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What are magic mushrooms, “shrooms” or psilocybin-containing mushrooms?
Psilocybin containing mushrooms grow in nature all over the world, and can be found on all continents except for Antarctica. They are often referred to as magic mushrooms or “shrooms”. There are more than 200 species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin. After ingesting magic mushrooms, the psilocybin gets metabolized by our bodies into psilocin, which is the active compound that provides the psychoactive effects that these fungi are so well known for.
Naturally occurring psychedelic plants and fungi, such as magic mushrooms, are used in both small (microdosing) and large (macrodosing) quantities, and are often seen as sacred substances that expand our consciousness, allowing greater access to our emotional, physical, cognitive and spiritual wisdom.
Effects of psilocybin mushrooms — in high doses
Psilocybin mushrooms are considered a classic psychedelic that facilitate altered states of consciousness, also known as a trip or a psychedelic journey when used in high doses. The effects take 20 to 40 minutes to begin and can last from 4 to 6 hours. Several factors influence the intensity and nature of the effects, including: dosage, emotional state (set), surroundings (setting), personality, neurodivergencies, and use of medications and other substances.
When compared to LSD, the psychedelic effects are similar, although psilocybin is 200x less potent (LSD is measured in micrograms, psilocybin in milligrams). The effects last a shorter amount of time than those of LSD.
The subjective effects of high doses of magic mushrooms may include:
- Visuals (both with eyes open and closed)
- Distortions in time perception
- Increased introspection
- Greater conceptual thinking
- Ego loss
- Synesthesia (cross over between the senses, for example “seeing” music as colors)
The intensity and duration of effects produced by psilocybin mushrooms can vary greatly depending on the concentration of psilocybin and a person’s set and setting. Their potency depends on factors such as variety, age and storing method, and growing conditions. This is why dosing is challenging to standardize for naturally grown psilocybin mushrooms.
Why people microdose with magic mushrooms
According to a survey amongst 201 microdosers in 2018 by Uppsala University, Sweden, microdosers cited the following motivations for beginning a practice:
- Improve general wellbeing
- Achieve a state of flow
- Intellectual or creative inspiration
- Increase spiritual awareness
- Self-medication / mental health support (stress, depression, anxiety)
Another study from 2019 at Maastricht University looked at the motives of microdosers, and cited the following motivations:
- Enhance mood
- Performance enhancement: creativity, energy, or concentration
- Symptom alleviation: psychological symptoms
Traditional use of magic mushrooms among indigenous cultures dates back thousands of years. In these original traditions, mushrooms are considered a sacred medicine and messenger of Mother Earth. In most traditions that involve plant and fungi medicines, mushrooms are usually taken within the context of ceremony, which adds to the meaning of the experience they provide.
Psychonauts like Terence McKenna and Graham Hancock have argued that psychedelics — such as psilocybin containing mushrooms — may have played a fundamental role in human evolution and history. This theory, called the Stoned-Ape Theory, suggests that psilocybin mushrooms may have aided humanity in terms of developing our self-awareness and abstract thinking abilities.
Numerous mushroom-shaped figurines and wall paintings in Central and South America demonstrate that it’s likely that, thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the Aztecs were aware of the psychoactive effects of certain types of mushrooms. The significance of these findings is still not entirely clear, but it seems that magic mushrooms may have played a major role in everyday life, as well as for medical and religious purposes.
The first written evidence of the consumption of psilocybin mushrooms comes from the Spanish conquistadors. When invading the American continent, they noted in their logbooks the customs and practices of the indigenous people. One of the oldest notes found is from the 16th century by a Spanish monk Bernandino de Sahágun:
“Before sunrise they ate the mushrooms with honey, and when this excited them they began to dance, some laughed, others cried. (…) Some sat as if in deep thought. Some saw themselves dying; some saw themselves being eaten by a wild beast, others imagined themselves capturing their enemies in battle. Some believed they had committed adultery and that their skull would be cleaved as punishment.”
The Spaniards didn’t allow beliefs other than the Catholic faith and banned the mushroom rituals, which they said were “primitive and inhuman”.
However, mushroom ceremonies did not disappear entirely. Ceremonies influenced by both native and catholic spirituality were still being held in Central and South America. The first Westerners to document their participation in such a ritual was the American couple Robert Gordon Wasson, a banker and his wife Valentina Wasson, a mycologist. In 1955, their search for “the secret of the mushroom” guided them to the Oaxaca region of Mexico—the territory of the Mazatec people. Near the town of Huautla de Jimenez lived the famous healer, Maria Sabina. She eventually invited the Wassons and photographer Allan Richardson to witness a nighttime ceremony or velada.
