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Long before the psychedelic sixties, ancient cultures already used plant and fungi-based medicine in religious or spiritual ceremonies. The use of magic mushrooms, in particular, dates back to the earliest times of human existence. Cave paintings in southern Algeria, dating from between 9000 and 7000 BCE, show a god-like figure with the head of an animal and limbs shaped like mushrooms. Artefacts belonging to the Mayan and Aztec cultures appear to show evidence of the ritual and ceremonial use of magic mushrooms, and the Aztec word for mushrooms, eonanácatl, translates as “God’s flesh”. After the Spanish arrived in the New World in the 16th century, Dominican and Franciscan friars reported that mushrooms were consumed at various festivities and ceremonies, such as the accession to the throne of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. From this perspective, magic mushrooms can hardly be considered “alternative”! ;-)
The working ingredient of magic mushrooms is psilocybin. When consumed by way of mushrooms, psilocybin is converted by the body into psilocin, which is a chemical with psychoactive properties. By acting on the brain’s serotonin receptors, psilocin brings about its mind-altering effects.
But more important than the biochemical characteristics of magic mushrooms, are the life-changing experiences it can provide. For example, recent scientific research has documented the beneficial effects of psilocybin on patients diagnosed with terminal cancer. A 2016 study at Johns Hopkins and New York University showed that after a single dose of psilocybin, patients reported a substantial reduction in anxiety, depression and existential distress. Moreover, patients described “exalted feelings of joy, bliss and love” and “a movement from feelings of separateness to interconnectedness”. Seventy percent of the participants in this study said that their experience with psilocybin was in the top five most meaningful experiences in their lives. Several hospitals around the world, including in the Netherlands (Groningen, Utrecht en Maastricht), have begun studies on the benefits of psilocybin
For their patients.
The amazing effects of psilocybin are not just found in terminally ill patients. Many otherwise healthy participants in studies on psilocybin report profound changes in their minds, outlooks and perspectives on themselves and the rest of the world. In fact, the experience of psilocybin is often described as “mystical”. For many, undergoing a magic mushroom trip comes with “feelings of awe; of everything being interconnected; of transcending time and space; of profound intuitive understanding about the nature of reality; and of deeply felt love, peace, or joy.”
A psilocybin trip can be an incredibly intense experience. Although magic mushrooms are generally not physically dangerous or toxic, there is always the risk of a bad trip. Negative effects of psilocybin can be felt if magic mushrooms are consumed irresponsibly, in the wrong environment or with the wrong intentions, or simply in too high a dose. The way someone experiences psilocybin can also depend on personal sensitivity, prior use of prescription medication, or existing delicate psychological state. This is where an experienced magic mushroom therapist comes in. Proper guidance is the key to experiencing the full, amazing effects of psilocybin in a safe and positive way.