Psilocybe semilanceata

Psilocybin(4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) comes from certain types of mushrooms found in throughout he world. The mushrooms are typically consumed raw or dried. Sometimes they are made into a tea or added to food such as omelettes. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]

Psilocybin is itself biologically inactive but is quickly converted by the body to psilocin, which has mind-altering effects similar in some respects to those of LSD, mescaline, and DMT. In the past, psilocybin was ingested during religious ceremonies by indigenous cultures from Mexico and Central America. Psilocybin can either be dried or fresh and eaten raw, mixed with food, or brewed into a tea.

Psilocybin effects include: 1) Feelings of relaxation (similar to effects of low doses of marijuana); 2) euphoria; 3) Introspective/spiritual experiences; 4) visual and mental hallucinations; 5) changes in perception; 6) a distorted sense of time, and perceived spiritual experiences. Among the possible adverse reactions are nausea, panic attacks, nervousness and paranoia. Misidentification of poisonous mushrooms resembling psilocybin could lead to unintentional, potentially fatal poisoning. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]

In 2020, Oregon voters passed the Oregon Ballot Measure 109, making it the first state to both decriminalize psilocybin and also legalize it for therapeutic use. The movement to decriminalize psilocybin in the United States began when Denver, Colorado decriminalized it in May 2019. The cities of Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, decriminalized it in June 2019 and January 2020, respectively, followed by Washington, D.C. in November 2020, and some small cities Massachusetts in 2021. Seattle became the largest U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin when it did so in October 2021. [Source: Wikipedia]

Psilocybin Mushrooms

Psilocybin is found in more than 200 species of fungi. The most potent are members of the genus Psilocybe, such as P. azurescens, P. cubensis, P. semilanceata, and P. cyanescens, but psilocybin has also been isolated from about a dozen other genera. Psilocybeis a genus of gilled mushrooms, growing worldwide, in the family Hymenogastraceae. Most or nearly all species contain the psychedelic compounds Psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin. [Source: Wikipedia]

Psilocybe azurescens is a species of psychedelic mushroom whose main active compounds are psilocybin and psilocin. It is among the most potent of the tryptamine-bearing mushrooms, containing up to 1.8 percent psilocybin, 0.5 percent psilocin, and 0.4 percent baeocystin by dry weight, averaging to about 1.1 percent psilocybin and 0.15 percent psilocin. It occurs naturally along a small area of the West Coast of the United States, including in parts of Oregon and California. Its primary locations are clustered around the Columbia River Delta. It is also quite prevalent north of the Columbia River in Washington, from Long Beach north to Westport. Some feral specimens have also been reported in Stuttgart, Germany.

Psilocybe azurescens

Psilocybe cubensis contains psilocybin and psilocin. Commonly called shrooms, magic mushrooms, golden halos, cubes, or gold caps, it is the most well known psilocybin mushroom due to its wide distribution and ease of cultivation. A pan-tropical species, psilocybe cubensis is generally found on cow dung, sugar cane mulch or rich pasture soil from February to December in the northern hemisphere and is found in the Gulf Coast states and southeastern United States, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guadalupe, Martinique, Trinidad, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, Australia (including Tasmania), New Zealand, Fiji, possibly Nepal and Hawaii. The concentrations of psilocin and psilocybin, as determined by high-performance liquid chromatography, are in the range of 0.14–0.42 percent and 0.37–1.30 percent (dry weight) in the whole mushroom, 0.17–0.78 percent and 0.44–1.35 percent in the cap, and 0.09 and 0.30 percent/0.05–1.27 percent in the stem, respectively.

Psilocybe semilanceata, commonly known as the liberty cap, contains psilocybin and baeocystin. It is one of the most widely distributed psilocybin mushrooms in nature, and one of the most potent. The mushroom grows in grassland habitats, especially wetter areas but unlike P. cubensis, the fungus does not grow directly on dung; rather, it is a saprobic species that feeds off decaying grass roots. It is widely distributed in the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in Europe, and has been reported occasionally in temperate areas of the Southern Hemisphere as well. The earliest reliable history of P. semilanceata intoxication dates back to 1799 in London, and in the 1960s the mushroom was the first European species confirmed to contain psilocybin. In Europe, P. semilanceata has been reported in Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Channel Islands, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, the Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Ukraine as well as Pakistan. The mushroom also has a widespread distribution in North America.

