What to Know About Magic Mushroom Use
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Magic mushrooms are wild or cultivated mushrooms that contain psilocybin, a naturally-occurring psychoactive and hallucinogenic compound. Psilocybin is considered one of the most well-known psychedelics, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations.
Psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that has a high potential for misuse and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
Although certain cultures have known to use the hallucinogenic properties of some mushrooms for centuries, psilocybin was first isolated in 1958 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, who also discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Magic mushrooms are often prepared by drying and are eaten by being mixed into food or drinks, although some people eat freshly picked magic mushrooms.
Also Known As: Magic mushrooms are also known as shrooms, mushies, blue meanies, golden tops, liberty caps, philosopher’s stones, liberties, amani, and agaric.
Drug Class: Psilocybin is classified as a hallucinogen.
Common Side Effects: Magic mushrooms are known to cause nausea, yawning, feeling relaxed or drowsy, introspective experience, nervousness, paranoia, panic, hallucinations, and psychosis.
How to Recognize Shrooms
Mushrooms containing psilocybin look liked dried ordinary mushrooms with long, slender stems that are whitish-gray and dark brown caps with light brown or white in the center. Dried mushrooms are rusty brown with isolated areas of off-white.
Magic mushrooms can be eaten, mixed with food, or brewed like tea for drinking. They can also be mixed with cannabis or tobacco and smoked. Liquid psilocybin is also available, which is the naturally occurring psychedelic drug found in liberty caps. The liquid is clear brown and comes in a small vial.
What Do Magic Mushrooms Do?
Magic mushrooms are hallucinogenic drugs, meaning they can cause you to see, hear, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. The effects of magic mushrooms, however, are highly variable and believed to be influenced by environmental factors.
Shrooms have a long history of being associated with spiritual experiences and self-discovery. Many believe that naturally occurring drugs like magic mushrooms, weed, and mescaline are sacred herbs that enable people to attain superior spiritual states. Others take magic mushrooms to experience a sense of euphoria, connection, and a distorted sense of time.
The psilocybin found in shrooms is converted to psilocin in the body and is believed to influence serotonin levels in the brain, leading to altered and unusual perceptions. The effects take 20 to 40 minutes to begin and can last up to 6 hours—the same amount of time it takes for psilocin to be metabolized and excreted.
A number of factors influence the effects of magic mushrooms, including dosage, age, weight, personality, emotional state, environment, and history of mental illness.
What the Experts Say
While magic mushrooms are often sought out for a peaceful high, shrooms have been reported to induce anxiety, frightening hallucinations, paranoia, and confusion in some. In fact, most hospital admissions related to the use of magic mushrooms are connected to what is known colloquially as a “bad trip.”
Off-Label or Recently Approved Uses
Magic mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for both spiritual and medicinal uses among indigenous people of America and Europe.
In 2018, researchers from John Hopkins University recommended reclassification of the drug from Schedule I to Schedule IV in order to allow for medical use. Studies suggest that psilocybin can be used to treat cancer-related psychiatric distress, depression, anxiety, nicotine addiction, and substance use disorders.
In 2019, Denver became the first city to decriminalize mushrooms. Oakland became the second city less than a month later. This does not mean that shrooms are legal but that the city is not permitted to “spend resources to impose criminal penalties” on people in possession of the drug.
Common Side Effects
All hallucinogens carry the risk of triggering mental and emotional problems and causing accidents while under the influence. Among adolescents, magic mushrooms are frequently taken in combination with alcohol and other drugs, increasing the psychological and physical risks.
The amount of psilocybin and psilocin contained in any given magic mushroom is unknown, and mushrooms vary greatly in the amounts of psychoactive contents. This means it’s very hard to tell the length, intensity, and type of “trip” someone will experience.
Consuming shrooms can result in a mild trip causing the user to feel relaxed or drowsy to a frightening experience, marked by hallucinations, delusions, and panic. In the worst-case scenario, magic mushrooms have even been known to cause convulsions.
Side effects of magic mushrooms can include both physical and mental effects.
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Distorted sense of time, place, and reality
- Hallucinations (visual or auditory)
- Having introspective (spiritual) experiences
- Panic reactions
More research is needed on the long-term, lasting side effects of magic mushrooms but it has been reported that users can experience long-term changes in personality, as well as flashbacks long after taking mushrooms.
Since magic mushrooms look similar to poisonous mushrooms, poisoning is yet another potential risk of taking these drugs. Mushroom poisoning can cause severe illness, organ damage, and even death.
It’s also common for magic mushroom products to be contaminated. A study of 886 samples alleged to be psilocybin mushrooms analyzed by Pharm Chem Street Drug Laboratory showed that only 252 (28%) were actually hallucinogenic, while 275 (31%) were regular store-bought mushrooms laced with LSD or phencyclidine (PCP), and 328 (37%) contained no drug at all.
Help for Mushroom Poisoning
If you suspect that you or someone you care about ate a poisonous mushroom, call poison control right away at 800-222-122. Don’t wait for symptoms to occur. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Signs of Use
If your loved one is using shrooms, they may be nauseous or appear nervous or paranoid. In the case of drug use, it’s always important to pay attention to any changes in sleeping and eating patterns as well as shifts in mood and personality and social activities.
Myths & Common Questions
There are many myths about magic mushrooms. Some people believe, for example, that magic mushrooms are “safer” and produce a “milder” trip than other hallucinogenics.
In fact, in addition to their potential to poison anyone who takes them, magic mushrooms are just as unpredictable in their effects as other drugs. Some people have reported much more intense and frightening hallucinations on magic mushrooms than on LSD.
Many people also confuse fly agaric mushrooms with psilocybin-containing mushrooms—but they are not the same. Fly agaric mushrooms contain the psychoactive chemicals ibotenic acid and muscimol, which are known to cause twitching, drooling, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and delirium.
Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal
Like most drugs, the more you use magic mushrooms, the more tolerance you develop. Tolerance also develops quickly with regular use. This means that you need more of the drug to achieve the same effect.
Developing a tolerance can be especially risky with shrooms because consuming a large amount can result in overdose symptoms, which while not fatal, can include agitation, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, panic or paranoia, psychosis, and seizures.
How Long Does Psilocybin Stay in Your System?
The short-term effects of magic mushrooms typically wear off in 6 to 12 hours. But users can experience long-term changes in personality and flashbacks long after taking the drugs.
The average half-life of psilocybin ranges from an hour to two, and it generally takes five to six half-lives for a substance to be eliminated from your system.
The typical urine drug screening for employment does not test for psilocybin, but there are specific tests that can be ordered to test for the powerful hallucinogen. Like many other drugs, magic mushrooms can be found in hair follicles for up to 90 days.
Psilocybin is not addictive and does not lead to compulsive use. This is partly because the drug can cause an intense “trip.” Plus, people can build a tolerance to psilocybin fairly quickly, making it hard to have any effect after several days of repeated use.
While users rarely report physical symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using the drug, some experience psychological effects, which may include depression.
How to Get Help
If you suspect your teen is experimenting or regularly using magic mushrooms, consider having a firm yet loving conversation with them about the risks of psychedelics, especially when combined with alcohol or other drugs. At this time, it’s also important to emphasize that you are there to help and support them.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Even though magic mushrooms grow in the wild, they're not a harmless or legal high. Learn more about the side effects, myths, and risks of psilocybin.