Psychedelic Science: Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms have been used ritually by the native people of Mesoamerica for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In the 1950s, R. Gordon Wasson and his wife traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico and participated in a mushroom ritual. That experience led to a 1957 Life magazine article titled "Seeking the Magic Mushroom." The following year, the Swiss scientist Albert Hofman, who had been the first to synthesize LSD in 1938, identified psilocybin and psilocin as the active compounds in magic mushrooms. In 1960, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project to study the effects of psilocybin on humans. Harvard University famously fired Leary and Alpert in 1963.

Serious study of magic mushrooms essentially ended when the compounds psilocybin and psylocin were listed as Schedule I drugs in 1971. However, people around the world have used magic mushrooms with the goals of expanding consciousness and achieving spiritual growth ever since it was popularized by the hippies in the the 1960s.

Despite its illegal status, researchers have once again started studying the effects of psilocybin on humans. The results so far have been intriguing. ReasonTV caught up with Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University and Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London at the Psychedelic Science 2013 conference in Oakland, CA to learn what's happening at the cutting edge of psilocybin research.

Approximately 5 minutes. Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning.

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  • wheelock||

    Apart from the psychological effects it turns out that psychedelics can have profound effects for people suffering from these:

    I met someone who suffers from this who has kept the headaches at bay for years now by taking a regular (very small, no psychedelic effects) dose every other week or so.

  • ||

    This state used to be covered in those things. Everyone had cattle and the fields would sprout 'shrooms' all the time. I never fooled with them, but the people who did knew when and where to look.

    There dont seem to be any more. Does anyone know why? I have the vague memory of someone telling me that some measures were taken, maybe something added to cattle feed to retard or prohibit their growth, but I cant remember.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe people come and pick them all. Mushrooms tend to come out all at once. Or maybe the cow shit doesn't sit around as long. From what I hear, in Florida and places in the Pacific NW are still pretty abundant.

  • Brett L||

    Fungicide in cattle feed is the story I've heard.

  • SIV||

    You're from 'shroom country too.
    I don't know about feed fungicide but how would that affect the cows who eat grass and hay?

  • SIV||

    Louisiana is full of mushrooms.Much of Acadiana North of I-10 last Spring and Summer anyways.

  • John C. Randolph||

    "expanding consciousness and achieving spiritual growth "

    Yeah, that's bullshit. They scramble their neurochemistry.

    Being a libertarian doesn't mean I have to respect the idiotic things that druggies do, just because I don't want to send thugs after them to make them sober up.


  • Zeb||

    I'm not so sure that other kinds of spiritual growth (or doing anything that changes the way you think) aren't also scrambling of neurochemistry. And lots of religions have used psychedelics ritually forever. With scrambled neurochemistry you can learn a lot about how your mind works under more normal circumstances. I think you are making a distinction where there is none to be made.
    Psychedelics are really amazing things. Don't knock it until (or unless) you've tried it.

  • Sudden||

    I've tried more than my fair share, including shrooms, LSD, MDMA, and DMT. And I'll agree with jcr's point. Sure, one can achieve "spiritual growth" under conditions of scrambled neurochemistry, but we should realize that at the end of the day it is just scrambled neurochem.

  • Zeb||

    I've tried exactly my fair share and I think calling it "just scrambled neurochemistry" sells it short. The just isn't necessary. Lots of things can scramble you r brain. Only a few things do it in the particular special way that psychedelics do.
    And I don't put much into the spiritual growth side of it because I am a materialist and don't believe that there is any such thing. I don't think it gives you any magical connection to anything outside yourself. It just gives you a different perspective on things which I have found to be very interesting and valuable. ANd it's a lot of fun if you do it right.

  • mtrueman||

    "I don't think it gives you any magical connection to anything outside yourself."

    A surprising statement from someone who claims to have tried his fair share of this medicine. I've tried some and found, at times, it gives me a feeling of wholeness and connection with the rest of the world and the erasure of the boundary between self and other. I had thought this feeling was typical. You haven't experienced this feeling? It is profoundly moving.

