved in the control of neuronal activity. It is these interactions which are thought to cause the psychoactive effects found in intoxication. Muscimol is the agent responsible for the majority of the psychoactivity.
Muscazone is another compound that has more recently been isolated from European specimens of the fly agaric. It is a product of the breakdown of ibotenic acid by ultra-violet radiation. Muscazone is of minor pharmacological activity compared with the other agents. Amanita muscaria and related species are known as effective bioaccumulators of vanadium; some species concentrate vanadium to levels of up to 400 times those typically found in plants. Vanadium is present in fruit-bodies as an organometallic compound called amavadine. The biological importance of the accumulation process is unknown.
Fly agarics are known for the unpredictability of their effects. Depending on habitat and the amount ingested per body weight, effects can range from nausea and twitching to drowsiness, cholinergic crisis-like effects (low blood pressure, sweating and salivation), auditory and visual distortions, mood changes, euphoria, relaxation, ataxia, and loss of equilibrium.
In cases of serious poisoning the mushroom causes delirium, somewhat similar in effect to anticholinergic poisoning (such as that caused by Datura stramonium), characterized by bouts of marked agitation with confusion, hallucinations, and irritability followed by periods of central nervous system depression. Seizures and coma may also occur in severe poisonings. Symptoms typically appear after around 30 to 90 minutes and peak within three hours, but certain effects can last for several days. In the majority of cases recovery is complete within 12 to 24 hours. The effect is highly variable between individuals, with similar doses potentially causing quite different reactions. Some people suffering intoxication have exhibited headaches up to ten hours afterwards. Retrograde amnesia and somnolence can result following recovery. to fluid and electrolyte imbalances; intravenous rehydration or electrolyte replacement may be required. Serious cases may develop loss of consciousness or coma, and may need intubation and artificial ventilation Hemodialysis can remove the toxins, although this intervention is generally considered unnecessary. With modern medical treatment the prognosis is typically good following supportive treatment.
Unlike psilocybin mushrooms, Amanita muscaria has rarely been consumed because of its toxicity and unpredictable psychological effects. Following the outlawing of psilocybin mushrooms in the United Kingdom, an increased quantity of legal A. muscaria mushrooms began to be sold for recreational and entheogenic use.
Professor Marija Gimbutas, a renowned Lithuanian historian, reported to R. Gordon Wasson on the use of this mushroom in Lithuania. In remote areas of Lithuania Amanita muscaria has been consumed at wedding feasts, in which mushrooms were mixed with vodka. The professor also reported that the Lithuanians used to export A. muscaria to the Lapps in the Far North for use in shamanic rituals. The Lithuanian festivities are the only report that Wasson received of ingestion of fly agaric for recreational use in Eastern Europe.
Amanita muscaria was widely used as an entheogen by many of the indigenous peoples of Siberia. Its use was known among almost all of the Uralic-speaking peoples of western Siberia and the Paleosiberian-speaking peoples of the Russian Far East. There are only isolated reports of A. muscaria use among the Tungusic and Turkic peoples of central Siberia and it is believed that entheogenic use of A. muscaria was largely not practiced by these peoples. In western Siberia, the use of A. muscaria was restricted to shamans, who used it as an alternative method of achieving a trance state. (Normally, Siberian shamans achieve trance by prolonged drumming and dancing.) In eastern Siberia, A. muscaria was used by both shamans and laypeople alike, and was used recreationally as well as religiously. In eastern Siberia, the shaman would take the mushrooms, and others would drink his urine. This urine, still containing psychoactive elements, may be more potent than the A. muscaria mushrooms with fewer negative effects such as sweating and twitching, suggesting that the initial user may act as a screening filter for other components in the mushroom.
The Koryak of eastern Siberia have a story about the fly agaric (wapaq) which enabled Big Raven to carry a whale to its home. In the story, the deity Vahiyinin ("Existence") spat onto earth, and his spittle became the wapaq, and his saliva becomes the warts. After experiencing the power of the wapaq, Raven was so exhilarated that he told it to grow forever on earth so his children, the people, could learn from it. Among the Koryaks, one report said that the poor would consume the urine of the wealthy, who could afford to buy the mushrooms.
