Sunday, 27 January 2013

Magic mushrooms banned in Netherlands

Magic mushrooms have been banned in the Netherlands after a teenage girl who took them fell to her death from a bridge. 

From Dec 1 the famous Amsterdam magic mushroom will no longer be on sale in the city. The hallucinogenic mushrooms, imported mainly from Hawaii, Mexico and Ecuador, have for years been freely available, at modest prices, in shops around the city.
Neatly packed and labelled in display cases beside regular goods like vegetables and milk, and often packed in souvenir gift wrapping, the mushrooms have been popular among mainly German, French and British tourists.
Shop owners have claimed the ban will result in hundreds of jobs being lost and are planning protest marches.
While the dried variety, which provides even stronger hallucinations, is already illegal, the decision to ban fresh magic - or psilocybin - mushrooms was taken after a 17-year-old French girl jumped to her death from one of Amsterdam's canal bridges in March after taking them.
Amsterdam city council supports the government's ban, hoping it will change the general perception of the city as a mecca for drug user and the sex industry.
Earlier this year moves were made to close down part of the city's famous red light district.
But Paul Van den Berg, who works in one of the shops that sells the mushrooms, described that ban as "a disgrace".
He said: "It's all the fault of tourists, especially the Brits. They misuse alcohol at home and come over here to do the same with hash and the so called 'magic mushrooms'."
He said that the mushrooms were intended for connoisseurs who know how to eat them properly and in the correct quantity, producing a euphoric state with the odd "pleasant hallucination".
But a city councillor said: "Despite Amsterdam having the world's most important collection of Rembrandts and Van Gogh and being home to the famous Concertgeboug Orchestra, the City is still perceived as a place where you go to buy drugs."
The Netherlands agreed legislation in July to ban cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants. However the euphemistically labelled "coffee shops" where soft drugs can be selected from a menu remain open and smokers can puff on a roll-up of marijuana on the premises, provided tobacco is not used.
Dutch tourist organisations insist that windmills, tulips and Rembrandt remain the major draw for tourists.
A Dutch magic mushroom customer said: "Sunday lunch just won't be the same. I always used the mushrooms in my stew for friends. They produce a nice relaxing glow, much better than alcohol".

Thursday, 24 January 2013

John Allegro's "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross


John M. Allegro


John Marco Allegro (17 February 1923, London - 17 February 1988) was a scholar who challenged orthodox views of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible and the history of religion, with books that attracted popular attention and scholarly derision.
After service in the Royal Navy during World War II, Allegro started to train for the Methodist ministry but transferred to graduate with a first class degree in Semitic Studies from the University of Manchester. He obtained an M.A. for a study into the Balaam Oracles and later pursued further research, studying the various dialects of Biblical Hebrew at Oxford. In 1953 he was invited to become the first British representative on the international team working on the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls from cave 4 in Jordan. The following year he was appointed assistant lecturer in Comparative Semitic Philology at Manchester, and held a succession of lectureships there until he resigned in 1970 to become a full-time writer. In 1961 he was made Honorary Adviser on the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Jordanian government.
Allegro's thirteen books include The Dead Sea Scrolls (1956), The Treasure of the Copper Scroll (1960), The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth (1979) as well as Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan vol. V (1968) and articles in academic journals such as the Journal of Biblical Literature, Palestine Exploration Quarterly and Journal of Semitic Studies, and in the popular press.


Access to the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written between 200 BCE and 68 CE, and give insight into the religious life and thought of a Jewish sect based at Qumran by the Dead Sea and usually identified as Essenes. Allegro believed the scrolls could help us understand the common origin of three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He hoped they might be able to bring together scholars of each tradition in studying their common heritage without the barriers of religious prejudice.
This would mean making the texts accessible to all. Allegro published the sections of text allotted to him in academic journals as soon as he had prepared them, and his volume (number five) in the official series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert was ready for the press by the early 1960s. He continually campaigned for the publication of all scroll texts. However, his colleagues took a different approach, and little else appeared until 1991.
Allegro saw himself as a publicist for the scrolls. His books, talks and broadcasts promoted public interest in the scrolls and their significance. At first, the rest of the team encouraged his efforts, which after all were intended to help fund their research. But they[who?] thought he went too far in making assertions about the parallels between Essenism and Christianity which they thought were unsupported by evidence and designed to raise his personal profile. He was accused[by whom?] of stirring up controversy at the expense.


The Copper Scroll

 The controversy over the Copper Scroll deepened the rift between Allegro and the team. At the request of the authorities, Allegro had arranged for the scroll to be cut open in Manchester over the winter of 1955/56. He supervised the opening and made a preliminary transcription and translation of the contents. He found it to be a list of Temple treasure hidden at various locations around Qumran and Jerusalem, most probably after the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. Initial excitement turned to acrimony when the team accused Allegro of leaking information to the press (which was denied), and later objected to his pre-empting the official translation (in 1962) by publishing his own version first (in 1960). In Allegro's defense, it is suggested the team had already issued a preliminary translation, and Allegro held his book back to try and let the official version take precedence. But he could not in honesty support the official interpretation of the Copper Scroll as a work of fiction, and some later scholars have endorsed his view that the treasure was real.


Christian origins

 Allegro believed that Essenism was the matrix of Christianity. He suggested that there were so many correspondences between the scroll texts and the New Testament — words and phrases, beliefs and practices, Messianic leadership, a teacher who was persecuted and possibly crucified — that he thought the derivation obvious. This brought him into conflict with the Catholic priests on the editing team, and with most church spokesmen, who maintained the orthodox assumption that the arrival of Jesus was the unique, historical, God-given event described in the Gospels. Allegro also started to look in more depth at the way the New Testament appeared to weave together a mix of folklore, myth, incantation and history.


Language, myth and religion

As a philologist, Allegro analysed the derivations of language. He traced biblical words and phrases back to their roots in Sumerian, and showed how Sumerian phonemes recur in varying but related contexts in many Semitic, classical and other Indo-European languages. Although meanings changed to some extent, Allegro found some basic religious ideas passing on through the genealogy of words. His book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross relates the development of language in Eurasia to the development of myths, religions and cultic practices in many cultures. Allegro believed he could prove through etymology that the roots of Christianity, as of many other religions, lay in fertility cults; and that cultic practices, such as ingesting hallucinogenic drugs to perceive the Mind of God, persisted into Christian times.
The reaction to The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross ruined Allegro's career. His detractors considered his somewhat sensationalist approach deplorable and his arguments somewhere between unconvincing and ludicrous. Prof J. N. D. Anderson observed that the book was "dismissed by ... not being based on any philological or other evidence that they can regard as scholarly." Sumerian expert Anna Partington summarized some of the problems, stating that The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross "uses a number of hypothetical Sumerian words not attested in texts. These are marked with an asterisk following philological convention. This is akin to proposing there is a word in the English language 'bellbat' because the individual words 'bell' and 'bat' are known to exist separately. Then again words of different languages are gathered together without the type of argument which would be expected in order to demonstrate possible relationship."
However, Allegro's work has been adopted by some alternative authors. In May 2006, Michael Hoffman of and Jan Irvin wrote an article for The Journal of Higher Criticism entitled Wasson and Allegro on the Tree of Knowledge as Amanita that suggested that Allegro's work should be evaluated on its merits like that of any other scholar and not dismissed merely because its arguments fall outside the mainstream. In 2008 Prof. John Rush of Sierra College published Failed God that also gives heavy support for Allegro's theories. In November 2009 The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was reprinted in a 40th anniversary edition with a preface by Jan Irvin, a foreword by Judith Anne Brown, and a 30 page addendum by Prof. Carl A.P. Ruck of Boston University with new linguistic evidence that supports Allegro's theories.
"The concerted and biased attempts to destroy Allegro's discoveries have failed. The confirmatory evidence is mounting in his favor. The critics can now raise their voices again. Let us hope that they do, since the matter is not settled, but they should be advised to do so with more careful consideration. This book that many have prized in secret is now available again. It demands the serious consideration of theologians, mythologists, and students of religion. No account of the history of the Church, both West and East, can afford to leave the poor despicable fungus unconsidered, nor the role that entheogens in general have played in the evolution of European civilization." ~ Professor Carl A. P. Ruck, Boston University
Allegro went on to write several other books exploring the roots of religion; notably The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth, which seek to relate Christian theology to Gnostic writings, classical mythology and Egyptian sun-worship in the common quest for divine light.
Allegro believed the Dead Sea Scrolls raised issues that concerned everyone. It wasn't just a matter of dusty manuscripts and disputed translations. Rather, the story of the scrolls raised questions about freedom of access to evidence, freedom of speech, and freedom to challenge orthodox religious views.
"... with the unhappy record of the church for destroying documents and whole libraries of which it disapproved, as well as its predeliction for controlling the reading habits and opportunities of the faithful, one can only continue to be apprehensive about the church's attitude when religiously sensitive information comes into its hands,..."
Allegro believed that through understanding the origins of religion people could be freed from its bonds to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own judgments.

