What Are Shrooms (Magic Mushrooms)?
Shrooms, also known as magic mushrooms, are wild or cultivated mushrooms that contain psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychoactiveand hallucinogenic compound. Some research suggests this substance may help relieve symptoms of some mental health conditions. However, shrooms are illegal in most places and carry risks that people should recognize.
Psilocybin is considered one of the most well-known psychedelics, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).1 Psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has a high potential for misuse and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
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What to Know About Shrooms
Although certain cultures have been known to use the hallucinogenic properties of some mushrooms for centuries, psilocybin was first isolated in 1958 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, who also discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Magic mushrooms are often prepared by drying and are eaten by being mixed into food or drinks. Although, some people eat freshly picked psilocybe mushrooms.
Also Known As: Magic mushrooms are also known as shrooms, mushies, blue meanies, golden tops, liberty caps, philosopher’s stones, liberties, amani, and agaric.
Drug Class: Psilocybin is classified as a hallucinogen.
Common Side Effects: Shrooms are known to cause unwanted side effects such as nausea, yawning, feeling drowsy, nervousness, paranoia, panic, hallucinations, and psychosis.
How to Recognize Shrooms
Psilocybin mushrooms look like dried ordinary mushrooms with long, slender stems that are whitish-gray and dark brown caps that are light brown or white in the center. Dried mushrooms are a rusty brown color with isolated areas of off-white.
Shrooms can be eaten, mixed with food, or brewed like tea for drinking. They can also be mixed with cannabis or tobacco and smoked. Liquid psilocybin is also available, which is the naturally occurring psychedelic drug found in liberty caps. The liquid is clear brown and comes in a small vial.
What Do Shrooms Do?
Magic mushrooms are hallucinogenic drugs, meaning they can cause you to see, hear, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. The effects of shrooms, however, are highly variable and believed to be influenced by environmental factors.2
A number of factors influence the effects of magic mushrooms, including dosage, age, weight, personality, emotional state, environment, and history of mental illness.
While psilocybe mushrooms are often sought out for a peaceful high, shrooms have been reported to induce anxiety, frightening hallucinations, paranoia, and confusion in some.3 Hospital admissions related to the use of magic mushrooms are often connected to what is known colloquially as a “bad trip.”
What the Experts Say
Magic mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for both spiritual and medicinal uses among indigenous people of America and Europe.
Shrooms have a long history of being associated with spiritual experiences and self-discovery. Many believe that naturally occurring drugs like magic mushrooms, marijuana, and mescaline are sacred herbs that enable people to attain superior spiritual states. Others take magic mushrooms to experience a sense of euphoria, connection, and a distorted sense of time.
The psilocybin found in shrooms is converted to psilocin in the body and is believed to influence serotonin in the brain, leading to altered and unusual perceptions.
The effects take 20 to 40 minutes to begin and can last up to 6 hours—the same amount of time it takes for psilocin to be metabolized and excreted.4
Potential Benefits of Shrooms
While some people take magic mushrooms solely for their psychoactive effects, researchers have also explored psilocybin’s potential therapeutic benefits.
Can shrooms help with medical conditions? Some say yes. In 2018, researchers from Johns Hopkins University recommended reclassification of psilocybin from Schedule I to Schedule IV in order to allow for medical use.
As a Schedule 1 drug, psilocybin cannot be prescribed for medicinal use. If its classification is changed, psilocybin mushrooms could then potentially be available by prescription.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that psilocybin was an effective treatment for depression and nicotine and alcohol addictions, as well as other substance use disorders.5 Studies have also shown that magic mushrooms were effective for relieving the emotional distress of people with life-threatening cancer diagnoses.6
The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins is also researching how psychedelics affect a variety of conditions such as:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome
It is important to note that while researchers are currently exploring the therapeutic uses for psilocybin and other psychedelics, these substances are only utilized in controlled research and medical settings under the supervision of trained professionals.
Shrooms are also sometimes utilized in a practice known as microdosing. Microdosing involves taking very small amounts of a drug to test its benefits while minimizing unwanted side effects.
One study found that people who self-medicated with small dosages of psilocybin were able to relieve cluster headaches while avoiding any psychoactive effects of the drug.7
It should be noted that researchers tend to advise against self-medicating with psilocybin for a few important reasons:
Outside of a clinical setting, it may be harder to manage your anxiety and other unpleasant or unexpected experiences while under the influence (potentially leading to a bad trip)
You may take too high of a dosage
It’s hard to know the purity of the drug if you’re purchasing it from an unregulated source8
In addition, people with pre-existing mental health conditions may be more likely to experience adverse effects from psilocybin.
Some psychedelic agents are currently being investigated for their benefits when used in combination with psychotherapy. Psilocybin is one that is being considered as a psychedelic therapeutic for both addiction and anxiety associated with terminal illness.9
This therapy may work, in part, through its effects on certain personality traits. One small-scale study involving subjects with treatment-resistant depression found that, after engaging in psilocybin therapy, their neuroticism scores decreased while their scores in extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness increased.10
Additional research is ongoing. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted breakthrough-therapy status to psilocybin-assisted therapy. This designation aims to improve the research process and hasten the development of drugs that show great promise in treating serious illnesses.11
Are Psilocybe Mushrooms Legal?
In 2019, Denver became the first city to decriminalize mushrooms. Oakland became the second city less than a month later. Other U.S. cities have followed suit, including Santa Cruz in California and Ann Arbor in Michigan.
