What Kind of a Drug is Psilocybin

What Kind of a Drug is Psilocybin? What Will It Do To Me?

As psychedelic therapy gains an ever increasing amount of traction in the medical community, two questions often come to mind,  “What kind of a drug is Psilocybin? and “What will it do to me?”.   Hopefully after reading this quick article, you’ll be able to answer these two questions.

What Kind of a Drug is Psilocybin?

What Kind of a Drug is Psilocybin
Structure of a psilocybin molecule

Psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound produced by hundreds of species of psilocybin mushrooms, is metabolized into psilocin (4-OH-dimethyltryptamine), a non-selective serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) agonist and classic ‘psychedelic’ drug;  Psilocin. has mind-altering effects similar to those of LSD, mescaline, and DMT.  Both psilocybin and psilocin occur naturally in the ‘psilocybe’ genus of mushrooms, and are structurally related to the endogenous neurotransmitter serotonin (5-OH-tryptamine, 5-HT).

In general the effects of both compounds include:

  • Euphoria
  • Visual and mental hallucinations
  • Changes in perception
  • A distorted sense of time
  • Spiritual experiences
  • Can include possible adverse reactions such as nausea and panic attacks.

The mind-altering effects of psilocybin typically last from two to six hours, although to individuals under the influence of psilocybin, the effects may seem to last much longer, since the drug can distort the perception of time. Psilocybin has a low toxicity and a low harm potential. Possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms has been outlawed in most countries, and it has been classified as a scheduled drug by many national drug laws.

The History of Psilocybin

European History: Imagery found on prehistoric murals and rock paintings of modern-day Spain and Algeria suggests that human usage of psilocybin mushrooms predates recorded history.

North American History: The mushrooms had long been consumed in spiritual and divinatory ceremonies before Spanish chroniclers first documented their use in the 16th century.

The Rediscovery of Psilocybin

A number of the figures that played a role in the exploration of LSD figure prominently in the rediscovery of Psilocybin.  In 1959, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, famous for the synthesis of LSD,  isolated psilocybin from a Psilocybe mexicana mushroom.  Sandoz, Hofmann’s employer, marketed and sold psilocybin to physicians and clinicians worldwide for use in psychedelic psychotherapy.  The increasingly restrictive drug laws of the late 1960s and early 1970’s limited scientific research into the effects of psilocybin and other hallucinogens, its popularity grew in the next decade, owing largely to the increased availability of information on how to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms.

Timothy Leary’s Psilocybin Research
In the early 1960s, Timothy Leary investigated the role of set and setting on the effects of psilocybin. They administered the drug in a comfortable environment intended to be similar to a living room. Subjects were given questionnaires to assess their experiences and the contribution of background and situational factors. His research found that:

  • Individuals who had experience with psilocybin prior to the study reported more pleasant experiences than those for whom the drug was novel.
  • Group size, dosage, preparation, and expectancy were important determinants of the drug response. Those in groups of more than eight individuals felt that the groups were less supportive, and their experiences were less pleasant. Groups of less than six individuals were seen as more supportive. Participants also reported having more positive reactions to the drug in those groups.

Leary and other research propose that psilocybin heightens suggestibility, making an individual more receptive to interpersonal interactions and environmental stimuli

What Kind of a Drug is Psilocybin: The Effects

The intensity and duration of the effects of psilocybin vary, depending on:

  • Species of mushrooms
  • Dosage
  • Individual physiology
  • Set and setting

The physical effects of psilocybin include:

  • Pupil dilation;
  • Changes in heart rate;
  • Changes in blood pressure. The temporary increases in blood pressure caused by the drug can be a risk factor for users with pre-existing hypertension;
  • Changes in stretch reflex, and
  • Inability to properly direct or limit motions

The psychological effects of psilocybin include a wide range of subjective effects may be experienced:

  • Disorientation;
  • Lethargy;
  • Giddiness;
  • Euphoria;
  • Joy, and;
  • Depression.

Research in to the Psychological Effects of Psilocybin

The Effects of High Doses of Psilocybin
In a 2011 study, Roland R. Griffiths suggests that a single high dosage of psilocybin can cause long-term changes in the personality of its users.  About half of the study participants—described as healthy, “spiritually active”, and holding graduate degrees, reported feeling increased amounts of openness for more than a year after the psilocybin session. This finding is significant because “no study has prospectively demonstrated personality change in healthy adults after an experimentally manipulated discrete event”.  A 2017 study found that doses of 20 to 30 mg/70 kg psilocybin inducing mystical-type experiences brought more lasting positive changes to traits including altruism, gratitude, forgiveness and feeling close to others when they were.

In one study 31% of volunteers who had been given a high dose reported feelings of significant fear and 17% experienced transient paranoia. At higher doses, psilocybin can lead to “Intensification of affective responses, enhanced ability for introspection, regression to primitive and childlike thinking, and activation of vivid memory traces with pronounced emotional undertones. Open-eye visual hallucinations are common.

The Effects of Moderate Doses of Psilocybin
In studies at Johns Hopkins, among those given a moderate dose (but still enough to “give a high probability of a profound and beneficial experience”) negative experiences were rare, whereas 1/3 of those given the high dose experienced anxiety or paranoia.

The Effects of Low Doses of Psilocybin
Low doses of the drug can induce hallucinatory effects. Closed-eye hallucinations may occur, in which the affected individual sees multicolored geometric shapes and vivid imaginative sequences. Some individuals report experiencing synesthesia, such as tactile sensations when viewing colors.

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Amanda Smith

About the Author

I've battled depression for most of my adult life, so I speak with the voice and experience of someone who understands the fight.

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