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The psilocybin group of mushrooms, popularly known as magic mushrooms, shrooms or psychedelic mushrooms, is found in over two hundred varieties around the world. We know them today as a recreational drug used to induce hallucinations and a sense of euphoria, but the ancient origin of magic mushrooms goes back thousands of years. Let us take a look at some of the history that mankind shares with the psychoactive drug psilocybin and its host, magic mushrooms.
Evidence Shows Prehistoric Use of Mushrooms
Although it would be impossible to determine exactly when and where it first began, there is evidence in the form of stone paintings that Saharan aboriginal tribes of North Africa might have been using mushrooms from around 9000 BC. Similarly, rock paintings in Spain created about 6000 years ago suggest that the mushroom Psilocybe hispanica was used during certain religious rituals near Villar del Humo. It is very much possible that mushroom use by prehistoric cultures began even before that time, and we have just not found the evidence to suggest so yet.
Rock art at Selva Pascuala in Spain appears to depict a row of mushrooms. Credit: Juan Francisco Ruiz López
Mushroom Use by Aztecs, Mayas, and other Cultures
Native American cultures like the Mayas and Aztecs had symbols, statues and paintings which indicate that they consumed psilocybin mushrooms, especially during religious rituals, as a way to communicate with deities. The “flesh of the gods” or “ teonanácat,” as the Aztecs called them, is believed to be a type of magic mushroom. Other tribes originating in Central America such as the Nahua, Mazatec, Mixtec, and Zapatec were also involved in mushroom use for similar reasons.
An 1,800-year-old statuette was found in a west Mexican shaft and chamber tomb in the state of Colima, which depicts a mushroom closely resembling the hallucinogenic Psilocybe Mexicana .
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Maya mushroom stones. Credit: Dr Richard Rose
Magic Mushrooms in Western Society
It wasn’t till the late 1950s that the Western civilized world got introduced to psilocybin. R. Gordon Wasson and Roger Heim, with help from Albert Hofmann, managed to extract and identify the two hallucinogenic drugs (psilocybin and psilocin) found inside the mushrooms, which they had collected from the Mazatec tribe while on an expedition in Mexico. In 1957, a piece with the title, “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” was published in Life magazine, where Wasson detailed his discovery of the mushroom and his findings. Once the drug gained popularity as a psychedelic substance, it became closely associated with the contemporary Hippie culture , where magic mushrooms were soon considered to be the gateway to spirituality.
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Fruit bodies of the hallucinogenic mushroom Psilocybe semilanceata. ( CC by SA 3.0 )
Magic mushrooms are among the oldest recreational drugs that human beings have ever used, and what is most amazing is that they remain actively in use even today. They were mentioned in ancient cave paintings, manuscripts and constructs; and they continue to be referenced in pop culture, music, movies, and books. Some recent research is even suggesting that they may have medicinal properties as well.
If we were to take a lesson from this history of mushroom use throughout the history of mankind, it would be the reality that magic mushrooms will most probably continue to be used in the future, well after current society finds its place in the history books.
Types of Magic Mushrooms: Ranking Strongest to Weakest
Experimenting with different types of magic mushrooms is fun, intense and insightful. Users of these magical fungi are always curious about the history of the strains and the mind expanding effects that is inherent to each unique strain.
Before ordering and getting started with your microdose regimen, a lot users wonder and ask them self “what are the strongest magic mushrooms?” Or “which magic mushroom is right for my unique needs?”.
This guide will help you uncover the strongest (and weakest) Psilocybe strains. We created an easy to read and digest list below.
Finishing notes from the Goddess*:
Every new skill that we acquire, we do so for the preparation of our journey. We are always on a spiritual journey of growth. And growth is continuous. We are constantly growing and learning, so we are always on the quest of knowing more. But sometimes it is good to pause, to stop and meditate, simply be in the moment. No learning, no speaking. But simply, breathing, simply being. We then become aware of our true self. Cid-Ananda – Blissful Self-Awareness. Everything is suddenly infused with the energetic light of luminous consciousness.
Kundalini – Ajit Mookerjee A great introduction to Tantric Energy – Kundalini Shakti.
Do we have any record of people using psychedelics in ancient Palestine?
