They may be humble in stature, but psilocybin mushrooms—colloquially known as “magic mushrooms,” “boomers,” or “shrooms”—have a powerful impact on the body and mind when ingested.
Revered for thousands of years all over the globe, indigenous cultures have long used these fungal wonders for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Modern civilization is finally catching up and coming to realize the profound benefits of psychedelic mushrooms of many varieties. After decades of near-global prohibition, psilocybin mushrooms are gaining legal footholds in countries, states, and cities all over the world. This is largely thanks to the combination of the numerous potential health benefits revealed by science (more on that below) and the tireless efforts of psychedelic activists and organizers.
However, as many psilocybin users will tell you, science has barely skimmed the surface of the vast ocean of benevolence afforded by these magic mushrooms. They appear to have the potential to not only support the healing of those in psychological distress, but also expand the consciousness of seekers who are otherwise well and looking to grow. Of course, those distinctions often blur. What many understand is that, however you come to it, this medicine has enormous implications for wellness, both for the individual and society as a whole — affording us the opportunity to repair and improve our relationships with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.
As the renowned psychedelic researcher Terence McKenna once wrote in True Hallucinations:
“When we look within ourselves with psilocybin, we discover that we do not have to look outward toward the futile promise of life that circles distant stars to still our cosmic loneliness. We should look within; the paths of the heart lead to nearby universes full of life and affection for humanity.”
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What Is Psilocybin
Psilocybin is the main psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms. However, it is not the main psychoactive compound (that would be psilocin, which is only naturally occurring in negligible amounts). Psilocybin is a prodrug, meaning it is not psychoactive. When you ingest it, the body converts it into the psychoactive compound psilocin. Both psilocybin and psilocin are found in the psilocybe family of mushrooms, such as Psilocybe cubensis.(1)
The Psilocybin Experience
While under the influence of psilocybin, you may experience open and closed-eye visuals, which are often described as organic and “flowy.” A sense of euphoria, timelessness, or increased body load (feeling of being weighed down) is also possible. Many psilocybin practitioners report that they feel warm, as if covered in a comforting blanket. You may also gain a sense of connection to the earth, the people you love, and life itself.(2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
The psilocybin headspace can be highly introspective, and users often find that with magic mushrooms, “you go along for the ride.” There is a sense that you’re being steered in a certain direction. You can, of course, choose how you respond to the material that arises.(7, 8, 9)
People often find that there is almost an “intelligence” behind the magic mushroom experience and a sense that messages are being delivered. You may perceive a distinct entity or a kind of presence or force. Some people taking psilocybin mushrooms experience the presence of an external being that is conscious, wise, and knowledgeable. This felt presence might provide information about things that may be outside of your awareness, or that have been hidden in your subconscious.
The Research-Backed Benefits of Magic Mushrooms and Psilocybin
Clinical trials have revealed that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy may relieve symptoms of mental illness, including major depressive disorder (MDD), end-of-life anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and treatment-resistant depression (TRD). (Treatment-resistant means you’ve failed to respond to two or more treatment options.)(10, 11, 12)
Researchers theorize that multiple aspects of the psilocybin experience may correlate to positive outcomes. First, there are the mystical effects, which include experiences like ego dissolution. This is when the attachment to your sense of self is released. In other words, you may lose your connection to your personality, identity, or even your name after taking the psychedelic drug. You may feel that you have merged with the universe, and even see your “self” melt into the cosmos. For many people, this has the potential to be a therapeutic experience, as it provides space from a negative personal identity. In other words, you may walk away with the sense that you are more than your worries, critical thoughts, and fears.(13)
Essentially, ego dissolution can connect one with a greater whole — furthering connection with yourself, friends, family, or larger, more abstract concepts like existence. Because states like depression are often rooted in a sense of isolation, this experience of expansiveness and connection can be helpful. It’s a way of “unsticking” you from feeling alone and separate from everyone and everything else. These events can also feel intense, so it’s recommended that individuals exploring psychedelics for the first time have an experienced guide or tripsitter.
