Psilocybin, a naturally occurring serotonergic tryptamine, is found in ‘magic mushrooms.’ At sufficient doses, these mushrooms reliably induce profound changes to consciousness which produce revelatory, spiritual and mystical-type experiences. Psychoactive mushrooms have been used for thousands of years by prehistoric tribes and notably by the Mazatec people of Mexico and Central America for spiritual, religious and healing purposes.
Psilocybin was originally discovered by chemist Albert Hoffman in the late 1950’s, the same chemist who synthesized LSD. There are over 200 documented mushroom strains that contain psilocybin, with one of the most common being the Psilocybe Cubensis. Three common psilocybin containing mushrooms are the Golden Teacher, Penis Envy and Transkei Envy all containing moderate to high levels of psilocybin.
In most countries, Psilocybin containing mushrooms are currently illegal Schedule I drugs which suggests they have a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical use. However, there is a growing interest in exploring the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, particularly in the treatment of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In light of this research, there are countries, states and jurisdictions laying extensive groundwork for integration with healthcare services and building paths towards decriminalization and legalization.
How much should I take?
Use the following information as a guideline, not a recommendation. If this is your first dose you may consider beginning with 1.5 grams of dried psilocybin mushrooms that have an average potency such as Golden Teacher. Taking less than this, such as 0.5-1.25 grams of mushrooms, may simply create a state characterized by agitation. For a full experience consider consuming 2.5 - 3.5 grams. More experienced journeyers often consume 3.5 - 5.0 grams of dried mushrooms to go deeper.
Current research with psilocybin commonly uses 20-30 milligram (mg) doses of pure psilocybin which is equivalent to 4-5 grams of dried Cubensis mushrooms (ref). Some studies have subjects take one conservative dose of psilocybin (i.e 10 mg) followed by a 25 mg dose one-week later; other studies may just use 25 mg doses. In general, Psilocybin is very well tolerated and safe for human studies at oral doses of 8–25 mg (ref). There are no known cases of psilocybin that produce neurotoxic or lethal effects.
How should I take it?
All psilocybin mushroom preparations lead to the same psychedelic experience, however, the most common route for consumption is in their raw dried form after a light meal. Some may choose to put the mushrooms in a juice high in citric acid (i.e. lemon or orange juice) which has been purported to convert psilocybin to its active form psilocin, reduce the time to onset, and reduce potential gastro-intestinal upset. You may also encounter mushroom chocolates or truffles.
Some may choose to make mushroom tea by steeping them in hot water, similar to making any other type of tea. The mushrooms are chopped or powdered and infused in boiling water. Some people add flavorings like honey or herbs to improve the taste. Tea is often preferred by individuals who want to improve palatability or minimize the potential for nausea and digestive discomfort.
How long does it take to kick in?
30-45 minutes if on an empty stomach when chewed well. If you have had a moderate to large sized meal prior to and or just swallow the dried mushroom, the onset of the experience may take longer.
When does the peak experience occur?
Approximately at the 2 hour mark.
How long does it last?
How do psychedelics work?
When psilocybin is ingested, it is metabolized into psilocin in the body. Psilocin is a potent psychedelic compound that primarily acts by binding to various serotonin receptors, including subtypes 5-HT2A, 5-HT2B, 5-HT2C, and 5-HT1C (ref). The 5-HT2A receptor, in particular, is highly abundant in the cortical regions of the brain and is one of the most prominent serotonin receptors in the cortex. This receptor plays a significant role in modulating cognition, perception, and consciousness.
The density of 5-HT2A receptors is relatively high in brain regions associated with the default-mode network (DMN). The DMN is a network of brain regions that are most active during introspective and self-referential processes, including mind wandering, daydreaming, and rumination. Studies have shown that psilocybin administration can lead to durable reductions in DMN activity. Acutely, this decrease in DMN activity is often associated with subjective experiences such as decreased ego dissolution, enhanced introspection, and altered perception. The range of longer-term psychological changes includes anti-depressive and anti-anxiety effects, relaxed prior beliefs, decreased rumination, and increased perception of unity or interconnectedness (ref).
It's worth noting that research in this field is ongoing, and our understanding of the complex mechanisms underlying the effects of psilocybin and LSD are still developing.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are commonly prescribed medications for managing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. These medications work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, thereby increasing its availability in the brain. When used in combination with substances that also affect serotonin levels, such as psilocybin or LSD, there is a theoretical risk of serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin syndrome is a potentially serious condition that can occur when there is an excess of serotonin in the brain. It can range from mild to severe, with symptoms that include agitation, confusion, rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, muscle rigidity, tremors, fever, and even seizures. While serotonin syndrome is rare, it is good to be aware of when combining substances that affect serotonin levels.
The combination of psilocybin or LSD with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) presents an even greater risk of serotonin syndrome. MAOIs inhibit the enzyme responsible for breaking down serotonin, resulting in a net increase in serotonin levels. Combining MAOIs with substances that increase serotonin, such as psilocybin or LSD, can potentially lead to a dangerous serotonin overload (ref). Specific risks and interactions can vary depending on individual factors, including the dosage, timing, and individual sensitivity.
If you are considering using psilocybin or LSD while taking prescribed medications, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or psychiatrist, who can provide personalized guidance based on your specific situation and medical history. They will be able to assess the potential risks, benefits, and interactions, taking into account the specific medications you are taking and your individual circumstances. Always follow the advice and recommendations of healthcare professionals to ensure your safety and well-being. For more information on Medications and Psychedelics click here.