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Monday, 21 January 2013

Johns Hopkins Study Finds That Controlled Magic Mushroom Use Is Safe And Has Lasting Benefits

There have been many studies over the years supporting the benefit of psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical occurring naturally in some mushrooms.
The most authoritative study yet was published this week by a team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, according to GOOD:
A team from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published results from a roughly year-long experiment. The researchers worked with 18 volunteers who were given pure psilocybin to measure how it affected people and how different dosages changed the experience. The subjects were screened for psychological health and given the drug in a pleasant environment, after preparatory guidance. They even had a soundtrack consisting of "classical and world music chosen to complement the arc of the psilocybin action, from onset, through the peak of the effects, and subsiding back to baseline."
The results? At high dosages people occasionally experienced fear, anxiety, or delusions. But the negative effects of those "bad trips" were easily mitigated by the reassuring researchers and didn't outlast the session. At more moderate doses, the results were almost unambiguously positive. Moreover, people didn't just appreciate the experience as fun; they found it spiritually meaningful, with lasting benefits.
Reading the volunteers' first-hand reports of how the experiences affected them is a testament to their value. "More and more, sensuality and compassion and gratitude continue to unfold around me." "I try to judge less and forgive more." "I feel that I relate better in my marriage. There is more empathy." "I need less food to make me full. My alcohol use has diminished dramatically."
Should we all rush out to buy shrooms? No, first because they're schedule 1 controlled substances on par with heroin. Second because most people can't recreate the safe psilocybin and environment used in the experiment.
As GOOD's Andrew Price points out, however, psychiatrists and authorities need to take a closer look.

Psilocybin Magic Mushrooms are Good for You Says John Hopkins U

Back in 2002 John Hopkins University had 46 people take psilocybin mushrooms in a rare study of psychedelic drugs. In interviews now 6 years later two thirds of the participants called it a very positive experience in their lives. 
"It was a joyful, ecstatic thing at the same time, like the joy of being alive, there was this sense of relief and joy and ecstasy when my heart was opened." Said 66 year old Dede Osborn (no relation to Ozzie) who summed it up most typically. Osborn and others went on to say it was a life changing spiritual experience. Study: Long-term benefit in ‘magic mushroom’ drug
In the late Seventies there was also a Rack Jite Study of psilocybin mushrooms that took place over several years in trips to one of the top mushroom turista spots of the world. The Mayan Ruins at Palenque in the jungle state of Chiapis in Mexico. Though the Mayan ruins added to the spiritual side of the experience it was the pain suffered the following day that is most memorable. [The Rack Jite Study was overseen under controlled conditions by Tutu Tom and Hongo Harry.]
The pain in the muscles of our cheeks and abdomens caused us to have to take precious days off before doing it again. Beer and Tequila sufficed in the meantime. The pain was primarily due to Mexico being a very funny place in general, but more specifically the humor we found in the colors they paint everything paintable. And of course many many yucks concerning so many different kinds of animals doing what animals to in the overhead racks of the buses. Sometimes laughing jags could last up to an hour over just one colorful piece of silliness. One very long term laugh I remember was Tutu Tom trading his calculator for a turkey we ended up dealing with for a week in our laps. He finally did get et.
Doing my best to capture the sillyciban experience in just a few words I would say, "Doing Hongo in the Jungo makes God funny." Finding so much humor in the old man had a profound effect on my subsequent spirituality. Having a laugh with religion is far superior to using it to poke others in the eye.        
Though the study would like to go forward to use what it has learned to help various medical and addiction issues, the government (the Bush Administration) with its recent scathing report (that sounds like it is from the 1935 movie Reefer Madness) that marijuana will kill you, is sure to keep any more experiments with such drugs relagated only to the more Republcian aspects of war and torture.

Psilocybin in the Media: Myths and Misconceptions

“All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.”- Croatian proverb
With its flaming red cap and enchanting snowy white spots, is there any more compelling emblem of psychedelia than the toadstool Amanita muscaria, the ‘Siberian magic mushroom’? For baby boomers growing up in the ‘60s, the magic mushroom was at least as iconic a symbol of the evolution of consciousness as the ubiquitous LSD, or acid. And yet ordinary people both then and now also associate the Amanita mushroom with something just as potent: many consider it deadly poisonous. This schism represents the public confusion that still surrounds the safety, effects, usage and even species of psychoactive mushrooms: after all, Amanitas are a small subset of magic mushroom in comparison to the more widespread Psilocybe genus, which we’ll be discussing here.
Part One in our series on Psychedelics in the Media will focus on one of the oldest, most popular, most misunderstood psychedelics: psilocybin-containing mushrooms. While many people imagine the showy Amanita when they hear the phrase “magic mushroom”, the effects of “shrooms” most people are familiar with tend to fit those generated by the indole alkaloid psilocybin: these effects usually include closed eye visuals, often of vivid and colorful geometric patterns and iconic scenes; feelings of euphoria and hilarity; increased emotional openness and creativity; and sometimes enhanced appreciation for one’s life. The positive effects of psilocybin on temperament and personality often last long after the trip itself has ended (Goodman 2011, Griffiths et al 2006). In recent years, several clinical studies have come out pointing to the possible therapeutic benefits of psilocybin in mitigating or even preventing the symptoms of cluster headache (Sewell et al 2006, Semere et al 2006, Jaslow 2012); treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (Delgado et al n. d.); opiate/alcohol addiction; and depression and anxiety that are unresponsive to cognitive therapies (Griffiths et al 2006, Jaslow 2012).

Film culture is one of extremes: often, factual accuracies in representation are sacrificed for the sake of comedy, dramatic tension, or artistic license. This is especially evident in areas over which cultural prejudices cast a shadow, such as the use of psychedelics. In fact, narrative film may actually have some catching up to do in comparison to news media: over the past ten years or so, the bulk of news stories relating to psilocybin-containing mushrooms have actually been positive coverage of the fungi’s medical and psychiatric potential (Jaslow 2012). However, good news rarely makes an exciting story for a movie. Filmgoers are more likely to encounter magic mushroom use as a plot device, either for comedic or dramatic effect.
Take the eponymous 2007 UK film Shrooms, a film that does not so much include inaccuracies about mushroom use as build its plot around them.

What does the average filmgoer take from a trailer like this? On an emotional level, this trailer is clearly less than positive regarding the psilocybin experience; in fact, Shrooms portrays the use of psilocybin as a potentially terrifying and even life-threatening experience, even for people who appear to have taken all the proper precautions like the characters in the film. But is Shrooms an accurate portrayal of how people use psilocybin mushrooms and what their effects can be? The answer is actually multilayered, and is probably best answered by looking at each element of the psilocybin experience and how it is portrayed in separate contemporary films.
Context of Use: First of all, who’s using magic mushrooms? Is it this guy?