What a Psilocybin Trip Is Like

Lia Tabackman and Mia Hazlejul wrote in Business Insider: If you eat raw psilocybin mushrooms, you'll likely start to feel some psychedelic effects around 30 minutes after consuming them. However, you can accelerate the process by crushing up the mushrooms to make a tea or soaking them in lemon juice - a technique called lemon tekking. In either of these cases, the psychedelic effects will typically set in 10 to 15 minutes after consumption, says Parag Bhatt, PhD, Chief Science Advisor at psychedelic wellness company Silo Wellness. However, how intense and how long your high lasts will depend on multiple factors including the dose, potency of the shrooms themselves, and how recently you've eaten. [Source: Lia Tabackman and Mia Hazlejul, Business Insider July 3, 2021]

After eating psychedelic mushrooms, the peak effects tend to set in an hour to an hour and a half after consumption and disappear within six hours. Keep in mind that you may lose your sense of time while on shrooms, so it may be difficult to gauge how long it's been since you dosed. How will you know it's kicking in? Bhatt says the first feelings are usually those of euphoria and an "opening up" of the world where colors become more vivid and solid objects appear to "breathe."

The psychedelic effects of shrooms typically last between four to six hours, but Bhatt and Strause say the intensity of your trip may vary based on: 1) The potency of the mushrooms: "Potency of mushrooms is a key factor as to how many psychedelic compounds are present within the mushroom will dictate how many active molecules are circulating within the body," Bhatt says. 2) How much you consume: The amount of mushrooms consumed will affect the length and intensity of your trip, Bhatt says. Ingesting increased amounts of mushrooms will increase the amount of circulating psychedelic compounds, leading to a stronger psychedelic experience.

How recently you've eaten food: Eating mushrooms on an empty stomach will make your trip more intense and reduce the risk of nausea, Bhatt says. 3) Past psychedelic experience: Your brain develops a tolerance to mushrooms if you take them multiple days in a row, so you'll have reduced sensitivity to their effects if you're consistently consuming them. 4) Expectations: Anecdotal evidence suggests having positive expectations before taking psychedelics is linked to more positive outcomes during and after tripping. Many individuals also describe an "after-glow" or a sustained boost in mood lasting for days.

Psilocybe cubensis ready for sales

People can experience a wide range of emotions while on psychedelics, so your trip might feel different than somebody else's even if you've taken the same dose. During a bad trip, you may experience paranoia and fear. "Individuals that consume psychedelic-containing mushrooms often regale about experiencing intense euphoria, increased sense of empathy, and a greater connection to nature," says Bhatt.

Although feelings of euphoria and peace are often reported, it's also possible to have a "bad trip." However, Bhatt and others say that feeling uncomfortable while on shrooms isn't always a bad thing. "It should be noted that negative trips are not necessarily undesirable. Psychedelics expand the mind and force conversations we would otherwise not have with ourselves, which usually drums up some negative emotions and anxiety," Bhatt says.

If you're feeling uncomfortable while on shrooms, Strause and Bhatt recommend listening to calm music, getting fresh air, taking deep breaths, laying down with your eyes closed, or meditating. Drinking a bit of citrus juice can also help if you experience an upset stomach after consuming shrooms.

Both Bhatt and Strause recommend inexperienced users take mushrooms with a "trip sitter," or someone not under the influence of drugs, who can help calm you and navigate the challenges of your trip It is also important to remember that both antidepressants and psychedelics stimulate serotonin receptors. Thus, combining the two may possibly result in a deadly condition called Serotonin syndrome. Shrooms are typically eliminated from the body within 24 to 48 hours, says Linda Strause, PhD, Clinical Development Consultant for psychedelic medicine company Ei.Ventures. However, shroom metabolites are a byproduct of the drug that can stick around in your system for months.

How Magic Mushroom Hallucinations Are Created

In 2014, LiveScience reported: “Users of psilocybin often report a synesthesia-like melding of the senses. Now, scientists studying the drug may have found an explanation for these bizarre sensations: Psilocybin changes the brain’s wiring on a macroscopic scale,. Researchers placed experienced magic mushroom users into an MRI machine after giving them either a placebo or a dose of psilocybin. They discovered that in addition to disrupting normal communication channels, the drug also created a hyperconnected brain that contained links between regions that don’t typically communicate with each other. The new linkages might account for the blending of senses and may even explain why some users report profound shifts in perspective and worldview even after the drug has worn off [Source: LiveScience, October 30, 2014].

