Psychedelics are often labelled dangerous, but all medicine comes with risk! The key question is: what are those risks and how can we minimize them?
What does psilocybin do to your brain?
Psilocybin mushrooms actually refer to about 200 different species of mushrooms that grow all over the world. When eaten, Psilocybin mushrooms cause a psychedelic effect that’s experienced as hallucinations, euphoria, altered thinking and changes in perception and mood. The compound in magic mushrooms that make them so magical is their namesake psilocybin once ingested the liver converts this compound into another called psilocin. Psilocin molecules are almost the exact same shape as serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood, because they’re so similar. Psilocybin can talk itself into the serotonin receptors in the brain, causing euphoria and all the other common psychedelic effects.
Are magic mushrooms as dangerous as other drugs?
In the big picture, the harms you see from psychedelics, even though they’re real, and we know what they are, the prevalence of these dangers pale in comparison to other psychoactive substances, both illegal and legal substances. Numerous scientific investigations have had experts rank the harms to the user and the harm to society in general across a wide variety of compounds, both legal and illegal.
When people bring objective data to these questions, danger bears little relationship at all to legal status. At the top of the “dangerous” list, you’ll consistently get compounds like tobacco and alcohol. At the far other end of that continuum are psilocybin mushrooms, ranked as the lowest amongst all the major psychoactive compounds in terms of harm to self and harm to others.
Can you overdose on psilocybin mushrooms?
Psychedelics are really physically safe for most people. There’s no known lethal overdose amount for psilocybin or for LSD. One of the amazing things about the classic psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD is that they’re not addictive. They can be abused, meaning they can be used in a dangerous way to the person, but they’re not addictive.
How can I minimize risk when tripping on shrooms?
One of the major factors that we know that separates riskier use from less risky use is the presence of a sober guide. It is generally safer the more it looks like clinical research where the person is not alone, they’re with someone they trust. It’s going to be in a safe environment where they’re not worried about making sure no one assaults them or steals their wallet, the less likely that they’re going to run into pitfalls.
Another factor that separates risky use from safer use is control over the dose. There were a lot of overstatements and urban legends about the dangers of psychedelics. Things like you know that it was common for teenagers to stare into the sun and burn their eyes blind because they were on LSD. There’s no credible evidence that ever happened.
Are bad trips dangerous?
Certainly the bad trip is a real phenomenon. It’s relatively rare, but sometimes people have accidents and sometimes people die when they’re having a bad trip and they panic and they fall from a height or they wander into traffic. These things have happened. That’s why it’s important to have a sober guide, particularly if you have no previous experience with psychedelics. It’s important to know how your body and mind are going to react before you trip by yourself or with only other people who are tripping.
What did past studies with psychedelics look like?
Some of the research from the 1950s to early 70s shows that they gave a giant dose of LSD to someone then locked them in a padded room. One of the trials was looking to see if LSD could help people with alcoholism. They literally tied people down in restraints to their hospital bed and then gave them a massive dose of LSD (800 micrograms) and they didn’t give them any warning that they took this substance that would profoundly alter their conscious experience.
Those are the conditions under which you would get experiences that look more like psychosis; when you treat the person like they’re going to go crazy. A lot of times, at least temporarily, they feel like they’re going crazy. However, if the person is in a safe environment, the drug will wear off, and they’ll be fine.
Can I take too much psilocybin?
We don’t encourage tripping on excessive amounts of psychedelics, but it’s important to note that there’s a lot of overstatement of the dangers associated with psychedelic use. Psychedelics, big picture, can help us move towards a world where we start to understand what it takes for a human being to be mentally healthy. That’s not to say that there aren’t dangers. There are very real dangers with psychedelics, but we know what they are. And in the grand scheme of things, they’re just far less prevalent than the harms we see from some of these other compounds out there.
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