Psilocybin-assisted therapy has been shown to provide emotional breakthroughs, acceptance of distressing events, and valuable personal insights. In depression, for example, people often feel disconnected from their emotions and/or struggle to accept and move past negativity. The psilocybin experience may combat this by helping you get in touch with difficult feelings like sadness, fear, shame, and low self-esteem in order to develop emotional resilience.(14, 15, 16, 17)
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The Legalization Timeline for Psilocybin Therapy
Psilocybin is currently a Schedule I controlled substance and illegal on a federal level in the United States. However, efforts are underway to decriminalize or legalize psilocybin at the state or local level. This can make navigating the compounds’ legality complex and sometimes confusing. It is important to note that while two states, Oregon and Colorado, have legalized psilocybin for adult use, there may still be some legal repercussions for growing, selling, or distributing magic mushrooms, especially at a federal level.
Psilocybin-assisted therapy will be available in the United States in Oregon and Colorado starting in 2023 and 2024, respectively. These are the only states where personal use and possession of psilocybin has been legalized for individuals over 21. However, the legality of psilocybin therapy is more complex in Oregon, where some municipalities are rushing to ban psilocybin centers before they have a chance to open.(18, 19)
Colorado joined the psychedelic reawakening with the passage of Colorado Proposition 122, which legalized the possession, sharing, and gifting of natural psychedelics, including DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, and psilocybin. The caveat with Colorado’s new psychedelic laws is that while you may share, gift, or even grow psilocybin, selling is still illegal.
Some additional initiatives have been proposed or passed that will enable access to psilocybin. Psilocybin has also been decriminalized — which makes them one of law enforcement’s lowest priorities — in the following U.S. cities:(20)
The possibility of all Americans having legal access to psilocybin therapy may not be as far off as it once seemed to be. Both psilocybin and MDMA are undergoing Phase II and III clinical trials (a Phase II clinical trial investigates safety and efficacy with an expanded participant population, while a Phase III clinical trial is the culminating study that examines the efficacy and safety of a new drug vs. an established treatment such as an SSRI like fluoxetine, aka Prozac). MDMA is widely expected to receive FDA approval for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD as early as 2023. Due to the abundance of high-quality clinical data on the treatment, there is some hope that psilocybin-based treatments could receive FDA approval by 2025.(22, 23)
In his article, Down The Rabbit Hole: How a Psychedelic Rabbi Became Lost in The Maze of U.S. Drug Laws, David Hillier walks the reader through the complex web of the potential paths to legalization.
Suppose you don’t want to wait until 2025 to reap the rewards of the compound. In that case, you can legally access psilocybin therapy in Canada. As mentioned above, psilocybin treatment is technically legal in Oregon, but not yet accessible. While the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board has completed the rulemaking process, few healing centers are ready to accept clients. Many local entheogenic plant medicine practitioners and groups plan on offering guided psychedelic experiences. Until then, you can possess and use psilocybin mushrooms with reduced legal risk in:(24)
However, it is important to note that psilocybin is decriminalized, not legalized in these places. This means that it is among the lowest priority levels for law enforcement. You may still face civil penalties for possessing the compound, such as a fine.
Many legal psilocybin retreat centers also operate in the Netherlands and Jamaica. These retreats allow you to enjoy psilocybin in beautiful, natural surroundings, with support from experienced facilitators. Many people also find psychedelic retreats deeply valuable due to the group bonding and support they offer.(28, 29)
Psilocybin use in the Netherlands is not as straightforward as it may seem. Technically, fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms) containing psilocybin are controlled substances. However, psilocybin-containing truffles are not. This loophole allows psilocybin to be sold in smart shops and offered at psychedelic retreats in the country. To date, there has been no effort to add psychedelic truffles to the nation’s controlled substances list.
