The Magic that Mushrooms Can Deliver to Society

The Magic that Mushrooms Can Deliver to Society

You want to know what [the War on Drugs] was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did (Lin).

These shocking words were uttered by President Nixon’s top advisor, John Ehrlichman, in an interview in 1994. At the time the law was passed, the Vietnam War was raging, and President Nixon was taking more political fire than he could handle. So, he did something desperate. Nixon and his administration added to The Drug Abuse Control Amendments of 1965 which “mandated that no person may sell, manufacture, compound, or process any depressant, stimulant, or drug with a ‘hallucinogenic effect,’ except those with special permits for certain restricted uses (Marlan).” This amendment was passed just as some scientific studies began to show the usefulness of these substances in helping to cure depression, anxiety, substance-abuse disorders, and many other mental health diseases that were, and still are, debilitating to countless Americans. The study that showed the most promise and scientific clout focused on psilocybin and psilocin, the active, mind-altering compounds found in the fruiting bodies of the mycelium Psilocybe Cubensis, known more commonly as “magic mushrooms”. They were banned without much, if any, attention paid to scientific studies considering benefits, or risks. The fact that Psilocybe Cubensis was made illegal is ludicrous. It was a victim in a dramatic political overreach, committed for personal gain of a single man and his political party, and if it hadn’t been made illegal we would surely have made strides by now in the field of psychology affecting some of the most common mental ailments in society today. 

Psilocybin is listed as a Schedule I substance, which means that according to the DEA it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse (Lin).” It has been illegal in the United States for more than 50 years. Recently, prestigious universities, such as UCLA, NYU, Johns Hopkins University, and Imperial College London have begun to conduct in-depth studies of the substance and have found that “psychedelics do not lead to dependence, are generally considered physiologically safe, and have demonstrated medical benefits (Marlan).” In fact, these studies have shown that the powerful mystical experiences they induce increase the overall well-being of individuals and make for a more positive outlook on life. On top of that, they have been “shown to be viable therapeutic al­ternatives in treating depression, substance use disorders, and other mental ill­nesses” in patients that take part in Psychoactive Assisted Psychotherapy, (PAP). The findings of these studies have the scientific community, as well as the general public, questioning whether the Schedule I title that psilocybin carries with it is fair or accurate. A brief look of the US Department of Justice web page for schedule IV drugs, which are said to “have a low potential for abuse relative to substances in Schedule III” lists nine benzodiazepines, which, according to the Harvard Medical School “can cause physical dependence and a withdrawal reaction” in as little as a week of daily use (Harvard). Whereas, the student health outreach center at The University of California, Santa Cruz has recently published that “Psilocybin does not produce compulsive drug-seeking behavior and addiction to hallucinogens is rare, although poly-drug addicts (people who are addicted to several drugs) frequently abuse hallucinogens as well (Psilocybin).” This low potential for abuse stems from the fact that a tolerance to the active ingredients in the mushrooms, namely Psilocybin and Psilocin, is built up quickly and lasts for a while. The effects of these compounds are all but negated for a day or two after a psychedelic mushroom experience, meaning that even if one wanted to consume them every day, the effects would be minimal to nonexistent on the second day of consumption. A little research provides more than enough evidence to make one question whether the prohibition of psilocybin is even defensible. The American government, funded by the tax dollars of the American people, claims that psilocybin is more dangerous than opioids, even though opioids were involved in over 47,000 deaths in the United States in the year 2017 alone, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As the great Terence McKenna once said, “psychedelics are illegal not because the government wants to protect us from us, but because they catalyze intellectual dissent (Lin)” This is not to say that psilocybin and psilocin are 100% harmless and risk-free, but they are considerably less dangerous than many drugs on the market and prescribed daily. 

