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Psychoactive Mushrooms Presentation

By John Clarke

What with the holidays and the decision to move all the articles from Coffeesh0p over here, it’s about time I posted something with a bit more meat. Having said that, this post is also suitable for vegetarians, so read on!

As I mentioned briefly before, I had to give another presentation to my neuropharmacology class in a similar vein to the one on Salvia divinorum I published earlier. In the end, I chose to talk about psychoactive mushrooms, so here’s the slides and a bit of bloggified talking along with each. Before we begin though, I’ll just say this was the worst presentation I’ve ever given – I (probably) had the most severe case of flu ever recorded and only managed to summon the courage to deliver it with Beechams flu plus, aspirin and a cheeky dihydrocodeine. Without these unsung heroes, this talk would not have been possible!

Oh, you can also click on the slides to enlarge them. Without further ado:

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I’ll be talking about both the traditional “Magic Mushrooms” and the fly agaric mushroom, which is less well known, but is actually pretty culturally significant. For both of these, I’ll touch on a bit of history and tradition, pharmacology and a few other interesting bits and pieces.
mushrooms-presentation-slide3The typical magic mushrooms are actually many species of the Psilocybe genus with each species having its own subtle differences. There are 60 species of Psilocybe mushrooms growing throughout the united states, of which 25 are hallucinogenic. These mushrooms will grow in nearly any kind of habitat, apart from arid deserts, so are found throughout the world. The greatest species diversity falls within the neotropic climate zones, encompassing much of South America.

mushrooms-presentation-slide4These mushrooms were traditionally used by the native peoples of middle America for divination & healing purposes as well as religious communion. In fact, these people referred to the mushrooms as “God flesh” in their native language. Traditional use continued until the Spanish invaded, bringing European culture with them in the 14-1500s which pushed mushroom use underground. In 1955, Robert Gordon Wasson was the first westerner to take the mushrooms, and since then, western interest has exploded.

mushrooms-presentation-slide5Some of the positive effects brought on by these mushrooms include a euphoric change in mood accompanied by giggling and laughter, as well as an increased flow of ideas and tendency to think “deep”. Objects and lights also appear more interesting and colourful. The neutral effects include a general shift in consciousness, as with most other psychoactive substances, but also an increased emotional sensitivity, pupil dilation & photosensitivity, lethargy and time dilation – the feeling that time is passing faster than it actually is. The negative effects of mushroom use can include intense fear, a headache as the effects begin to wane, gastrointestinal discomfort such as cramps & nausea, anxiety, confusion and fainting. There has been no evidence of organ damage following use.

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The pharmacology – The important constituents are two compounds in the tryptamine family, psilocybin and psilocin. Psilocybin is not actually biologically active – rather, it’s a prodrug that gets dephosphorylated by the body to form psilocin, which is psychoactive. I’ve also put a model of 5-HT on there for comparison. Psilocin is an agonist at 5-HT 2A, 2C and 1A receptors, but it’s hallucinatory effects are due to the binding to 5-HT2A receptors in the brain. Psilocin shows no effect on dopaminergic pathways, and only affects noradrenergic pathways in high doses. It is believed to be the degradation of psilocin into some kind of blue pigment responsible for the characteristic blue/black bruising of these mushrooms following handling. The ease at which they bruise is a good indicator of the mushroom’s potency. One species will even turn blue from just blowing on it.

mushrooms-presentation-slide8While there are no recognised medical uses of magic mushrooms, they have been used as an experimental treatment for a number of disorders. There’s significant anecdotal evidence to suggest that mushrooms can abort the period where people with cluster headaches are prone to attacks and also prevent relapses. Cluster headaches are quite a serious condition, being described as more painful than childbirth (by women!), so it’s no wonder people are willing to break the law to treat themselves. There are also currently studies under way on the effect of these mushrooms at easing the psychological suffering associated with cancer.

There’s not a lot more to say about these mushrooms, only that making them illegal naturally hampers research into a potentially useful drug.

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The Amanita muscaria mushroom is a whole different kettle of fish. Here’s a few pictures so you know what I’m talking about.

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Also known as the Fly agaric, this mushroom is the archetypal toadstool of the fairy tales, and is native to many places throughout the northern hemisphere, where it has been used ceremonially and recreationally for thousands of years. The mushroom, when freshly picked, is poisonous, but with careful preparation, the mushroom loses its toxicity. Unlike its psilocybin containing counterpart, this mushroom is completely legal.

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Amanita have a long past, appearing in artwork from as long ago as 3500 BC. They also appear in paintings from the renaissance period, becoming more prominent during the Victorian era. This mushroom is associated in particular with fairies, elves and little people in general. They also began appearing on Christmas cards as a symbol of luck, and models of the mushroom were hung on Christmas trees as decorations. This could be due to the natural association between these mushrooms and pine forests.

It’s also been suggested that Santa Clause himself is modelled after the fly agaric mushroom, with his red ‘n’ white suit. Reindeer have also been observed eating this mushrooms in the wild and becoming intoxicated, so could that be behind the stories of flying reindeer? In fact, here’s another article on Amanita muscaria & Christmas – a very interesting read. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol seemed to draw it’s inspiration from Amanita muscaria too.