Joining a Psilocybin Clinical Trial
As mentioned, there are currently a handful of ways to legally access psilocybin-assisted therapy — one is, you may be able to join a clinical trial.
One of the easiest ways to find psilocybin clinical trials that are recruiting is through clinicaltrials.gov. This website has a regularly updated database of all active clinical trials in the U.S. It allows you to search for a trial by actively recruiting, not recruiting, closed, or open status. You can also search by the condition being studied and keywords (e.g., psilocybin or another psychedelic drug). Another useful website for tracking clinical trials is psychedelic.support. They have an updated map that allows you to track the number of clinical trials being run worldwide for a variety of hallucinogenic drugs.
Once you have identified a trial you’d like to participate in, you must navigate to the organization’s website and apply there. Typically researchers will conduct a health screening and interviews with potential participants to ensure that they are a good match for the trial.
The Risks of Psilocybin
You should not take psilocybin if you have pre-existing — or a predisposition to — schizophrenia or bipolar mania, as psilocybin may worsen psychotic or manic symptoms. This is why people with a family or personal history of psychosis have been excluded from clinical trials, as have people with bipolar disorder (as mania is part of the condition).(35, 36)
Like other classical psychedelics, psilocybin is non-toxic. Additionally, tolerance to psilocybin builds quickly, so it is nearly impossible to trip on mushrooms daily. Psilocybin is not considered to be a classically addictive substance because the user does not exhibit traditional compulsive drug-seeking behavior seen in substances such as cocaine and alcohol. Nonetheless, it’s possible (although not common) for some people to become psychologically addicted to psilocybin mushrooms.
The Side Effects of Psilocybin
However, these side effects typically only last during the psychedelic experience, which is around six to eight hours long.
In recent years, there have been a wealth of news reports about wall street stock traders, silicon valley tech moguls, and even stay-at-home parents microdosing magic mushrooms. But what is microdosiing? In short, microdosing involves taking sub-perceptual (below the point of being felt) doses of a substance to gain mental or physical benefits.(37)
The proponents of microdosing psilocybin believe it can help combat depression, increase creativity, reduce anxiety, and even improve mental clarity and focus. However, the research has not substantiated these claims in total. Evidence of microdosing’s efficacy is up in the air. Some studies have indicated that the benefits may be from the placebo effect. In contrast, others, such as one conducted with elderly participants, suggest that microdosing mushrooms may have the potential to improve cognitive function and reduce depression. More research is needed to determine whether or not microdosing psilocybin is effective.(38, 39)
As with any new and rapidly evolving science, there may be some inconsistencies in the available information. Before microdosing magic mushrooms, make sure you do your research, and always approach psychedelics like psilocybin with respect. You can also read more about microdosing in Zoe Cormier’s article, The Two Sides of Microdosing. Cormier addresses the science and efficacy of microdosing with commentary from several experts in the field, while also sharing a deeply personal story about her mother’s struggle with end-of-life anxiety.
A Short How-To for Microdosing Psilocybin Mushrooms
As discussed above, microdosing is the process of taking small doses of psychedelics — in this case, psilocybin mushrooms. Proponents of microdosing believe it imparts a range of physical and psychological benefits. For example, some anecdotal evidence suggests that microdosing may improve mood, mental well-being, cognition, and creativity, and these are often the goals people have in mind when they begin microdosing.
We’ve provided a simple, easy-to-use chart that you can use as the basis for your microdosing regimen. This chart is set up as a one-day-on, two-days-off calendar, per the Fadiman protocol: microdose day, transition day, and reset day. This schedule should be followed for four to eight weeks, with a two to four week reset period between each cycle to avoid tolerance buildup.
In the case of the Fadiman protocol, you also have something called a transition day. This is the day after you microdose, when your body may still be experiencing lingering, non-perceptible effects from your dose. This can be an ideal time for integration, which may include things like journaling or other activities with a focus on self-growth.
