Magic mushroom is an all-encompassing name given to any group of fungi containing the compound Psilocybin. Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound commonly utilized for its out-of-body experience – an altered state of consciousness characterized by visual auras, afterimages, distorted sense of time and space, and emotional effects which can range from mere excitement to heightened anxiety. These psilocybin-containing mushrooms are commonly referred to as “shrooms”. Several species of these Shrooms exist with the most common in the United States being Psilocybe semilanceata, a resident of North America and Europe, and Psilocybe cubensis which were first described in Cuba and are residents of South and Central America.
Uses of psychedelic mushrooms
From prehistoric times, shrooms have found a wide range of applications. Its use is broadly divided into 2. These are:
- Recreational use: Most individuals utilize the Psilocybin content of Magic Mushrooms for its hallucinogenic effect and out-of-body experience generally referred to as a trip. The hallucinogenic effects include “breathing” surfaces, visual hallucinations like auras and tracers. There are also associated emotional effects which could be in the form of excitement or more intense anxiety.
- Medicinal use: Some evidence suggests that psychedelic mushrooms have a potential application in the management of depression, addiction, and eating disorders. However, research into these applications has been impeded by the Schedule I Narcotics of Psilocybin and America’s war on drugs. Despite these, a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology by Roland R. Griffiths in 2006 and a follow-up study by him in 2011 and 2017 infer that Psilocybin can be used in the management of depression in cancer patients and treatment of cigarette addiction.
Mechanism of action of magic mushrooms
After consumption, the psilocybin content of these mushrooms is converted into psilocin. Psilocin is a serotonin receptor agonist in the brain. When in the brain, it activates 5-HT2C receptors (a subtype of serotonin receptor) resulting in the release of several neurotransmitters that mediate appetite, mood, and perception, anxiety, imagination, memory, learning, and cognition; it generally lights up the brain. Its action on the visual cortex is also responsible for the visual hallucinations associated with this drug. A single episode of this trip can last up to 4 hours.
Federal laws in the United States classify psilocybin as a Schedule I drug like Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) and Marijuana. This status implies that the drug has the potential to cause severe psychological and physical dependence. Officials however note that Psilocybin is not addictive.
Despite being a Schedule I drug by federal laws, several states in the United States have taken steps to ease laws on possession of psilocybin mushrooms.
Decriminalization of magic mushrooms
The terms decriminalization and legalization though similar, are different. A decriminalized drug remains illegal, but a person caught in possession of it will not be prosecuted by the legal system if he is carrying an amount below a specified maximum. Legalization on the other hand means the removal of all legal prohibitions on the drug.
Movements to decriminalize “shrooms” started in the USA in May 2019 with Denver, Colorado becoming the first city to decriminalize. Two cities in California, Oakland and Santa Cruz followed suit in June 2019 and January 2020 respectively. In November 2020, Washington DC decriminalized it while three cities in Massachusetts, Somerville, Cambridge, and Northampton did the same in January 2020, February 2021, and April 2021 respectively. Psilocybin is also decriminalized in the state of Michigan.
In all but the above states, magic mushrooms are still illegal.
Legalization of magic mushrooms
In November 2020, the state of Oregon became the first to both legalize and decriminalize the use of psilocybin with the passage of Measure 109 by 56.12%. According to this law, its use is only for therapeutic purposes and “personal development”. Following this legalization, here are a few things to note:
- Psychedelic mushrooms will not be socially available like cannabis or alcohol: psilocybin will not be available for take-home purchases like alcohol and cannabis. Under the new law, only licensed persons or groups can cultivate the mushrooms or own a psilocybin therapy center. It does not allow individuals to grow the mushrooms or leave therapy centers under the influence of the drug. Unlike cannabis which is under the regulation of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the Psilocybin program will be under the management of the Oregon Health Authority.
- It will be at least 2 years before Psilocybin therapy is available: this law will take effect after a 2-year period within which all regulatory details will be worked out including the qualifications required to own a center and criteria for eligibility for therapy.
- Individuals may not necessarily need to be mentally ill before using the drug: the therapy is not reserved for people who suffer from mental health issues. Persons who are at least 21 years and who pass the screening for therapy will be able to access the drug for, in Eckert’s words, “personal development”.
- Psilocybin is still a Schedule I drug according to federal laws
Recent decriminalization and legalization of magic mushrooms, according to experts, will usher in a new wave of advancement in the management of mental health-related issues including, depression. These will no doubt result in better clinical outcomes than when they were illegal.