In 2012, Greg Miller wrote in Science: “Drugs like psilocybin play all sorts of tricks on the mind. They distort the perception of time, space, and self, and even untether the senses. Some researchers thought these strange effects might result from the drugs overexciting the brain. But the first study to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity in people who’ve taken psilocybin finds that the drug reduces neural firing in key communication hubs, essentially disconnecting some brain regions from each other.[Source: “Mapping the Psychedelic Brain” by Greg Miller, Science January 23, 2012]

Neuroscientists know little about how these compounds act on the brain to cause such intensely altered experiences. Hallucinogenic drugs are tightly regulated, and few previous studies have tried to gauge their effects on the human brain. One study, using positron emission tomography (PET), found that psilocybin increases brain metabolism, especially in the frontal cortex.

“In the new work, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers led by psychopharmacologists Robin Carhart-Harris and David Nutt of Imperial College London used a different method, fMRI, to scan the brains of 30 people who were under the influence of psilocybin. The tight confines and loud noises of the scanner could be scary for someone on psilocybin, Nutt says. To minimize the chances of anyone having a bad trip, the researchers recruited people who’d taken hallucinogens previously, and they delivered the drug intravenously so that it would have a faster — and shorter — effect than, say, eating magic mushrooms.

ancient Mesoamerican mushroom statues

“The researchers performed two different types of MRI scans, one that measured blood flow throughout the brain and one that determined blood oxygenation, which neuroscientists generally assume is an indicator of neural activity. Contrary to the previous study, the scans showed that psilocybin reduces blood flow and neural activity in several brain regions, including the posterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. The researchers quizzed the volunteers after the psilocybin had worn off and found that people in which these regions were most inhibited tended to report the most intense hallucinatory experiences. Nutt says he’s not sure why the findings differ from those of the PET study, but he speculates that it could be due to the different time courses of the injectable drug his team used and the oral tablets used in the other research.

“The posterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortices are hubs in the so-called default mode network, a web of interconnected brain regions that becomes active when people allow their minds to wander. Some researchers have proposed that the default mode network is crucial for introspective thought and even for generating the sense of consciousness, and Nutt thinks the finding that psilocybin inhibits this network could help explain the surreal experiences the drug causes. “What I think is going on is that this network in the brain that pulls together a sense of self becomes less active,” he says, “and you get this fragmented or dissipated sense of being.”

““It’s a very interesting study that raises lots of new questions,” says Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He says the possibility that the drugs work by interfering with the default mode network is an appealing hypothesis that deserves further investigation.

History of Psilocybin Mushrooms

There is evidence to suggest that psychedelic mushrooms have been used by humans in religious ceremonies for thousands of years. 6,000-year-old pictographs discovered near the Spanish town of Villar del Humo illustrate several mushrooms that have been tentatively identified as Psilocybe hispanica, a hallucinogenic species native to the area. [Source: Wikipedia

The three sacred drugs of the Aztecs were: 1) peyote, made from the same cactus that produces the halluciongen mescaline; 2) ololiuqui, an intoxicant brewed from a vine; and 3) magic hallucionogenic mushrooms that the Aztecs called "flesh of the gods" and Spaniards attributed to the devil. [Source: "Nature's Gift of Medicine", Lonnelle Aikman, National Geographic, September 1974]

Archaeological artifacts from Mexico, as well as the so-called Mayan "mushroom stones" of Guatemala indicate ancient use of psychedelic mushrooms in Mesoamerica and are seen by some scholars as evidence for ritual and ceremonial usage of these mushrooms by the Mayans and Aztecs.The Dominican friar Diego Durán in “The History of the Indies of New Spain” (1581) described mushrooms were eaten in festivities to celebrate big events such as the accession to the throne of Aztec emperor Moctezuma II in 1502. The Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún wrote in his Florentine Codex (published 1545–1590) about witnessing mushroom usage and described how some merchants would celebrate upon returning from a successful business trip by consuming mushrooms to evoke revelatory visions.

Amanita muscaria (fly agaric)

Although dozens of species of psychedelic mushrooms are found in Europe, there is little documented usage of these species in Old World history. Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius (1526–1609) described the bolond gomba (crazy mushroom), used in rural Hungary to prepare love potions. English botanist John Parkinson included details about a "foolish mushroom" in his 1640 herbal Theatricum Botanicum. The first reliably documented report of intoxication with Psilocybe semilanceata—Europe's most common and widespread psychedelic mushroom—involved a British family in 1799, who prepared a meal with mushrooms they had picked in London's Green Park.

