Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Scientists have found the genes that make magic mushrooms magic

Long before magic mushrooms became a way for hippies to turn on, tune in, and drop out, and well before ancient mesoamerican mystics employed them in religious ritual, they had their use as an insect repellant. Some 200 species of mushrooms naturally produce psilocybin, which, when imbibed by humans, can trigger “magic,” hallucinogenic effects. But obviously these mushrooms didn’t evolve to send humans on psychedelic trips.
Psilocybin also affects insects’ minds, making them less hungry. Given that most magic mushrooms grow in environments particularly welcoming to insects—the mushroom’s natural predator—it’s likely the psychedelic compound developed as a tool for evolutionary survival.
study published Feb. 27 in Evolution Letters sets out the evidence for this reasoning. There’s no clear, distinct family of mushrooms that contain psilocybin. The dozens of different species are distantly related, suggesting the genes for psilocybin weren’t passed down through one biological lineage, but instead that the genetic material for psilocybin transferred across species (known as horizontal gene transfer.)
In their recent study, researchers led by Jason Slot, professor of fungal evolutionary genomics at Ohio State University, sequenced the genomes of three distantly related magic mushroom species and compared them with much more closely related non-psychedelic mushrooms. They identified a cluster of five genes responsible for psychedelic qualities, and found that the distantly related psilocybin mushrooms had more similar genomes than closely related mushrooms that lived in different environments.
This suggests that the genes were transferred (horizontal transferring is more common for genes within clusters) as a response to stresses within the environment. In this case, the environments in question are animal dung and rotting wood, where there are plenty of mushroom-eating insects.
Psilocybin’s ability to interfere with the mind has a clear evolutionary benefit for mushrooms growing amid animal dung. It interferes with neurotransmitters in insects’ minds to make them less hungry and so less likely to eat mushrooms. “The psilocybin probably doesn’t just poison predators or taste bad,” Slot said in a statement. “These mushrooms are altering the insects’ ‘mind’—if they have minds—to meet [the mushrooms’] own needs.”
Decoding the original purpose and genes behind magic mushrooms could help advance new uses for psilocybin. There’s currently fast-advancing research on psilocybin as a potential treatment for depressionaddiction, and treating anxietyamong patients with terminal cancer.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Chef gets caught with magic mushroom drugs in his bedroom

A chef has been ordered to pay £365 after he was found possessing class A drugs known as magic mushrooms. Chesterfield magistrates’ court heard on Tuesday, April 18, how Andrew Kyle Judge, 23, of Burton Edge, Bakewell, had his home searched by police regarding another unrelated matter when they found the psilocin drugs.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The story of santa and his flying reindeer may have started with a shroom trip

If you celebrated Christmas as a child, the story of a bearded old man flying around the world delivering gifts may have struck you as strange. But one interpretation of the myth’s origins is even stranger.
As Live Science reported back in 2012, magic mushrooms may explain the origins of Santa and his flying reindeer.
“As the story goes, up until a few hundred years ago these practicing shamans or priests connected to the older traditions would collect Amanita muscaria [the Holy Mushroom], dry them, and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice,” John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin, California, told Live Science.
Since the doors were usually blocked by snow, people usually entered through an opening in the roof — hence Santa’s famous chimney entry, Rush added.