Many people who have no or limited contact with the psychedelic community often imagine psychedelics as the domain of “stoners” such as the character played by Jack Black in Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, with few life ambitions beyond partying and getting “high”, a label under which a variety of unique psychedelic effects are often lumped. Psychedelic use is one of many activities, along with drinking alcohol and having sex, that has become associated with so-called teen rites of passage in Western society; as a result, psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics are frequently portrayed in film as either the province of teens and young adults, or of adults who have failed to really grow out of a teenage rebellion, as in Tenacious D.
Equally as important are the given reasons why characters might use psilocybin mushrooms. In real life these reasons are often quite varied: people have ingested psilocybin mushrooms for recreation (Well Trust Youth 2012), psychotherapy (UK Daily Mail 2006, Jaslow 2012), for medical reasons such as alleviating the symptoms of cluster headache (Semere 2006), and even to induce mystical experiences (in a controlled study) (Griffiths et al 2006). In contrast, the motivations for psilocybin use in movies are frequently never explained; however, when they are, it’s usually for recreation.
Set and setting: What is set and setting when applied to the psychedelic experience? Basically, it means grounding oneself in a safe physical environment and positive state of mind prior to using a psychedelic such as psilocybin. Creating a supportive set and setting is a crucial part of safe psilocybin use, and thus the way movies portray this aspect of the psilocybin experience is equally important. Which movies get this right and wrong? Let’s take a more in-depth look at the above clip from Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.
For most people, ingesting a mushroom gathered wild from the woods would be unthinkably reckless. For one thing, there is the strong possibility of ingesting a poisonous species such as those in the genus Galerina (which, while similar in appearance to psilocybin mushrooms, are toxic) (Enjalbert 2004). In this case, Jack Black’s character encounters unintended consequences when his surroundings transform into a stereotypical, candy-coated psychedelic wonderland. More unrealistic is Black’s positive reaction to this change: while his character is more or less charmed by the experience, in real life most people who consumed a psychedelic unawares would be alarmed to have their reality unexpectedly altered in this way. The saving grace of this scene, perhaps, is that Black’s environment does not agree with his carefree attitude: during the course of his trip, he variously gets caught in surf and falls out of a tree with painful results, underscoring the dangers of tripping in an uncontrolled setting.
In films that portray known psilocybin use, one that stands out for its mixed set and setting is Borderland, a 2010 film about a group of American university students who travel to Mexico for spring break and become embroiled with a cult. In this early scene, four out of five of them take psilocybin mushrooms shortly before attending a carnival in the city:

Overall, this scene is perhaps a more realistic portrayal of some of the ambivalences surrounding psilocybin use: we see a mixed group of friends, some of whom have prior experience with psilocybin use, coaching the newbie, Ed, who is worried about having a negative, possibly violent reaction to “hallucinogens”. However, Borderland still suffers some of the same “safe-setting” problems as Tenacious D: the friends take the mushrooms with Cannabis, a combination that has been reported to heighten the effects of psilocybin (Espiard 2005). Especially for someone who has never taken psilocybin before, like the character Ed, it is unwise to combine mushrooms with a potentiator like Cannabis.
Furthermore, the setting they choose for their psilocybin use is a bright, noisy carnival. Researchers into the psychotherapeutic potential of psychedelics are careful to design test environments for volunteers that are quiet, predictable and stable, specifically to head off the possibility of negative anxiety or fear responses (Griffiths et al 2006). A carnival is a hectic, unpredictable environment, the exact opposite of the ideal safe, stable setting in which to experience psychedelics, and would be a poor choice of venue in which to use psilocybin in real life. Also, later on in the scene, the group allows one of the characters to go off by himself. Although they do protest somewhat—reminding him that he’s “tripping”—in the end they still let him go. Considering that not only is he still in the grip of an altered state of consciousness, but is also stuck in an unfamiliar setting (a new city in a foreign country), this is a reckless decision that has catastrophic consequences in the film.
The UK film Shrooms falls down in its depiction of set and setting on both counts: firstly, the characters choose a secluded woodland setting in which to take their psilocybin mushrooms, in order to be closer to nature. The problem with this is that, in a group of six people, all of them are taking the mushrooms. The risk inherent in ingesting a mind-altering substance in the middle of nowhere with no sober sitters around to get help in case of an emergency should go without saying. The psychological support a couple of sober sitters could provide to a group this large would also be crucial to mitigating any emotional crises.
In further contrast to the practices of safe psychedelic usage, the supposedly experienced psychonaut, Jake, tells the other characters a ghost story the night before they plan to ingest the mushrooms: the upshot is that there is an abandoned orphanage near the campsite that was once run by a sadistic monk, upon whom the inmates got revenge by tricking him into ingesting a soup of psychoactive “death’s head” mushrooms which turned him into a homicidal maniac. Jake lards up the tale with rumors that people have gone missing and been murdered in those woods up to the present day, presumably by the monk’s ghost. Not only is this story a gross misrepresentation of the effects of any psychedelic mushroom— or even of any poisonous one, which will cause death through liver failure before leading to madness  (Enjalbert 2002) — but it is a bad story with which to prime people who are about to ingest a psychedelic, one that would increase the potential for one of the characters to have a negative emotional response. (Indeed, this does occur later in the movie, when the characters believe the aforementioned vengeful ghost is stalking them).
For anyone familiar with psilocybin mushrooms, taking them in the context depicted in Shrooms would be like rock climbing without carabiners. The clinical studies involving psilocybin have equipped study participants with a calm, safe environment, sober sitters to reassure them in cases of fear or anxiety responses, and an appropriately measured dose to minimize the chances of an adverse emotional response, which is more likely at doses of 20 to 30 mg of psilocybin as opposed to lower doses of 5 to 10 mg (Griffiths et al 2006).
Effects:  For viewers who have never ingested psilocybin mushrooms, the effects can be hard, bordering on impossible, to imagine. However, the multisensory medium of film might come closer than any other to displaying some of psilocybin’s audiovisual effects, as well as hint at some of the psychosomatic layers to the experience. As the character Jake aptly lays out in Shrooms, the effects of psilocybin mushrooms can include “boundless energy, visual hallucinations, uncontrollable laughter, and profound wisdom”, otherwise known as noesis, or acquiring knowledge without knowing its source. So, which movies portray a version of these effects accurately?
As you might expect, the films on our short list perform on a curve with regards to accuracy. While the psilocybin (and any psychedelic) experience is of course highly subjective, it does bear certain hallmarks, such as the aforementioned noesis and flights of ideas; closed and sometimes open eye visuals that are often colorful, geometric or organic in content; a pronounced body buzz, and sometimes ataxia (difficulty with coordinated movement) (Duffy 2008; Well Trust Youth 2012).
Ironically, in light of its focus, Shrooms does the worst job in terms of accurately portraying psilocybin’s effects: the characters walk around normally and even run during the mushroom trip, despite the alkaloid’s aforementioned effect on motor function; there is little if any allusion to psilocybin’s visual effects, other than a slight haloing around the edges of objects; and for the most part, the characters speak normally about everyday things, despite psilocybin’s documented tendency to sway conversation in the direction of the metaphysical. The only accurate effect portrayed in Shrooms is the paranoia that the characters experience later in the movie, as psilocybin use has been shown to occasionally cause temporary paranoid delusions and sometimes anxiety at higher doses taken in an inappropriate setting (Griffiths et al 2006).
Furthermore, one character, Tara, experiences a seizure after consuming a fictional psychoactive mushroom known as a “death’s head” mushroom in the film, possibly in a reference to the well-known poisonous “death cap” Amanita phalloides. This is medically inaccurate, as there have been no documented cases of psilocybin mushrooms causing seizures in adults, although they may induce them in children (Duffy 2008).
In the effects department, both Borderland and Tenacious D are somewhat more accurate: in Jack Black’s trip scene, he extemporizes musical lyrics, which is quite in keeping with the verbal creativity and nonsensical hilarity which can often exemplify the psilocybin experience. However, Black’s character also completely loses touch with reality, and while this is possible with high doses of psilocybin, the person so affected is also not likely to be physically able to climb trees (as Black’s character does) during that time. Borderland also includes interesting metaphysical conversations between the characters about subjects such as life and death, religion, and personal identity, as well as a subtle visual light show that might be expected from the low dose of psilocybin they presumably take in the film.