- It's important to note that there is a wide range of possible psychedelic experiences and so each person will have a unique experience. From experience to experience within the same journeyer, variability also exists. Also, different strains and potencies of psilocybin containing mushrooms will produce different effects.
- Just prior to the journey, journeyer’s might be feeling both excited and anxious which is all part of the experience. Journeyer’s should take solace in the preparation leading up to this point. They reflect on their intention and remind oneself to focus inwards, choose to trust, let go, be open, and say yes. Confront the light and the dark places. Meet both with trust and assertiveness.
- Commonly, a psychedelic mushroom experience lasts around 6 hours. It often begins within 30-45 minutes post-consumption, peaks around the 2 hour mark and diminishes over another 3-4 hours. In the days following the experience there may be an ‘afterglow’ in which journeyers report having a greater sense of openness, cognitive flexibility, social connectedness, positive mood, acceptance, peace, and heightened taste, smell, sight, and hearing. The afterglow may last 1-30 days.
- Onset: In the first 30-60 minutes, journeyer’s may notice a general warm glow, a sense of relaxation throughout the body, and a heightening of all senses with a notable shift in vividness of colour and sound. This is often the point where journeyer’s have some desire to get comfortable and lay down if they haven’t done so already. There is often a noticing of a steady stream of thoughts arising, some difficulty focusing, and at times, laughter starting to emerge. As the music plays, you may notice yourself fading, similar to drifting into and out of a dream, into thoughts, the visual field, and music for longer periods of time.
- Peak: Hours 2-4 are often considered the peak of the trip. This is where having a mantra well versed is helpful if things start to get tough: trust, let go, and be open. Journeyer’s may notice a tension or resistance to transcending the ego or allowing your sense of self to dissolve. Continued resistance may lead to thought loops, heightened anxiety and fear. The key here is to run towards and into the experience. Now, whether or not the journeyer’s experience ego dissolution, this is the point where one ‘drops in’ and becomes fully immersed in the experience. Notions of having a body, time and space have likely been displaced by feelings of tremendous joy or love, intense euphoria, and powerful open and closed-eyed visuals. You may experience an intense set of expanding and contracting images, shapes and patterns with these visuals often becoming the music and the music becoming the visuals. Journeyer's may experience a deeply embodied unity with others and the world. This may be accompanied by a profound recognition about the beauty of the world. Visions and memories of people, places and key life experiences may come up. If there is unprocessed past life events, some of these may appear as well which are often met with understanding, acceptance and empathy.
- There can be an ineffable mental clarity and novel perspectives gained on personal issues. Journeyers may be shown seemingly objectively true and compelling aspects of reality which are often referred to as the noetic quality of a trip. If you had set an intention, this might be a place where insight may be gained as it arises in this expanded state of consciousness. Pleasant and unpleasant memories and or emotions can also emerge here.
Tip: Be curious and open to both the pleasant and unpleasant, the light and the dark. Do not grasp the pleasurable nor resist the difficult. Immerse yourself and go deep into the experience, your intention, mantra and sitter (if you have one) will take care of the rest.
Remember: Challenging aspects of the journey can reveal valuable insights leading to learning and growth. Consider that it may be happening for an important reason. Trust, be open, and let go. For recommendations on what to do with these insights, refer to the Integration resources.
- Refer to the mindfulness blog to get more insight on letting go.
- During hours 4-5, journeyer’s are often fully immersed in the experience. Journeyer’s may continue to gain clarity on personal issues, experience feelings of euphoria, joy and have boundless laughter. At times, journeyer’s may have an impulse to move their body with the music and notice a change in their proprioception (i.e. the body position in space). A journeyer’s movement may feel free and easy as it ebbs and flows with the music.
- Through hours 5-6, as you come down, you may start to notice a fading between normal waking consciousness and the psychedelic experience. Journeyer’s might be experiencing tears of joy, a sense of peace and ease, love, along with mental and physical calm.
- Eventually, journeyer’s will notice they are back in a normal waking state of consciousness. Journeyer’s may have a desire to gently move about, reorient with their surroundings, hydrate, eat, rest and reflect. Self care practices and having social support will be key here.
- Acute: gastro-intestinal upset, transient anxiety or fear, reduced decision making ability and movement coordination. Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature similar to engaging in light exercise (ref).
Consider that psychosomatic symptoms (e.g. tremors and nausea) may be manifestations of anxiety, contain meaning and are not simply drug effects. If you have nausea, think about diving into your stomach as fast as you can. If its persistent, try spitting something out and laying back down. For a tremor, visualize moving in a tunnel from your head down to the tremor and look for memories.
- After your trip: headache, emotional sensitivity, fatigue, nausea. Less common are insomnia, nightmares, vivid dreams, flashbacks, depression and anxiety.
Rare Undesirable Side-effects:
What does all this mean for me?
- Complete the medical screening to see if psychedelics are right for you. Understand some of the risks involved.
- Have your mushrooms tested, consider starting with 1.5 grams of dried mushrooms in your first journey to learn the psychedelic landscape. However, a full experience often occurs at 2.5 - 3.5 grams. Increase the dose on subsequent journey’s if desired or are curious. A breakthrough dose that leads to a full experience often including ego dissolution is occasioned between 2.5-5 grams of dried mushrooms.
- Clear your schedule for the day of and 1-2-days after the journey. Do your research, consider getting a trip sitter and get them educated, prep your set, setting and intention. Grab your journal and enjoy the trip. Get ready for the integration process that follows the experience.
- If you are taking any medications to manage your mental or physical health or have other concerns related to your health, speak to your primary healthcare provider first.