    As for scrambling the brain chemistry, I thought this is a common fear, coming from a worry of 'letting go' and giving oneself over to new and uncharted experiences. We're actually scrambling our brain chemistry all the time. Is possible to learn something new without scrambling?

  • Carnival||

    I call bullshit on this one.

    Neuroscience (psychopharmacology specifically) is my field, and even with a highly detailed understanding of how your brain chemistry is being scrambled, I still don't believe it's possible to try shrooms, LSD or DMT and just shrug them off as "meh, just some scrambled neurons."

    You're either bullshitting us, or you only ever took really low doses of the stuff and never got full effects.

    Go brew up a high dose of Ayahuasca (oral DMT + a RIMA), drink it out in a forest somewhere and try to shrug that off.

    Even if it is just scrambled neurochemistry, that doesn't mean it can't be incredibly positive, healing and a beautiful experience.

  • steve baker||

    Just wondering:

    Did you have the original MDMA (known as just MDA) made by the guy at UW-Madison in 1969?

    It came as a blot on a Tums tablet and had to be kept refrigerated.

  • hotsy totsy||

    It actually kinda sounds like fun.

  • steve baker||

    Unless you've had Psilocybin, you don't know the meaning of the word "fun".

  • AlmightyJB||

    I uses to do mushrooms occasionally. Overall liked the neon light shows and tree creatures they produced although I much preferred LSD. Only had one bad paranoid experiance on shrooms and it was definately not fun. Nothing a few hours didn't cure.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That could have been the combination of killer ganga as well though. Don't really remember.

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  • Libertarius||

    I did shrooms in college a couple times, never took LSD. My first trip was epic; I had an ounce, and we didn't know how much to take, so my roommate and I sat there munching on them for like 15 minutes, my gf took like two of them.

    Nothing was happening, so we were musing that the shrooms were bunk; then it got quiet. Next thing I remember, someone said, "What time is it?", and I said, "What is time?" When I realized that I honestly could no longer grasp the concept of time, I knew it had begun. Then I'm on the floor watching the carpet writhe like worms, and the jimi hendrix poster was doing wild things, and then I got in the shower; by now I am tripping my balls off. I got out of the shower and laid down in the dark, and I saw the image of fractal light dots (like a tv screen upclose) morph into a skull, and I am freaking out; then, like an angelic savior, a Tom Petty song drifted in through the window, and I realized I was fine.

    Mushrooms are a wild experience, but to make them "spiritual" or "a means of getting in touch with true reality" is sophomoric nonsense. Like I said before, I never took LSD; how does that compare to shrooms?

  • SIV||

    Lasts longer for one thing.

  • OneOut||

    Tom Petty ? Really ?

    You have a Hendrix poster, yet a Tom Petty song saved your life.?

  • Car Scanner||

    Yeah, I looks really magic...

  • Carnival||

    It makes me sad to see commentators on Reason writing off psychedelically induced spiritual experiences as nothing but delusions neurochemistry.

    Here is my experience with magic mushrooms, as a libertarian and neuroscientist:

    As a child/teen I suffered from severe depression enough that I very nearly killed myself in high school. However, my first year of college, I ate some shrooms with a friend on a whim and we went out for a walk in the forest.

    What followed was the most beautiful, healing experience of my life: I felt a sense of deep connection to everything around me that I had never previously experienced and when I came back, I found that I was no longer depressed.

    While out, under the sky God told me that everything was going to be okay in the end, and I still have that understanding deep in my soul. It has brought me peace like I never thought I would have and erased any angst I might have about myself, life or death. I do not fear death anymore.

    Maybe I am just a raving psychotic, pathetic for being dumb enough to believe in something like a religious experience, but during the height of my depression, I was a rationalist: a nihilist who denied everything but hard science, and I was miserable.

    Now, pathetically spiritual as I may be, I am happy. I am productive, with a lovely girlfriend, a purpose in life, and a profound sense of existential peace.