Other methods, such as the Stamets Stack, are also viable for microdosing psilocybin. In the case of the Stamets Stack, you would be using a four-days-on, three-days-off schedule — generally, continuing for about a month, and then taking a two to four week rest. This approach also includes taking niacin (a B vitamin) and Lion’s Mane mushrooms (typically in powdered or pill form). There are other methods, but Fadiman and Stamets tend to be fairly common.
|One Month, Alternating Microdosing Schedule|
|Transition Day||Normal Day||2nd |
|Transition Day||Normal Day||3rd|
|2||Transition Day||Normal Day||4th Microdose Day||Transition Day||Normal Day||5th Microdose |
|3||Normal Day||6th Microdose Day||Transition|
|7th Microdose |
|Transition Day||Normal |
By varying the days, and frequency with which you microdose, you can prevent any potential buildup of tolerance. As noted, psilocybin can build tolerance very quickly, making daily microdosing sub-optimal — having a reset period after your cycle may help to mitigate this while promoting healthy psilocybin use habits. It is important to note that microdosing psilocybin (and other psychedelic drugs) is not as studied as it may be moving forward. Most of the available information herein has been gathered from anecdotal sources like the Erowid Foundation.
The “Liberating” Potential of Psilocybin
In a 2021 article for The Guardian, Robin Carhart-Harris – a leading psychedelic researcher – wrote:(40)
“So why does psilocybin appear to be a more successful treatment for depression than a typical antidepressant? Brain imaging data from the trial, alongside the psychological data we collected, appears to show that while SSRIs dampen emotional depth by reducing the responsiveness of the brain’s stress circuitry, helping to take the edge off depressive symptoms, psilocybin seems to liberate thought and feeling.”
In pragmatic terms, “liberating thoughts and feeling” means that negative and repetitive patterns of thinking (aka ruminating) are disrupted, opening up new possibilities and perspectives. So, instead of getting trapped in the same cycle of thoughts (and related emotions) about being unworthy and inadequate, for example, people can start to see themselves as lovable, capable, and valuable.(41)
The Spiritual or Consciousness-Raising Effects of Psilocybin
While it is thought that psychedelic mushrooms have been consumed by humans as far back as 5.3 million years ago, our earliest evidence for their use in religious practices dates back to approximately 6,000 years. Since then, psilocybin has been used by countless cultures scattered across the globe. Recently, research has begun revealing what many have long understood: psilocybin can instigate profound mystical experiences.(42, 43, 44)
This is where the science of psilocybin becomes a bit fuzzy, because what is and isn’t considered a “mystical” or “spiritual” experience can vary greatly depending on subjective and cultural factors. Researchers have, however, established a “Mystical Experience Questionnaire” that is widely accepted for verification, also known as the MEQ30. This tool has repeatedly reaffirmed that magic mushrooms can indeed impart a spiritual experience accompanied by senses of openness, awe, “oneness” with all, feelings of joy or ecstasy, transcendence of time and space, and an impression of ineffability. Essentially, they can’t quite put it into words.(45, 46)
Psychedelic mushroom users frequently report that these mystical revelations can result in a persistent sense of openness and other positive outcomes, particularly when coupled with meditation and other spiritual practices.(47)
How to Prepare for Your Psilocybin Journey
In virtually any discussion about the ideal circumstances for maximizing the positive effects of psilocybin while minimizing the risks, you’ll encounter the phrase “set and setting.” First coined by psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary, it’s used to describe the two key components determining a psychedelic experience’s outcome: the subject and their surroundings.
“Set” takes into account factors like mental preparation (such as your education or experience with psychedelics), mental condition (your mood, particularly distress or lack thereof), and the dosage of psilocybin you ingest.
Some ways to optimize these conditions include:
Read about the medicine and/or talk with someone you trust who has experience with psychedelics — specifically, magic mushrooms. It helps to have some sense of what you’re getting yourself into. You’re doing some of this right now. You can also listen to a plethora of entertaining and informative shows in our curated psychedelic podcast list.