Archaeologists have found residue traces of burnt cannabis in ancient Judahite shrines from the 8th century BC, according to this: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03344355.2020.1732046?journalCode=ytav20
However, it's hard to be sure how much such practices were widespread. Inasmuch as the canonical Hebrew prophetic writings may attest to the culture of the time, the Israelites were apparently constantly getting themselves into trouble for bringing unorthodox or syncretistic practices into their worship rather than following the prescriptions of the Torah. So we don't really have enough evidence to be dogmatic about whether the use of psychedelics was a mainstay of ancient Jewish or Christian religious practice. Christian injunctions against "carousing and drunkenness" and the like (e.g. Romans 13:13 Ephesians 5:18 1 Peter 4:3) probably attest to a resistance to the abuse of mind-altering substances, at the very least, if not their disuse, but again it's hard to be certain.
To clarify OP's question: while marijuana/cannabis may be reported to have psychedelic effects by some, it is not in of itself a psychedelic. Here the question would actually regard the use of any psychedelic or psychotropic fungi, honey, cacti, fish, etc.
IIRC, cannabis is a cannabinoid—it operates through different receptors than psychedelics.
I've heard that 1 Enoch in the Watchers narrative it teaches that corrupted spiritual beings taught them to do so. Does 1 Enoch actually teach that?
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Brian Muraresku has recently published a book about this, The Immortal Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. I don't know how accurate it is (and haven't read it: there may be a preview somewhere).
The Bible is full of stories featuring forms of magic and possession—from Moses battling with Pharaoh’s wizards to the supernatural actions of Jesus and his disciples. As, over the following centuries, the Christian church attempted to stamp out “deviant” practices, a persistent interest in magic drew strength from this Biblical validation. A strange blend of mumbo-jumbo, fear, fraud, and deeply serious study, magic was at the heart of the European Renaissance, fascinating many of its greatest figures.
This is a book filled with incantations, charms, curses, summonings, cures, and descriptions of extraordinary, shadowy, only half-understood happenings from long ago. It features writers as various as Thomas Aquinas, John Milton, John Dee, Ptolemy, and Paracelsus along with anonymous ancient and medieval works that were, in some cases, viewed as simply too dangerous even to open.
Muraresku was recently on the Joe Rogan Podcast and talks extensively about it. For some reason it is not currently available on Rogan's channel, but here is a mirror:
I believe this is the premise of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John Marco Allegro. I haven't read it, but I heard it wasn't received well at the time of its publication. But the Wikipedia article mentions there is some reconsideration now.
Yes, it's plausible. We know with certainty that they would have had access to potent psychoactive plants & fungi like ergot (grows on grain and is associated with ancient Greek Eleusinian mysteries was possibly the cause for the hallucinations & subsequent Salem Witch Trials, and is the cause of the skin affliction St. Elmo's Fire ), Amanita Muscaria (red polka-dotted Alice-in-Wonderland mushroom that grows under evergreens like cedars & olive trees), and magic mushrooms (which grow wherever you have cattle dung). Others have mentioned mandrake and acacia, which are referenced in the Bible, along with wormwood.
There's a TON of empirical data to demonstrate that psychedelics can induce a mystical state, particularly when used in an appropriate setting and with a spiritual intention, as most famously observed in the Marsh Chapel/Good Friday Experiment. There are thousands of case reports from therapy sessions wherein those treated with psychedelics reported details that satisfied William James' definition of a mystical experience, including many claiming to have communed directly with Jesus or God. (Psychedelics were legal from the early 1950s through 1977, during which time thousands of people were treated with them, so there is a substantial amount of data showing not only the effectiveness of psychedlics in treating addiction and anxiety, but also the sense of peace and oneness that they deliver to most people. Since 2005, the chemicals have been used in a number of clinical trials, and we're nearing a tipping point where they will again be available in a medical/therapeutic setting. In palliative care, they've proven exceptionally effective in reducing or even eliminating the fear of death.)
Note: Psychedelic means "mind manifesting." In the context of a religious or spiritual experience, you'll find that writers often use the term "entheogen" (manifesting the God within).
For a general history, you might want to read Tom Hatsis book "Psychedelic Mystery Traditions." "How to Change Your Mind" by Michael Pollan provides an EXCELLENT and THOROUGH background of the history of psychedelics, the chemical/biological process they trigger, and their use for medical treatment as well as their effectiveness in inducing mystical states. "
A few other books I highly recommend:
Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy by Clark Heinrich, which was also published under the title Strange Fruit.
Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics & Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards. Richards has first-hand experience both taking psychedelics, as well as administering them to patients in a therapeutic setting, starting in the 1950s, and ending in 1977 when he was the very one to administer the last psychedelic treatment of the era. It would be about 30 years before they reappeared in science & medicine, and they're back in FORCE now. Richards is a GREAT writer.
Huston Smith was one of the participants in the Good Friday experiment, and he makes no secret how profoundly psychedelics influenced his spiritual life. I hasten to share a quote from his book The Common Vision of the World's Religions: Forgotten Truth: "Know ten things, the Chinese say. Tell nine. There is a reason to question whether it is wise to even mention the psychedelics in connection with God and the Infinite, for though a connection exists, it is . next to impossible to speak of it without being misunderstood."
You might enjoy reading the personal account shared in the biography, "From Mushrooms to the Messiah" by Matthew Jones. The first chapter of his book is available online (link), and in it, he provides details of his divine communion during a mushroom trip.
MDMA’s therapeutic potential
MDMA was first synthesized by Germany’s Merck at the start of the 20th century, but it would be decades before a human tried a dose. In 1976, Dow Pharmaceuticals chemist Alexander Shulgin discovered MDMA’s effects after synthesizing a batch and testing 120 milligrams on himself.
“I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great or believed this to be possible.”
— Alexander Shulgin
Shulgin shared it with San Francisco therapist Leo Zeff, who was conducting psychedelic therapy despite the ban. Zeff served as the Johnny Appleseed of MDMA, sending doses to an estimated 4,000 therapists who gave it to as many as 200,000 patients in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Like LSD before it, MDMA would not stay a secret for long. Its euphoric and stimulating effects made it the ideal party drug. The burgeoning rave music scene embraced it, and soon stories emerged of overheated partiers winding up in the hospital. Then came the first scientific studies reporting on MDMA’s neurotoxic effects.
The FDA and DEA were not fans of an increasingly popular drug that supposedly rotted the brains of America’s youth. Despite the protests of therapists who provided substantial documentation of MDMA’s therapeutic benefits, it was banned. Classified as a Schedule I drug, it was considered to have no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.
With the increase in research surrounding psychedelics came an increase in concern. Timothy Leary , a professor at Harvard University, was largely responsible for bridging the gap between the laboratory and the general public. Leary conducted numerous experiments with psychedelics but was expelled from the university as concern grew to the safety of his research: He would at times conduct research upon subjects while himself being under the influence of psilocybin.
He was an advocate of its recreational use and became very outspoken about the mind-altering effects of LSD. He was also at the forefront of a movement challenging authority during the political unrest in the 1960s, gaining infamy for the counterculture slogan: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” As recreational LSD use skyrocketed, it became the centrepiece of hippy ideology and the revolt against the government and conformity.
The uncontrolled use of the drug led to an increased occurrence of ‘bad trips’ and negative experiences of LSD, which helped add fuel to the widespread moral panic in the US. The political and societal backlash from recreational use led to the drug being named a Class A substance in America soon, the rest of the world followed suit. Sandoz stopped making LSD, and all the promising work studying its use within psychiatry, psychotherapy and neurology ceased.
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The Psychedelic Experience
In case you somehow missed it, we're in the midst of a major mental health crisis. According to the WHO, more than 264 million people globally suffer from depression (and that was before a global pandemic turned our worlds upside down).
Recently, experts have discovered that mainstream treatment options aren't the only mechanisms that can help with psychological healing. Believe it or not, psychedelic therapies are a very real (and effective) alternative to conventional approaches.
When you think about psychedelics, you’re likely picturing a trip like we've seen in the movies, complete with rainbow filters, a fish-eye lens (so everything looks warped), and distorted voices.
But in reality, it’s not quite like that.
Psychedelics were once highly stigmatized, and now, they just might be the future of mental health care. The psychedelics industry is already gaining momentum: a recent report found that the U.S. psychedelic drug market is expected to reach US $10.75 billion by 2027.
Although it’s still not super common, psychedelic drugs are being used to treat various mental health disorders, like depression, panic disorder, PTSD and opiate addictions.
So how did psychedelic drugs become a game changer in mental health treatment? We’ll get to that, with the expert guidance of psychotherapist Sabina Pillai. But first, it’s important to understand what psychedelic drugs are and how they work.
