Magic mushrooms and other natural hallucinogens
magic mushrooms, shrooms, mushies, gold tops, blue meanies
Many hallucinogens occur naturally, including psilocybin ('magic mushrooms'), DMT (dimethyltryptamine), datura and mescaline (from the peyote cactus).
IMAGE: Age Fotostock
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic chemical found in some kinds of mushrooms. It belongs to the same chemical family as LSD, so its effects are quite similar. While the psilocybin mushroom is native to Mexico, other kinds of magic mushroom grow in other parts of the world and there are several species growing wild in Australia.
It is dangerous to pick and eat wild mushrooms because it is difficult to distinguish edible mushrooms from their poisonous lookalikes. Poisonous mushrooms can cause stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea, while some can cause permanent liver damage, respiratory failure, unconsciousness and even death. Symptoms can take up to 40 hours to develop.
DMT is a powerful hallucinogenic drug found in certain plants in the West Indies and South America. Its chemical structure is very similar to that of psilocybin. In Australia, most DMT bought on the street is synthetic. It can, however, be found in the bark of a number of commonly occurring trees as well as a number of other plants. In its pure form it is a crystal, though on the street it is usually found in powder form.
Natural hallucinogens and the law
It is illegal to use, possess, supply or manufacture hallucinogens in New South Wales.
How natural hallucinogens are used
Naturally occurring hallucinogens are used in a variety of ways, depending on their form. Mushrooms can be dried or boiled, then added to other foods. Other natural hallucinogens can be smoked, or boiled into tea preparations. DMT is usually smoked, though the powder form can also be swallowed.
How common is hallucinogen use?
The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 9.4% of Australians aged 14 and above had ever tried hallucinogens (including naturally occurring hallucinogens, such as magic mushrooms, as well as synthetic hallucinogens such as LSD), while 1.3% had used hallucinogens in the year preceding the survey.
Short term effects
The short-term effects of naturally occurring hallucinogens include:
- vivid perceptual distortions (hallucinations)
- a distorted sense of time and place
- poor coordination
- increased body temperature and sweating, and/or chills
- a lack of control over thinking processes and concentration.
The effects produced by these substances, and the user's reaction to these effects, vary greatly between individuals.
Long term effects
The most frequently discussed long-term effect of using hallucinogens is flashbacks—a spontaneous recurrence of something that happened while the person was taking the drug. These are usually brief, but can occur for days, weeks or even years after taking the drug.
Other long-term effects include impaired memory, and prolonged depression and anxiety.
Hallucinogens and driving
It is extremely dangerous, as well as illegal, to drive with the distorted sense perceptions, poor coordination and lack of judgement caused by taking hallucinogens.
Hallucinogens and pregnancy
There is evidence linking the use of hallucinogens in pregnancy to an increased risk of miscarriage and birth complications. There may also be a higher incidence of birth defects among babies born to women using hallucinogens.
If a mother uses hallucinogens while breastfeeding, it is possible that the drug will be present in her milk and have adverse effects on the baby.
Interaction with other drugs
Cross-tolerance can occur between psychedelics. This means that users with a tolerance to, for example, LSD, may have a tolerance to drugs with similar effects such as mescaline.
Naturally occurring hallucinogens are not thought to cause physical dependence. Regular users may develop psychological dependence, although this is not common.
Regular users may experience a need or craving if they stop taking the drug.
One of the dangers of using magic mushrooms is that of accidentally ingesting a highly toxic non-hallucinogenic variety. Some other naturally occurring hallucinogens, such as datura, may cause poisoning in high doses.
People who use natural hallucinogens do not generally seek treatment for their drug use and there are few treatment options that can be recommended, apart from those found to be generally effective for drug dependence (see treatment).
List of hallucinogens
LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), DMT (dimethyltryptamine), datura, mescaline