You are much more likely to enjoy and make the most of your experience if you’re in a relatively positive headspace. If you are experiencing extreme psychological distress, it may not be the right moment to consume mushrooms. Of course, you may seek out a psychedelic experience to address issues that are causing you pain. In this situation, it’s best to undertake your psilocybin journey at a time when your mood is as unagitated as possible. Many people find that performing meditation, yoga, and/or breathing practices in the days leading up to your journey — as well as directly preceding it — can help you to achieve a sense of calm. If you are wary about psilocybin usage due to a preexisting condition, you should speak with a healthcare professional familiar with psychedelics before starting your journey.
The amount of psilocybin introduced into your system will significantly impact your experience. In some cases, all you need is a microdose or a very small dose to achieve the desired effect. In others—like when you’re trying to attain some sort of mental or spiritual breakthrough — a significantly larger dose of psilocybin mushrooms may be required. Take too much, however, and the experience can become overwhelming. Speak with an expert to determine the appropriate dose for your situation.(47)
We have also provided some dosing information in our 10 Tips for a Positive Psychedelic Experience article.
“Setting,” on the other hand, involves everything outside of your body: where you are, who you’re with, and what items you have accessible. You can support yourself to create the ideal setting by considering:
Make sure you’re in a comfortable, safe space where you will be in no physical, emotional, or legal danger. This can be indoors or in nature, but ideally, you’ll have access to both. Either way, you should be somewhere you feel very at ease.
It is typically not advisable to have your first psychedelic experience alone. This is where either a trained therapist or a sober, experienced tripsitter can be helpful — they are there to ensure your well-being and to help you navigate the journey. If you plan on tripping with companions, consider who will take mushrooms with you and whether they have the right “set” (mindset) for the experience. You should have at least one sober tripsitter with you.
Consider your material needs. Do you think a particular lighting or decor will support a positive experience? What about art supplies or instruments? Are there personal or spiritual items that you would like to have on hand for support? And what about food? Some people have reported that they don’t feel hungry during their trip. It differs from person to person. Most people will not want to eat during their magic mushroom trip, but you may feel differently or get hungry once you’ve started to come down. In that case, having simple, healthy foods on hand, like fruit or bread, may be a good idea. Some people also enjoy sweets like hard fruit-flavored candies or things like Starbursts.
What to Expect During Your Psilocybin Journey
Every psychedelic experience is different, and it’s impossible to forecast what will happen, only that you will likely experience a wide range of sensations and emotions. That being said, it does tend to follow a progression that goes something like this:(48)
You take your magic mushrooms, and for the first 30-40 minutes or so, you may feel nothing at all.
At some point, you may begin to feel a bit “lighter,” both physically and mentally. While you’re not quite hallucinating, the world around you may appear in increasingly high contrast. You may get “the yawns” — a common occurrence where mushroom users yawn as if fatigued, even if they’re not tired.
Once you begin to feel the impact in earnest — which is often accompanied by a warming sensation and perspiration — the yawns stop. At this point, you may feel psilocybin’s most common negative physical side effects: nausea and dizziness to the point of vertigo. This can be extremely unpleasant, and those who are unaware of this potentiality may become concerned. Try to avoid vomiting, as this can reduce the potency of your dosage. Remember — the nausea will likely pass.
Some things that can help reduce nausea during your magic mushroom trip include:
Depending on the dosage, subtle visual and auditory hallucinations may arise as the effects set in. Patterns or plants may appear to move. The walls might pulse or “breathe.”
You’re likely to “peak” anywhere between 60-120 minutes in. During the peak, you tend to experience the most acute mental and spiritual aspects of the psychedelic journey. You’ll often have profound realizations and feel a sense of “oneness” with the universe. At higher doses, visual and auditory hallucinations may be quite elaborate. You may experience ego death (the transcendence of self) and even forget your name. You may lose the ability to speak coherently or move with coordination. This is usually a good moment to sit somewhere safe and comfortable and just take it all in. People frequently do not remember precisely what was happening, or what they were thinking, during peaks, but they may retain some vague, general conception of it.