Psych You Out
Psychedelics are drugs that expand your consciousness by enhancing or changing the way you perceive things. Oftentimes, they can alter your energy levels and incite spiritual, out-of-body experiences. (Trippy.) They can also be really grounding by making you feel a deeper connection to the Earth and other surroundings.
There are two categories of psychedelics: entheogens (natural, plant-based) and synthetic.
Here are a few you should know:
LSD: Lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD or acid , is a synthetic hallucinogen made from mould found on grains. It usually comes in pill form.
Magic mushrooms: Psilocybin is the magic in the mushrooms that makes you hallucinate. Shrooms can make you feel either relaxed and spiritual or paranoid and nervous. But be careful: they can often be toxic, and in some cases, lethal.
Peyote: Otherwise known as mescaline , peyote is a natural hallucinogenic psychedelic that comes from certain cactus species. People on it usually have altered perceptions of space and time, and exist in a state of euphoria.
DMT: Dimethyltryptamine is a plant-based psychedelic found in tree bark and nuts in Central and South America. It’s nicknamed the “businessman’s lunch,” as the effects usually last only an hour.
Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca is a brewed tea made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub along with the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. People usually travel to tropical destinations to take it and are often guided by a shaman for a. spiritually enlightening experience.
MDMA/ecstasy/molly: MDMA became popular in the rave scene for its mood-enhancing and stimulant effects, which are far more pronounced than those of other psychedelics. It can also cause hallucinations and delusions.
PCP: Phencyclidine is a mind-altering, dissociative hallucinogenic drug. It was originally developed as an anesthetic, but people needed to stop using it when they realized it had some serious neurotoxic side effects. So they went back to the drawing board and created ketamine.
Ketamine: Structurally, ketamine is very similar to PCP , minus the dangerous ingredients. It’s legal and very commonly used in medical settings as a sedative. Now, it’s being used to treat mental illness. (We’ll be talking about it the most, so stay tuned.)
Tripping Through Time
Psychedelic use dates back to ancient times — we’re talking like 4000 BC. Psychedelics have been part of human history for thousands of years in the context of spirituality, healing, and celebration of transitions. North and South American Indigenous culture was the first to use peyote and mushrooms to heal their communities. In Central America, the Aztecs even called mushrooms “the flesh of the gods.”
There was a serious psychedelic boom from 1897 to 1971, when scientists were making major headway in the discovery of psychedelic drugs, including mescaline, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, and ketamine. Once they noted the positive effects of these drugs, they began advocating to use them in medicinal settings to treat conditions like alcohol use disorder.
However, efforts to integrate psychedelics into conventional medicine got a ton of pushback from governments around the world, and they started criminalizing the drugs in response. In 1971, all psychedelics became illegal around most parts of the world (thus beginning the War on Drugs and the Prozac nation ).
After a few decades of lull, researchers in the mid-2000s decided to pick up where they left off. They found that psychedelics showed great promise in the treatment of PTSD and depression, prompting many countries to reassess the decision to criminalize them.
MDMA and psilocybin have achieved breakthrough therapy status in the U.S., thanks to research organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Study ( MAPS ). The organization is in the later stage of the FDA approval process, so clearly, the research has a lot of promise.
The U.S. also has ketamine clinics all over the place .
Here in Canada, we’re surprisingly a bit more conservative and have pretty serious regulations around the use of these medicines.
However, a Canadian organization called TheraPsil has been able to outsmart the feds. The non-profit assists palliative patients in getting exemptions from the government so they can access psilocybin to come to terms with the end of their lives. (A 2016 Johns Hopkins study revealed that 83% of 51 participants with cancer-related anxiety or depression reported significant increases in well-being six months after a single dose, and 67% said it was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.)
Thanks to TheraPsil, Health Canada has granted exemptions to 27 Canadians across five provinces.
You can currently access MDMA and psilocybin only through clinical trials (or the black market), and at present, ketamine is the only legal psychedelic option. When combined with psychotherapy, it can have incredible effects on symptoms of mental illness.
That’s where Sabina Pillai comes in — a psychotherapist at Field Trip Health who supports clients by facilitating psychedelic-enhanced therapy as a process of healing, recovery, and self-discovery.