Beyond Siberia, there are only isolated and unconfirmed reports of the entheogenic use of A. muscaria. The Finnish historian T. I. Itkonen mentions that it was once used among the Sami people: sorcerers in Inari would consume fly agarics with seven spots. In 1979, Said Gholam Mochtar and Hartmut Geerken published an article in which they claim to have discovered a tradition of medicinal and recreational use of this mushroom among a Parachi-speaking group in Afghanistan. There are also unconfirmed reports of religious use of A. muscaria among two Subarctic Native American tribes. Ojibwa ethnobotanist Keewaydinoquay Peschel reported its use among her people, where it was known as the miskwedo. This information was enthusiastically received by Wasson, although evidence from other sources was lacking. There is also one account of a Euro-American who claims to have been initiated into traditional Tlicho use of Amanita muscaria.
In 1968, R. Gordon Wasson proposed that A. muscaria was the Soma talked about in the Rig Veda of India, a claim which received widespread publicity and popular support at the time. He noted that descriptions of Soma omitted any description of roots, stems or seeds, which suggested a mushroom, and used the adjective hári "dazzling" or "flaming" which the author interprets as meaning red. One line described men urinating Soma; this recalled the practice of recycling urine in Siberia. Soma is mentioned as coming "from the mountains", which Wasson interpreted as the mushroom having being brought in with the Aryan invaders from the north. Indian scholars Santosh Kumar Dash and Sachinanda Padhy pointed out that both eating of mushrooms and drinking of urine were proscribed, using as a source the Manusmṛti.In 1971, Vedic scholar John Brough from Cambridge University rejected Wasson's theory and noted that the language was too vague to determine a description of Soma. In his 1976 survey, Hallucinogens and Culture, anthropologist Peter T. Furst evaluated the evidence for and against the identification of the fly agaric mushroom as the Vedic Soma, concluding cautiously in its favour.
The notion that Vikings used A. muscaria to produce their berserker rages was first suggested by the Swedish professor Samuel Ödmann in 1784. Ödmann based his theories on reports about the use of fly agaric among Siberian shamans. The notion has become widespread since the 19th century, but no contemporary sources mention this use or anything similar in their description of berserkers. Today, this idea is generally considered to be an urban legend, or at best speculation that cannot be proven. Muscimol is generally a mild relaxant, but it can create a range of different reactions within a group of people. It is possible that it could make a person angry, or cause them to be "very jolly or sad, jump about, dance, sing or give way to great fright".
Biblical scholar John Marco Allegro proposed that early Christian theology was derived from a sex and psychedelic mushroom cult in his 1970 book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, but his theory has found little support by scholars outside the field of ethnomycology. The book was roundly discredited by academics and theologians, including ar, Emeritus Professor of Semitic Philology at Oxford University, and Henry Chadwick, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Christian author John C. King wrote a detailed rebuttal of Allegro's theory in the 1970 book A Christian View of the Mushroom Myth; he notes that neither fly agarics nor their host trees are found in the Middle East, even though cedars and pines are found there, and highlights the tenuous nature of the links between biblical and Sumerian names coined by Allegro. He concludes that if the theory was true, the use of the mushroom must have been "the best kept secret in the world" as it was so well concealed for two thousand years.
In Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy (formerly called Strange Fruit), Clark Heinrich suggests A. muscaria usage by Adam and Eve, Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Jesus and his disciples, and John of Patmos. In the book Apples of Apollo, the mushroom is identified in a wide range of mythological tales such as those involving Perseus, Prometheus, Heracles, Jason and the Argonauts, Jesus and the Holy Grail.