British mycologist and writer Mordecai Cubitt Cooke was one of the first to describe psilocybin’s effects in detail. Richard J. Miller wrote in The Atlantic: Although he was responsible for writing books with riveting titles such as Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mold, Cooke also wrote one of the earliest books on psychotropic drugs, The Seven Sisters of Sleep, in which he described some of the properties of tobacco, opium, hashish, betel, coca, belladonna, and the fly agaric [pyschedelic mushrrom]. Such books and observations were widely read and discussed in Victorian society. One story is that the book was read by the Reverend Charles Dodgson—better known to the world as Lewis Carroll—and so appeared as the mushroom which Alice could eat to alter her size at will in Alice in Wonderland. [Source: Richard J. Miller, The Atlantic, December 28, 2013]

Magic Mushrooms and Siberian Peoples

Amanita muscaria, best known as fly agaric, is a kind psilocybin mushroom long consumed by Siberian peoples. Also known as fly amanita, it is found throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere and is arguably the most widely depicted toadstool species ever. It has large white gills and a white-spotted red top that showed up in illustrations in “Alice in Wonderland” and was even featured in the Nintendo Mario Brother’s game Super Mushroom Power Up.

Amanita muscaria is a psychotropic, causing visions and altered states, but also toxic, and must be handled in a particular manner so as to get the psychedelic effects without the toxic ones. In Siberia there were shaman who dealt with the mushrooms for a safety and spiritual reason.

Amanita muscaria was widely among almost all of the Uralic-speaking peoples of western Siberia and the Paleosiberian-speaking peoples of the Russian Far East and by some of the Tungusic people but no so much by Turkic peoples of central Siberia, In Western Sibera, A. muscaria was traditionally only used by shamans who were unable to enter a tranced state using normal drumming and dancing. Some Siberian shaman regarded plants and mushrooms as spiritual teachers and eating them is a way is taking on the properties of the spirit itself.

In eastern Siberia, A. muscaria was used by both shamans and laypeople — recreationally as well as religiously. Richard J. Miller wrote in The Atlantic: Several 18th-and-19th-century reports described the use of Amanita muscaria by different Siberian tribes, and particularly by witch doctors or shamans who used it to achieve "an exalted state to be able to talk to the gods." The use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, presumably Amanita muscaria, by the inhabitants of Siberia appears to be a very ancient practice. This is suggested by the discovery of several Stone or Bronze Age rock carvings (petroglyphs) in 1967 in northern Siberia near the Arctic Ocean. These seem to represent mushrooms and women with mushrooms growing out of their heads. This is an area inhabited by the Chukchi people, who were one of the subjects of the 18th-and 19th-century reports on Siberian mushroom use, so it may be supposed that they had used mushrooms continuously over many years. Indeed, the use of Amanita muscaria for its hallucinogenic actions continues in Siberia to this day, in spite of attempts by the previous communist government to stamp it out by resorting to measures such as dropping shamans out of helicopters.

The precise psychological effects produced by Amanita muscaria are reported to vary a great deal depending on the individual and the social context. However, one interesting property noted in these early reports was a tendency to disturb the scale of visual perceptions so that a tiny crack in the ground might appear like a giant chasm.

Koryak People and Magic Mushrooms

Koryak shaman

The Koryaks people live on the west coast of the Kamchatka peninsula in the Russian Far East and are known for magic mushroom use. Anthropologist Waldemar Jochelson, who studied the Koryak in the 1890s described their homeland as "bogs, mountain torrents, rocky passes and thick forests" and said their villages contained people “intoxicated with fly agaric [the psychedelic mushroom]...infested with lice."

Koryak use dance to tell stories about myths and legends. During important Koryak festivals women perform sinuous dances inspired by whale hunts and reindeer migrations, beat deerskin drums while under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms and daub reindeer blood on their children's faces. One story is about the fly agaric (wapaq) enabling 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 wildest stories about the Koryak are about how the poor consumed the urine of wealthy one because they couldn’t afford to purchase the mushrooms and how local reindeer would often followed people high on mushroom and lick urine of the high people in the snow and became similarly intoxicated themselves. The Koryak said these high reindeer were easier to rope and hunt. In 1736, Philip Johan von Strahlenberg, a Swedish colonel was imprisoned for 12 years in the Russian Far East, published an account of the Koryak people. On the urine drinking habit he wrote: He "The poorer Sort, who cannot afford to lay in a Store of these Mushrooms, post themselves, on these Ocassions, round the Huts of the Rich, and watch the Opportunity of the Guests coming down to make Water; And then hold a Wooden Bowl to receive the Urine, which they drink off greedily, as having still some Virtue of the Mushroom in it, and by this way they also get Drunk." [Source: Richard J. Miller, The Atlantic, December 28, 2013