Santa’s ‘flying’ reindeer

Some folklorists claim the flying reindeer tradition came from people tripping on these shrooms, since reindeer are common in Siberian climates. The reindeer are known eat the mushrooms, too.
Then there’s the fact that A. muscaria grow under trees (like presents), and are red-and-white (like Santa’s suit).
These mushrooms are usually toxic to humans, but shamans used them in religious practices because of their hallucinogenic properties, according to the book “Hallucinogens and Culture” by Peter Furst. A. muscaria is distinct from the “magic” mushrooms commonly used as a recreational drug, such as Psilocybe cubensis. A compound known as muscimol is the main psychoactive ingredient in A. muscaria. Muscimol acts similarly to the brain signalling chemical GABA, which suppresses the activity of brain cells and produces relaxing feelings. 
Fact or fiction?
The Santa-shaman theory is disputed by some.
If you look at the evidence, “you find that shamans didn’t travel by sleigh, didn’t usually deal with reindeer spirits, very rarely took the mushrooms to get trances, didn’t have red and white clothes,” Ronald Hutton, a history professor at the University of Bristol, told NPR in 2010.
Instead, Hutton says, Santa was invented in 1822 by a New Yorker named Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote the classic children’s book “The Night Before Christmas.”
But shamans and hallucinogenic mushrooms sound a bit more magical, don’t you think?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Headache sufferers flout new drug law

Calls for clinical trials and rethink of legislation as patients claim that magic mushrooms can relieve excruciating condition

Patients who suffer from cluster headaches - a debilitating medical condition for which there is no cure - are flouting the government's ban on magic mushrooms because they say the psychedelic fungi are the only thing to relieve the pain of their attacks.
In the past two years scores of British cluster headache sufferers have turned to magic mushrooms, prompted by reports from the US that suggest that LSD and psilocybin - the active ingredient of magic mushrooms - may be able to control the intensity and duration of their headaches.
Although some have experimented with psychedelics before, the majority have no history of drug taking. But many say they would rather risk jail than forgo a substance that lets them lead a normal life.
Richard Ayliffe, 39, a chronic sufferer from Dudley in the West Midlands, says he has tried conventional treatments but the only thing to have brought him relief is magic mushrooms. Without them he says he would not be able to hold down a job.
"People are quite sympathetic at first but once you've let them down for the third time sympathy turns to exasperation," he says. "Magic mushrooms have enabled me to lead a normal life."
Like other members of ClusterBusters - an online forum where cluster headache sufferers swap notes and discuss alternative treatments - Ayliffe claims that taking magic mushrooms not only interrupts his cycle of headaches, but buys him longer remission periods between attacks. Some sufferers claim that since taking mushrooms they have been pain-free for up to two years.
And, because an attack can come at any time many members stockpiled mushrooms ahead of the government's ban this month.
Last week one member of the group, a 41-year-old father of two who asked to be identified only as Lee, admitted he had already taken one dose in contravention of the ban.
Under the Drugs Act 2005 possession of magic mushrooms is a class A offence punishable by a seven-year prison sentence. Previously, only psilocybin and other preparations of mushrooms, but not the fresh product itself, were controlled.
"The way I see it, either I break the law or forgo the most effective treatment I have found in nearly six years," says Lee.
Since he began taking mushrooms a year ago, he says the intensity of his headaches has shrunk by a third and the remissions between attacks have lengthened to 40 days.
"It's absolutely incredible," he says. "I can't tell you how much magic mushrooms have changed my life."
Spurred by the cases, researchers at Harvard Medical School are hoping for permission from the US food and drug administration to conduct a controlled trial.
John Halpern and his colleague Andrew Sewell have collected 60 case studies from members of ClusterBusters. With the support of the Boston-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (Maps), they plan to publish the cases in a leading journal with a view to getting FDA approval for a clinical trial next year.
Maps is already sponsoring an FDA trial of psilocybin for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder.
"At this stage we are not advocating anything - we're just trying to gather information and see if we can get a sense of the appropriate dosage," says Rick Doblin, the president of Maps. "Having said that, I find the anecdotal reports pretty convincing."
Cluster headaches come in cycles and are caused by a swelling of the blood vessels in the brain. Sufferers say the pain exceeds that of passing a kidney stone or of childbirth without anaesthetic.
Some have found the pain, which typically extends over one side of the head and face, so unbearable that they have committed suicide.
For episodic sufferers, the headaches typically last several weeks then disappear. But in chronic sufferers - of whom there are an estimated 6,000 in Britain - attacks occur daily, with no more than two weeks' remission in any 12-month period. They can continue for years.
Conventional treatments include oxygen and Imitex (sumatriptan), an anti-migraine medication that constricts the flow of blood in the brain. Since only two injections can be taken in a 24-hour period, however, this is of little use for chronic sufferers.
Verapamil, a calcium channel blocker, can also be used as a prophylactic against attacks, - but to be effective it has to be taken in high doses, increasing the risk of such side effects as cardiac arrest.
Peter Goadsby, professor of neurology at the Institute of Neurology, University College London, and the world's leading expert on cluster headaches, is sceptical about the mushroom therapy.
He argues that the relief reported by some patients may be a placebo effect or owing to natural remission. But he does believe the cases warrant a proper clinical study, particularly as ergotomine - which contains lysergic acid, a precursor of LSD - has been used to treat migraines for years.
"It's possible that mushrooms have some useful effect but it's far from proven," Dr Goadsby says. "Cluster headaches are such a devastating problem that people will turn to anything that seems to work."
But one sufferer, John Hobson, 36, from Barnsley in Yorkshire, says since experimenting with mushrooms last year his night-time attacks have ceased and he no longer gets headaches early in the morning. But because of the change in the law Mr Hobson says he has decided to discontinue the therapy.
"If I could have mushrooms growing in my garden for medical use and I knew I wasn't going to get lifted by the vice squad I would most definitely do it," he says.
"I think the government should introduce an exemption for people in need."