An account of the journeys of Philip von Strahlenberg to Siberia and his descriptions of the use of the mukhomor there was published in English in 1736. The drinking of urine of those who had consumed the mushroom was commented on by Anglo-Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith in his widely read 1762 novel, Citizen of the World. The mushroom had been identified as the fly agaric by this time. Other authors recorded the distortions of the size of perceived objects while intoxicated by the fungus, including naturalist Mordecai Cubitt Cooke in his books The Seven Sisters of Sleep and A Plain and Easy Account of British Fungi. This observation is thought to have formed the basis of the effects of eating the mushroom in the 1865 popular story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A hallucinogenic "scarlet toadstool" from Lappland is featured as a plot element in Charles Kingsley's 1866 novel Hereward the Wake based on the medieval figure of the same name. Fly agaric shamanism is explored in the 2003 novel Thursbitch by Alan Garner.
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Psilocybin mushrooms are fungi that contain psychoactive indole alkaloids. There are multiple colloquial terms for psilocybin mushrooms, the most common being shrooms and magic mushrooms. Biological genera containing psilocybin mushrooms include Agrocybe, Conocybe, Copelandia, Galerina, Gerronema, Gymnopilus, Hypholoma, Inocybe, Mycena, Panaeolus, Pluteus, and Psilocybe. There are approximately 190 species of psilocybin mushrooms and most of them fall in the genus Psilocybe.
Psilocybin mushrooms have likely been used since prehistoric times and may have been depicted in rock art. Many cultures have used these mushrooms in religious rites. In modern Western society they are used recreationally for their psychedelic effects. Recent studies done at Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine conclude that when used properly, psilocybin acts as an anti-depressant as suggested by fMRI brain scans.
There is archaeological evidence for the use of psilocybin-containing mushrooms in ancient times. Several mesolithic rock paintings from Tassili n'Ajjer (a prehistoric North African site identified with the Capsian culture) have been identified by author Giorgio Samorini as possibly depicting the shamanic use of mushrooms, possibly Psilocybe.
Hallucinogenic species of Psilocybe have a history of use among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for religious communion, divination, and healing, from pre-Columbian times up to the present day. Mushroom-shaped statuettes found at archaeological sites seem to indicate that ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is quite ancient. Mushroom stones and motifs have been found in Mayan temple ruins in Guatemala. A statuette dating from ca. 200 AD and depicting a mushroom strongly resembling Psilocybe mexicana was found in a west Mexican shaft and chamber tomb in the state of Colima. Hallucinogenic Psilocybe were known to the Aztecs as teonanácatl (literally "divine mushroom" - agglutinative form of teó (god, sacred) and nanácatl (mushroom) in Náhuatl) and were reportedly served at the coronation of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in 1502. Aztecs and Mazatecs referred to psilocybin mushrooms as genius mushrooms, divinatory mushrooms, and wondrous mushrooms, when translated into English. Bernardino de Sahagún reported ritualistic use of teonanácatl by the Aztecs, when he traveled to Central America after the expedition of Hernán Cortés.
After the Spanish conquest, Catholic missionaries campaigned against the "pagan idolatry," and as a result the use of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms like other pre-Christian traditions were quickly suppressed. The Spanish believed the mushroom allowed the Aztecs and others to communicate with "devils". In converting people to Catholicism, the Spanish pushed for a switch from teonanácatl to the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist. Despite this history, in some remote areas, the use of teonanácatl has remained.
The first mention of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Western medicinal literature appeared in the London Medical and Physical Journal in 1799: a man had served Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms that he had picked for breakfast in London's Green Park to his family. The doctor who treated them later described how the youngest child "was attacked with fits of immoderate laughter, nor could the threats of his father or mother refrain him."
In 1955, Valentina and R. Gordon Wasson became the first Westerners to actively participate in an indigenous mushroom ceremony. The Wassons did much to publicize their discovery, even publishing an article on their experiences in Life in 1957. In 1956 Roger Heim identified the psychoactive mushroom that the Wassons had brought back from Mexico as Psilocybe, and in 1958, Albert Hofmann first identified psilocybin and psilocin as the active compounds in these mushrooms.
Inspired by the Wassons' Life article, Timothy Leary traveled to Mexico to experience psilocybin mushrooms firsthand. Upon returning to Harvard in 1960, he and Richard Alpert started the Harvard Psilocybin Project, promoting psychological and religious study of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs. After Leary and Alpert were dismissed by Harvard in 1963, they turned their attention toward promoting the psychedelic experience to the nascent hippie counterculture.