Richard J. Miller wrote in The Atlantic: Von Strahlenberg's observations on urine drinking and other behaviors were considered extremely sensational when they were published in Stockholm and soon thereafter in other parts of Europe. Indeed, they were used to satirical effect in the writings of the English playwright and novelist Oliver Goldsmith who imagined the consequences of introducing such habits into London society.

The use of Amanita muscaria by numerous Siberian tribes, as well as their habit of urine drinking to conserve the mushrooms' effects, was subsequently confirmed by other numerous travelers over the years. Interestingly, it was observed that the drinking of drug-containing urine could continue for up to five cycles passing from one individual to another before the urine lost its capacity for intoxication. This was apparently often done because of the relative scarcity of the mushroom, and so preserving its hallucinogenic properties in this way had important practical benefits.

In some places in eastern Siberia, people would drink the urine of shaman who had taken mushrooms. It has been suggested that this urine contained psychoactive elements more potent than those found in the A. muscaria mushrooms themselves and they induced fewer negative side effects such as sweating and twitching.

R. Gordon Wasson: Western Psilocybin Pioneer

Hua Hsu wrote in The New Yorker: “In 1957, a man from New York named R. Gordon Wasson published an article in Life “divine mushroom” consumed in remote corners of the world. In 1955, he finally found” a community that consumed them, “a small town in the mountains of southern Mexico. At the house of a local shaman, Wasson drank chocolate, then spent thirty minutes chewing “acrid” mushrooms. “I could not have been happier: this was the culmination of years of pursuit,” Wasson wrote. For the next few hours, he experienced visions — resplendent motifs and patterns, mythical beasts and grand vistas, streams of brilliant color, constantly morphing and oozing, whether his eyes were open or closed — and he felt connected to everything he saw. “It was as though the walls of our house had dissolved,” he wrote, and his spirit were soaring through the mountains. [Source: Hua Hsu, The New Yorker, May 18, 2020]

Koryak ceremony

“The fact that Wasson was an otherwise straitlaced, politically conservative bank executive at J. P. Morgan lent this adventure a serious and respectable air. He began to wonder if he had unlocked a mystery uniting all of humanity: “Was it not probable that, long ago, long before the beginnings of written history, our ancestors had worshipped a divine mushroom?” Wasson’s discovery turned, briefly, into a movement. Timothy Leary read about the Wassons and went to experience the mushroom himself, starting the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Spurred on by evangelists like Leary, young Americans turned to drugs (LSD, too, is derived from a fungus), along with alternative approaches to agriculture, diet, and sustainable living.

Wasson hypothesized that religion itself may have sprung up from magic mushrooms. He wrote; “A prodigious expansion in Man’s memory must have been the gift that differentiated mankind from his predecessors, and I surmise that this expansion in memory led to a simultaneous growth in the gift of language, these two powers generating in man that self-consciousness which is the third of the triune traits that alone make man unique. Those three gifts — memory, language and self-consciousness — so interlock that they seem inseparable, the aspects of a quality that permitted us to achieve all the wonders we now know...I am asking myself whether soma [psychedelic mushroom] could have possessed the power to spark what I have called these triune traits.” [Source: R. Gordon Wasson, from pg.80, Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. Yale University Press, New Haven]

Was Soma in The Vedas Magic Mushrooms

Richard J. Miller wrote in The Atlantic: To understand the significance of soma one must consider some of the oldest religious texts known to man. These are the ancient Vedas, Sanskrit texts that represent the oldest Hindu scriptures. The most ancient of these texts—the Rigveda, a collection of over a thousand hymns—was compiled in northern India around 1500 BC. A parallel but slightly later development in ancient Persia was the composition of the religious texts of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta. [Source: Richard J. Miller, The Atlantic, December 28, 2013]

People who understood the identity of the plant soma could use it to empower themselves and to communicate more effectively with the deities. In both the Rigveda and the Avesta there is frequent mention of soma (or haoma in the Avesta). In these episodes soma is described as a plant from which a drink or potion could be produced that was consumed by the gods, giving them fantastic powers which aided them in their supernatural feats. People who understood the identity of the plant soma could use it to empower themselves and to communicate more effectively with the deities.