Another film that deserves mention here is the excellent Knocked Up, directed by Judd Apatow. Though not primarily a drug movie, Knocked Up features an intriguing scene in which two friends, Ben (Seth Rogen) and Pete (Paul Rudd) take psilocybin mushrooms together while vacationing in Las Vegas to get away from their respective romantic complications. While under the influence of the psychedelic, they have an in-depth conversation about their respective relationships.
What is highlighted here is psilocybin’s ability to enable some people to open up about emotions and discuss them honestly, come to a deeper understanding of themselves, and thus create a more positive attitude about life and personal circumstances (Goodman 2011). 
Each of the films above portray psilocybin mushrooms, the people who use them, and psilocybin’s effects in a specific way calculated to generate dramatic effect or move the plot along in some way. However, in the process each of these films presents a discourse about psilocybin and its usage that unavoidably affects users’ perception of the substance and its context of use, either positively or negatively. The two main discourses I’ll examine here are the impressions these films create about the people who choose to ingest psilocybin mushrooms, and the impressions created about the purpose for which someone might use psilocybin.
In the general public perception, people who take psilocybin mushrooms are still often imagined as the young — college students as in Shrooms, or slightly younger — and often irresponsible. This image is reflected in Jack Black’s character from Tenacious D. His mushroom experience is essentially only skin deep, a trivial flight into a colorful wonderland that’s all about the visuals and hilarity of the psilocybin experience, with none of the deeper sense of noesis or personal knowledge that is often an equal or greater portion of the experience (Goodman 2011). While Borderland also starts off in this recreational mode, it quickly turns to the characters discussing deeper issues of metaphysics, personal identity and the future, resulting in a somewhat more nuanced take on the effects and use of psilocybin.
More complicated is the psilocybin scene presented in Knocked Up, which is subtle enough that a viewer almost has to have prior knowledge of psilocybin’s effects to realize that the two characters Ben and Pete have ingested mushrooms. The premise of Knocked Up also presents an embedded discourse about the ways our society tacitly accepts the use of certain chemical substances while condemning others: in the early part of the movie, Ben meets Allison (Katherine Heigl) in a bar, and the two of them end up becoming alcohol-intoxicated and having unprotected sex, which results in Allison getting pregnant. In contrast to the complications created by the characters’ alcohol usage, Ben’s later use of mushrooms in the film is portrayed positively, as it actually enables him and his friend to talk honestly about their emotions and the challenges they face in maintaining their relationships.
The other common distortion in films that include psilocybin use is the narratives’ tendency to veer between two extremes of their effects, in a fashion that elides the reality of how and why most people use mushrooms. In film, the effects of psilocybin mushrooms are often represented in a wholly comic light (as in Tenacious D), or as an overwhelming and potentially dangerous experience, as in Shrooms. The issue with the first impression is that it trivializes the psilocybin experience and strips it of any meaning, in contradiction to psilocybin’s real potential to initiate emotional healing, insight, and greater positivity in those who experience it (Goodman 2011, Griffith et al 2006). The second impression may do more damage, as it makes viewers wonder why anyone would want to have such a terrifying experience in the first place, and makes the activity itself seem dangerous and unwise.
Neither of these extreme portrayals gets at the heart of the psilocybin experience and the way most experienced psychonauts approach the use of mushrooms. There is no denying that the mental states induced by psilocybin can be psychologically intense and challenging, and require management through the help of sober sitters and a safe context for psilocybin’s mindful use. However, with the right precautions in place, psilocybin can allow people to access profoundly meaningful states of being, greater self-knowledge and emotional awareness, and even true mystical experiences (Griffiths et al 2006). And yes, psilocybin can also be fun and inspire states of hilarity and playful creativity. What is most important (and so often missing in film) is that the psilocybin experience ends neither in laughter or fear but rather— as the word “psychedelic” implies— with the discovery of the soul.

Shamanic Plants: Amanita muscaria

Bold and undeniably conspicuous, the bright red cap with its white flaky speckles characterizes this infamous mushroom known as ‘Fly Agaric’. A familiar image in popular culture, it is known as the ‘Glückspilz’ (lucky mushroom) in Germany and represents one of the five quintessential symbols of good fortune, (along with pigs, 4-leaved clover, chimney sweeps, and horseshoes). Innumerable decorative replica trinkets, variously cast in chocolate, marzipan or plastic proliferate in the window displays, especially around New Year. Even the most conventional of suburban lawns proudly display the gaudy fungus as plaster cast dwellings of jolly old plaster cast gnomes, smoking their plaster cast pipes. Every child has made its acquaintance via countless illustrations in seemingly innocent fairy tale books. Fly Agaric continues to serve as a classic symbol of enchanted forests and magical groves - the kind of places where fairies, gnomes and witches dwell.
These ‘kitsch’ clichés are remnants of a once potent magical sacrament. Mythologies from around the world echo with the distant memory of Fly Agaric as a semi-divine being associated with mighty thunder gods and cosmic fire. In India for example, the mushroom was sacred to Agni, the god of fire. His devotees made sacrificial offerings of Fly Agaric, while partaking of the sacrament to commune with their god. In Mayan dialects Fly Agaric is known as ‘Kukulja’, which also means thunder, while the Lakandon Indians call it ‘Eh kib lu'um’, meaning ‘Light of the Earth‘ (Rätsch). In parts of northern and eastern Europe it is sometimes called ‘Raven Bread’ in allusion to Wodan's companions. The wise ravens travel on his shoulders and whisper secrets in his ears of things that are yet to come. Wodan /Thor too, is a thunder-god, a wild, shamanic god of nature who commands the elements. He gallops across the sky on his brave and loyal mount Sleipnir, the eight-legged stallion, who runs swift as the wind, and kicks up storm clouds in his trail. As the wild chase gathers speed the horse starts foaming from his mouth and where the foam drops onto the rain softened earth beneath, the Fly Agarics magically rise from the ground…
Familiar and conspicuous, yet mysterious and magical. The Fly Agaric represents THE archetypal mushroom per se - even to those who don't know it by name. Most people, conditioned by western culture, are possessed by an instinctual fear that frequently encompasses all mushrooms (a condition known as ’mycophobia‘), except perhaps those found on supermarket shelves. Some people may have been introduced to this species by means of one of the commonly available mushroom guides that mark it as 'highly poisonous and tag its picture with the deadly scull and bone symbol. Yet, despite this reputation, evidence from around the globe suggests that humans in the past (and, in certain places to the present day) have actually enjoyed a very intimate relationship with this 'very dangerous' mushroom. Apparently, this is no ordinary, poisonous toadstool, but rather a powerful psychotropic entheogen with a very rich and colorful history and folklore….
Amanita muscaria, better known as Fly Agaric, is a relatively small toadstool, growing to between 5 -12cm tall. It falls into the general category of ‘gill-baring’ mushrooms. When young it is covered by a white membranous veil, which tends to rip as the stem pushes up and the bright red cap expands. The remains of the veil skirt the stem and also leave white, wart-like flakes covering the cap, though these are sometimes washed away by heavy rain. As it matures the cap opens up like an umbrella, forming a depression around the center. Its red skin can easily be peeled off. The stem is bulbous at the base and discontinuous with the cap. The mushroom flesh is white and has no particular smell when fresh. Upon drying it develops an unpleasant musky-acrid smell, which erroneously has been claimed to ward off flies. In North America a closely related species, A. americana is often mistaken for the Fly Agaric. Its' cap tends to be more yellowy-orange. Less similar and more toxic in nature is A. pantherina, whose cap tends to be more yellow-brownish and its stem more slender. All these species are generally regarded as poisonous and even deadly.
Curiously though, while they undoubtedly are poisonous and can be deadly if ingested, very few fatal incidents of Fly Agaric ingestion have ever been recorded. The popular angst seems to be rather disproportionate to its actual toxic potential. So what is it about this mushroom that we fear so much? To answer this question we have to examine its chemistry and effects. Modern research has revealed that the chemical make-up of Amanita muscaria is actually quite complex. Early chemists had mistakenly assumed that the psychoactive principal of Fly Agaric was to be found in a tropane alkaloid known as muscarine. This substance, related to a group of alkaloids present in other 'Witches Herbs' such as Henbane and Belladonna, causes very unpleasant effects on the CNS, including profuse salivation, lachrymation, and perspiration. However, its concentration in the mushroom is actually very low (approx. 0.0003%). Furthermore, it does not cross the blood/brain barrier easily, and nor does it have any psychotropic action - thus it is hardly a likely candidate for the principle involved in producing the mushroom's reputed mind-altering effects.
It wasn't until the mid-sixties that the true entheogenic compounds of Amanita muscaria were positively identified as ibotenic acid and muscimol, its decarboxylised derivative. Research concluded that the actual psychotropic effect is most likely produced by muscimol (Chilton, 1975) since 50-100 mg of ibotenic acid produces the same effects as 10-15 mg of muscimol. The symptoms of inebriation are characterized by muscle twitching, dizziness, visual distortions (macropsia and micropsia) and altered auditory perception. (Chilton, 1975).
The potency of individual mushrooms tends to vary widely, their power being modified by environmental factors, such as seasonal variation, the weather, the phase of the moon and the pH level of the soil. The Kamchacals, a peoples from northern Siberia, who have a long history of Fly Agaric use, maintain that those that dessicate while still in the earth and remain attached to the stalk tend to have a greater psychotropic effect than those that are picked fresh and strung up to dry. They also claim that the smaller ones, whose bright red caps are still covered with many white spots, are said to be stronger than the larger ones with paler caps and fewer spots. Those picked in August are said to be the strongest. It has been suggested that a dose of 9 - 10 caps could be considered potentially lethal, though no specific data supports this claim. Apart from environmental factors that affect the mushrooms relative potency, obviously the physical and mental condition of those who consume them also plays an important role. Case studies have shown that people who mistakenly ingested the mushroom, believing that it was highly dangerous and that their lives were thus in peril, reported much more severe symptoms of poisoning than those who had intentionally partaken of it, but misjudged the dose (Ott 1976a).