The popularization of entheogens by Wasson, Leary, authors Terence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson, and others has led to an explosion in the use of psilocybin mushrooms throughout the world. By the early 1970s, many psilocybin mushroom species were described from temperate North America, Europe, and Asia and were widely collected. Books describing methods of cultivating Psilocybe cubensis in large quantities were also published. The availability of psilocybin mushrooms from wild and cultivated sources has made it among the most widely used of the psychedelic drugs.
At present, psilocybin mushroom use has been reported among some groups spanning from central Mexico to Oaxaca, including groups of Nahua, Mixtecs, Mixe, Mazatecs, Zapotecs, and others. An important figure of mushroom usage in Mexico was María Sabina. Occurrence
Psilocybin is present in varying concentrations in over 200 species of Basidiomycota mushrooms. In a 2000 review on the worldwide distribution of psilocybin mushrooms, Gastón Guzmán and colleagues considered these to be distributed amongst the following genera: Psilocybe (116 species), Gymnopilus (14), Panaeolus (13), Copelandia (12), Hypholoma (6), Pluteus (6) Inocybe (6), Conocybe (4), Panaeolina (4), Gerronema (2), Agrocybe (1), Galerina (1) and Mycena (1). Guzmán increased his estimate of the number of psilocybin-containing Psilocybe to 144 species in a 2005 review.
The majority of these are found in Mexico (53 species), with the remainder distributed in the US and Canada (22), Europe (16), Asia (15), Africa (4), and Australia and associated islands (19). In general, psilocybin-containing species are dark-spored, gilled mushrooms that grow in meadows and woods of the subtropics and tropics, usually in soils rich in humus and plant debris. Psilocybin mushrooms occur on all continents, but the majority of species are found in subtropical humid forests. Psilocybe species commonly found in the tropics include P. cubensis and P. subcubensis. P. semilanceata—considered by Guzmán to be the world's most widely distributed psilocybin mushroom—is found in Europe, North America, Asia, South America, Australia and New Zealand, but is entirely absent from Mexico.
The effects of psilocybin mushrooms come from psilocybin and psilocin. They create short-term increases in tolerance of users, thus making it difficult to abuse them because the more often they are taken within a short period of time, the weaker the resultant effects are. Poisonous (sometimes lethal) wild picked mushrooms can be easily mistaken for psilocybin mushrooms. When psilocybin is ingested, it is broken down to produce psilocin, which is responsible for the psychedelic effects.
As with many psychedelic substances, the effects of psychedelic mushrooms are subjective and can vary considerably among individual users. The mind-altering effects of psilocybin-containing mushrooms typically last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours depending on dosage, preparation method, and personal metabolism. However, the effects can seem to last much longer to the user because of psilocybin's ability to alter time perception.
Some users suffer from hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, although this is uncommon. Perceptual disturbances causing discomfort are rarely reported after using psilocybin mushrooms, but they may be more likely if the drug is mixed with cannabis. There have been reports of such disturbances lasting months or years. Nevertheless, magic mushrooms were rated as causing some of the least damage in the UK compared to other recreational drugs by experts in a study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. Other researchers have said that psilocybin is "remarkably non-toxic to the body's organ systems", explaining that the risks are indirect: higher dosages are more likely to cause fear and may result in dangerous behavior.
One study found that the most desirable results may come from starting with very low doses first, and trying slightly higher doses over months. The researchers explain that the peak experiences occur at quantities that are only slightly lower than a sort of anxiety threshold. Although risks of experiencing fear and anxiety increased somewhat consistently along with dosage and overall quality of experience, at dosages exceeding the individual's threshold, there was suddenly greater increases in anxiety than before. In other words, after finding the optimum dose, there are diminishing returns for using more (since risks of anxiety now increase at a greater rate).