    If those are my choices, I'd rather have the second.

  • Libertarius||

    Those are not your only choices, but they are the choices we have been given by the historical errors of philosophy; in this particular case, the false alternative of mysticism vs. nihilism.

    Mysticism--usually religion--holds that values are the province of supernaturalism, of ethereal imaginings, of arbitrary faith; nihilism says there are no values, there is only nothing (which is a shabby contradiction in terms, to begin with).

    It has always been assumed that reason was exempted from the province of values, that reason and emotion were diametrically opposed, and you had to choose one or the other. The reason-emotion dichotomy only arises when you try to put your emotions and whims in front of reason and reality, like most people do. Emotions are an effect of your chosen premises, the response to your chosen values and to that which serves or negates them--not their cause.

    I cannot explain the full answer to this in the space of a post. But this is a very crucial issue, one that is wholly addressed by Objectivism.

  • mtrueman||

    I don't see emotion or reason as being important here. Carnival said he denied everything that couldn't be derived by hard science, that which can be objectively observed, measured and repeated. Mushrooms give us access to knowledge and experience that science can't hope to address.

  • Harvard||

    Far out Biff. All in all I'd rather go bass fishing.

  • SIV||

    Night surf fishing if fucking great on mushrooms.

  • frankania||

    Had a similar experience at age 34, in which I ate half of a Louisiana cow field mushroom. I was a raging atheist at the time, and 8 hours later, I became an agnostic.

    Coolest experience of my life. Ate the second half a month later, and spent hours watching the flies flying around the garbage can. That was the last time I tried it, so it must not be a dependent type of thing.

  • lagos nigeria||

    What is good about this thing I still don't get your point please talk more. Just like a students project in Nigeria student contest

  • Cubensis||

    The most incredible thing that happens on magic mushrooms is your mind thinks in a different way than it has ever thought before. It isn't somebody else's thoughts, but rather your own thoughts in a raw and unfiltered manner. You begin to understand the root of your fears, your passions, and what is truly important to you.


  • James Taggart||

    It's a different kind of consciousness. Buddhist monks spend years meditating to achieve different levels of consciousness. So eating mushrooms seems a bit like cheating. But hey, who's got time anymore?

  • Carnival||

    It's hardly cheating. There's a long tradition of using entheogens (read: psychedelics to the layman) for religious, spiritual, and personal exploration.

    One of my favorite quotes is: "there are many paths up the same mountain."

    Also, the idea that you can eat magic mushrooms and have enlightenment drop into your lap is a fallacy (or a phallucy, since we're talking about mushrooms). Many people eat shrooms for fun and get nothing out them. The real benefits come with time, and serious reflection and work integrating your trips.

  • Square||

    Yes - you can't find what you're not looking for, and (to mix a metaphor), owning a table saw does not make one a carpenter.

  • Carnival||

    There are also trade-offs, pros and cons to each. With meditation, you set the pace, and explore your consciousness at the rate you feel comfortable.

    With magic mushrooms, you are definitely submitting yourself to the psychedelic state: seceding control of your soul or mind to whatever the molecule is going to show you. It can be horrifying in ways that meditation could never hope to be.

    I know plenty of people who are deeply spiritual and meditate every day, but terrified of psychedelics.

    Personally, I say intelligently using both is the best way to get the most out of each experience.

  • ||

    I'm a mushroom virgin, but I credit a great deal of emotional healing to that subcategory of psychedelics called empathogens or entactogens—the ecstasy family, if you will. By the grace of the gods, I managed to score a few grams of MDA, MDMA's lesser known but superior cousin, through Silk Road shortly before the narc pigs closed it down. My stash ran dry about a month ago, but it appears that my rolling on the sass has given me permanent strength to fight my demons.

    I admit I'm a little amused by the defensiveness of the atheists and materialists on this thread. It's not anti-intellectual to admit that the scientific enterprise has inherent limits that keep it from teaching us everything worth knowing. Therefore it pays to keep an open mind about what psychedelic experiences can subjectively teach.

