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After decades of being shunned, psychedelics are enjoying a biomedical renaissance because many of them show great promise in treating a variety of mental health conditions when used in tightly controlled environments. Now, a new study, recently published in Scientific Reports, claims that psychedelics can change a person's beliefs about metaphysics. TRY IT - Psychedelics can change how you think about the universe.
History and Culture
A growing body of evidence suggests that psychoactive mushrooms have been used by humans in religious ceremonies for thousands of years. In Mesoamerica, they have been consumed in ritual ceremonies for 3000 years.
For example, murals dated 9000 to 7000 BCE found in the Sahara desert in southeast Algeria depict horned beings dressed as dancers holding mushroom-like objects. 6,000-year-old pictographs discovered near the Spanish town of Villar del Humo illustrate several mushrooms that have been tentatively identified as Psilocybe hispanica, a hallucinogenic species native to the area.
Archaeological artifacts from Mexico have also been interpreted by some scholars as evidence for ritual and ceremonial usage of psychoactive mushrooms in the Mayan and Aztec cultures of Mesoamerica. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the mushrooms were called teonanácatl, or "God's flesh".
Following the arrival of Spanish explorers to the New World in the 16th century, chroniclers reported the use of mushrooms by the natives for ceremonial and religious purposes. Accounts describe mushrooms being eaten in festivities for the accession of emperors and the celebration of successful business trips by merchants.
After the defeat of the Aztecs, the Spanish forbade traditional religious practices and rituals that they considered "pagan idolatry", including ceremonial mushroom use. For the next four centuries, the Indians of Mesoamerica hid their use of entheogens from the Spanish authorities.
American banker and amateur ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson studied the ritual use of psychoactive mushrooms by the native population of a Mazatec village in Mexico. In 1957, Wasson described the psychedelic visions that he experienced during these rituals in "Seeking the Magic Mushroom", an article published in Life magazine. Later that year, they were accompanied on a follow-up expedition by French mycologist Roger Heim, who identified several of the mushrooms as Psilocybe species.
Heim cultivated the mushrooms in France, and sent samples for analysis to Albert Hofmann, a chemist employed by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz (now Novartis). Hofmann, who had in 1938 created LSD, led a research group that isolated and identified the psychoactive compounds from Psilocybe mexicana.
He and his colleagues later synthesized a number of compounds chemically related to the naturally occurring psilocybin, to see how structural changes would affect psychoactivity. These included 4-HO-DET and 4-AcO-DMT. Sandoz marketed and sold pure psilocybin under the name "Indocybin" to clinicians worldwide without any reports of serious complications.
In the early 1960s, Harvard University became a testing ground for psilocybin via the efforts of Timothy Leary and his associates, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, under a project known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Leary obtained synthesized psilocybin from Hofmann through Sandoz. Some studies, such as the Concord Prison Experiment, found promising results for psilocybin's utility in clinical psychiatry.
Leary and Alpert's zealous advocacy for widespread hallucinogen use led to a well-publicized termination from Harvard. In response to concerns about the increase in unauthorized use of psychedelic substances by the general public, psychedelics like psilocybin began to receive negative press and faced increasingly restrictive laws.
In the United States, laws were passed in 1966 that prohibited the production, trade, or ingestion of hallucinogenic substances. Sandoz stopped producing LSD and psilocybin the same year. Further backlash against LSD usage swept psilocybin along with it into the Schedule I category of illicit substances in 1970. Subsequent restrictions on the use of these substances in human research made funding for such projects difficult to obtain, and scientists who worked with psychedelic drugs faced being "professionally marginalized".
In 1976 the book Psilocybin Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide was released, written by Terence McKenna.
In 1978 Paul Stamets released Psilocybe Mushrooms & Their Allies.
In the 1990s, psychedelic research gradually began to regain traction, particularly in Europe. Advances in the neurosciences and the availability of brain imaging techniques have provided a reason for using substances like psilocybin to probe the "neural underpinnings of psychotic symptom formation including ego disorders and hallucinations".
Recent studies in the United States have attracted attention from the popular press and thrust psilocybin into the vogue again.