This does not mean that shrooms are legal, but that the city is not permitted to “spend resources to impose criminal penalties” on people in possession of the drug. However, in 2020, Oregon became the first state to establish a legal framework for receiving psilocybin therapeutically.
Risks of Psilocybin Shrooms
All hallucinogens carry the risk of triggering mental and emotional problems and causing accidents while under the influence. Among adolescents, shrooms are frequently taken in combination with alcohol and other drugs, increasing the psychological and physical risks.
The amount of psilocybin and psilocin contained in any given magic mushroom is unknown, and mushrooms vary greatly in terms of the amount of psychoactive contents. This means that it is very hard to tell the length, intensity, and type of “trip” someone will experience.
Consuming shrooms can result in a mild trip, with feelings of relaxation or drowsiness, to a frightening experience marked by hallucinations, delusions, and panic. In some cases, magic mushrooms have even been known to cause seizures.12
Physical Effects and Risks
Physical effects of psilocybin mushrooms include:
Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature
Lack of coordination
Since magic mushrooms look similar to poisonous mushrooms, poisoning is another potential risk of taking these drugs. Mushroom poisoning can cause severe illness, organ damage, and even death.
It’s also common for magic mushroom products to be contaminated. One older study of 886 samples alleged to be psilocybin mushrooms were analyzed by Pharm Chem Street Drug Laboratory. Only 252 (28%) were actually hallucinogenic, while 275 (31%) were regular store-bought mushrooms laced with LSD or phencyclidine (PCP) and 328 (37%) contained no drug at all.13
Mental Effects and Risks
Mental effects of shrooms are:
Distorted sense of time, place, and reality
Hallucinations (visual or auditory)
Having introspective (spiritual) experiences
Self-reports suggest that bad trips, medical emergencies, and long-term adverse outcomes can occur, particularly at high doses or when combined with other substances.14
Long-Term Effects of Shrooms
More research is needed on magic mushrooms’ long-term, lasting side effects. But it has been reported that people can experience long-term changes in personality and flashbacks long after taking mushrooms.
Help for Mushroom Poisoning
If you suspect that you or someone you care about has consumed a poisonous mushroom, call poison control right away at 800-222-1222. Don’t wait for symptoms to occur. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Signs of Shroom Use
If your loved one is using shrooms, they may be nauseous or appear nervous or paranoid. In the case of drug use, it’s always important to pay attention to any changes in sleep and eating patterns, as well as shifts in mood, personality, and social activities.
There are rare but potential long-term effects of hallucinogens, including disorganized thinking, mood changes, paranoia, and perceptual disturbances.
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) occurs when a person experiences hallucinations or visual disturbances long after using a hallucinogenic drug. These are also known as “flashbacks” and can be mistaken for neurologic conditions.15
You may notice that your loved one is experiencing other effects of the hallucinogen, which may include:
Inability to move
Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and/or body temperature
Loss of coordination
Suicidal thoughts or attempts
If your loved one is taking shrooms, they might display unusual behavior due to altered perceptions or impaired judgment, such as jumping out of a window or other dangerous actions.
If the mushrooms were contaminated or mixed with other drugs, they may show signs of poisoning, including tachycardia (heart beating too fast), hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperthermia (body tissue becomes too hot), nausea, or vomiting.16
Magic Mushroom Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal
Like most drugs, the more you use shrooms, the more tolerance you develop. Tolerance also develops quickly with regular use, meaning that with regular use, a person will need more of the drug to achieve the same effect.
Developing a tolerance can be especially risky with shrooms because consuming a large amount can result in overdose symptoms which, while not fatal, can include:
Panic or paranoia
How Long Does Psilocybin Stay in Your System?
The short-term effects of magic mushrooms typically wear off in 6 to 12 hours.4 But people can experience long-term changes in personality and flashbacks long after taking the drug.
The average half-life of psilocybin ranges from one to two hours and it generally takes five to six half-lives for a substance to be eliminated from your system.
The typical urine drug screening for employment does not test for psilocybin, but there are specific tests that can be ordered to test for it. Like many other drugs, shrooms can be found in hair follicles for up to 90 days.17
How Long Does Psilocybin Stay in Your System?
Psilocybin is not generally considered addictive nor does it tend to lead to compulsive use. Plus, people can build a tolerance to psilocybin fairly quickly, making it hard to have any effect after several days of repeated use.
While people rarely report physical symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using the drug, some experience psychological effects, which may include depression.
How to Get Help for Magic Mushroom Misuse
If you suspect a loved one is experimenting with or regularly using shrooms in problematic ways, consider having a firm yet loving conversation with them about the risks of psychedelics—especially when combined with alcohol or other drugs. At this time, it’s also important to emphasize that you are there to help and support them.
If you have been misusing shrooms, treatments are available that can help. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about the best strategies for you.
Psychotherapy is often recommended and may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy (MET). CBT focuses on helping people change thought and behavior patterns that contribute to substance use, while MET works to improve people’s motivation to change. Support groups and lifestyle changes can also be essential in long-term recovery.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS on magic mushrooms
Are magic mushrooms safer than other hallucinogenic drugs?No. In addition to their potential to be poisonous, shrooms are just as unpredictable in their effects as other drugs. Some people have reported much more intense and frightening hallucinations on magic mushrooms than on LSD.18
What are fly agaric mushrooms?Fly agaric mushrooms contain the psychoactive chemicals ibotenic acid and muscimol, which are known to cause twitching, drooling, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and delirium.19 Fly agaric mushrooms are not the same thing as psilocybin-containing mushrooms.