Drug Guide

Psilocybin

By Anthony McDaniel, M.D.

Psilocybin is a prodrug for the classical hallucinogen - more specifically, psychedelic - psilocin, or 4-HO-DMT (4-hydroxyl-dimethyltryptamine), the active metabolite of psilocybin, responsible for all of the psychoactive effect of the drug. Both drugs are members of the indole and tryptamine classes. Psilocybin-containing mushrooms are used both recreationally, and traditionally, for spiritual purposes, as entheogens, with a history of use spanning millennia. It is produced by hundreds of species of fungi, including those of the genus Psilocybe, such as Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe semilanceata and Psilocybe cyanescens, and has also been reportedly isolated from about a dozen other genera. Collectively known as psilocybin mushrooms, these are commonly called "boomers," "sacred mushrooms," "magic mushrooms," or more simply "'shrooms." Possession, and in some cases usage, of psilocybin or psilocin has been outlawed in most countries across the globe. Proponents of its usage consider it to be an entheogen and a tool to supplement various types of practices for transcendence, including in meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy.

The intensity and duration of entheogenic effects of psilocybin mushrooms are highly variable, depending on species or cultivar of mushrooms, dosage, individual physiology, and set and setting. Once ingested, psilocybin is rapidly metabolised to psilocin, which then acts as a partial agonist at the 5-HT2A and 5-HT1A serotonin receptors in the brain. The mind-altering effects of psilocybin typically last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours; however, to individuals under the influence of psilocybin, the effects may seem to last much longer, since the drug can distort the perception of time.

The effects of psilocybin are highly variable and dependent on the current mood and overall sense of well-being by the individual. Initially the subject may begin to feel somewhat disoriented, lethargic, and euphoric or sometimes depressed. At low doses, hallucinatory effects may occur, including enhancement of colors and the animation of geometric shapes. Closed-eye hallucination may occur, where the affected individual may see multi-colored geometric shapes and vivid imaginative sequences. At higher doses, hallucinatory effects increase and experiences tend to be less social and more introspective or entheogenic. Open-eye visuals are more common, and may be very detailed although rarely confused with reality. Based on a study of 27 hospital admissions of patients (ages ranging from 12 to 24 years) who consumed Psilocybe semilanceata, a 1980 clinical report summarized the distribution of clinical symptoms of psilocybin overdose as follows: perceptual disorder (23 patients), mydriasis (pupil dilation) (20), dysphoria (an unpleasant mood) (13), hyperreflexia (twitching) (12), tachycardia (increased heart rate) (10), drowsiness (7), and euphoria (elation) (5). These clinical responses are similar to results obtained in several earlier studies where pure psilocybin was administered to human volunteers.

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