February 19, 2016 at 7:27 am #280
The mushroom is one of more than 100 species that contain compounds called psilocybin and psilocin, which are psychoactive and cause hallucinations, euphoria and other trippy symptoms. These “magic mushrooms” have long been used in Central American religious ceremonies, and are now part of the black market in drugs in the United States and many other countries, where they are considered a controlled substance.
How does a modest little mushroom upend the brain so thoroughly? Read on for the strange secrets of ‘shrooms.
1. Mushrooms hyperconnect the brain
An artist’s image shows neurons sending signals within the human brain.
The compounds in psilocybin mushrooms may give users a “mind-melting” feeling, but in fact, the drug does just the opposite — psilocybin actually boosts the brain’s connectivity, according to an October 2014 study. Researchers at King’s College London asked 15 volunteers undergo brain scanning by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. They did so once after ingesting a dose of magic mushrooms, and once after taking a placebo. The resulting brain connectivity maps showed that, while under the influence of the drug, the brain synchronizes activity among areas that would not normally be connected. This alteration in activity could explain the dreamy state that ‘shroom users report experiencing after taking the drug, the researchers said.
2. Slow it down
‘Shrooms act in other strange ways upon the brain. Psilocybin works by binding to receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Although it’s not clear exactly how this binding affects the brain, studies have found that the drug has other brain-communication-related effects in addition to increased synchronicity.
In one study, brain imaging of volunteers who took psilocybin revealed decreased activity in information-transfer areas such as the thalamus, a structure deep in the middle of the brain. Slowing down the activity in areas such as the thalamus may allow information to travel more freely throughout the brain, because that region is a gatekeeper that usually limits connections, according to the researchers from Imperial College London.
3. Magic mushrooms go way back
Central Americans were using psilocybin mushrooms before Europeans landed on the New World’s shores; the fantastical fungi grow well in subtropical and tropical environments. But how far back were humans tripping on magic mushrooms?
It’s not an easy question to answer, but a 1992 paper in the short-lived journal, “Integration: Journal of Mind-Moving Plants and Culture,” argued that rock art in the Sahara dating back 9,000 years depicts hallucinogenic mushrooms. The art in question shows masked figures holding mushroomlike objects. Other drawings show mushrooms positioned behind anthropomorphic figures — possibly a nod to the fact that mushrooms grow in dung. (The mushroom figures have also been interpreted as flowers, arrows or other plant matter, however, so it remains an open question whether the people who lived in the ancient Sahara used ‘shrooms.)
4. Magic mushrooms explain Santa … maybe
Amanita muscaria mushrooms
On the subject of myth, settle in for a less-than-innocent tale of Christmas cheer. According to Sierra College anthropologist John Rush, magic mushrooms explain why kids wait for a flying elf to bring them presents on Dec. 25.
Rush said that Siberian shamans used to bring gifts of hallucinogenic mushrooms to households each winter. Reindeer were the “spirit animals” of these shaman, and ingesting mushrooms might just convince a hallucinating tribe member that those animals could fly. Plus, Santa’s red-and-white suit looks suspiciously like the colors of the mushroom species Amanita muscaria, which grows — wait for it — under evergreen trees. However, this species is toxic to people. [8 Ways Magic Mushrooms Gave Us Christmas]
Feeling like you’ve just taken a bad trip? Not to worry. Not all anthropologists are sold on the hallucinogen-Christmas connection. But still, as Carl Ruck, a classicist at Boston University, told Live Science in 2012: “At first glance, one thinks it’s ridiculous, but it’s not.”
5. ‘Shrooms may change people for good
Psychologists say that few things can truly alter someone’s personality in adulthood, but magic mushrooms may be one of those things.
A 2011 study found that after one dose of psilocybin, people became more open to new experiences for at least 14 months, a shockingly stable change. People with open personalities are more creative and more appreciative of art, and they value novelty and emotion.
The reason for the change seems to be psilocybin’s effects on emotions. People describe mushroom trips as extremely profound experiences, and report feelings of joy and connectedness to others and to the world around them. These transcendent experiences appear to linger. (In the experiments, the researchers took great pains to assure their participants did not experience “bad trips,” as some people respond to psilocybin with panic, nausea and vomiting. Volunteers were kept safe in a room with peaceful music and calming surroundings.)
- This topic was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by darran22.
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