“As a psychotherapist, I see clients who are disillusioned with the mental health treatment options they’ve tried in the past,” says Pillai. “Psychedelics are a great way to gently and compassionately explore those deeper sources of their current struggles.”
Journey to the Other Side
“If you know anything about psychedelics, mindset and setting are just as important parts of the experience,” says Pillai.
Before providing a customized dose of ketamine, Sabina sits down with her clients to help them set clear intentions on why they’re engaging in this treatment. This could be for various reasons: to reconnect with themselves and the people around them, gain new perspectives, experience love and compassion (sometimes for the first time), or understand their place in the world.
“This experience can help people bring these abstract insights into their lives so they can actually start making changes.”
Then, when the ketamine kicks in, it accelerates the psychotherapeutic process by getting really into your subconscious (even though you’re conscious and aware the whole time). “Ketamine works on the NMDA receptors and alters the function of glutamate in the brain. This is different from antidepressants , which work on the serotonin system,” says Pillai.
At low doses, ketamine can help people open up, access their emotions and forgotten memories, and get a bird’s-eye view of their issues. At higher doses, it can be a classic psychedelic in the way you might think of it. One might experience colours, patterns, and symbolic or abstract images. Some people may even have a peak mystical experience where they feel connected to everything around them.
“It quiets their ego, which can be such a source of judgment, frustration, and self-criticism,” says Pillai. “Quieting that part of ourselves helps us be present.”
Pillai says she’s seen people undergo life-altering transformations and huge shifts in how they see themselves.
But Pillai emphasizes that psychedelic treatment isn’t for everyone.
“People have some negative connotations around it because it does have the potential for abuse and addiction when done recreationally,” says Pillai.
While this is true (and the reason they administer the drugs in a medical model), it's worth noting that psychedelics are proven to be less addictive than alcohol .
Still, some people have concerns they’ll get hooked, that it may make their symptoms worse, or that it just won’t be helpful.
“Those are some misconceptions,” she says. “I don’t think they’re founded. I think that it has much more to do with the fact that these medicines have been criminalized.”
As a society, we’re coming around. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has been pushing the government to legalize illicit drugs for years. Canada’s Association of Chiefs of Police even gave him its endorsement , saying it supports this decriminalization in favour of health-based alternatives, adding that addiction issues should be handled by the health care system, not the criminal justice one. (Makes a lot of sense if you think about it.)
Public opinion is evolving, too. Last summer, almost 15,000 Canadians signed a House of Commons petition calling on the government to legalize psychoactive plants and fungi. But, the government shot it down. (Shocker.)
Pillai has seen people’s opinions transform firsthand. “They have seen that their fears were unfounded. They also see that when you approach these experiences thoughtfully with the appropriate support and guidance, they can be incredibly beneficial.”
She also says it’s still important to keep an open mind while holding a prudent perspective and to approach these experiences with thoughtfulness and conscientiousness.
Psychedelics are ushering in a paradigm shift in terms of how we even think about mental health and health care and how we relate to one another and the world. So far, the results are encouraging and open up a whole new world of possibilities. But before trying any of these treatments, always remember to consult your doctor.
The Risks Associated with Magic Mushrooms
Even though magic mushrooms are classed as an illegal substance, surprisingly, psilocybin has not been identified as an addictive drug. Users may find that they build up tolerance towards the drug if they use it continuously over a period of time.
During a trip, users can feel confused, disorientated, paranoid and anxious. Those feelings, paired with possible hallucinations can cause the user to panic and potentially harm themselves or those around them. If a user suffers from mental health issues then this possibility increases.
Although it’s extremely hard to overdose on magic mushrooms, there are other risks that come with consuming them. It’s hard to distinguish between edible mushrooms and those that contain poison. Some types of mushroom such as Autumn Galerina can be fatal to humans if the person doesn’t get treatment in time.
Another risk that comes with consuming magic mushrooms is linked to the possibility of developing hallucinogen-induced persisting perception disorder, or HPPD. This causes the user to have flashbacks of their trip even years after they’ve stopped taking hallucinogens. It can be distressing and scary the user, and there is currently no known cure for the condition.
It remains illegal in most countries to consume, however there are users across the world who have turned to magic mushrooms in an attempt to boost creativity and increase their awareness. Although psilocybin is most commonly known for its hallucination inducing effects, more uses for this chemical compound to be used in combating mental health are now being researched into.