Here’s a few images of this mushroom appearing in art through time. The top left one is from Disney’s Fantasia from 1940 – another example of just how widespread this mushroom has become within our culture.

mushrooms-presentation-slide14Use of these mushrooms has been as widespread as their geographic distribution, but heavy use has been recorded in Siberia in particular. The Siberian shamans use the fly agaric as an alternative method to drumming and chanting to enter a trance state, but in eastern Siberia, the mushrooms were used by everyone both religiously and recreationally.

mushrooms-presentation-slide15These mushrooms have a much more of a sedative effect with less hallucinations than the psilocybin containing counterparts. The positive effects include euphoria, analgesia, trance-like states being achieved, synaesthesia, and seeing “little people”. Maybe that one’s not so positive… The neutral effects include sedation, although some people can feel particularly energetic, along with changes in body perception, blurred vision and such. The most common negative effects associated with fly agaric use are nausea & gastrointestinal discomfort, but a powerful dissociation and delirium can occur at higher doses.

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The active compounds in Amanita muscaria are Ibotenic acid and it’s derivative, muscimol. Ibotenic acid is a neurotoxin, which has since found a use in research, being a good inducer of brain lesions. This is the compound responsible for the toxic delirium resulting from ingestion of the fresh mushrooms. When dried in a particular manner, the ibotenic acid is decarboxylated into muscimol, making the mushrooms a lot safer to eat.

mushrooms-presentation-slide17Muscimol itself is a selective agonist at the GABA-A receptor and a partial agonist at the GABA-C receptor. Muscimol’s effect profile is the sum of its actions at both these receptors, where it binds to the GABA site rather than that of an allosteric modulator, such as benzodiazepines or barbiturates. These GABAergic effects alter neuronal activity in many regions of the brain including the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus and the cerebellum. Muscimol is not metabolised further by the body, but is excreted in large quantities, as we shall see…

mushrooms-presentation-slide18Time for some interesting bits and pieces about muscimol. Alcohol withdrawal can lead to hallucinations of little people much like muscimol. Since alcohol also acts on GABAergic pathways, maybe the effects could be related?

Siberian tribes used to drink the urine of their shaman, as it contains a high concentration of muscimol after ceremonial fly agaric use. I can’t think of any reason someone might find this out in the first place though.

And despite the name, Amanita muscaria have negligible muscarinic effects. They do contain muscarine, but in such tiny quantities to not make a difference.

mushrooms-presentation-slide19Muscimol has also found use as a pharmacological tool, being a GABA agonist. GABA itself plays an inhibitory role, so GABA agonists applied to the brain will also have an inhibitory role. This is a useful method of simulating axon-sparing brain lesions, making reversible inactivation of brain areas a great way to study brain-behaviour relationships, such as where and when neuronal events for learning and memory take place.

And that’s that!

At this point I handed round a fly agaric cap for extra cool points.

The slides are available as a PDF here: Psychoactive Mushrooms Presentation [1.79 MB].

9 Responses to Psychoactive Mushrooms Presentation

  1. mjshroomer says:

    Nice presentation, a little off on the amount of known species, however, overall I would say a B+ if I were grading it.

    There are exactly, right now, 200 known species of psilocybian fungi worldwide.

    And Wasson latter changed his opinion to include that Teonanacatl implied wondrous mushroom of Meat of the Gods.

    Today, no living Indian group in Mexico in modern times know or refer to any sacred mushroom as Teonanacatl.

    That was a word used in the Nahuatl language to describe any of the sacred mushrooms and not a single known species.

    Again, if yo have time, read some of my published literature at my site in the articles section.

    http://www.mushroomjohn.org/articles.htm

    I will be putting your article liested in my CD-ROM “Teonanáncatl: A Bibliography of Entheogenic Fungi.”

    Thanks for sharing and have a shroomy day.

    btw, there are more than 14,800 images at my site related to shrooms.

    During my 11 years on the internet, several dozens of people asked for use of photos and information for supposed school projects and presentations onthe internet and i must congratulate you as the first person who has presented such a paper.

    I will also post this at you post at entheogen.com
    Best regards,

    John W. Allen

  2. Synchronium says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks a lot – that means a lot coming from yourself. Also, thanks for your corrections! Although there are some mistakes, I’m glad you didn’t pick up on anything pharmacology related – I’m sure that wouldn’t look too great considering this was delivered to a neuropharmacology class.

    Please feel free to do whatever you like with the article if you think people might find it at all useful. :^)

  3. mjshroomer says:

    Hi Synchronium,

    What name should I use for the authorship on your article. IF it is your real name, then email it to me at mjshroomer1@yahoo.com,

    Otherwise it would go under Unsigned, but when I do that, that is usually reserved for news articles or editorials where an author is unknown.

    The bibliography has more than 2800 references, 1800 annotations, 9,000 cross-references and more than 1,000 photo images including first pages of hundreds of published papers.

    Your real name would legitimize your work as scholarly. But most people cannot afford to buy the bibliography so no one would really know who you are, except unless someone referenced the paper in their works, but then they would not know it was you under your screen name.

