The History of Psilocybin Mushrooms
A psilocybin mushroom is any species of mushroom that contains the psychedelic compounds psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin. The most well-known species of psychedelic mushrooms are the Psilocybe species, also known as "magic" mushrooms due to their psychoactive effects.
The earliest known archaeological record of psilocybin mushroom use is from a rock shelter in the Sierra Mazateca region of Mexico, dated to at least 1000 BC, but it is thought that there are other locations with earlier records that have not yet been discovered.
Inhabitants of one area would go on pilgrimages to sacred caves where they would consume the mushrooms and enter into a trance-like state for spiritual reasons. Some people believe that this practice was performed by shamans or medicine men who used their powers to heal others through magic rituals.
Pilgrims would collect the mushrooms fresh or dried then carry them back home so they could be prepared for consumption at a later date.
Psilocybin mushrooms were first described by the conquistador Bernardino de Sahagún when he came across the Aztec religious rites, who were using mushrooms for divination purposes.
Spanish authorities prohibited the use of psilocybin mushrooms from 1521 onwards, stating that the mushrooms caused lewd behaviour and "strange extravagances" in those who ate them.
European missionaries who arrived in Mexico were quick to condemn the native practice and attempted to suppress its use. They also believed that evil spirits were responsible for causing people to commit lewd acts and had no idea that psilocybin was actually playing a large role in inducing hallucinations in these people.
In 1938, R. Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina Pavlovna took part in a traditional Velada ceremony which introduced them to the psychoactive effects of the mushrooms. After their experience with these mushrooms, they returned to their home in New York and expressed their desire for more researchers to study this unusual species of fungus.
In 1957, Albert Hofmann ran experiments on isolated psilocybin samples which he isolated from Psilocybe mexicana samples gathered by Merck Pharmaceutical Company chemist Roger Heim in Mexico City (the same variety that Wasson had experimented with). These experiments were able to show that psilocybin was a substance which had psychedelic properties when consumed by humans; however, because it lacked any sort of recreational appeal or commercial value at the time, Hofmann did not pursue further research into its effects on humans until 1964 when he began studying LSD instead.
John Hopkins Psilocybin Studies
The first controlled study of the effects of psilocybin was conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1956 by Dr. Walter Pahnke and colleagues. The study showed that psychedelic drugs could induce mystical experiences and suggested that they may be useful in religious therapy.
In 1970, Dr. Humphry Osmond began a series of research projects on psilocybin and other psychedelics at John Hopkins University School of Nursing as part of their Center for Narcotic Abuse Research with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This team also evaluated how effective treatment programs could be developed from the use of these compounds in conjunction with psychotherapy programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
More Recent Psilocybin Clinical Trials
A more recent clinical trial was conducted by the Beckley Foundation in 2018. The study was funded by the Beckley Foundation and published in the journal Neuropharmacology. It involved a cohort of 20 patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses: 12 received a psilocybin treatment, while 8 took an inactive placebo pill. Researchers found that all participants reported some sort of mystical experience, regardless of their condition or dosage amount—but those who took psilocybin reported more intense effects than those who didn't take it.
The study of psilocybin mushrooms and their effects has continued to grow since their discovery in the late 1950s. As researchers have learned more about this mysterious organism, we’ve been able to develop treatments for a wide range of disorders including depression and PTSD. These studies show that psilocybin could be used as an alternative treatment option for those who are unable or unwilling to take prescription drugs due to side effects, or simply because psilocybin is more effective.