 Archaeological and linguistic evidence traces Fly-Agaric use back at least some 3000-6000 years ago. Some scholars believe that it may stretch even further into pre-history and that it may in fact be the most archaic entheogen known to mankind.. It appears that Fly-Agaric was known, but not universally used throughout Siberia. Some tribes apparently never used it, some only consumed it ritually, while others used it medicinally, ritually, or even simply for pure entertainment purposes. The custom is best documented for northeastern Siberia, where in some communities it persists to this day.
Mircea Eliade, the world foremost authority on Shamanism, described Fly Agaric ceremonies among various Siberian tribes, but considers such practices (and for that matter any ceremonial drug use) as a decadent trend. (Eliade 'Shamanism' 1951) Many modern scholars disagree with his point of view, which sharply contrasts with the actual historical evidence and seems to more closely reflect his personal ethics and the moral norm of his era. (Rutledge). However, casual use does seem to be a more modern development. Where this is practiced, Fly Agaric's status as a ritual substance is gradually declining and is increasingly replaced by a relatively recent introduction: Vodka.
Nevertheless, to Siberian shamans Fly Agaric represents the focal point of their mysteries and the means to the experience of divine ecstasy, a trance-like state that enables them to fly into the world of their gods, battle with demons and obtain fantastic visions - just as it always has. It is this magical flight that is alluded to by the common name 'Fly Agaric', not, as has often been suggested, its alleged power to ward off flies, for which it is quite useless.
The German ethnologist Enderli spent 2 years among the Chukchee and Koryaks of Eastern Siberia towards the latter part of the 19th century. During his stay he had an opportunity to witness first-hand one of these much fabled, mushroom induced trance sessions. According to his report the task of preparing the dried mushrooms fell to the women, who usually did not consume them themselves. After selecting a few suitable specimen they began to chew them thoroughly so as to make them pliable and moist. They then took them out of their mouths, rolled them into sausage shapes, and gave them to the two men who proceeded to place them deep down their throats and swallow them whole. After the fourth mushroom had been ingested in this manner the first effects began to show. The men started to tremble and twitch as though they had lost control of their muscles. Their eyes took on a wild glow, quite unlike the glazed look of alcohol inebriation, though the men apparently remained fully conscious throughout this phase. The agitation increased until they suddenly fell into a trance-state and began to sing monotonously in low voices. Gradually their chanting became louder and wilder till they had worked themselves into a frenzy, their eyes glaring wildly, shouting incomprehensible words and both of them going quite literally 'berserk'. They demanded their (ritual) drums, which the women brought immediately. At once they began a wild, unbelievably frenetic dance accompanied by equally wild and ear-shattering drumming, yelling and singing while both men ran about the yurt in a manic fury which left nothing untouched. Everything was thrown about, kicked over and turned upside down until the place was in a state of total chaos. Eventually, almost as if struck dead, both of them collapsed exhaustedly and fell into a deep sleep.
For the shaman this phase is the most important aspect of his exhausting ritual. It is in this trance-like sleep that the gateway to the 'Other-World' is opened, and he experiences vivid, even lucid dreams and ecstatic visions, often of a strongly sexual and sensual nature. In this state he can diagnose the causes of diseases, determine the whereabouts of lost objects, retrieve lost souls, fight with demonic forces or gleam visions of things to come. This otherworldly state however, does not last long. After about half an hour of sleep the shaman briefly awakes to full consciousness but soon the inebriation sets in once more and continues in gradually weakening cycles of excitement, frenzy, exhaustion and sleep.
The most curious aspect of this ritual is the fact that the inebriating power of the mushroom is not destroyed by normal metabolic processes, but instead is passed into the urine with almost no loss of effect. This has given cause to a rather unsavory habit described by some of the early ethnologists recounting their field experiences in Siberia:
Those who had partaken of the mushroom would collect their own urine and without a moment's hesitation drink the liquid down, with the result of reinforcing the inebriation and starting the cycle all over once more. Sometimes the urine was saved in a special vessel for a later occasion or even shared with others who might not have been able to afford the mushrooms for themselves. (The rate of exchange in areas where it is not common is one reindeer per dried mushroom cap!) Even after passing through the body in this form substantial amounts of muscimol will again be passed into the urine unchanged. Thus it is said that the same mushroom can be 'recycled' 6-8 times.
During the phases of frenzy the inebriated person feels tremendously strong. They are also affected by what is known as 'macropsia', or micropsia, a visual distortion that lets objects appear much larger or much smaller than they really are. Thus a blade of grass might appear the size of a tree trunk or a small hole can turn into the entrance of a cave. Many unbelievable feats of strength and endurance have been accomplished under the influence of Fly Agaric. One man reportedly carried a 120-pound load for 10 miles without stopping, something he could never have done under normal circumstances. Some historians have proposed that the notorious raids of the Vikings/Norse men may have been carried out under the influence, turning them literally into 'Berserkers' with inhuman strength. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory.
(It is interesting to note that Lewis Caroll in his classic tale, Alice in Wonderland, lets his heroine encounter the magic mushroom at the gateway between solid and lucid realities: It is the abode of the stoned caterpillar, who explains some of the oddities of Wonderland to the confused Alice, who had already experienced the wondrous effects of 'macropsia', and micropsia, which happen to be a typical symptom of Fly Agaric inebriation. One wonders what those ‘Eat Me’ and ‘Drink Me’ bottles really contained and what kind of ‘Wonderland’ Lewis Caroll was really describing…)
Among the Koryak the mushroom was prepared by several different methods, the commonest of which was the one described above. On occasion though they boiled the fungi to cook a mushroom soup - though this is said to reduce its potency and thus more mushrooms were needed. Sometimes dried mushrooms were soaked in distilled Bilberry juice - obviously a fairly modern method since distillation only arrived in Siberia in the 1500. Occasionally they were mixed with the juice of Willow-Herb. No research is known to have investigated the possible synergistic action of this combination. Medicinally it was used for 'psychophysical fatigue' and for bites of venomous snakes. (Saar, 1991) It was also applied externally to treat joint ailments (Moskalenko, 1987). In Afghanistan a fly agaric smoking mixture known as tshashm baskon ('eye opener') is used for psychosis (Mochtar & Geerken, 1979). In Western medicine Fly Agaric serves as a well known homeopathic remedy, used for tics, epilepsy and depression, and in conjunction with homeopathic Mandrake tincture, is used to treat Parkinson disease. (Villers & Thümen 1893, Waldschmidt 1992).
The casual and experimental use of Fly Agaric in Western cultures has steadily increased since the 1960s. However, it is said that the effects of Amanita species found in North America and Central Europe are not equal to those found in Siberia. It is often claimed, though not proven, that the North American and European species tend to be more nauseating and not as lucid as their Siberian cousins. It is unlikely that Fly Agaric will ever become a popular candidate for drug abuse among casual thrill seekers, as the inebriation is often accompanied by intense nausea and vomiting (some people have reported no other effect from the ingestion). While shamen often regard vomiting as a way to cleanse the body of impurities thus preparing it for possession by gods or spiritual beings, casual users tend to regard vomiting as a rather unpleasant side-effect. Furthermore, Fly Agaric inebriation results in a severe hangover the following day, which makes it also less appealing to casual users.
However, people who have subjected themselves to self-experimentation often report visions of gnomes, not unlike those found in the suburban gardens mentioned above. These reports parallel mushroom lore from Siberia, which tells of ‘mushroom-men’, small stocky, sometimes neckless beings, who move swiftly and lead the shaman on his journey to the 'Other-World'. This curious lore is substantiated by a number of Siberian cliff drawings that strongly resemble descriptions of these Fly-Agaric men. The number of these little men is said to correspond with the number of mushrooms consumed, which is why the Yurak always take 2 ½ mushrooms. They say, that the 2 ½ mushroom men run ahead along convoluted paths, and the shaman can only keep up with them because the half man runs more slowly.
It would be neglectful not to mention Gordon Wasson in any discussion of ethnomycology, as he probably has done more to stimulate research in this field than anyone else. In the course of their extensive research into the folklore and folk-uses of fungi, him and his wife came upon some very interesting findings, which let them to believe that many of the mycophobic attitudes present today can be attributed to remnants of an ancient mushroom cult. According to their theory, subsequent layers of political and religious successions had long since demonized the once 'tabooed' sacraments and holy icons of this cult (the mushrooms).
Needless to say, most of the academic establishment of the day did not welcome his suggestions and point blank rejected many of his findings. Nevertheless, he persisted and eventually met some scholars who were more receptive to his revolutionary ideas. It is in no small part due to Wasson's pioneering work that the idea of psychotropic substance use (and in particular psychotropic mushroom use) as an integral part of magico-religious practices among 'primitive' cultures has gained much more widespread acceptance.
In particular, Wasson conducted extensive research into the 'Rig Veda', a collection of sacred hymns composed by the Indo-Aryan peoples who swept down into the Indus valley of India some 3500 years ago. The ‘Rig Veda’ is one of the most ancient sacred texts known to mankind and it is full of references to sacred and medicinal plants. One substance, known as ‘Soma’, is mentioned with particular reverence- its praise is sung in more than one hundred verses, describing its potent powers and referring to its divine origin. It is generally accepted that Soma is some kind of psychotropic plant, though scholars have long argued over its precise botanical identity. Unfortunately, the authors of the ‘Rig Veda’ omit to mention any details regarding its leaves, flowers or fruit. Like most religious texts the hymns are written in a rather poetic language, which does not tend to elaborate on botanical details. Instead, it allusively refers to Soma as ‘the one-legged’, ‘thunderborn’ and similar terms. Wasson concluded that this was an indication of the fungal nature of this mysterious plant, and proposed that Soma was in fact Fly Agaric. He argued that surely, if the Soma plant did display ‘mighty roots’ or ‘sweetly smelling flowers’ or any other such noteworthy features, no doubt the authors of the ‘Rig Veda’ would have given them a poetic line or two. However, since none of these structures apply to mushrooms the absence of their mention in itself provides a strong hint.
Wasson studied the 'Rig Veda' in great detail and came up with a number of other supporting factors for his theory, which he published in his book 'Soma' in 1968. However, most of the scientific community at the time never quite accepted his proposals. Today scholars are split into two camps, those who support Wasson's findings, and those who are still doubtful and continue to search for the true identity of Soma.
Certainly it is hard to interpret such ancient texts beyond reasonable doubt. However, one has to ask the question of how and why such an obviously important substance could have been 'lost'. The only plausible answer lends support to the Wasson camp: the Aryan people, who came from the north, brought with them only the cultural memory of this magical substance, but not the actual plant. It is impossible to cultivate Fly Agaric and since it does not occur naturally in the Indus valley, it is likely that it gradually passed into the mythical realm. If one accepts the fungal nature of Soma then Fly Agaric really emerges as the most logical choice, even though other psychotropic mushrooms are native to the homelands of the Indo-Aryan people, their use is not as widespread and common, and to this day hardly anything is known about them. Still, who really knows what these people once might have known? Their knowledge has passed into oblivion. For all we know today, their sacred soma plant, fungus or not, may even have long since become extinct.
The quest for soma continues to present a fascinating enigma - in keeping with the mysterious nature of the archetypal magical mushroom known as Fly Agaric.


