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How 'Shrooms Work: 10 Trippiest Experiences

Whether you view them as recreational, medicinal or sacred, 'shrooms are embedded in human culture.

Photo Credit: Elena Schweitzer / Shutterstock.com


The following first appeared on Substance.com:

“Magic Mushrooms” refers to any of 180 or so species of mushrooms found around the world that contain the naturally occurring psychedelic drugs psilocybin and psilocin. The most common strain on today’s black market is Psilocybe cubensis.

As with most psychedelics, how psilocybin causes its effects in the brain is only dimly understood. Recent research shows that rather than increasing brain activity (as had been  thought) the chemical reducesactivity, particularly in the “hubs” that connect sensory regions and help organize the constant barrage of stimuli into a sense of stable “selfhood.” With self-consciousness lifted and stimuli “disorganized,” the brain region involved in dreaming during sleep is increasingly activated. This puts us in a dreamlike state in which our senses feel heightened—sometimes to the extent that we hallucinate.

Although psilocybin mushrooms have been used since prehistoric times, mainstream America’s first exposure came via anthropologist Robert Gordon Wasson’s pioneering 1957 photo-essay “ Seeking the Magic Mushroom,” for Life magazine. His trip to Mexico to take the psychedelic fungi with the  shamans of Oaxaca caught the public’s imagination and is often cited as the root of the counter-culture’s interest.

Psilocybe cubensis Photo via

Psilocybe cubensis  Photo via

Among the starry-eyed psychedelic explorers who followed Wasson’s lead was a certain Timothy Leary, who  went on to dose Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and other future figures in the psychedelic scene via the  Harvard Psilocybin Project. The rest, as they say, is history. What was once the preserve of medicine men was now part of any self-respecting hippie’s drug buffet. By 1970 magic mushrooms use was so widespread that Wasson spoke of his regrets about the publicity his essay brought to the Mazatec culture, and the lack of ritualistic and cultural significance that mushrooms hold for latter-day consumers. Today, actress  Susan Sarandon and ex-CNN reporter  Amber Lyon are among those who publicly acknowledge being fans.

For all its cultural heritage, psilocybin’s most significant contribution to humanity may turn out to be medical. Exciting research has focused on the drug’s ability to treat OCD, PTSD, depression and anxiety—even the terror of impending death in patients with terminal illness—with highly promising results. The loosening of restrictions on such research will likely bring more good news.

‘Shrooms are the first psychedelic experience that many of us have. Following our explorations of readers’ first experiences with  ecstasyand LSD, Substance.com asked 10 people two simple questions: Do you remember the first time? And where did your initial experience lead?

"Then there’s a rumble of thunder, and, man, the skies just opened." Photo via

“Then there’s a rumble of thunder, and, man, the skies just opened.” Photo via

1. Singin’ in the Rain

Eric, 46, an EMT technician in the Bronx, NY

My first time: A buddy of mine called TJ had gotten some—this was 30 years ago. We were hanging out in these old baseball fields, three of us had taken’ ‘em, and I thought it wasn’t working. It was one of those real humid, heavy New York summers. I’d taken maybe a couple of grams—ate ‘em down, washed it back with a 40. Then there’s a rumble of thunder, and, man, the skies just opened. We’re all screaming and running for cover, and I don’t know if it was the shock of the rain, but I realized it was happening. I was tripping. Hard.

It was beautiful, man. I remember looking at the rain through the streetlights, and seeing these intricate, three-dimensional patterns that you could almost reach out and touch. They were very geometric and huge—you could get lost in them—but everything seemed very precise. I looked over at TJ and he was sitting there in the rain and the mud, holding out his hand catching raindrops and looking at them, with a big grin on his face. I’d never thought of the city as beautiful before, but it looked so beautiful that night. Just alive with colors and all kinds of prettiness. I wish it always looked like that.