Back in New York, the Wassons further studied the psilocybin mushrooms, identifying seven different hallucinogenic mushrooms. In 1957, R. Gordon Wasson wrote an article in which he coined the term magic mushrooms” in the American magazine Life, titled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom—Great adventures in the discovery of mushrooms that cause strange visions.” The article was read all over the world and was the beginning of propelling the magic mushroom into Western culture.
To learn more about the ancestral use of magic mushrooms in modern times, listen to our podcast with Xochitl Ashe, 5th generation Mazatec medicine woman, facilitator and microdosing educator.
Species and strains of psilocybin mushrooms
Psilocybin can be found in a surprising array of mushroom species. The largest genus of psilocybin mushrooms, by far, is Psilocybe, but there are also species of Panaeolus, Conocybe, Inocybe, Gymnopilus, and Pluteus that are psychoactive as well.
Distribution of species
Species ranked by potency
Some fungi contain psychedelic compounds other than psilocybin, such as ergotamine from Claviceps purpurea or ibotenic acid from Amanita muscaria (fly agaric). Our understanding of psychoactive mushrooms is still growing; there are many psychoactive species that have hardly been studied, and there are species still being discovered every year.
Psilocybe cubensis — the most common species
When we refer to magic mushrooms (or shrooms) for microdosing, we typically refer to Psilocybe cubensis, which is by far the most commonly grown mushroom for (therapeutical) high dose journeys and microdosing. Many retreat centers and psychedelic facilitators use Psilocybe cubensis because of its low cost, consistency, and widespread availability.
There is a lot of interest in using synthetic versions of psilocybin and psilocin as a therapeutic agent as well because it is easier to use a precise, repeatable dosage. Some pharmaceutical companies are attempting to patent synthetic psilocybin or psilocin, although this synthesis comes with some controversy. It is possible that by isolating psilocybin and psilocin from other compounds found in magic mushrooms alters the experience. Additionally, the patenting process may create accessibility concerns.
Psilocybe cubensis has been found in modern times in the highlands and river valleys of Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela in South America. It has also been found throughout Thailand, Cambodia, India, South Africa, and Australia. Psilocybe cubensis can be found where humidity is above 85% a lot of the time, and where grass-eating mammals live.
Differences between P. cubensis strains
Today, if you’d want to source cubensis mushrooms, you may encounter varieties such as Golden Teacher, Penis Envy, McKennaii, Ecuador, PES Amazonian, etc. These names are given according to where they were originally found, or the characteristics attributed to the variety.
There is some debate as to whether different varieties of Psilocybe cubensis produce different results or effects when used in microdosing quantities. To date, there are no studies on the impact of variety on microdosing outcome. If you would like to discuss your own experiences with microdosing different varieties of magic mushrooms, we’d love to hear about it – join our private Discord community to share your experience and connect with other community member stories.
While there is debate on the impact of mushroom variety on the microdosing experience, the concentration of psilocybin and psilocin does have a great impact on dosing. Researcher Jochen Gartz, who has several publications on psilocin/psilocybin concentration variation on his name, found that psilocybin and psilocin amounts can vary greatly depending on the following:
- The substrate composition when grown under laboratory conditions
- The location of wild collected mushrooms of the same species
The flush of the same mushroom species grown on the same substrate
- Across a single mushroom between the cap and the stem
A 1987 analysis by Joseph Gartz reports greater psilocybin concentration in the caps vs the stems, as well as a higher alkaloid concentration in smaller mushrooms. In a separate paper titled, “Quantitative Bestimmung der Indolderivate von Psilocybe semilanceata (Fr.) Kumm.” Gartz also shares that “The psilocybin content of mushrooms from the same location and with similar mass varied also considerably.” This thread on the Shroomery forum also contains a Bigwood report of major variation between samples of the same species.
These data were reviewed by Jonathan Ott in Pharmacotheon and other mycologists echo these findings: one should not expect homogeneity in the natural world.
Therapeutic applications of psilocybin — in high doses
Psilocybin-assisted therapy is globally viewed as a potentially groundbreaking solution for people with depression, PTSD, addiction and anxiety or existential fear. Over the coming years, we can expect more clinical trials to take place leading to an increased understanding of the power of psilocybin-assisted therapy. In 2019, the American FDA granted breakthrough status for a series of psilocybin for depression clinical trials, meaning these studies will be prioritized in order to obtain their clinical outcomes and treatment protocols as early as possible. In 2020, Canada’s Ministry of Health granted 20 cancer patients exemptions for psilocybin therapy to treat their end-of-life distress.
