There are dozens of mysteries surrounding magic mushrooms, but psilocybin being one of their main constituents, isn’t one of them. Aside from this famous compound, a handful of other substances are found in hallucinogenic fungi.
Do you know which compounds make up the chemical profile of psilocybin mushrooms? We’ve done the digging and uncovered several different elements. Join us to learn about the history of magic mushrooms, their psychedelic effects, and their unique chemical composition.
Let’s dive in!
What Are Magic Mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms are a type of fungi that contain psilocybin. When ingested, this active ingredient metabolizes into psilocin, binding with serotonin receptors in the brain and delivering psychedelic experiences.
To date, scientists have identified more than 200 species of psilocybin mushrooms. They go by multiple monikers, including magic mushrooms, mushies, shrooms, philosopher’s stones, golden tops, and psychedelic mushrooms.
These naturally occurring fungi are one of the most popular psychedelic substances in the world. Evidence suggests that ancient civilizations used psilocybin mushrooms throughout history.
Humans have incorporated them into religious ceremonies, sacred rituals, and holistic healing. More recently, magic mushrooms have become a popular recreational substance, with research showing they could hold plenty of therapeutic potential.
Keep in mind that the spores offered on our site are intended for microscopy research only. We do not promote the cultivation or consumption of magic mushrooms. None of our spore syringes contain any active ingredient that would produce the effects mentioned in this article.
The Origins of Magic Mushrooms
Hallucinogenic fungi have existed for centuries. Their earliest known origins date back to 9,000 BC. Historians discovered North African rock paintings from this period that purportedly contained visuals alluding to psilocybin mushrooms.
It’s believed that Aztec rituals regularly included magic mushrooms, which they referred to as teonanácatl, or ‘the flesh of the gods.’ Statues and other objects appearing to resemble mushrooms have also been found in Aztec and Mayan ruins in Central America.
Researchers have confirmed that various indigenous people use magic mushrooms in Central America, including the Mixtec, Mazatec, Zapatec, and Nauhua tribes.
Magic Mushrooms in the Western World
Psilocybin mushrooms made their way to the US during the late 1950s. It started with R. Gordon Wasson, who was studying mushrooms on his travels in Mexico in 1955.
He experienced a life-changing ceremony conducted by a shaman of the Mazatec tribe using magic mushrooms. After this ritual, Wasson wrote an article about his discoveries in Life magazine in 1957. It was published under the title ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom.’
This iconic phrase gave psilocybin mushrooms their famous name and brought plenty of awareness to their potential benefits.
Around the same time, American scientists started taking an interest in these funky fungi. Roger Heim, one of Wasson’s colleagues, reached out to Swiss scientist Albert Hofman for his expert opinion on the chemicals in shrooms.
After conducting some tests, Hofmann became the first person to extract psilocybin from mushrooms in 1958. He used the samples Wasson brought back from Mexico, concluding that psilocybin was the chemical responsible for the hallucinogenic effects.
Timothy Leary, a well-known American psychologist that strongly advocated for psychedelic substances, read Wasson’s article in 1960. After that, he decided to travel to Mexico to experience magic mushrooms for himself and came back a changed man.
Leary claimed that he learned an enormous amount about how his brain worked during a five-hour-long psychedelic trip. He even said that he uncovered more in that time than he did during 15 years of school.
Leary started the Harvard Psilocybin Project to show how magic mushrooms could lead to a higher state of consciousness. He was eventually fired from Harvard University during the mid-1960s but continued advocating for psychedelic substances.
The US banned the use of psilocybin mushrooms in 1970 but allowed medical research. This area of study didn’t see any progress for decades, but new developments in recent years have changed that.
Magic Mushrooms Today
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) permitted Compass Pathways to investigate magic mushrooms as a possible treatment for depression in 2018. Johns Hopkins University also opened its Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
Here, scientists found that psilocybin could effectively treat depression and various drug addictions. Other evidence shows that psychedelic mushrooms may relieve emotional distress related to severe cancer diagnoses.
To date, only the state of Oregon and a handful of US municipalities have decriminalized magic mushrooms and other psychedelic plants. These regions include:
- Seattle, Washington
- Santa Cruz and Oakland, California
- Denver, Colorado
- Detroit and Anne Arbor, Michigan
- Cambridge, Somerville, Northampton, and Easthampton, Massachusetts
Effects of Magic Mushrooms
Psilocybin is the main chemical in magic mushrooms. It metabolizes into psilocin when ingested and causes hallucinogenic effects. These sensations produce an altered state of consciousness and result in psychedelic experiences.
Magic mushrooms alter the way one hears, sees, and feels. In other words, they may make a person experience things that seem real when they aren’t.
It’s important to note that magic mushrooms affect everyone differently. Many people believe the environment has the biggest impact on the effects, but all the following elements play a role as well:
- Emotional state
- Mental illness history
Sensations or effects typically set in within 10–60 minutes from ingestion. Lower doses often result in the following hallucinogenic effects:
- Overlaying visual images
- Warped objects and surfaces
- Repeating geometric shapes and colors
- Altered sound perception
- Auras near light
Higher doses of magic mushrooms may bring on these additional effects:
- Distorted perception of time and space
- A sense of blending in with your environment
- More complex visual hallucinations
- Varying emotional effects ranging from extreme laughter to heightened anxiety
Microdosing is a popular term surrounding the act of taking smaller amounts of psychedelic mushrooms. In theory, it reduces the risk of negative side effects and allows someone to take advantage of the positive ones.