Consider the following from the Rigveda:
We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the
Gods discovered.
Now what may foeman's malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man's deception?

Or: Heaven above does not equal one half of me.
Have I been drinking Soma?
In my glory I have passed beyond earth and sky.
Have I been drinking Soma?
I will pick up the earth and put it here or there.
Have I been drinking Soma?

But what actually was soma? There were suggestions that it was ephedra or possibly cannabis, but Gordon Wasson concluded that it was Amanita muscaria. Amanita muscaria or the "fly agaric" is a large mushroom that is instantly recognizable. This is due to its strikingly attractive appearance and its wide use in popular culture. It has often appeared in animated films (such as the Nutcracker scene in Fantasia, or in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), as well as being used in numerous types of kitschy household products and for illustrations in children's stories. There are numerous details provided in the Rigveda suggesting how soma was prepared and used, which Wasson interpreted as indicating that Amanita muscaria was the true source of the drug.

Harvard Psilocybin Project

The Harvard Psilocybin Project was a series of experiments in psychology conducted by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert with participation from Aldous Huxley, David McClelland (Leary's and Alpert's superior at Harvard University), Frank Barron, Ralph Metzner, and two graduate students who were working on a project with mescaline. Leary had traveled to Mexico in 1960, where he had been introduced to psilocybin-containing mushrooms and was anxious to do for psychological research with the drug. [Source: Wikipedia]

The experiments began in 1960 and were terminated in March 1962, when other professors in the Harvard Center for Research in Personality raised concerns about the legitimacy and safety of the experiments. Leary and Alpert's experiments were part of their personal discovery and advocacy of psychedelics, which included both serious academic studies such as the open Concord Prison Experiment, in which inmates were given psilocybin in an effort to reduce recidivism, to frequent personal use. The Marsh Chapel Experiment, conducted by a Harvard Divinity School graduate student under Leary's supervision, is perhaps famous study from the project. On Good Friday 1962, two groups of Boston area graduate divinity students received either psilocybin or niacin (a nonhallucinogenic "control" substance) on a double-blind basis prior to the service in Boston University's Marsh Chapel. Following the service all ten of the students who received psilocybin said they had a profound religious experience, while few in the control group said they did.

The project began In 1960 when Leary and Alpert ordered psilocybin from Swiss-based company Sandoz with the intent to test if different administration modes lead to different experiences. Behind the project was Leary and Alpert’s belief that psilocybin could be the solution ro the emotional problems of Western society. The first test group was composed of 38 people of various backgrounds. A soothing environments was created for the experiments. The subjects controlled the dosages they took. Leary and Alpert also took some. A total of 167 subjects participated to the 1960 study. Of them, 95 percent said the psilocybin experience “changed their lives for the better”, 75 percent said the experience was pleasant and 69 percent said the reached a “marked broadening of awareness”. In 1961, Leary oriented the study towards the rehabilitation of inmates. In these inmates were given psilocybin and asked to visualize themselves in a “cops-and-robbers game”.

Other professors had reservations about the work of Leary and Alpert, who were accused of abusing their power over students, pressuring both graduate and under graduate students to participate in their research in in a class required for the students' degrees. The Academic soundness of their research was questioned because Leary and Alpert took psychedelics with the students during the experiments and the research participants were not a random sampling. In 1961, two Harvard students ended up in the mental hospital after consuming psilocybin.

Concerns about th Psilocybin Project were published in February 1962 Harvard Crimson article. A dispute arose on campus and a meeting led the Harvard Center for Research in Personality was called to address the issue. The meeting became a trial against Leary and Alpert and its results were reported in the Crimson by a journalist who was a participant at the meeting. This lead to scrutiny of the psilocybin project by authorities outside Harvard. he Massachusetts Department of Public Health said they experiments should led by a "sober" researcher and follow state food and drug regulations. Leary and Alpert objected to some of the terms places on them. In 1963, Alpert was fired for distributing psilocybin to an undergraduate student. Around the same Leary was fired for failing to attend scheduled class lectures, a charge he denied. At the time of their experiments mescaline and peyote were illegal but LSD and psilocybin were not made illegal until 1968. Both Leary and Alpert had been rising academic stars until their battles with Harvard; their advocacy of the use of psychedelics made them major figures early counterculture, drug and hippie scene.