    By the way, I read your Salvia paper, but not all of it.

    I wanted to mention that most Mazatecs eat about 14 pairs of leaves. Albert Hofmann ate such leaves in a ceremony conducted by Maria Sabina’s daughters while his wife Anita and R. Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina ate mushrooms.

    Hofmann reported feelings of sexuality in the dances performed in the ritual by Maria’s daughters.

    You should read my magazine article at my site on Kratom and shrooms in Thailand.

    I hope to see more pages form you on your site. I bookmarked it.

    John

    and have a shroomy day.

    Are you going for a masters in entheogenic drug pharmacology, or in Economic Botany as did Richard Evans Schultes?

  4. mjshroomer says:

    Sorry to come back one more time, but I should mention that baeocystine, norbaeocystine and aerucinescine are also just as active as psilocine. In the 1970s, Jeremy Bigwood at Evergreen Community College in Olympia, Washington consumed baeocystine and said it was not different than psilocybine/psilocine.

    I have a paper coming out on a new compound obtained from a liquid culture of Psilocybe samuiensis Guzmán, Bandala and Allen, called, Psilosamuiensin A, a sesquiterpenoid metabolite of Psilocybe samuiensis. This is a paper of which I am one of nine authors who conducted this research.

    john

  5. Synchronium says:

    I don’t think I’ll be doing a masters in anything entheogen related, unfortunately. I reckon I’ll just finish my degree then run Coffeesh0p full time. I still fancy the idea of doing a PhD though, but everything on offer that I’ve looked at seems pretty boring.

    Truth is, I have no idea what I want to do – I’ll just see what happens and take any opportunities as they come!

    Also, please send a copy of that paper when it’s finished. Perhaps I’ll sum it up here for those less scientifically minded…

  6. HMmm says:

    At : http://www.synchronium.net/media/mushrooms-presentation-slide6.jpg

    I think there is a mistake. The third compound you present and label as 5HT (serotonin) is not serotonin but 5-HO-DMT, bufotenin. In order for it to be serotonin you need at the N on the chain to remove the two methyls and substitute them with nitrogens. 5HT is 5-hydroxy-tryptamine not 5-hydroxy-dimethyltryptamine.

  7. Synchronium says:

    My god, you’re right! I guess this just goes to show that doing stuff right at the last minute is a dangerous, dangerous game.

    I’ll remove those two pesky methyl groups as soon as I remember again after I’ve forgotten about it this time. Thanks!

    EDIT: Fixed. 🙂

  8. mjshroomer says:

    HI, mj here. Send me an email addy and I will send you a copy of the paper on samuiensis new compound. Also a url formy new journal and a few reviews

    John W. Allen

    And have a shroomy day

  9. Steve Smith says:

    Hi all. This website is great. I’ve found out loads of things about drugs, shame I didn’t read this before I took them..oh well. Anyway I’m writing about my experience 2 years ago on shrooms.

    I decided to buy my shrooms as I wanted them there are and then instead of going out and picking them. There was a big risk as I knew one of these shrooms might kill me, but I still went ahead. I took 250 dried and waited 30 mins after nothing was happening I took a further 250 dried shrooms.

    I had an irresistable urge to listen to a song soon as I found the song the trip kicked in. Straight away I fell to the floor and had a fit. I was in the college liabary at the time in a class. Class ended and as I was about to leave I collapsed again and had another fit.

    My teacher instantly knew what was going on. He gave me some water and buscuits. I could drink the water but my hands were shaking really bad so I split most of it. The biscuit was dry in my mouth and I was chewing it for ages. The other buscuit in my hand had turned to dust because I my hands wouldn’t stop clenching.

    One of the lads was wearing a blue and black squared shirt. Soon as I saw the shirt. Everything became incased in the patten. The floors, the walls and the celing. Everyone vanished. It was just me in this werid super bright blue and black corridoor. I felt like I was flying threw this corridoor at lightning speed. But in fact I was sitting down on the floor staring at a wall.

    My mate said he would get me a cheeseburger and he would give it to me in class. I got to my next lesson and sat down. I could function normally and do everything fine. I was in and out of hallicinations. People in my class weren’t helping. As soon as I had the cheeseburger in my hand they said it was talking to me. And boom I was straight back into another hallucination. This time my burger was talking to me, I had a full on convo with it and I couldn’t eat it as I felt it was a real person. I had a touchscreen phone at the time. I went to text my mate. But I was unable to spell because the keyboard letters kept switching places with other letters. As I typed little rainbows bounced out of my phone.

    I was taken for a ride home by one of my mates and I saw girls everywhere. It turned out they were trees.

    I was lucky I was around people who knew what I had taken as this could have ended up a whole lot worse, not just for my penis but for my life. I was off my face for around 12-16hours. I did manage to fall asleep but I had some of the weridest dreams. I would reccommed this drug to anyone, but its essential you know what may happen good or bad. I have never done shrooms again. But will probally do in the future. I get occassional mad twiches everynow and then and other stuff but I think that’s probally related to something else.

    This drug like every other can kill you!

    It all depends on what you do with your life, which makes you as a person…

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