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

First magic mushroom depression trial hits stumbling block

LONDON (Reuters) - The world's first clinical trial designed to explore using a hallucinogen from magic mushrooms to treat people with depression has stalled because of British and European rules on the use of illegal drugs in research.
David Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association and professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said he had been granted an ethical green light and funding for the trial, but regulations were blocking it.
"We live in a world of insanity in terms of regulating drugs," he told a neuroscience conference in London on Sunday.
He has previously conducted small experiments on healthy volunteers and found that psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, has the potential to alleviate severe forms of depression in people who don't respond to other treatments.
Following these promising early results he was awarded a 550,000 pounds ($844,000) grant from the UK's Medical Research Council to conduct a full clinical trial in patients.
But psilocybin is illegal in Britain, and under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug - one that has a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical use.
This, Nutt explained, means scientists need a special license to use magic mushrooms for trials in Britain, and the manufacture of a synthetic form of psilocybin for use in patients is tightly controlled by European Union regulations.
Together, this has meant he has so far been unable to find a company able to make and supply the drug for his trial, he said.
"Finding companies who could manufacture the drug and who are prepared to go through the regulatory hoops to get the license, which can take up to a year and triple the price, is proving very difficult," he said.
Nutt said regulatory authorities have a "primitive, old-fashioned attitude that Schedule 1 drugs could never have therapeutic potential", despite the fact that his research and the work done by other teams suggests such drugs may help treat some patients with psychiatric disorders.
Psilocybin - or "magic" - mushrooms grow naturally around the world and have been widely used since ancient times for religious rites and also for recreation.
Researchers in the United States have seen positive results in trials using MDMA, a pure form of the party drug ecstasy, in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
"What we are trying to do is to tap into the reservoir of under-researched illegal drugs to see if we can find new and beneficial uses for them in people whose lives are often severely affected by illnesses such as depression," Nutt said.
The proposed trial would involve 60 patients with depression who have failed two previous treatments.
During two or three controlled sessions with a therapist, half would be given a synthetic form of psilocybin, and the other 30 a placebo. They would have guided talking therapy to explore negative thinking and issues troubling them, and doctors would follow them up for at least a year.
Nutt secured ethical approval for the trial in March.
In previous research, Nutt found that when healthy volunteers were injected with psilocybin, the drug switched off a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is known to be overactive in people with depression.
"Even in normal people, the more that part of the brain was switched off under the influence of the drug, the better they felt two weeks later. So there was a relationship between that transient switching off of the brain circuit and their subsequent mood,", he said. "This is the basis on which we want to run the trial."