Fly Agaric is a powerful fungus, whose effects can be extremely variable and dangerous in the hands of fools. Self-experimentation is not recommended. In particular all amanita species with a white or greenish cap should be avoided, as these are definitely very deadly.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Cluster Headache Treatment with Psilocybin Mushrooms & LSD

There are recurring discussions of the use of psychedelics, most often psilocybin and LSD, in the underground and personal treatment of migraines and cluster headaches. Cluster headaches (also called Suicide Headaches) are a specific variety of extreme, recurring headaches and are classified with migraines. A good overview of Cluster headache symptomology can be found at Very briefly, Cluster headaches are cripplingly painful headaches which occur in clusters or periods where the sufferer experiences them at a high frequency, sometimes several per day, over the course of weeks or months, then a period of no headaches, then another cycle of pain.

Erowid has received several reports of migraine sufferers who have used low doses of LSD to treat migraines and chemicals structurally similar to LSD are commonly prescribed for migraine treatment, but more recently data has begun to accumulate that psilocybin may successfully reduce the incidence of cluster headaches for weeks or months and may also reduce the pain during an attack.

Ethan Russo wrote a comment, posted to the MAPS website in February 2000, which makes it clear that the recurring claims of relief from these disabling migrains should be scientifically investigated. An article in September 2004 in Wired discussed the cluster headache issue Long Trip for Psychedelic Drugs.

On discussions about the use of psilocybin were initiated in 2000 by Flash, and the archives there can turn up some interesting comments. Erowid includes this set of comments in order to archive them so that they can be the basis for further research. If you have any experiences, positive or negative, with psilocybin & cluster headaches, please submit either:

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Discovering the magic of mushrooms with a great explorer

Fungi offer food and a natural high – but be careful when sampling nature's bounty.

"20 or 30 years ago, it was slightly fanatical naturalists who came foraging with me," Dr Patrick Harding said, slipping out of his day socks, into his mushrooming socks. "It's only recently that people have wanted to eat them". That's lesson one. Mycologists shroom in the spirit of botanical inquiry, not because they are hungry; but somehow (Harding attributes it to restaurants and TV chefs, modestly not mentioning his own books on the matter) edible mushrooms have exploded (metaphorically; literally, they tend not to explode, being more likely to seep or curl). "For the first time in my life, I'm ahead of the trend."
Sheffield is famous for its magic mushrooms, and people of a certain age will tell you about a bus into the Peaks which people used to take on Friday night. They'd harvest their psychedelia, stay up all night seeing things, then come back in on a Saturday morning with eyes like saucers and dew in their hair. Nobody can remember what bus number it was, which I suppose is a lesson in itself.
"They're very easy to identify; called the liberty cap after the French shape, and they never have a straight stem. Considering the chemicals in them, I'm not surprised." The drugs economy has changed quite a bit, and even with the research possibilities of Google, young people probably no longer go to the Peaks when you can get an E for £3.50.
"Oh!" Harding yelps. "Look over there!" He looks like a baby who's seen a balloon. "This is only found growing with pine trees. Do we have a pine tree? Yes! Right above us." Harding has taught at universities all his adult life. "This has the same colour stem as the cap, which is quite unusual. You know the way cheap cheddar won't crumble, but a Wensleydale will? This crumbles like a good cheese." And that's why they call it the crumble cap. I have already forgotten whether or not you're allowed to eat it.
Previously, my rule with mushrooms was not to eat them if they were a weird colour, but I had reckoned without the Lactarius deliciosus, which has bright orange gills, goes a limey, unnerving green as it ages and weeps bright orange tears when you cut it. It's how you'd imagine the world, post-apocalypse. Apparently, it is also really tasty, with an al dente flavour. "Oh!" He's off. He's found a grey knight, which has a furry texture and a spindly stem. Harding's enthusiasm is so infectious that I almost don't care whether or not you can eat them anymore. But it is edible. If you're ok with eating something that looks like a mouse, hiding.
Before you go out on your own, here are some things you should know: Sheffield is brilliantly served this autumn, because it's been very wet. The fruits of fungi are 85% water, so are sunk by a drought. The whole country is groaning with mushrooms, in fact.
You don't have to go to a national park, you can be in the middle of the city, in a graveyard or some woods, and find specimen as fascinating as something you had hunted all day across wild terrain (maybe hunting is overstating it a bit, considering they don't move). We found a beautiful inkcap, the size of a marrow (a smallish one), up against a grave. "Look at those gills, they're pink, but black underneath. It's like looking up a lady's skirt. Sorry, that's sexist. I shouldn't have said that" (well… I'm prepared to overlook the use of the word "lady", though I would point out that our skirts haven't looked like this from the inside since the 1890s).
You have to use more than your eyes; also smell them, touch them, occasionally taste them, observe their habitat and, if you're really serious about eating them, do a spoor print, by leaving the mushroom on glass for three hours, and checking the colour of the residue.
You do no damage to the fungus when you pick the mushroom – it's just the fruit, it's like picking an apple from a tree – but you shouldn't pick them all because we're not the only ones who eat them. Badgers like them.
Almost everything that's edible has something that looks just like it that is inedible. This won't necessarily kill you – Harding has been out mushrooming hundreds of times, and never even had a stomach ache. But then, other people go out shrooming and then die, or have to have their kidneys replaced.
So the short answer, before you go, is don't go. Or you could go and have a look, marvel at nature's bounty, and eat when you get home.

