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MAGIC MUSHROOMS - Magic Mushrooms: what are they?

1. Magic Mushrooms: what are they?

To buy a bag of dried paddos, a dose of Shrooms, dried or fresh little Mexicans, thin Hawaiians, Liberty Caps or some exotic varieties from Bali or Thailand is relatively easy, but why on earth do we do this? Why do we now ingest something that was rumored to be poisonous before? Why this fascination for what officially is deemed an `illicit drug'.

The image of the mushroom has changed since the Western world became aware of its hidden and exotic qualities, notably the very special and fantastic `trips' that can be experienced ingesting them. This is a fairly recent development. It was only in the sixties that anything was published about them and although there undoubtedly existed traditions and rituals that were passed on, the magic mushroom was virtually unknown in the `rational and modern' West.
After their (re-)discovery in Mexico during the fifties by Gordon Wasson, the use spread over the world at large. Everywhere mushrooms with psychoactive qualities were discovered. Nowadays they are quite well known and very common. While on holidays you can find them in England, and in Thailand and on the Balinese beaches they are for sale. In many European countries, the Liberty caps grow freely in the fields, but also in Mexico the locals will willingly but secretly sell you a handful if you go visit the Maya-temples. The innocent visitor or tourist might try them, but often such a small dose is taken that the effect is not very different from a marihuana `joint' and you might just feel a bit more relaxed and more sensitive. This has led to the notion, that magic mushrooms are fairly harmless. In medical circles and from the government one sometimes hears this as an argument not to be too harsh about the paddos. Even though that leads to a benevolent stance, it is not entirely true. Psilocybin and psilocin, the active components, are potentially strong psychedelics. The ingestion of a normal dose of mushrooms clearly leads to a whole different experience of reality, to a different scale of sensory perception and often to hallucinations, open and closed-eye visions of colors and patterns, the hearing of sounds and a greater sensitivity to light, forms, magnetism, electricity and touch. Such an experience can be quite a shock if for example you don't know that you have ingested or eaten something.
The health-risks are not very big and certainly less than those of heroin, cocaine or even tobacco or alcohol. But too much of anything can be dangerous and there are mushroom-species that are quite poisonous too. So be careful, better use magic mushrooms from a reliable source than going out into the fields to pick them without being very sure you can recognize the right kind.

The reaction to too much of the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin and other alkaloids in mushrooms is such, that usually the body reacts and gets spontaneously rid of the content of the stomach by throwing up. Psilocybin is a psychedelic, but apart from some muscle cramps, some protest from the stomach and the bowels it is physically not very dangerous. One has to ingest really large portions to become seriously ill.

Real addiction has not been proven, although there is certainly a kind of socio-psychological addiction; subconsciously you remember the nice feeling, the feeling of belonging, of friendship and unity and this makes you long for your next dose. Recreational addiction, a little bit of magic mushrooms every day can have the effect of habitual marihuana use; as a result you could remain continuously in a dreamy mood; not really ideal for study or work. For that matter it is in some respects a pity that these substances became so `publicly' known, there is a lot to say in favor of an institutional ritual in a more esoteric setting.

On these pages we find illustrations of the most common varieties, which are the bigger Psilocybe cubensis and the small Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty caps). The denomination is not very clear; one throws beautiful names around, but of the psychoactive varieties that come into consideration (Psilocybe, Conocybe, Panaeolus and Amanita) the cubensis and semilanceata are the ones that are easily available. The name Stropharia was used for Psilocybe, but is taxonomically incorrect, all Stropharia have been reclassified as Psilocybe.

These magic mushrooms come in bigger and smaller sizes. That depends a bit on the source and the season. Now they are often grown inside, so no longer there are only magic mushrooms in autumn.
We will not elaborate too much on the different species and varieties. That we will leave to the specialists, this book deals mainly with the experience of the inward journey, which since the sixties has been called `the trip'.

Maybe it is good to mention that mushrooms are not plants, they don't contain chlorophyll (the substance that gives leaves their green color). In this they are quite different from plants, as they don't need any direct sunshine. Although the most active ingredients are listed as prohibited classified substances (illegal drugs), in many countries mushrooms containing these ingredients have an unclear legal status.
A number of species can be found in nature and are in fact indigenous. That makes it difficult to label people as druggies, who - of course by accident - have gotten hold of a few mushrooms in a field or in the woods or in the park. In some countries therefore the possession of fresh mushrooms is not illegal, only when they are processed (preparation including drying) they become an illicit drug.

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