Common names: shrooms, magic mushrooms, mush
Plant source: 190 species of psilocybin mushrooms, primarily of the genus Psilocybe
Legal status in Canada:
- Psilocybin-containing mushrooms – illegal, Schedule III controlled substance
- Psilocybin – illegal, Schedule III controlled substance
- Psilocin – illegal, Schedule III controlled substance
Price: $20-40 per 1/8oz. dried mushrooms
Before heading home for a break in my journey, I’m making one last stop in the Amazon basin of South America to meet with one more group of indigenous people practicing their traditional spirituality: the Mazatecs.
The subject of my explorations will be psilocybin mushrooms, which is a fungi I know well from my experiences watching over friends who experimented with them in my teenage years. Visions of Alice in Wonderland danced through my head as I suffered through yet another long plane ride and wondered whether these dried bits of chitin were going to live up to their reputation.
The Mazatecs, as I would learn, have been using psilocybin mushrooms for millenia as tools for spiritual exploration, long before their entry into popular culture and hippy explorations into psychedelic experience.
Psilocybin mushrooms are native to many parts of the world, primarily located near the equator and in the southern hemisphere(see map). They have been used traditionally by many cultures for spiritual purposes, and studies have focused in particular on those indigenous cultures residing in the Amazonian area of South America such as the Aztecs.
Botanical aspects and preparation
Psilocybin mushrooms grow in moist, warmer environments in the greatest abundance. The entire fruiting body of the fungus is consumed in dried form to produce hallucinogenic effects .
Chemical constituents and neural action
The pharmacological activity of these mushrooms is caused by psilocybin and psilocin. These substances are alkaloids that exert their effects as agonists of the serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortext. Unlike LSD, these substances do not act on dopamine receptors. There is a low risk of addiction and abuse due to the build up of short term tolerance, requiring longer periods to pass between uses to experience consistent effects.
I was a little wary of trying these mushrooms, since I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about hallucinating for up to 8 hours. I had also heard that the perception of time is altered when on mushrooms, causing what is actually only a few hours to seem as if it’s lasting forever! Nevertheless, I was determined to receive what these mushrooms had to teach me.
The Mazatec woman who administered the mushrooms to me first prayed for me to both ancestors and Christian deities. She warned me that this was an important part of the process of ingesting these mushrooms: if taken in a negative environment, undesirable feelings and experiences could occur. In other words, I could have a “bad trip”. She assured my through the translator that she would be with me for support throughout the experience.
I ate approximately two grams of dried mushrooms – a beginners dose. I was no longer surprised that they were not very tasty – I had learned from my journey thus far that these entheogens were teachers, not something intended to be taken lightly. It suited them well that they didn’t taste very appealing, driving home their serious nature.
I sat for about half an hour, trying to relax. Slowly my visual perception began to change. Colours (of which there were many in the shrines and adornments of the Mazatec woman’s ceremony room) appeared more vivid and more pure. The objects in the room and my guide looked almost cartoonish in their exaggerated forms. Objects seemed to come alive and breathe. I looked out the window at a vine and it seemed to move, snake-like, but in a non-threatening way. I was told gently to close my eyes, and I was treated to a truly psychedelic display of three dimensional shapes, fireworks, and an impossible array of colours on the inside of my eyelids. It might have been the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A sense of euphoria came over me. It felt like a reward for the work I had done in the past month. I had come a long way from the churning demons of ayahuasca. I felt them exorcised, if only for that moment.
Grateful for the beauty I had witnessed on my last day of the first half of my trip, I packed by bags the next morning and mentally prepared myself to return to my old reality. My friends and loved ones would be a welcome sight. I figured maybe I’d even talk someone into coming with me for the next leg of the journey. These past months have been many things, and nothing was ever quite what I expected. But it has certainly been the most authentic experience of my life.