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The term mushroom in the context of intoxicating substances typically refers to naturally occurring mushrooms containing psilocybin and psilocin. There are hundreds of species of mushrooms worldwide, but they are most commonly linked with ritual use in Europe, Russia, and Central and South America. These hallucinogens also gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s in the US, as countercultural movements began to experiment with otherwise illicit drugs.
Mushrooms are also called:
Some research suggests that the intoxicating substances in mushrooms can have some medical benefits, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)lists mushrooms as a Schedule I substance. This means that the United States does not currently recognize any therapeutic or medicinal benefit to these intoxicants.
Psilocybin and psilocin affect the central nervous system by binding to serotonin receptors, blocking the normal uptake of that neurotransmitter. The effects of this blocked uptake differ widely based on age, weight, gender, amount ingested, and even mental or emotional state at the time of ingestion. However, effects of mushroom ingestion range from a general relaxed sense of wellbeing to hallucinations and paranoia. Intoxication takes effect anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours after ingesting, and can last for up to six hours.
Mushrooms are naturally occurring, although there is a small black market industry to grow these hallucinogens too. Methods of ingestion are oral. The mushroom is eaten fresh or dried, or it can be brewed into a tea or put into other food items to mask the bitter flavor.
While many people tout their positive experiences with this substance, it can be dangerous and cause negative side effects. Some of these side effects include:
The most common negative psychological effects are sometimes called a “bad trip.” This is a combination of mood swings through negative feelings like sadness, terror, and anger; often, the experience is combined with frightening, disturbing, or anger-inducing hallucinations. If a person ingests too much psilocybin, they may also experience heart palpitations, changes in blood pressure, or other extreme physical sensations that could become dangerous and lead to hospitalization.
Pop culture reports that mushrooms are safe, but this is not true. Although it is typically difficult to overdose on this substance, there are many potential dangers related to ingesting mushrooms.
A study published through the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health reports that a 2010 survey of US residents, ages 12 and older, found 32 million lifetime psychedelic users in the country. Lifetime use of hallucinogens was greatest in those ages 30-34 (20 percent), with more men than women ingesting these substances (22 percent men compared to 12 percent women). Of those 32 million people, 21 million reported a lifetime use of psilocybin specifically.
Hallucinogens, including mushrooms, are common at clubs and raves. In this setting, those ingesting the drugs are often teenagers and young adults. They may also ingest mushrooms alongside other drugs, like MDMA, marijuana, and alcohol. The Monitoring the Future Survey reported that 9.2 percent of high school seniors had taken a hallucinogen other than LSD – a category that includes mushrooms – at least once in their lifetime, and 2 percent of those high school seniors reported ingesting mushrooms at least once in the past month. Teenagers and adults can suffer more long-term negative consequences related to taking mushrooms, because their brains have not finished growing. When an intoxicating substance like psilocybin is introduced, there could be permanent changes to the reward centers of the brain that could lead to long-term drug abuse problems.
People who struggle with polydrug abuse are more likely to abuse, or become addicted to, mushrooms. One instance of polydrug abuse involves creating a “super joint,” which is a combination of PCP, marijuana, and/or mushrooms. Sometimes, tobacco or non-intoxicating plant substances like parsley are used in the cigarette. When smoked, it forces the intoxicating chemicals into the bloodstream much faster than eating, which can be dangerous. With more of the hallucinogen in the blood, the person can experience a more intense, and more negative, high; the individual is also more likely to overdose.
Because hallucinogens like mushrooms can trigger psychosis or other mental illnesses, many people who abuse these substances regularly or on a long-term basis likely have a co-occurring disorder. The mental illness could lead to greater psychological cravings for mushrooms to regulate mood and other symptoms of the illness.
There are currently no medications that treat addiction to mushrooms or other hallucinogens. If a person struggles with addiction to these substances, they are more likely to also struggle with addiction to other substances. They are also more likely to struggle with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. This means that treating mushroom addiction or abuse should often take more specific, concerted efforts. However, help is available, and as more research is conducted on co-occurring disorders and polydrug abuse, more treatment programs are equipped to help these individuals.
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