Psilocybin is certainly not a completely safe substance, for the individual or society, but research shows that the benefits far outweigh the negative effects. There are three stages to a psychedelic trip on psilocybin: the peak, the afterglow, and the lasting psychological changes (Marlan). The peak is the part that tends to be problematic. Rarely, a consumer of psilocybin will experience what is called a “bad trip,” or, as it’s being called in psychology, a “challenging experience,” in which “the acute ef­fects of psychedelic drugs can be aversive, with paranoia and the fear of going insane noted by some who take them (Marlan).” This kind of experience can be quite distressing because the psychedelic state can be like going to a new place entirely: your judgment can be impaired, sensory experiences become heightened, the mind can become preoccupied with singular thoughts longer than usual, and time is space is often altered (Center). However, bad trips are less common than good trips. During good trips, the consumer may observe mystical experiences, deeply positive moods, and the transcendence of time and space (Marlan). The afterglow is a beautiful period that typically lasts 2-8 weeks and leaves the consumer feeling less worried and stressed about everyday things. In fact, in a study of 35 people by Johns Hopkins professors, they found that “two months after their last drug session, 29 participants reported moderately or greatly increased well-being and satisfaction with their lives as a result of psilocybin experiences (Bower).” Twenty-five participants in this study rated their psilocybin as one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives, and only 11 out of 35 reported experiences of some level of dread at any time in the process (Bower). The lasting psychological effects are currently the focus of psychologists and universities around the world, and may soon change the face of psychotherapy as we know it. 

Perhaps the biggest risk with consumption of psilocybin-containing-mushrooms is the misidentification of fungi. The number of species of mushrooms on this planet is estimated to be thirteen times greater than the number of plant species, and only a few contain these specific psychoactive compounds. If one goes out into the forest or the fields and looks for magic mushrooms for consumption, they must be extremely careful in identification or else they risk picking and consuming a poisonous varietal. However, it is estimated that only one to two percent of mushrooms are deadly poisonous, and according to Gary Williams, a mycological Consultant at the B.C. Poison Control Center, 90% of mushroom poisoning deaths are caused by a single family of mushroom, Amanitaceae/Amanita sps. Mushrooms of this family all share the same specific set of traits that no other genus has, they are rather easily identifiable once one learns what to look out for. So as long as a mushroom hunter learns to identify these traits, and then avoids them, they are rendering mushrooms safe to eat, with the next biggest risk being moderate gastrointestinal distress. According to Doctor Williams, “you are just as likely to poison yourself by randomly grazing on wild berries, roots, etc. as you are wild mushrooms.” So the risk certainly exists but can be negated with a minimal amount of research, and the benefits outweigh the risks on a tremendous scale. 

The psychological healing potential of psilocybin varies widely. In the field of addiction, another study from Johns Hopkins University utilizing psilocybin in curing nicotine addiction showed a 67% success rate in smoking cessation 12 months after the 3-month study. Additionally, “86.7% (of participants) rated their psilocybin experiences among the five most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives (Johnson). This potent significance that comes with psilocybin trips seems to be a theme. It is as if the drug has a way of putting things into perspective for the user. It allows users to separate themselves from their egos, or the filter from which they experience and process the world, and to see things in an extremely objective and unbiased way. This is excellent for working through trauma, general disposition in personality, or life satisfaction. Recent studies from around the world are demonstrating psilocybin to be “particularly useful in treating anxi­ety, substance use disorders, and depression, and in studying the neurobiology of mystical experiences” (Schenberg). It allows the mind to see subjectively, separate itself from the life it has always known, and make decisions that are unbiased, unafraid, and unfiltered (Schenberg). Another very weighty effect of psilocybin trips is that they can dissipate the fear that one tends to harbor around the concept of dying. This is a very taboo subject in our society, and thus, a hard subject to work around and think about logically. However, the removal from the ego makes coming to terms with death easier, and the user tends to find that there is no use in worrying about the inevitable end of life, which can be very freeing and good for a healthy state of mind (Sands). The potential beneficial effects of psilocybin on the individual and society are incredible and wide-reaching. 