Chemical Makeup of Magic Mushrooms
Magic mushrooms contain numerous compounds. Each psychedelic fungus has varying amounts of these chemicals—particularly those grown in the wild. Some of these compounds cause psychoactive effects, while others don’t seem to offer the same reaction.
Here are the known substances found in shrooms:
Psilocybin is thought to be one of the most well-known psychedelic compounds. This alkaloid occurs naturally and is highly psychoactive. Psilocybin has been found in more than 200 mushroom species, with one study suggesting it may also appear in a rare lichen.
Psilocybin is classified as a Schedule 1 drug in the US, with no currently accepted use in medical treatments. Dr. Albert Hofmann first isolated psilocybin and psilocin in 1958. He’s also credited with discovering LSD, another type of psychedelic substance.
Most people believe psilocybin to be the main mushroom chemical compound that affects your brain, but that’s not the case. Although it’s the most abundant substance, psilocybin is also a prodrug of psilocin.
As a result, it must first metabolize into psilocin before binding to serotonin receptors. This chemical process is known as dephosphorylation. When the phosphates are removed, psilocin is more lipid-soluble and easily absorbed into the body.
Studies show that psilocybin may assist with:
- Long-term attitude and belief changes
- Tobacco addiction
- Alcohol dependence
Psilocybin isn’t believed to cause withdrawals, cravings, or dependence.
This mushroom chemical compound is a tryptamine alkaloid that delivers psychedelic sensations. It occurs naturally in various species of magic shrooms.
Outside the body, psilocin is an unstable and short-lived substance with a half-life of 1–3 hours. Most uses include its precursor, psilocybin.
Psilocin is the active ingredient that’s created from the consumption of psilocybin. Research shows that psilocin is structurally similar to serotonin but doesn’t significantly affect dopamine receptors. It mainly affects the noradrenergic system.
The physiological effects of psilocin include increased heart rate, dilated pupils, euphoria, restlessness, visual hallucinations, chills, and nausea.
This naturally occurring tryptamine alkaloid was discovered in 2017. Norpsilocin is a derivative of psilocybin. It’s believed to be a dephosphorylated metabolite of baeocystin, with studies showing that it’s even more potent than psilocybin.
Norpsilocin was first isolated from a commonly cultivated Psilocybe cubensis species. Scientists published a synthetic method for norpsilocin production and other mushroom chemical compounds in 2020.
That same year, researchers conducted the first biological testing of norpsilocin. Although they solved the compound’s crystal structure for formulating precise measurements, more studies are necessary to understand norpsilocin.
This substance is a derivative or analog of the psilocybin chemical compound. Baeocystin was first isolated in 1968 from Psilocybe baeocystis and synthetically prepared in a lab in 1959.
Evidence suggests that baeocystin may be relevant to the effects of psychedelic mushrooms. A 1994 study showed levels that reached one-third of the amount of psilocybin. Other reports state that 10 mg of baeocystin may be as psychoactive as 10 mg of psilocybin.
It’s extremely rare to obtain pure baeocystin, so research into its properties is challenging and slow.
This minor compound was found at the same time as baeocystin, hence the similar-sounding name. Norbaeocystin is a magic mushroom alkaloid and an analog of psilocybin.
It’s an N-demethylated derivative of baeocystin and phosphorylated derivative of 4-hydroxytryptamine. Recent studies show that norbaeocystin may be an intermediate in psilocybin biosynthesis.
This compound is thought to be non-psychedelic. It’s also possible that it contains holistic properties without the intoxicating effects. Very little is known about norbaeocystin and its psychoactive effects, so further research is necessary.
This mushroom chemical compound was discovered in 1989 and was originally believed to occur in one species: Inocybe aeruginascens. However, a 2020 study found aeruginascin in Psilocybe cubensis, suggesting it may be more common.
Aeruginascin’s chemical structure is similar to psilocybin, and it typically appears in equal concentrations to baeocystin and psilocybin.
Due to its chemical composition, scientists believe that this compound can’t travel from the blood to the brain. Aeruginascin would need to be demethylated or attached to a molecule to become metabolically activated in the body.
This compound remains shrouded in mystery, with almost no studies on its effects and characteristics. The only available evidence suggests aeruginascin may have an entourage effect on the overall constituents of magic mushrooms.
In 2019, researchers discovered ß-carbolines in four species of Psilocybe. These compounds are a general group of chemical substances that include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI). ß-carbolines are also found in the plant ingredients of traditional ayahuasca brews.
MAOIs are structurally similar to DMT and psilocybin. Their presence could boost the sensations of psilocybin during a magic mushroom trip, raising further questions about the entourage effect.
The Power of Psilocybin
Although psilocybin is the most well-known compound in psychedelic mushrooms; it’s certainly not the only compound worth talking about.
Psilocin, baeocystin, norpsilocin, aeruginascin, ß-carbolines, and norbaeocystin are notable ingredients in magic mushrooms. But, there’s still a lot to learn about these interesting substances and the potential entourage effect between them.
Want to know more about the wonderful world of psychedelic mushrooms? Check out our blog for more fascinating information on these magical fungi.