Psilocybin, or 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (4-PO-DMT) is a prodrug that is converted into the pharmacologically active compound psilocin in the body by a dephosphorylation reaction mediated by alkaline phosphatase enzymes. Both psilocybin and psilocin are organic tryptamine compounds. They are chemically related to the amino acid tryptophan, and structurally similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Tryptamines share a core structure comprised of a bicyclic indole heterocycle attached at R3 to an amino group via an ethyl side chain. Psilocybin is substituted at R4 of its indole heterocycle with a phosphoryloxy (-PO) functional group. It also contains two methyl groups CH3- bound to the terminal amine RN. This makes psilocybin the 4-phosphoryloxy ring-substituted analog of DMT.
Psilocybin and psilocin occur in their pure forms as white crystalline powders. Both are unstable in light, particularly while in solution, although their stability at low temperatures in the dark under an inert atmosphere is very good.
Psilocybin acts as a prodrug to psilocin, meaning it is not active until it is converted into psilocin in the body. Upon entering the body, psilocybin is dephosphorylated to psilocin in the intestinal mucosa by alkaline phosphatase and nonspecific esterase.
Psilocin's psychedelic effects are believed to come from its agonist activity on serotonin 5-HT2A/C and 5-HT1A receptors. While 5-HT2A receptor agonism is considered necessary for hallucinogenic activity, the role of other receptor subtypes is much less understood.
Unlike LSD, psilocin has no significant effect on dopamine receptors and only affects the noradrenergic system at very high dosages.
Psilocybin has also been shown by fMRI imaging to have a dampening effect on certain brain regions, most notably the Default Mode Network.
Sedation - Psilocybin mushrooms are reported to be relaxing, stoning and mildly sedating. This sense of sedation is often accompanied by excessive yawning.
Spontaneous bodily sensations - The "body high" of psilocybin can be described as a pleasurable, soft and all-encompassing tingling sensation or glow that steadily rises with the onset and hits its limit at the peak. Once the peak of the experience or sensation is reached it can feel incredibly euphoric and tranquil or heavy and immobilizing depending on the dose and setting.
Perception of bodily heaviness- This effect corresponds to the general sense of sedation and relaxation that characterizes psilocybin experiences, this manifests as a bodily heaviness that discourages movement but is typically only prominent during the first half of the experience. This particular physical effect seems to be more commonly experienced and pronounced with certain “woodlover” species of mushrooms such as Psilocybe azurescens.
Tactile enhancement - This effect is less prominent than with that of LSD or 2C-B but is still present and unique in its character. It is repeatedly described as feeling very primitive in its nature often times with the small hairs on the user's arms or legs feeling slightly itchy or even ticklish against the skin.
Changes in felt bodily form - This effect is often accompanied by a sense of warmth or unity and usually occurs around the peak of the experience or directly after. Users can feel as if they are physically part of or conjoined with other objects. This is usually reported as feeling comfortable in its sensations and even peaceful.
Pain relief - This effect can be considered as less intense when compared with LSD. Like most psychedelics, this effects is likely a result of reductions in inflammation as well as from distortions in sensory processing. This effect, while common, is not guaranteed. An increase in pain perception is also possible.
Nausea - This effect can be greatly lessened or even completely avoided if the individual has an empty stomach prior to ingestion. It is often recommended that one either refrain from eating for approximately 6 to 8 hours beforehand, or eat a light meal 3 to 4 hours before if they are feeling physically fatigued.
Changes in felt gravity
Excessive yawning - This effect seems to be uniquely pronounced among psilocybin and related tryptamines. It can occur to a lesser degree on LSD and very rarely on psychedelic phenethylamines like mescaline. It typically occurs in combination with watery eyes.
Brain zaps - Although this effect is very rare, it can still occur for those susceptible to it. This component is however much less common and intense than it is with serotonin releasing agents such as MDMA.
Seizure - This is a rare effect but can happen in a small population of those who are predisposed to them, particularly while in physically taxing conditions such as being dehydrated, undernourished, overheated, or fatigued.
Emotion enhancement - This effect can be described as being more prominent, consistent and profound when compared to other traditional psychedelics such as mescaline or LSD. This can lead to strong feelings of compassion, urgency and even completely sporadic moments of intense emotional significance that can also be periodically affected by enhancement and suppression cycles.