Magic Mushrooms and Jesus

Richard J. Miller wrote in The Atlantic: The influence of Wasson’s writing can be seen in the subsequent development of an entire sub-genre of entheogenic literature, much of which has little to recommend it from a scholarly point of view. The idea is that if Amanita muscaria is identical with soma, which had a strong influence on the development of Hinduism, then why not every other religion as well? [Source: Richard J. Miller, The Atlantic, December 28, 2013]

Pride of place here goes to John Marco Allegro's 1970 publication, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. Allegro considered the possibility that ancient peoples would have been particularly concerned with two things—procreation and the supply of food. He suggested that they may have viewed rain as a type of heavenly semen that then impregnated the earth, allowing the growth of crops and the success of the harvest. Plants absorbed this holy semen—and some plants more than others. Amanita muscaria was such a plant that, when consumed, allowed a person to commune more closely with God.

According to Allegro, the Bible is really just a series of myths that describe the secrets of the Amanita muscaria fertility cult rather than real people. Allegro also suggested that the information concerning the use of Amanita muscaria as a religious fertility sacrament was subject to great secrecy, the provenance of a priestly sect. He speculated that these practices developed very early on in human history, even prior to the time when writing first came into existence during the ancient Sumerian civilization. He further suggested that the existence of the mushroom was secretly encoded in the use of particular Sumerian word roots.

This secret encoding of the mushroom fertility cult down through the ages eventually led to the development of the concept of Jesus to encapsulate the identity of Amanita muscaria around the time of the sacking of the second temple by the Romans. Thus, according to Allegro, Jesus never actually existed. He purported to demonstrate, using philological analysis of the structure of the ancient Sumerian language, that the name Jesus actually meant something along the lines of "semen" and that Christ meant something like "giant erect mushroom penis." According to Allegro, the Bible (and the New Testament in particular) is really just a series of myths that describe the secrets of the Amanita muscaria fertility cult rather than real people.

However, as fate would have it the stories caught on in a big way and their mythical origins were forgotten. The "Jesus myth" rapidly spread and became Christianity. Although Allegro's reasoning was mostly philological, he did occasionally refer to the other types of evidence such as the famous fresco in the Abbaye de Plaincourault in France that appears to show Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the serpent coiled around a giant Amanita muscaria. It was reasoned that this fresco, painted around 1290, gives credence to the idea that the secret mushroom fertility cult was still in existence in the Middle Ages.

Allegro's hypotheses were very interesting and his arguments were certainly consistent. However, they were not well received. Many Christians took exception to the fact that he believed that Jesus never existed and was really just a code word for a giant phallus-shaped magic mushroom. Allegro was generally excoriated in the press and in many academic circles. Nevertheless, his work did strike a chord with some individuals and many subsequent publications have endeavored to describe the role of Amanita muscaria in the genesis of virtually every religion known to man.

How Mushrooms Can Save the World

Hua Hsu wrote in The New Yorker: In 2005, Paul Stamets, a logger turned mycologist and entrepreneur who lives in Washington State. published “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save the World,” an influential work that was taken up by fellow fungal enthusiasts as a kind of manifesto. A TED talk drawn from the book has been viewed millions of times. [Source: Hua Hsu, The New Yorker, May 18, 2020]

“Stamets’s fascination with fungus began with a world-changing moment of his own: a psilocybin trip cured him of a lifelong stutter. Convinced of the mushroom’s special power — he could talk to girls now! — he began harvesting exotic varieties, building a profitable mail-order business that sells grow kits, extracts, cultivation gear, even fungal dog treats (Mutt-rooms). He briefly worked with the Department of Defense to study the antibacterial and antiviral compounds that fungus had developed to protect itself in the course of millions of years.

“Stamets is an advocate of what he calls mycoremediation — the use of fungi to remove toxic substances from the environment. Fungi have helped clean up diesel-contaminated soil; they’ve broken down pesticide residues, crude oil, and plastics.Stamets’s ardent advocacy inspired a man named Peter McCoy to help start an organization called Radical Mycology. McCoy, who is also an anarchist and a hip-hop artist, has devoted his life to a radically decentered, fungus-inspired method of sharing information. He founded an online mycology school and preaches “Liberation Mycology.” “Where one Radical Mycologist trains ten,” McCoy says, “those ten can train a hundred, and from them a thousand — so it is that mycelium spreads.”

