Magic mushrooms, boomers, or simply shrooms – they’ve been called many things. The Aztecs called them ‘god’s flesh’ and considered the mystical, trance-inducing fungi sacred. For more than a thousand years before the sixties’ drug culture discovered their psychedelic properties, magic mushrooms have been a part of our history.

But what the native people of Mexico and a generation of hippies probably didn’t realize was just how the mushrooms worked their magic.

First off, magic mushrooms fall into the hallucinogens group of drug categories. Other categories of drugs include amphetamines (‘speed’), opiates (opium, morphine, heroin), barbiturates (sedatives and anesthetics), and cannabis (marijuana, hash). Each category of drugs produces different effects.

Hallucinogens heighten the user’s sensory experience and produce a range of effects that are characterized by changes in perception and sensation. This can sometimes even cause the user to experience things that aren’t real.

Did You Know?
Other hallucinogens include mescaline (the active compound in the peyote cactus), LSD (‘acid’), and MDMA (‘ecstasy’). The effects of magic mushrooms begin about 10 to 60 minutes after ingestion and typically last for several hours. Users may find themselves visually stimulated by the animation of shapes or patterns and experience a sense of hilarity. Hallucinatory effects include things like seeing walls breathe, floors swirl, or other movement in inanimate objects.

The active ingredient in magic mushrooms is psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the tryptamine family that is found in a number of fungi species collectively referred to as “magic mushrooms”.

Psilocybin (C12H17N2O4P) is absorbed through the lining of the mouth and stomach and is metabolized mostly in the liver, where it’s broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase into psilocin (C12H16N2O).

Psilocin is an agonist, a molecule that binds to a specific protein on the cell surface, called a receptor, to trigger a response. Psilocin is very similar in shape to the molecule serotonin and happens to bind to and turn on its receptor in the brain.

Did You Know?
There are more than 180 species of mushrooms which contain the psychedelics psilocybin or psilocin Serotonin (N2OC10H12) is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that relays electrical signals between neurons (brain cells) and other cells. It affects a number of different functions, including sleep, appetite, sexuality – and mood. That’s why when some people ingest magic mushrooms, and their serotonin receptor is stimulated, they feel happy, even ecstatic to the point of having a mystical experience.

But exactly what happens to produce that mystical experience is something that scientists haven’t studied in depth.

One recent study, led by Roland R. Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University, tried to examine the mind-altering effects of the fungi. Griffiths gave a group of 36 adults synthetically-derived psilocybin in one session, and Ritalin during another session, to act as a control. Out of the group, 22 people said they had a “complete” mystical experience after taking the psilocybin. But about a third of participants reported feeling scared during the experiment, sometimes extremely so.

Did You Know?
Mushroom effects and your reaction to them are strongly determined by your mindset and your setting These results are cause for concern among doctors, who worry about what people who use mushrooms recreationally might do if they feel extreme anxiety in an uncontrolled environment.

In Canada, magic mushrooms are classified as a “schedule three” drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, meaning anyone found with magic mushrooms in their possession could face up to three years in prison.

So despite their intriguing promise of profound, mystical experiences that some consider ‘mind-expanding,’ remember that the effects of magic mushrooms – positive and negative – aren’t well understood, and probably shouldn’t be ‘tested’ outside of a lab.

Article first published June 9, 2007

Learn More!

The Shroomery

Psilocybe Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms Net

The Good Drugs Guide

Suzanne Taylor holds a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from the University of Toronto and recently began a Masters of Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario, where she hopes to be able to put her sharp tongue and superior wit to use. In addition to astronomy and writing, she enjoys photography, travel, and spending time with parrots.

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