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What is a shroom trip like?

Wikipedia says that sensory effects of magic mushrooms include visual and auditory hallucinations followed by emotional changes and altered perception of time and space. They alter the perception of visual stimulation, including enhancement and contrasting colours, strange light phenomenon, such as auras or halos around light sources, surfaces that seem to breathe. Sounds may seem to have increased clarity. Some might experience synesthesia when they perceive a visualization of colour upon hearing a particular sound. 

How do psychedelics affect your brain?

Psychedelics and more specifically serotonergic psychedelics, which includes substances like DMT, mescaline, and of course, psilocybin or magic mushrooms can affect your brain in that way. LSD also falls into this category, but it has effects on dopamine signalling as well. All of these drugs can cause euphoria, giddiness, paranoia, fear, and they can have a dramatic impact on cognition and perception, including causing a distorted sense of time, altered perception of colour and sounds, and profoundly spiritual experiences. Some people even report meeting God and for some particular trips rank as being among the most meaningful experiences of their lives. 

What is psilocybin?

Psilocybin is the active ingredient in most magic mushrooms. The history of psilocybin goes back thousands of years. Rock paintings in Australia indicate that magic mushrooms may have been consumed or as early as 10,000 BC, and honestly, it’s pretty likely that people have been tripping for the entire time our species has existed. Other animals are willing to seek out and eat plants with psychedelic effects. More recently, psychedelic mushrooms have long been used by the Indigenous people of Mesoamerica for religious ceremonies. 

The term magic mushrooms comes from a 1957 article in Life Magazine called Seeking the Magic Mushrooms written by amateur mycologist R. Gordon Lawson, who described his experience participating in a mushroom ceremony guided by a shaman. The story attracted the attention of others interested in psychedelic compounds and psilocybin quickly joined the ranks of psychedelics that began to proliferate within the counterculture community. 

Are other psychedelics similar to psilocybin?

Similarly, DMT is derived from plant sources and mescaline is found in cacti in Mexico and the Andes region of South America. Both have long been used for religious and spiritual ceremonies among Indigenous people in the regions in which they’re found. So psychedelics are nothing new in the many cultures; they’ve been revered for thousands of years. But thanks to a lot of fear mongering and racism, most of these drugs have been painted as dangerous and or addictive. 

What are the effects of psychedelics on your brain?

The effects of serotonergic psychedelics may feel somewhat obvious. Serotonin is right there in the name. Serotonin, if you’re not familiar with it, is a monoamine that acts as a neurotransmitter but is also found throughout the body. A majority of serotonin (over 90%) is actually found in our digestive system, or plays a big role in digestion and in particular in gut motility, which is basically how your intestines keep everything moving along. 

Only around 2% of your serotonin is actually found in the central nervous system. Serotonin has direct effects on the neurons it binds to and it also modulates the effects of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. Many people are familiar with serotonin because of its association with mood and well being. It also plays a role in cognition and psychosis, but really its effects are not that well understood. We do know that low levels of serotonin are associated with obsessive compulsive disorder, and that its levels fluctuate during social interactions. 

Why is serotonin significant for psychedelics mushrooms?

Serotonin one of the primary targets for antidepressant medications. These drugs are thought to work by preventing neurons from reabsorbing serotonin and or norepinephrine after it’s been released into the synapse, which leaves more of those feel good neurotransmitters floating around so they can continue to have a downstream effect on the signalling. Taken together, this basically means that when you boost the level of serotonin signalling in the brain, in general, you typically see improvements in mood. 

On the flip side, too much free serotonin in the body, whether due to the use of prescription medications or other substances can lead to serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome can be relatively mild, causing agitation, gastrointestinal disturbances and issues with muscle rigidity and twitching. But sometimes it can be life threatening as it can lead to high fevers and seizures when things really get out of control. So lots of serotonin activity is good especially when it comes to improving mood, but too much serotonin is bad. 

What is the relationship between serotonin and psilocin?

The active ingredient psilocybin gets metabolized into psilocin which is a tryptamine alkaloid that resembles serotonin in its structure, so it can bind to those serotonin receptors. Most psychedelics mimic the structure of serotonin. Many of them have strong effects on a particular kind of receptor known as 5HT2A which, interestingly, is also an important receptor for the actions of antipsychotic medications. 

When you consider the fact that many of these psychedelic drugs act on the same types of receptors and neurotransmitters that are affected by traditional antidepressants and antipsychotics, it’s less surprising that these drugs might seem to represent some interesting opportunities for new medical treatments. It makes sense that we’d want to leverage substances we know can affect the neural circuits associated with mood. 

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