Psilocybin mushrooms—sometimes called “magic mushrooms”—are a class of mind-altering mushrooms with psychedelic effects. Their active ingredient, psilocybin, has been a popular recreational and ceremonial drug throughout history.
Psilocybin mushrooms also show promise in the medical field. Recent research suggests that psilocybin may provide long-term relief from depression, addiction, and certain types of anxiety. In 2019, the FDA gave psilocybin “breakthrough” status for major depression, fast-tracking research to make psilocybin therapy more widely available to patients.
Here’s a look at how psilocybin works, as well as its effects, possible benefits, risks, dosage, and more.
What Is Psilocybin?
Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound found in certain hallucinogenic mushroom species. It’s considered a “classical psychedelic”—a group of drugs that alter your reality and sense of self-identity.
Psilocybin comes from a genus of hallucinogenic mushrooms called Psilocybes; they release psilocybin to confuse and discourage predators.
However, humans have been using psilocybin mushrooms for millennia as a way to alter consciousness. The earliest known example is in a prehistoric mural from 6000 B.C., which depicts a religious ritual involving Psilocybe mushrooms. 1
Today, people use psilocybin mushrooms in a variety of ways—as a recreational drug, for spiritual or religious purposes, and, increasingly, for its possible mental health benefits, which researchers are currently studying.
Psilocybin Street Names
Psilocybin mushrooms are also called:
- Magic mushrooms
- Cubes (short for Psilocybe cubensis, the Latin name of a common psychedelic mushroom species)
- Pizza toppings
What Does Taking Psilocybin Feel Like?
Psilocybin’s effects are typically called a “trip.” They last about 4-6 hours and may include: 2
- Visual hallucinations
- Introspective thinking
- Time distortion (feeling like time is standing still or moving slowly)
- Ego death (a sense of being one with the universe; losing your concept of individual self)
- Depersonalization (feeling like you’re floating outside your body)
- Derealization (feeling like your surroundings aren’t real)
Psilocybin activates your brain’s serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptors, which influence your consciousness, perception of the outside world, and your sense of identity. That’s why mushrooms may make you hallucinate and consider yourself from a new perspective.
Psilocybin and LSD are two of the most common psychedelics, and they differ in an important way. Both of them activate your serotonin system, but LSD also stimulates dopamine 2 (D2) receptors, causing you to feel energetic and excited. 3
Psilocybin does not affect D2 receptors. 2 It only works on serotonin, which could explain why many people describe a psilocybin trip as a calmer, more introspective experience than taking LSD.
That said, psilocybin’s effects depend on your mental state and surroundings. If you’re in a good headspace and comfortable environment, you’ll likely have a positive experience.
If you’re stressed out, in a bad mood, or in an uncomfortable setting, you may want to avoid taking psilocybin. It can amplify negative emotions and cause anxiety.
Coming Down from Psilocybin
Psilocybin doesn’t have any strong biological comedown or hangover effect.
However, psilocybin sessions can be mentally and emotionally intense, and you may feel tired after your experience. You may want to take psilocybin on a day when you can rest afterward and get a full night of sleep.
Psilocybin trips are powerful experiences, and recent research suggests that taking psilocybin in the right setting—ideally under the supervision of a licensed therapist—may have long-lasting benefits on mental health.
Research is still fairly new, but early results are so promising that in 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave psilocybin therapy “breakthrough status” for managing treatment-resistant depression, speeding up research to make it more widely available. 4
Here are some of the potential benefits of psilocybin therapy:
- Long-lasting improvements in anxiety and mood. Research shows that a single dose of psilocybin decreases fear response, reduces anxiety, and increases positive emotions for 30 days, with long-lasting, measurable changes in brain function. 5
- Depression. In a 2021 study, researchers gave patients with major depressive disorder two doses of psilocybin in a comfortable setting. Each dose was paired with talk therapy. At an 8-week follow-up, 71% of patients had a significant (more than 50%) decrease in their depression score, and 54% of patients were in full remission (they had no remaining depressive symptoms at all). 6
- Quitting smoking. In a 2017 study, smokers took psilocybin 2-3 times, paired with therapy, in an attempt to quit smoking. A 16-month follow-up found that 60% of participants had quit smoking entirely and had maintained their abstinence. 7 For reference, that’s twice as effective as continuous therapy paired with an antidepressant, which is the usual method for quitting smoking and only has a 30% success rate. 8
- Anxiety. In one study, people with diagnosed anxiety did three sessions of psilocybin-assisted therapy. A 6-month follow-up found that, on average, they maintained a 60%-80% decrease in anxiety symptoms, with no need for continuous therapy or medication. 9
In many cases, psilocybin therapy seems to work better than other treatments, with fewer sessions, and the results seem to last long-term without any maintenance. It’s very promising, which is why the FDA designated psilocybin a breakthrough therapy.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that this research is still early, and while psilocybin therapy is rapidly moving through clinical trials, it’s currently illegal in most of the United States.
