Magic Mushrooms have emerged as an expanding field of science, as regulations are relaxed for the first time in decades. Since the beginning of time, shrooms have existed in all their psychedelic glory. The earliest known recordings of magic mushrooms are reported to be with the Mayan and Aztec cultures of ancient times. Since then, traces of magic mushrooms have been found by researchers all over the globe. Back in the day, shrooms were revered for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. By the hippy era, magic mushrooms had become popular as a recreational drug known to inspire creativity. Of course, the bohemian culture of the time made it a go-to choice for artists and musicians from all walks of life. As a result, magic mushrooms are rumoured to be the secret behind the creative revolutions of the time. What’s more is that there are a number of scientists who believe the drug to have inspired artistic impulses in the first known rock-art paintings. While there are certainly multiple benefits to psilocybin (the active compound found in magic mushrooms), the drug has been the source of great controversy too. This is because of the psychotropic and psychedelic effects caused by the shroom itself. Due to the outcries of the “war on drugs” movements, shrooms were banned in America in 1970 and made illegal in several other countries around the world. It is because of these bans, that scientists have been unable to study magic mushrooms for decades. However, there has recently been a relaxing of regulations, prompting the “psilocybin rush.” Not only does everybody want to invest in the new movement, but scientists are eager to unlock the secrets behind the magic! In other words, research is underway to discover the evolutionary process of shrooms, as well as their potentially therapeutic and medicinal uses. Tom Froese, of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, believes that we are currently at a point in time “where we can ask the questions again.” Froes is an assistant professor of cognitive science, so it stands to reason that his interest was piqued.
The Biology of Mushrooms
When mushrooms are used recreationally, they are almost always the species, Psilocybe Cubensis. That being said, there are hundreds if not thousands of different species of mushrooms with psychedelic properties. Another mushroom group of interest is the Psilocybe Genus, says Britt Bunyard. Bunyard is the publisher of the magazine FUNGI, and also a mycologist. Froese explains that hundreds of these species are being discovered regularly on all continents aside from Africa. Most of these genus-types contain the hallucinogenic ingredients psilocybin, baeocystin and psilocin. It has been hypothesized by Gaston Guzman, an anthropologist, and mycologist from Mexico, that the incredible spread of genus mushrooms signals that they existed more than 300 million years ago. These mushrooms convert tryptophan, a naturally occurring amino acid, into psilocin and other hallucinogenic compounds. This activates serotonin receptors in the brain and causes hallucinations and a sense of pleasure.
The History of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have been used by shamans and tribal healers since ancient times. This is because a number of ancient cultures used these psychedelics to enter into a trance-like state. There are many artifacts that pay tribute to the power of magic mushrooms, most of which have been found around indigenous American cultures like the Mayans and Aztecs. Artifacts representing shrooms from other parts of the world are extremely rare. However, Froes (and his colleagues) discovered a few relics with possible Old World illustrations. From the Spanish mural depicting a bull with a mushroom species reminiscent of the psilocybe species, to rock art in Algeria depicting human-like characters with mushrooms. There are a number of scholars who believe that geometric artworks and depictions of other realities, were inspired by hallucinogens such as magic mushrooms. However, the theory currently remains unproven.
The Evolution of Mushrooms
It is unclear as to why certain mushrooms have evolved to contain hallucinogenic compounds while others have not. Selected shrooms have been found to impact the minds of animals and insects in specific ways. For example, the cordyceps fungi have stupefying effects and take control of anthropods infected in order to spread their spores and find new hosts. Aside from Psilocybe genus mushrooms, there are many other kinds of fungi that contain hallucinogenic properties. According to Froese, this is an indication that the species must have evolved individually, several times. The Massospora species are known to infect cicada beetles and essentially destroy them, without the trippy experience. Massospora also contains psilocybin, which is thought to inspire male cicadas to flick their wings in the same way that the females do. It is interesting to note that when the fooled males fly towards the pseudo-females, in an attempt to mate, the spores of the fungus are spread. The development of hallucinogenic compounds may not serve an ecological purpose in current times, but it is thought that they may have in eras gone by. It seems unlikely that hallucinogenic compounds evolved in an attempt to produce a toxic, or poisonous, effect. This hypothesis is based on the fact that the mushrooms do not give off foul odors, which would typically happen in nature in order to ward off organisms. It is actually an urban myth that psilocybes are highly toxic to humans. In reality, you can eat an abundance of mushrooms, and you would probably get sick from all of the fiber, but psilocybes themselves are not toxic. That being said, it is never a good idea to eat a wild mushroom. There are a lot of mushrooms that are very similar-looking, but with vastly different properties. As a result, it isn’t smart to eat mushrooms found in the wild, no matter what they look or smell like. In fact, even trained fungi-scientists find it challenging to differentiate between all the different varieties. This is incredibly dangerous as some mushrooms like the Conocybe filaris are lethal. It is incredibly sad to note that around 30 percent of annual poisonings recorded by the North American Mycological Association are due to psychedelic mushrooms. An in-depth examination of the records revealed that most of these deaths were from mushrooms found, and consumed, in the wild.
The Future of Magic Mushrooms
Although the ban of shrooms pushed pause on the scientific studies being conducted into the potentially beneficial factors, at least the stigmas attached to the “plant-medicine” are lifting. In 2018, one study reviewed all scientific research on magic mushrooms. The findings revealed that the properties of these mushrooms look promising in terms of treating a number of different disorders. Research reviewed points towards the idea that shrooms might provide relief to those suffering from depression and anxiety. It was found that the effects last for a minimum of six months after a single dosage. It is thought that this might be because of the way the magic mushrooms change sleeping patterns. Additionally, certain compounds found in magic mushrooms appear promising as a treatment for addictions. Psilocybes themselves do not appear to be addictive, as serotonin receptors become tolerant to more doses. Interestingly, shrooms may even assist in the war on drugs, but despite the good omens, stigmas persist. This is because of the policies of decades gone by, but the damage is done, and now there are stigmas surrounding the people who take shrooms, and their reasons for taking them. Further research is required in order to determine the therapeutic and medical benefits of shrooms.