It’s important to note that the first clinical trials have been done on a small scale, and although the therapeutic results of psilocybin in high doses seem promising, psilocybin sessions alone are not a magic bullet. The outcome in patients and the sustainability of positive outcomes is also correlated with the therapeutic support the person receives in all phases of an experience – preparation, journey, and post-treatment integration.
The most-cited study on psilocybin is the randomized, placebo-controlled trial that compares two treatments for major depressive disorder: two psilocybin sessions adminstered alongside therapy compared with adminstration of the antidepressant Escitalopram alongside therapy. Although the results appear to show greater efficacy with the psilocybin approach, a lack of follow-up treatment meant that some participants relapsed back into their pretreatment state. The researchers emphasize that more research is needed to learn how long the results last and what it takes to achieve long-term, sustainable results in the treatment of depression.
Despite the potential, the therapeutic applications of psilocybin in microdoses has yet to be studied clinically. Clinical microdosing research in patients for medical and mental health is a growing field of scientific interest, yet at this time it is still in its infancy, with only a handful of studies underway. Current barriers for clinical research, such as legality, funding, research methodology, and ethical limitations make this a relatively slow process. However, there is no doubt that the amount of research into the medical and therapeutic applications of microdosing with psilocybin will expand in the coming years.
While clinical research is lacking, an article published in Scientific Reports in November 2021, summarizes data collected from a large scale research survey using the app Microdose.me, with researchers summarizing, “Adults who microdose psychedelics report health related motivations and lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to non-microdosers.” While these results are promising, these types of research studies are not without their limitations, including lack of placebo-control and inability to verify substance dosage to name a few; however, they do provide strong validation for seeking more rigorous research in the future.
Read more about microdosing research in this blog article: Microdosing and The Placebo Effect—What Do We Really Know?
Why do people microdose with magic mushrooms versus other microdosing substances? These are the top reasons we have found in our community:
- Legality and/or availability of mushrooms
- Psilocybin mushrooms are generally safe to use
- Benefits of microdosing mushrooms attributed by other users*
- Mushrooms are a natural, unprocessed product of the earth
- Long history of ancestral use as a sacred medicine
- When compared to (fresh) magic truffles: less nausea and lower doses needed
Potential risks of microdosing psilocybin mushrooms
Magic mushrooms are not addictive nor physiologically toxic in high doses. The minimal risk for negative side effects is further reduced when microdosing. While there remains minimal clinical data, anecdotal evidence and research surveys suggest that microdosing magic mushrooms is safe for most people with a few potential exceptions:
- People who are allergic to fungi
- People with a history of psychiatric conditions such as psychosis, schizophrenia or other dissociative conditions/states
- People with a history of heart valve problems*
- People dealing with intense active trauma or grief
- People taking Lithium or Tramadol
- During pregnancy and breastfeeding
Some possible negative side effects include:
- Tinnitus (it may or may not increase)
Further reading: Safety and risks of microdosing in general
Microdosing psilocybin mushrooms — how much is a microdose?
The microdosing dosages for dried psilocybin mushrooms (Cubensis strains) typically range from 0.05 – 0.40 grams (50-400 mg). Most people will have a ‘sweet spot’ or optimal dose in this range that will vary on many factors including age and storage method of the magic mushrooms, variety, intention, emotional state, gut health, and medications. Gender and weight do not seem to play a role in determining one’s sweet spot for microdosing psilocybin.
Especially for those new to microdosing, it is important to take time to discover your unique sweet spot, which is generally considered the smallest dose that gives you the impact that you are seeking. For most people, it is recommended to take on a calibration period in which you start at the lowest end of the microdosing range (0.05 grams), and slowly increase your dose every other day until landing on your sweet spot. A great motto that we like to use is, “start low and go slow.”
We also always recommend measuring your microdoses with a precision scale that can measure to the 0.01 of a gram.
To learn more about the microdosing process including dosing, protocols, and supportive practices, please visit our Microdosing Guide.
Microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms — how to consume them?
The easiest way to ensure consistency when microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms is to grind them into a powder.
The powder can then be encapsulated using a capsule machine, steeped in a tea, or mixed in a spoonful of honey or yogurt. It is also becoming more common to find pre-dosed microdosing products in the form of chocolate bars or gummies.