You can search clinicaltrials.gov to see if you might be able to participate in psilocybin research involving your medical concerns.
How to Prepare for a Psilocybin Trip
The two most important ways to prepare for a psilocybin trip are set and setting.
Set refers to your mindset. Ideally, you’ll take psilocybin in a good mood, with an open mind and a willingness to explore whatever happens during your experience.
Setting refers to your surroundings when you take psilocybin. The best setting is comfortable and safe, with people around you whom you trust and who make you feel at ease. You also want to take care of any obligations ahead of time, as you probably won’t be able to handle them while you’re under the influence of psilocybin. Arrange for childcare, take time off work, and tie up any other practical matters that could cause you to feel pressure during your session.
Set and setting are the two most essential things to consider when taking any psychedelic. If you’re in a bad headspace or you’re surrounded by people you don’t like, there’s a good chance you’ll have a negative experience (called a “bad trip”), which may include paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and other unpleasant effects.
What Are the Types of Psilocybin and What Do They Look Like?
Most people take psilocybin in its mushroom form, although other forms also exist. The most common ones are:
- Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms
- Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Cap) mushrooms
- Liquid psilocybin extract
- Mushroom tea
Psilocybe cubensis Mushrooms
This is the most widely available mushroom because it’s easy to grow indoors. P. cubensis mushrooms taste earthy and a little musty, and they have caramel-colored caps and off-white stems. The stems often have blue bruised areas on them and contain most of the psilocybin.
Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Cap) Mushrooms
These are the most common psychedelic mushrooms to grow in the wild. P. semilanceata mushrooms taste earthy and are golden brown all over, with tall, skinny stems.
Liquid Psilocybin Extract
Liquid psilocybin is most common in psilocybin-assisted therapy because it’s easy to dose precisely. However, extracting psilocybin can be difficult, so liquid psilocybin is fairly rare outside a professional medical setting. Liquid psilocybin is clear brown and comes in a small vial. Experienced users wear gloves when handling liquid psilocybin. If it spills on you, you’ll absorb it through your skin.
Psilocybin can come in a chocolate bar that contains ground-up mushrooms. Chocolate can be difficult to dose consistently because the mushrooms don’t always distribute evenly from square to square. Chocolate may also not be as strong as whole mushrooms.
Mushroom tea is exactly as it sounds—ground psilocybin mushrooms steeped in hot water to produce a tea.
The standard dose for psilocybin mushrooms is 3.5gramsof mushrooms (1/8th of an ounce, called “an eighth” in slang).
However, because mushrooms are a natural product, the actual amount of psilocybin in 3.5 grams of mushroom material may vary. Some mushrooms may be stronger than others.
For this reason, some people choose to start with a partial dose—say, two grams of mushrooms—see how they feel after an hour, and then decide whether to take the remainder of the dose.
It’s also worth noting that the majority of psilocybin is in the mushroom stems. The 3.5-gram dose assumes you’re taking whole mushrooms. If you have mostly stems without caps, you may want to decrease your dose to 2.5-3 grams.
People with previous experience may eyeball the dosage, eating a few mushrooms. However, if it’s your first time, you may either want to bring a scale to weigh out an exact dosage or ask your provider to portion out 3.5 grams for you ahead of time.
Some people microdose psilocybin mushrooms, taking a small amount—a single cap or small part of a stem, for example—and then going through the day normally.
Proponents of microdosing claim that it relieves anxiety and depression and increases creativity.
However, microdosing results seem to be mixed. A 2020 review found that microdosing psilocybin caused improved mood in some people. In others, however, it caused anxiety. In all cases, there were no measurable physiological changes in people who microdosed psilocybin, and the review’s authors note that we still don’t understand microdosing well. 10
Microdosing’s possible benefits may also be placebo effect. A 2022 study found no difference in anxiety, depression, or emotional processing between people who took a microdose of psilocybin and people who took a placebo. 11
It’s not yet clear how well microdosing works, or whether it has consistent benefits.
It’s worth mentioning that possessing and consuming any dose of psilocybin, even a microdose, is illegal in the U.S.
The Timeline of Psilocybin
How Long Does It Take to Kick In?
You typically feel the effects of psilocybin 10-40 minutes after ingesting it. However, if you’ve eaten a big meal beforehand, it may take up to 90 minutes for psilocybin to kick in.
If you don’t feel anything after taking psilocybin, you may want to wait at least two hours before you take more. It’s not uncommon for people to take a second dose of a psychedelic, thinking the first one didn’t work, and then experience a much more intense trip than they planned to have.
How Long Does Psilocybin Last?
A psilocybin trip usually lasts 4-6 hours, depending on the dose. 2
Psilocybin’s effects typically peak about halfway through the experience (2-3 hours after you take it), then gradually decline until you return to normal.
How Long Does It Stay In Your System?
Psilocybin takes about 10 days to leave your system. It’s still detectable in a urine sample seven days after taking it. 12
What Could Go Wrong?