Noticeable changes to the audio, visual, and tactile senses may become apparent around thirty minutes to an hour after ingestion. These shifts in perception visually include enhancement and contrasting of colors, strange light phenomena (such as auras or "halos" around light sources), increased visual acuity, surfaces that seem to ripple, shimmer, or breathe; complex open and closed eye visuals of form constants or images, objects that warp, morph, or change solid colours; a sense of melting into the environment, and trails behind moving objects. Sounds seem to be heard with increased clarity; music, for example, can often take on a profound sense of cadence and depth. Some users experience synesthesia, wherein they perceive, for example, a visualization of color upon hearing a particular sound.
As with other psychedelics such as LSD, the experience, or "trip," is strongly dependent upon set and setting. A negative environment could likely induce a bad trip, whereas a comfortable and familiar environment would allow for a pleasant experience. Many users find it preferable to ingest the mushrooms with friends, people they are familiar with, or people who are also 'tripping'.
In 2006, the United States government funded a randomized and double-blinded study by Johns Hopkins University which studied the spiritual effects of psilocybin in particular. That is, they did not use mushrooms specifically (in fact, each individual mushroom piece can vary widely in psilocybin and psilocin content). The study involved 36 college-educated adults (average age of 46) who had never tried psilocybin nor had a history of drug use, and who had religious or spiritual interests. The participants were closely observed for eight-hour intervals in a laboratory while under the influence of psilocybin.
One-third of the participants reported that the experience was the single most spiritually significant moment of their lives and more than two-thirds reported it was among the top five most spiritually significant experiences. Two months after the study, 79% of the participants reported increased well-being or satisfaction; friends, relatives, and associates confirmed this. They also reported anxiety and depression symptoms to be decreased or completely gone. Fourteen months after the study 64% of participants said they still experienced an increase in well-being or life satisfaction.
Despite highly controlled conditions to minimize adverse effects, 22% of subjects (8 of 36) had notable experiences of fear, some with paranoia. The authors, however, reported that all these instances were "readily managed with reassurance."
Some people have been asking for medical investigation of the use of synthetic and mushroom-derived psilocybin for the development of improved treatments of various mental conditions, including chronic cluster headaches, following numerous anecdotal reports of benefits. There are also studies which include reports of psilocybin mushrooms sending both obsessive-compulsive disorders ("OCD") and OCD-related clinical depression (both being widespread and debilitating mental health conditions) into complete remission immediately and for up to months at a time, compared to current medications which often have both limited efficacy and frequent undesirable side-effects.
Dosage of mushrooms containing psilocybin depends on the potency of the mushroom (the total psilocybin and psilocin content of the mushrooms), which varies significantly both between species and within the same species, but is typically around 0.5–2% of the dried weight of the mushroom. A typical dose of the rather common species, Psilocybe cubensis, is approximately 2 to 3.5 grams, while about 4 to 7.5 grams dried mushroom material is considered a strong dose. Above 8 dried grams is often considered a heavy dose.
The concentration of active psilocybin mushroom compounds varies not only from species to species, but also from mushroom to mushroom inside a given species, subspecies or variety. The same holds true even for different parts of the same mushroom. In the species Psilocybe samuiensis Guzmán, Bandala and Allen, the dried cap of the mushroom contains the most psilocybin at about 0.23%–0.90%.The mycelia contain about 0.24%–0.32%.
Psilocybin and psilocin are listed as Schedule I drugs under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Schedule I drugs are deemed to have a high potential for abuse and are not recognized for medical use. However, psilocybin mushrooms are not covered by UN drug treaties.
Psilocybin mushrooms are regulated or prohibited in many countries, often carrying severe legal penalties (for example, the U.S. Psychotropic Substances Act, the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and Drugs Act 2005, and the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act).
Magic mushrooms in their fresh form still remain legal in some countries like Austria. On November 29, 2008, The Netherlands announced it would ban the cultivation and use of psilocybin-containing fungi beginning December 1, 2008.The UK ban on fresh mushrooms (dried ones were illegal as they were considered a psilocybin-containing preparation) introduced in 2005 came under much criticism, but was rushed through at the end of the 2001-2005 Parliament; until then magic mushrooms had been sold in the UK.
New Mexico appeals court ruled on June 14, 2005, that growing psilocybin mushrooms for personal consumption could not be considered "manufacturing a controlled substance" under state law. However it still remains illegal under federal law