  • steve baker||

    I had what I believe was the original MDA back in 1969. It was produced by a guy at UW-Madison and came on Tums tablets.

    One drawback was that it needed to be refrigerated, but it was vastly superior to any other drug, legal or illegal, natural or synthetic, that I ever encountered.

    I doubt if I'd ever take it again, but the half-dozen or so times I did that summer altered the course of my life forever.

  • sheila124||

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  • SQRLSY One||

    Shrooms, Dudes!!! – For me, it was LSD… Took it twice, will never do it again. In high school, no sweat. Was gravely aware of its danger, did it very “on guard”, if you will. As a college kid, did it thinking, I have done it before, therefor, no sweat. Got my ass kicked… For y’all hippagroovalistic folks what wanna say God and Heaven are real and Satan and Hell are not, sorry, it just ain’t that way… Look around you in nature and what we know of nature through science and reason… Everywhere around us, we see, repeatedly, infinity, symmetry, and hierarchy... I saw them all in droves, and then some! Symmetry says you just do NOT get God without Satan! The both of them talked to me, but, what I had must have been the classic “bad trip”; Satan did his worst. It is a miracle that I am here today to tell you about it, holding a job, paying taxes to Government Almighty, and not babbling in the loony bin. SOOOO many things I could tell you as a result of what I saw and learned…

  • SQRLSY One||

    …But in a nut shell… Yes I the SQRLSy one am a nut, I do confess… The ancient sages of old-timey religions… If you can steel yourself to ignore the absolute bullshit about which rituals you have to do, what foods to eat and not eat, and how the virgins are to be sacrificed… The old religions DO have the important lessons, that I have seen, and tried to learn. LOVE your enemies!!! It sounds foolish and pathetically goody-two-shoes, but when faced with evil or Evil (little or big “E” here, channeling M. Scott Peck, I am), as well as in less dangerous matter every day, LOVE is your most effective weapon you are EVER going to see, it is what makes the world go around! The Evil One is baffled and powerless in the face of it. Satan knows nothing but hate and destruction and self-hate, and is utterly STUPID to boot. He deserves our pitying love and our most utterly determined opposition. Opposition, not hate; they are way-different things. He sends me his hate, I send him my Love, like ships passing in the night!

  • SQRLSY One||

    Don’t do the shrooms or the LSD, folks, unless for some crazy reason you just HAVE to talk to God… But beware, you might also have to talk to Satan, as I did! Satan’s messages? Doom-doom-doom-DOOM, you are all DOOMED, whatever you do! Lies and bullshit, just don’t believe it…

  • SQRLSY One||

    Just BREATHE, recall that every breath you take, is a gift from a Loving God, and we ALL deserve EVERY breath we can take, short of strange situations where evil folks make us choose between our life and things that are even more Sacred than life… A “corner case” not to be worried about, God will take care of us in those situations, just trust a wee tad… (OK, a “cheat” for you in that case; the answer is often to say “blood on your hands, not mine, kill me now”, and go and meet your Loving Maker… At THEIR hands and NOT your own, now, suicide is Satan’s victory!) For you atheists, that’s OK, let’s just say, follow your conscience, all will be well. Other Satan lies? Among them, “you are an utterly worthless piece of shit”, v/s “you are Jesus Christ himself”, whichever lies you look susceptible to at the moment. And “you have to figure it all out in utter and perfect detail”, which is also obviously a big fat fib. Understand? Yes, a good thing to do, if you can… In tiny details. The whole picture? Not possible… Just sit back and ADMIRE and ENJOY! Anyway, summary: Don’t do the shrooms, but if you do, beware of Satan / bad trips… And also of Satan’s Little Helpers, AKA Government Almighty goons who will want to put you in jail for thinking that your body belongs to you, when in reality it belongs to Government Almighty…

  • SQRLSY One||

    Bad-tripping mantra? Breathe in God’s Love, breathe out the negativity of (fill in the blank, negativity == Satan).

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