Like any drug, psilocybin comes with a certain amount of risk.
While it’s technically possible to overdose on psilocybin, it would be virtually impossible to do so in practice.
The lethal dose for psilocybin is about 1000 times higher than a standard dose. You would have to eat roughly eight pounds of mushrooms for the psilocybin they contain to be fatal. 13
High doses of psilocybin may cause nausea and vomiting.
At standard doses, psilocybin contains little to no known physical risk.
Are Psilocybin Mushrooms Poisonous?
Whether “magic mushrooms” are poisonous or not depends on who you ask. Because psilocybin mushrooms have psychoactive effects and could possibly cause other symptoms like gastrointestinal upset, they can be considered poisonous mushrooms. On the other hand, very few complications associated with its use have been reported.
A bad psilocybin trip can cause anxiety, panic, depression, or confusion. You may feel trapped in the experience until the effects wear off. A bad trip can range from unpleasant to traumatic, depending on its intensity and how you respond to it.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to avoid taking psilocybin if you’re in a negative mood, or if you’re in an uncomfortable setting around people you don’t like.
Psilocybin can interact with certain drugs and medications.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are class of antidepressants that work on the same serotonin system psilocybin affects. MAOIs may intensify and prolong psilocybin’s effects. 14You’re best off avoiding psilocybin if you take MAOIs.
You may also want to avoid tobacco and alcohol during a psilocybin trip. Both of them act as mild MAOIs and can intensify psilocybin’s effects. 15
How to Source Psilocybin
Is Psilocybin Legal?
Psilocybin is currently illegal in the US.
However, psilocybin research is growing rapidly, and there are a number of clinical trials available across the United States looking for participants. You can find a registered clinical trial on the US government’s clinical trial website (just search for “psilocybin”).
If you’re going to buy psilocybin, you may want to familiarize yourself with Psilocybe cubensis, the most common psychedelic mushroom on the market. Some people may try to sell other types of dried mushrooms (like mushrooms bought from the supermarket), but P. cubensis has notable coloring and is difficult to imitate. Look for blue bruising on the stems—it’s a sign that the mushrooms contain psilocybin.
Keep in mind that purchasing and possessing any illegal drug could get you into legal trouble, and there’s always a chance that you’re not getting what you think you’re getting.
You can use a psilocybin test kit to ensure that the mushrooms you buy actually contain psilocybin. The kits are inexpensive, come with instructions, and take a few seconds to administer.
Psilocybin Personal Stories
“The psilocybin experience seems to be warmer, not as forceful and less isolating. It tends to build connections between people, who are generally much more in communication than when they use LSD.”
Peter Stafford, noted psychedelic writer and author of the Psychedelics Encyclopedia
“…psilocybin can offer a means to reconnect to our true nature—our authentic self—and thereby help find meaning in our lives.”
Mary Cosimano, director, Johns Hopkins University Center for Psychedelic Research
Psilocybin Frequently Asked Questions
Is Psilocybin Addictive?
Psilocybin is not known to be addictive and according to research so far, its risk of abuse is low.13Additionally, research suggests that psilocybin may be an effective tool for overcoming addiction, particularly in alcoholics and people who are addicted to cigarettes or other forms of nicotine.
Can I Overdose on Psilocybin?
You would have to take about 1000 times more than a standard dose of psilocybin to overdose—about eight pounds of mushrooms. In practice, it’s virtually impossible to overdose on psilocybin. However, taking high doses may cause intense hallucinations and mind-altering experiences, which can be frightening.
Can I Mix Psilocybin with Alcohol?
There are no studies on mixing psilocybin and alcohol in humans. They work on different systems in your brain, so their effects are unlikely to stack. However, because psilocybin is such a powerful drug, it’s probably best to avoid combining it with other substances.
Can I Mix Psilocybin with Other Drugs?
Some people mix psilocybin with MDMA, a combination called “hippie flipping.” It’s especially common at music festivals and raves. However, taking psilocybin and MDMA together can cause serotonin to build up in your brain (serotonin syndrome). Symptoms include muscle spasms, fever, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and unconsciousness, and may require hospitalization.
Can I Drive While on Psilocybin?
No. Do not drive on psilocybin or any other mind-altering drug. Psychedelics can distort your visual and auditory perception, as well as your sense of time—all of which can lead to an accident. Avoid operating any heavy machinery while on psilocybin.
Is Psilocybin legal?
At the time of this article’s publication, psilocybin is federally illegal in the United States. It has been decriminalized or deprioritized (considered a low priority by law enforcement) in several U.S. cities. However, using or possessing psilocybin is still a federal crime.
Psilocybin is a powerful psychedelic drug. It’s a promising therapeutic tool that may have unique benefits, although it also comes with risks.
If you decide to try psilocybin, make sure you do so with appropriate preparation, and keep in mind that the psychological and legal repercussions could be life-altering. Know your dosage, find a good source, and make sure you’re in a good headspace and a safe, comfortable environment, ideally with someone you trust.
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