Long Trip: Magic Mushrooms' Transcendent Effect Lingers

Survey shows that profound mental changes induced by psilocybin have lasted for more than a year.

People who took magic mushrooms were still feeling the love more than a year later, and one might say they were on cloud nine about it, scientists report in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
"Most of the volunteers looked back on their experience up to 14 months later and rated it as the most, or one of the five most, personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives," comparing it with the birth of a child or the death of a parent, says neuroscientist Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who led the research. "It's one thing to have a dramatic experience you say is impressive. It's another thing to say you consider it as meaningful 14 months later. There's something about the saliency of these experiences that's stunning."
Griffiths gave 36 specially screened volunteers psilocybin, the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms. The compound is believed to affect perception and cognition by acting on the same receptors in the brain that respond to serotonin, a neurotransmitting chemical tied to mood.
Afterward, about two thirds of the group reported having a "full mystical experience," characterized by a feeling of "oneness" with the universe. When Griffiths asked them how they were doing 14 months later, the same proportion gave the experience high marks for transcendental satisfaction, and credited it with increasing their well-being since then.
But some scientists noted that this psilocybin study was just the first trip on a long journey of understanding. "We don't know how far we can generalize these results," cautions neuroscientist Charles Schuster of Loyola University Chicago and a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "To attribute all of this to the drug, I think, is a mistake and to expect the same effects from simply taking the drug without this careful preparation in these kinds of people would be a mistake."
Herbert Kleber, who directs the division of substance abuse at Columbia University also notes that it is difficult to assess the mushroom's impact without detailed information on how individual lives were changed. For example, it remains unclear from the study whether volunteers really were more altruistic or simply claimed to be.
But the findings do seem to support reports of recreational users and what LSD guru and 1960s counterculture icon Timothy Leary made famous in his psychedelic lab at Harvard University.
Griffiths and Schuster are proponents of future research on psilocybin to determine whether it has long-term influence on the brain—and whether the reported mystical effects affect memory alone or stem from other physiological changes. This study is among the first of so-called "shrooms" in four decades, coming after the widespread, illegal use of hallucinogens as recreational drugs in the 1960s, which turned off corporate and academic researchers.
"I don't think the evidence is sufficiently strong for any beneficial effect in general for us to consider changing the legality of these substances until a great deal more research is done," Schuster says. "But the illegality should not interfere with this research."
For his part, Griffiths is now recruiting terminally ill cancer patients for a trial that will test whether psilocybin mitigates the existential anxiety that comes with facing death. Strangely enough, he says, it may also be a salve for alcoholism and drug addiction.
"It does sound counterintuitive," Griffiths says. But, "six of the 12 AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] steps are related to a higher power and surrendering to it. Many people don't engage fully into the 12-step program because they don't have a connection to a higher power. One can't help but wonder whether an experience like this might be useful."

Why Magic Mushrooms Can Be Good for You ?

On May 13, 1957, an article on the cover of Life Magazine written by a vice president of the Wall Street banking firm J.P Morgan ignited the psychedelic revolution.
In 1955, R. Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina, journeyed to southern Mexico, where they encountered a native woman named Maria Sabena, who conducted sacred ceremonies employing hallucinogenic mushrooms. The first non-natives known to participate in these rituals, the Wassons were pioneers in consciousness exploration through the use of natural mind-altering agents. Writing about his experiences with the mushrooms, Wasson penned the now-famous article "Seeking the Magic Mushroom."
Not long after the Life article appeared, others traveled to the mountains of Oaxaca to find out about the sacred mushrooms for themselves. Among them were notables including Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Word spread about the strange fungi, and people who made the trek to southern Mexico enjoyed fantastic visions and surreal experiences while under the influence of "magic mushrooms."
When the hippy movement broke out in full bloom in the 1960s one agent of change in the trick bag of the movement was magic mushrooms. The other big hallucinogen of the time was LSD, originally discovered in the laboratories of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, by chemist Albert Hofmann. Dr. Hofmann took up analysis of the magic mushrooms, finding in them two alkaloids, psilocybin and psilocin.
Going further, Hofmann was able to synthesize psilocybin, thus creating a modern laboratory version of magic mushrooms. With Hofmann’s discovery, it was possible to consume psilocybin in the comfort of one’s own home (or in a field of flowers), and experience visions and fantastic phenomena. Psilocybin became a staple drug of the psychedelic 60s, though it took a back seat in popularity to LSD.
The widespread use of hallucinogens in the 60s and early 70s caused a furor, and eventually psilocybin and magic mushrooms became Schedule I substances. Their possession, sale or use became felonies, and many tripsters wound up in jail.
Recent studies, however, show that psilocybin, the hallucinogenic agent in magic mushrooms, can be highly beneficial. The most recent study, reported in the September issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, involved patients with advanced stage cancer. Twelve adult patients were given psilocybin, and then were subsequently monitored for 6 months afterwards for overall mood and anxiety. No adverse effects among the participants were reported. But anxiety was greatly reduced, and patients were less depressed. This study demonstrates that magic mushrooms, or more specifically their active agent psilocybin, can be useful in reducing the anxiety and depression of the terminally ill. Perhaps as time goes on the use of psilocybin among the terminally ill may be deemed a mercy medicine.
Even more remarkable, and certainly with broader applications, is the 2006 Johns Hopkins study, reported in the journal Psychopharmacology. Employing rigorous scientific conditions and measures, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical conducted a study showing that psilocybin can induce mystical/spiritual experiences of great worth and of enduring effect. In their study, 36 healthy, well-educated volunteers — most of them middle-aged and with no family history of psychosis or bipolar disorder were selected. The subjects were given psilocybin in a controlled clinical setting. Among the volunteers, 22 had a “complete” mystical experience. After a two month follow-up, 67 percent of the subjects rated the experience "the single most meaningful experience" of their lives, or among the top five most meaningful "experiences."
These are staggering results from the ingestion of a small capsule.
Since the harsh crackdown on hallucinogens in the 1970s, researchers have pressed to continue to explore the potential benefits of various hallucinogens, including LSD, Peyote, psilocybin, and the Amazon brew ayahuasca. But only in recent years has the climate for such research thawed sufficiently enough to actually conduct studies. Now we are seeing evidence that exactly as described by traditional healers, these agents do in fact offer benefits for mind and mood.
Interesting enough, magic mushrooms, peyote buttons and the ayahuasca brew are all referred to by those who employ them as “The Medicine,” for their broad purported healing benefits.
The recent highly controlled, rigorously conducted medical studies on psilocybin show benefits indeed. Some critics worry that the mystical experiences described in the John Hopkins study represent a “God in a bottle,” and that this challenges the role of traditional church-based religious practices. Yet others perceive the same mystical experiences as deeply beneficial, contributing to a more whole sense of self and of one’s place in a vast universe.
One thing is for certain. The psychedelic genie is now officially out of the bottle, and the beneficial effects of magic mushrooms are being discussed in hospitals and clinics, and in regulatory offices. Don’t expect magic mushrooms to show up in your home pharmacy any time soon. But do expect more good news on the psychedelic frontier, as researchers continue to conduct medical studies that pry into how mushrooms and other psychoactive agents from antiquity may play key roles in health and happiness in the modern world.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

What the clinician needs to know about magic mushrooms


What are magic mushrooms?