“For Wasson, fungus was related to the transcendent, the realm of worship, of reverence; for Stamets, fungus was an instrument for environmental resilience and restoration. But can fungus, finally, provide a political vision? What might we learn, Sheldrake asks, from the “mutualism” and coöperation of a seemingly brainless organism?

Therapeutic Uses of Psilocybin

Clinical trials have been conducted at Johns Hopkins University, New York University, Imperial College London and U.C.L.A. on the use of mushrooms to treat addiction and depression. Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins, is involved in a pilot study testing whether psilocybin and psychotherapy can ease end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients. [Source: “Mapping the Psychedelic Brain” by Greg Miller, Science January 23, 2012].

A group led by David Nutt of Imperial College London, is looking into using the drug to treat depression. In the British Journal of Psychiatry, he and colleagues reported that psilocybin can increase neural activity in brain regions related to memory when people recall events from their past. The drug also improved people’s ability to access personal memories and related emotions, which the researchers say could be helpful during psychotherapy

Paul Tullis wrote in Nature: Several trials show dramatic results: in a study published in November 2020, for example, 71 percent of people who took psilocybin for major depressive disorder showed a greater than 50 percent reduction in symptoms after four weeks, and half of the participants entered remission1. Some follow-up studies after therapy, although small, have shown lasting benefits. [Source: Paul Tullis, Nature, January 27 2021]

Psilocybin Therapy

Kirk Rutter battled depression with depression for years but things got worse after the death of his mother in 2011, followed by a relationship break-up and a car accident the year after. It felt, he told Nature, as if his brain was stuck on “an automatic circuit”, repeating the same negative thoughts like a mantra: “‘Everything I do turns to crap.’ I actually believed that,” he recalls. Rutter participated in psilocybin therapy at Hammersmith Hospital in London under the guidance of Robin Carhart-Harris, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Imperial College London. [Source: Paul Tullis, Nature, January 27 2021]

Paul Tullis wrote in Nature: Carhart-Harris led him to a room with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, so researchers could acquire a baseline of his brain activity. Then he showed Rutter where he would spend his time while on the drug. Carhart-Harris asked him to lie down and played him some of the music that would accompany the session. He explained that he would have on hand a drug that could neutralize the hallucinogen, if necessary. Then the two practised a grounding technique, to help calm Rutter in the event that he became overwhelmed. Without warning, Rutter burst into tears. “I think I knew this was going to be unpacking a lot — I was carrying a bit of a load at the time,” Rutter says.

“When Rutter returned the next day, one of the researchers handed him two pills containing a synthetic form of psilocybin. , the psychoactive ingredient found in magic mushrooms. Rutter lay down on the bed and put on headphones and an eye mask. Soon, images of Sanskrit text appeared to him. Later, he saw golden bejewelled structures. Then his mind went to work on his grief.

places where psychoactive mushrooms can be found

Rutter says his journey with Carhart-Harris was focused, but flexible. When Rutter first removed a pair of eye shades after the drug took effect, the therapist appeared “fractured” and seemed to have another eye in the centre of his forehead. “I should imagine I look quite strange to you now,” Carhart-Harris said. Rutter burst out laughing and Carhart-Harris joined him. When the laughter stopped, the two men started talking. Rutter wanted to discuss his resentments, which led to pondering about the word ‘relent’ and its etymology. Carhart-Harris looked it up for him on his laptop. “That was a lovely moment, actually,” Rutter says. He returned for a second session with a stronger dose of the drug, followed by a second MRI and an ‘integration’ session, to discuss the experiences.

The treatment “made me look at grief differently”, Rutter says. “It was a realization that actually it wasn’t helping, and letting go wasn’t a betrayal.” Rutter says that he is convinced that the treatment he received in 2015 changed his life for the better. In the weeks after his sessions, he found himself wondering whether the automatic circuit would return. “I was terrified,” he says, “and I realized I’ve got a little bit of control over this, right?” The thought had never occurred to him before. A week or so later, he was out with friends at a shopping centre and sensed the return of optimism and openness. “It felt like somebody had opened a window in a stuffy room.” Five years later, his depression has not returned. Rutter was so moved by his experience with psilocybin that he has consulted for one of the companies sponsoring trials of the compound.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)

Text Sources: 1) “Buzzed, the Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy” by Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center (W.W. Norton, New York, 2003); 2) National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 3) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and 4) National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, The Independent, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, , Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2022

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