In 2018, the Journal of Psychopharmacology, with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the University of British Columbia, did an enlightening study. They set out to determine the link between “classic psychedelic” use, such as Psilocybin and LSD, and criminal behavior in the United States. Their findings were staggering and rather exciting. Summed up briefly, they found that people that had EVER experienced a psychedelic trip, such as what one would experience on psilocybin, demonstrated “a 27% decrease in the likelihood of committing larceny or theft; a 22 percent decrease in the odds of arrest for property crime; an 18 percent decrease in the odds of arrest for violent crime; and a 12 percent decrease in the odds for committing assault (Hendricks).” When one takes into account that each murder that takes place in the United States costs the system an estimated nine million dollars between legal fees, processing, and paying for incarceration, an 18 percent decrease in violent crime can add up to a massive amount in savings if, say, everyone in the country had experienced a psychedelic trip at least once (Hendricks). Again, one cannot help but question why this substance is rated as more dangerous than opioids by our government.

The fact that Psilocybin is listed as one of the most dangerous drugs in the country is preposterous. There is no clear reason that could adequately explain the fact that psilocybin-containing mushrooms are so severely illegal. The only logical explanation for this illogical government policy is corruption. The tobacco and alcohol industries are worth more than a trillion dollars put together and are responsible for more than 500,000 deaths a year just in the United States of America (Drug). Both these substances have a high potential for abuse and cause terrible health effects worldwide; whereas psilocybin has little to no potential for abuse, and no ill physiological effects, as well as no potential for overdose-related-death. On top of that, tobacco and alcohol have little to know positive health benefits and only do damage to the body and society in the long run, whereas psilocybin has the potential to cause major improvements in the mental health of members of our great country at large. The alcohol industry spends tens of millions of dollars on government lobbying; essentially paying our elected officials to create, vote for, and pass legislation that furthers the industry as well as stifling smaller industries, such as the budding American marijuana industry. 

 If there should be any intervention in the use of psilocybin on behalf of our government it should be this: instead of harshly restricting this drug, the government should supply to each citizen on their 25th birthday, one “trip” worth of mushrooms. This is the point where brain development is finished, so there is minimal risk, and much to be gained. In theory, this simple action could bring crime rates down by 20%. The costs that we would save as a society on legal fees alone, as indicated by the study by the University of Alabama, would be monumental, not to mention the cost of psychotherapy and the general increase in well-being in American Citizens. The great mycologist Terence Mckenna, may have said it best in his lecture titled Nature is the Center of the Mandala; “Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third-story window, psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.” The people in charge see psychedelic drugs as a threat to their power and so they control it with an iron fist. Psilocybin can help a person to be more empathetic, caring, and understanding of their fellow citizens, and in divisive times like these, where some days the country seems positively torn in two, we could use exactly that. 

Works Cited

Bower, Bruce. “Chemical Enlightenment.” Science News, vol. 170, no. 14, 2006, p. 216., doi:10.2307/4017451.

“Controlled Substance Schedules.” Controlled Substance Schedules, United States Department of Justice,

“Drug Overdose Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 June 2019,

Harvard Health Publishing. “Benzodiazepines (and the Alternatives).” Harvard Health, Harvard University, 15 Mar. 2019,

Hendricks, Peter S, et al. “The Relationships of Classic Psychedelic Use with Criminal Behavior in the United States Adult Population.” Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 32, no. 1, 2017, pp. 37–48., doi:10.1177/0269881117735685.

Johnson, Matthew W., et al. “Long-Term Follow-up of Psilocybin-Facilitated Smoking Cessation.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 43, no. 1, 2016, pp. 55–60., doi:10.3109/00952990.2016.1170135.

Lin, Tao. Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change. Vintage, 2018.

MARLAN, D. Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice. Lewis & Clark Law Review, [s. l.], v. 23, n. 3, p. 851–892, 2019. Disponível em: Acesso em: 9 out. 2019.

“Psilocybin (Mushrooms).” Psilocybin (Mushrooms), University of California, Santa Cruz, 8 Feb. 2019,

“Researchers Urge Caution around Psilocybin Use - 12/30/2016.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, 30 Dec. 2016,

Sands, Robert R. “Guest Editors Introduction: The Science of God: Natural Origins of Religion in an Evolutionary Perspective.” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, vol. 3, no. 4, Aug. 2010, doi:10.1558/jsrnc.v3i4.437.

Schenberg, Eduardo Ekman. “Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 9, May 2018, doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00733.

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