This term refers to mushrooms that grow naturally and have hallucinogenic (sometimes called psychedelic) properties. Consumption of different species has occurred in various cultures over the centuries, with use in ritual ceremonies in Mexico being particularly well known. In the UK at present the species most commonly used is Psilocybe semilanceata, also known as the ‘liberty cap’ mushroom. This grows in many areas, particularly in dark places and after heavy rainfall, with fruition occurring from September to November. It is creamy-yellow or brown in colour, very small (5-15 mm across) with a thin fragile stalk. In the USA a closely related type is used.
The active chemical psilocybin is categorised in class A in the UK's Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, so in theory there can be severe penalties for offences. However, possession of the mushrooms in their natural state is not illegal; charges can be brought only if they have been prepared in some way for consumption (see below).


Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms (to which the rest of this article will refer) can be eaten raw, or cooked or brewed into a liquid. They may also be dried, sometimes for keeping for later use, and the dried form can be put into cigarettes, a pipe, or home-made capsules. There have apparently been rare instances of injecting the liquid form.
Because the mushrooms are small, about 10-100 are typically used at a time. Nearly all usage is personal or within small groups, and there is no significant illicit market. They are commonly used experimentally by young people, with the recent British Crime Survey [gable, 1983] showing that just under 1 in 10 16- to 29-year-olds had tried magic mushrooms. Some experimenters become more regular users, with older cases often being individuals with somewhat alternative lifestyles. The most common other substances of misuse in mushroom users appear to be alcohol and cannabis. In general, mushrooms are consumed on their own.
In no sense can magic mushrooms be said to be truly addictive, with one particular measure finding them to be the least dependence-producing of all illicit substances [gable, 1983]. However, a degree of tolerance does occur, so that if they are consumed on two days running more will be required the second time to achieve the desired effects. This tolerance disappears within days, but effectively acts as a natural constraint against very frequent use.

Desired effects

It is well known that the effects of magic mushrooms broadly resemble those of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) [leikin et al,1989]. The desired effects, which to some extent relate to the user's expectations, include a pleasant state of detachment and euphoria and then the hallucinatory experiences - more correctly, often illusions or pseudo-hallucinations, involving images, colours and sounds. In a report of cases seen in the early days of magic mushroom use in this country [peden etal, 1981], distortions of perception of faces received special comment. The phenomenon of synaesthesia, in which sensations cross between modalities so that for instance colours may appear to have a smell, has mainly been reported with LSD, but may possibly occur with mushrooms. The overall experience is referred to as a ‘trip’, which starts within 20 minutes or so of ingestion and may last several hours, partly dependent on the amount taken and the route.
The effects of hallucinogenic drugs generally appear to be partly related to actions on the serotonergic transmission system, but the mechanisms relating to mushrooms in particular are not known.

Adverse effects

The possible adverse effects of magic mushrooms are summarised in Box 1.
Box 1.

Adverse effects of magic mushrooms

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tachycardia
  • Poisoning (if ‘wrong’ species taken)
  • Accidents
  • Anxiety, panic
  • Acute confusion
  • Psychotic reactions


If many mushrooms are taken, the user can experience nausea, vomiting, stomach pains and dizziness. There is general physiological arousal, with tachycardia more frequent than elevations in blood pressure [peden etal, 1981]. Pupils become enlarged but react to light. The main physical danger, however, occurs if other species of similar-looking poisonous mushrooms are taken by mistake, such as the Amanita species in the UK. Some forms can be fatal, and identification by a mycologist may be necessary if the mushrooms are available. Also, accidents of various kinds may occur in states of intoxication.


Any hallucinogenic drug can produce a so-called ‘bad trip’ instead of the desired effects. In this there is anxiety and general mood disturbance, with the hallucinations and alterations in consciousness seeming alarming. This may occur in inexperienced users, or when dysphoria was present before taking the drug. Acute confusional states may develop, while the hallucinatory experiences can develop into a state that it is correct to term a psychotic disorder. Such states would be expected to subside completely within about 24 hours at the maximum, but the clinical picture may be complicated if other drugs such as alcohol or cannabis have been used. The prototype of the hallucinogenic drugs in terms of effects and adverse effects is LSD, the psychiatric complications of which have been reviewed by Abraham & Aldridge (1993). It can be supposed that magic mushrooms produce modified forms of some of these typical effects, but it must be recognised that very little literature refers to mushrooms specifically.


Testing for psilocybin is not included in the routine urine (or hair) screening for drugs done by UK hospital laboratories. Special assays can be set up, but the short half-life of the chemical means that detection would be missed in some cases. Urine screening for the range of substances is, however, always clinically indicated where drug use is suspected, and clearly mushroom users may have used other substances. Also, it appears that sometimes non-hallucinogenic mushrooms are ‘spiked’ with drugs such as LSD.

Classification of disorders

The ICD-10 [world health organization, 1992] specifies mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use, which may be applied to hallucinogens as one of nine categories of drugs (there is also a coding for disorders due to multiple drug use). Box 2 shows the diagnoses that could possibly be made in relation to magic mushrooms.
Box 2.

Possible diagnoses in use of magic mushrooms

  • F16.0 - Acute intoxication
  • F16.1 - Harmful use
  • F16.5 - Psychotic disorder


As seen currently in the UK the use of magic mushrooms is either experimental in nature or represents a kind of lifestyle feature, and users would hardly ever view themselves as having a problem with the drug, with the possible exception of some of the acute effects. It is, therefore, virtually unheard of for users to present to drug services asking for help with cutting down or stopping, although such advice could be given if necessary. In practice, the relevant management is of complications such as toxicity or confusional or brief psychotic states, and is largely supportive with symptomatic treatment as necessary. There are no features of mushroom use that would lead to selection of specific treatments within such management.


The main clinical messages regarding magic mushrooms are indicated in Box 3.
Whenever psychiatrists encounter cases of drug misuse, consideration must be given to possible additional diagnoses. The strongest overall association is with personality disorder [seivewright & daly, 1997], with studies indicating that about two-thirds of drug misusers have this diagnosis, usually the antisocial category. However, most studies are of opiate misusers in treatment settings, and it is reasonable to assume a lower rate in users of the more ‘recreational’ drugs, although such use may still be an indicator of personal problems of various kinds.
Clinicians will rarely be called upon to advise users regarding their magic mushroom use, but knowledge is necessary of the possible direct psychiatric complications and the occasional need for management.
Box 3.

Main learning points

  • Magic mushrooms are not addictive, but produce physiological effects and sometimes significant psychiatric complications
  • Although ‘recreational’, the use of magic mushrooms may be one indicator of conduct or personality disorder
  • Urine testing cannot usually detect the psilocybin constituent of mushrooms, but should be done to screen for other drugs
  • Management of complications is symptomatic, with no specific approaches indicated

Multiple choice questions

  1. Psilocybin:
    1. is the active chemical in a wild mushroom commonly used in the UK
    2. has predominantly sedative effects
    3. is classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
    4. is detectable in routine urine drug screening
    5. produces psychological effects that mostly last for less than one hour.
  2. The following are recognised features of magic mushroom use:
    1. use of a dried preparation by smoking
    2. bradycardia
    3. acute confusional states
    4. experimental use by young people
    5. a short-lived tolerance effect.
  3. The psychiatric effects of magic mushrooms:
    1. are more severe than those of LSD
    2. may include auditory hallucinations
    3. frequently recover without medication
    4. include depression as a characteristic long- term feature
    5. may partly constitute what is colloquially known as a ‘bad trip’.
  4. Magic mushroom users in the UK:
    1. use the drug mainly in autumn
    2. typically take mushrooms together with amphetamine
    3. represent a major public health problem
    4. may be found to have conduct disorder if they use mushrooms in early teenage years
    5. are seen in large numbers by drug treatment services.
  5. Hallucinogenic drugs:
    1. are regularly used by most active heroin users
    2. include amphetamine
    3. may lead to accidents due to intoxication
    4. can produce physical dependence
    5. are the class of drugs most associated with ‘flashback’ experiences.