After the peak, you’ll still be tripping for another two to six hours, depending on the dosage. That might seem like a long time, but typically speaking, the most intense part is over. For the remainder of the psilocybin mushroom journey, it is common to experience powerful feelings of joy, curiosity, wonder, delight, and a physical sense of warm pleasure. Hallucinations tone down, though you might still see vivid colors, light tracers, “fuzzy” edges, and moving patterns. During this period, you can consciously interact with your thoughts and feelings, often resulting in the most memorable realizations. It may also be a good idea to have music on hand, as well as things like meditation playlists, interesting and visually appealing videos, or something as simple as a journal.
Once the effects begin to wane noticeably, you’ll usually have two to three more hours of feeling a bit lightheaded and physically shaky, and your thoughts might be a bit scattered. It is not uncommon to feel tired and hungry.
Many people who are new to psychedelics worry about experiencing the dreaded “bad trip,” which is typically characterized by overwhelming sensations of fear or other forms of distress. While this certainly can happen, the fact is that challenging trips can also have positive outcomes for some people. One study showed 84% of those who experienced them later reported that they benefited from the psychologically strenuous situation.(49)
Mattha Busby explores this concept further in our article, The Good Part of a Bad Trip.
While difficult in the moment, a bad trip usually means you’re “doing the work” of confronting negative patterns that you may want to change. This tends to be where breakthroughs happen, as you face and overcome psychological obstacles.(50)
But it can be extremely distressing to the point of becoming outright frightening. So if the experience becomes too extreme, here are a few tips for making it more manageable:
Before starting your psilocybin journey, tell yourself that you will face whatever comes up along the way. Then when challenges do arise, don’t shy away from them. Remember that this is what you’ve come for, and be open and courageous enough to accept the challenge.
From your therapist. From your tripsitter. From a fellow tripper. Or, if necessary, call a friend. The Fireside Project has even created an app that will connect you to support if your psychedelic trip becomes difficult.
Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery. If you’re inside, go outside. If you’re outside, maybe it’s time to head indoors. Or change rooms. Or the music. Sometimes even facing a different direction is enough to break the negative spell.
That’s right. Sing loud. Sing quietly. Sing badly. Or hum a little tune. It doesn’t matter. It’s amazingly helpful to move out of a bad trip.
Integrating Your Psilocybin Journey
Integrating your journey is just as important as any other part of the process, if not more so. Integration simply means analyzing and thinking about your trip critically in order to take away the wisdom you’ve gained, in order to ground it into your day-to-day life. Essentially, you’ll identify key pieces of information from the visions and insights that arose during your journey, work to interpret their meaning, and think through how that may impact and inform your mundane life — including your relationship to self and others.
For example, perhaps you saw yourself in your adolescent years. In this case, you may want to explore what was happening for you at that time of your life, and how it may relate to your current circumstances. Or, you may have revisited an argument with a loved one, only this time you’ve witnessed it entirely from their POV. An experience like this can support empathy in your relationships, and can help you to see behavior patterns that you may not have been aware of. Once you’ve started to come down, breaking out a journal and reviewing what you learned during the trip may be a good idea. You could also schedule some time with a therapist who’s familiar with psychedelics and hallucinogenic drugs to discuss any key takeaways.
Integration Options Include:
- Talking with a counselor or therapist.
- Talk with your tripsitter, friends, or family about what you learned.
- Journaling or writing about the trip.
- Painting, coloring, or sketching moments from the journey.
- Meditating, mindfulness practices, or yoga.
- Creating a daily integration ritual.
The list very well might be endless. The important thing to understand is that your journey doesn’t end when the mushrooms wear off. Instead, you can continue to explore and deepen the insights the experience has inspired.
This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.
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