Empathy, affection, and sociability enhancement - This effect differs from MDMA and other entactogens in that it isn't as central to the experience, feels less forced and more natural and is experienced at a less consistent rate. The sociability enhancement in particular only occurs rarely and it appears to be more emotional.
Euthymia - This effect manifests itself acutely for all classical psychedelics when one to three doses are combined with a psychotherapy treatment program. When comparing meta analyses, psychedelic psychotherapy greatly outperforms "gold standard" treatments for several mental health problems.
Language suppression - This effect can be described as a perceived inability or general unwillingness to talk aloud despite feeling perfectly capable of formulating coherent thoughts within one's internal narrative. It is much more common among inexperienced users.
Analysis enhancement - This effect is consistent in its manifestation and outrospection dominant.
Enhancement and suppression cycles - This can be described as constant waves of extremely stimulated and profound thinking which are spontaneously surpassed in a cyclic fashion by waves of general thought suppression and mental intoxication. These two states seem to switch between each other in a consistent loop once every 20 to 60 minutes.
Feelings of impending doom - This effect is usually only experienced during the come up phase but typically completely passes or subsides once the primary effects begin. It should be noted that this effect is relatively consistent and normal for psilocybin and related tryptamines which is why a positive and well-informed mindset is key. Less regularly this aspect can also occur during the peak but will most often be met afterwards with sensations of euphoria, catharsis or rejuvenation.
Autonomous voice communication
Confusion - This effect occurs at a higher rate than other psychedelics such as LSD or DMT. It is more commonly observed in users who are inexperienced with psilocybin, or psychedelics in general
Increased music appreciation
Personal bias suppression
Ego replacement - Although this effect is rare and more likely to occur with certain psychedelics like DMT or ayahuasca, it can still spontaneously occur, usually with higher doses.
Personality regression - Although this effect is rare it can still manifest spontaneously and is thought to depend primarily on the user's set and setting.
Rejuvenation - While this component can occur spontaneously at any point, it typically follows a difficult phase of the experience, if not the entire experience itself. It is however almost always felt during the offset of a psilocybin experience and tends to slowly transition into the after effects which are generally described as positive. These positive or mindful after effects are sometimes referred to as an "afterglow" and is both common and consistent for psilocybin and related tryptamines.
Colour enhancement - Relative to other psychedelics, this effect may appear to be more saturated.
Pattern recognition enhancement
Visual acuity enhancement - This effect typically occurs prominently at lower doses and becomes increasingly suppressed as one raises the dose.
Drifting (melting, flowing, breathing and morphing) - In comparison to other psychedelics, this effect can be described as highly detailed, realistic, slow and smooth in motion and static in appearance.
Symmetrical texture repetition
Depth perception distortions
The visual geometry produced by psilocybin mushrooms can be described as more similar in appearance to that of 4-AcO-DMT, ayahuasca and 2C-E than LSD or 2C-B.
It can be comprehensively described through its variations as intricate in complexity, abstract in form, organic in feel, structured in organization, brightly lit, and multicoloured in scheme, glossy in shading, soft in its edges, large in size, slow in speed, smooth in motion, rounded in its corners, non-immersive in-depth and consistent in intensity.
It has a very "organic" feel and at higher dosages is significantly more likely to result in states of Level 8B visual geometry over level 8A.
Psilocybin and its various other forms produce a full range of high level hallucinatory states in a fashion that is more consistent and reproducible than that of many other commonly used psychedelics. These effects generally include:
Internal hallucination (autonomous entities; settings, sceneries, and landscapes; perspective hallucinations and scenarios and plots) - This effect is very consistent in dark environments at appropriately high dosages. They can be comprehensively described through their variations as lucid in believability, interactive in style, new experiences in content, autonomous in controllability, geometry-based in style and almost exclusively of a personal, religious, spiritual, science-fiction, fantasy, surreal, nonsensical, or transcendental nature in their overall theme.
External hallucination (autonomous entities; settings, sceneries, and landscapes; perspective hallucinations and scenarios and plots) - These are more common within dark environments and can be comprehensively described through their variations as lucid in believability, interactive in style, new experiences in content, autonomous in controllability, geometry-based in style and almost exclusively of a personal, religious, spiritual, science-fiction, fantasy, surreal, nonsensical or transcendental nature in their overall theme.