This study shows that if steeped in a tea, the temperature of boiling water does not affect the potency of your mushrooms: the tryptamine contents (psilocybin and psilocin) are hardly affected by temperatures as high as 100 degrees Celsius (boiling point) for 30 minutes. They only start to deteriorate significantly at temperatures higher than 125 degrees Celsius, and at 150 degrees they will decrease by 80%.
Some microdosers enjoy adding lemon or lemon juice to their tea, which is often referred to as a Lemon Tek. The addition of lemon may facilitate the conversion of psilocybin to psilocin, leading to a faster onset of effects and potentially increases the intensity of one’s experience. If adding lemon to a microdosing mushroom tea, you may find that your sweet spot is lower than if you microdose without the use of lemon.
Additionally, some people enjoy combining their mushroom microdose with ceremonial or raw cacao, which can emphasize the connection to one’s heart-space.
How to source magic mushrooms
If you want to microdose magic mushrooms, there are a few options:
- Order magic mushrooms from a legal vendor (Canada, US where permitted)
- Grow your own magic mushrooms from a grow kit which is a relatively easy project that many people thoroughly enjoy! (legally available in the US and European Union)
The microdosing space is quickly expanding with many new products and ways for microdosers to support their practices. To help make it easier for you to navigate this growing space, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite, high-quality microdosing products and retreats by vetted organizations that are mission-aligned.
How to store your magic mushrooms
Fresh mushrooms can be kept for a very limited time in the refrigerator. Never freeze fresh magic mushrooms as this will destroy their internal cell membrane structure, which greatly diminishes their potency.
For the greatest shelf life, it is recommended to dry psilocybin mushrooms, and always store them in an airtight container or bag, placed in a cool, dark place. It’s important that they are dried thoroughly to avoid any loss of potency or molding. Dried mushrooms can also be airtight sealed and frozen, which guarantees they will keep their potency for one to three years.
When you make your own microdosing capsules, we recommend storing these in an airtight container or bag in a cool, dark place and consuming them within a year.
How to prepare your doses for microdosing magic mushrooms — drying fresh mushrooms
To prepare the dose as accurately as possible, it’s advisable to dry your magic mushrooms, weigh them, and then make capsules.
Learn how to prepare your magic mushrooms for microdosing
Legality of psilocybin mushrooms
In most countries worldwide, magic mushrooms are illegal to possess, grow, sell, and consume.
Always inform yourself of the legal consequences in your area, or the area you travel to, before deciding to source, grow, purchase, accept, or distribute mushrooms. Get your information from up-to-date, local resources — Microdosing Institute cannot be held responsible or legally liable for the accuracy of the legal information on our website.
In Europe, Austria, Spain, and Portugal have decriminalized magic mushrooms, meaning you can possess small amounts without legal consequences. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has decriminalized the cultivation in small amounts.
In the Netherlands, psilocybin mushrooms are illegal, while Magic truffles that also contain psilocybin are legal and widely available. Except that the dosing varies greatly between the substances, there is not much difference in effect and both are suitable for microdosing.
At the US federal level, psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. Some state and municipal regulators are moving to legalize magic mushrooms for recreational use, medicinal use, or both in local regions, and this local legislation is quickly shifting. If you’re uncertain of the legality in your area, reach out to a local psychedelic society for more information.
Magic mushroom spores (used for cultivation) are legal in most states, as they do not contain either of the psychoactive chemicals, psilocin and psilocybin.
This article on Tripsitter.com keeps track of the legal status of magic mushrooms / psilocybin for each US state.
Additionally, legality of psilocybin across the world can be found here.
Join the ever-growing microdosing community!
- Bauer, B.E. (2019, November 26). Scientists Discover New Compounds in Magic Mushrooms. Retrieved from: https://psychedelicreview.com
- Guzmán, G., Allen, J. W., & Gartz, J. (1998). A worldwide geographical distribution of the neurotropic fungi, an analysis and discussion. Ann. Mus. Civ. Rovereto, 14, 189-280.
- Lüscher, C., & Ungless, M. A. (2006). The Mechanistic Classification of Addictive Drugs, 3(11).
- Mycology Wiki
- Fact Sheet Magic Mushrooms. Retrieved from: https://drugpolicy.org
Learn More: Recommended books and courses
Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World — Paul Stamets
Food of the Gods — Terrence McKenna
Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide — Oss & Oeric
Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms — Paul Stamets
The Fungal Pharmacy — Robert Rogers & Solomon Wasser
Mycelium Running — Paul Stamets
Magic Mushrooms Around the World: A Scientific Journey Across Cultures and Time — Jochen Gartz
The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide — James Fadiman
Plants of the Gods — Richard Evans Schultes Albert Hofmann