Mushroom's Storied Past...Why Everyone Should Be Talking About Mushrooms

Belonging to the fungi family, mushrooms fall somewhere between plant and animal, growing from pretty much any habitat, these fabulous yet freaky looking micro-organisms can be used for food, medicinal and recreational purposes. 

Extracted from the ancient greek words of psychē (soul) and dēloun (reveal), psychedelic literally translates to ‘mind-manifesting’. With over a 100 different psychoactive plants and mushrooms species falling under the psychedelic umbrella, psilocybin is an entheogen - psychedelics deriving from plants. If LSD, Ketamine and MDMA ring a bell (no judgement here), these drugs belong to the synthetic group, psychedelics made in a laboratory. 

If me naming these drugs makes you think of raves, festivals and rock music, let me just stop you there. Like most recreational drugs, these psychedelics have medical origins. During the 60s and 70s, it close connection with the hippy counter-culture and alternative political thinking made mushrooms and psychedelics enemy number 1 in the U.S. Fast forward to 2021, a re-birth has begun, fuelled by piles of tucked away research, psychedelics have now been identified as a viable weapon against hard to treat diseases like addiction, mental health and ptsd. 

So sit back, relax and let me take you on a journey through the be-smudged history of psychedelics. 

Ancient native use

  • 4000 BC- mushroom is carved into a cave wall 
  • 3700 BC- the use of peyote by indigenous cultures are tracked back to this date
  • 1400 AD- Aztecs are know to ingest mushrooms, calling it the “flesh of the Gods”
  • 1500 AD- Peyote is referred to by the Catholics as witchcraft 

Although the scientific qualities of these psychedelics were unknown, what was clear among these communities is the profound, altered state of  consciousness these plants invited.

Psychedelics essentially work by binding serotonin (the feel good hormone) to the receptors in your brain, hence the euphoric feelings. Okay - it is way more complicated than that - but this is top-line. 

What interests doctors is that during this ‘bonding’ period, the makeup of the brain changes as neurones begin to form new connections. Therefore during these pinnacle points in a trip, active re-wiring and repairing could be mindfully achieved, helping to better the overall mental health of an individual. 

Native civilisations were bang on the money, believing that some plants and fungi do have special healing powers and potentially access to other worlds. A focus on ones existence as the mind, body and spirit began to evolve. 

Since the discovery of psychedelics, scientists had no restrictions on studying and observing these psychoactive plants and fungi. During the 60’s and its legalised period, synthetic drugs like LSD smuggled their way from lab to living room. After entering the public realm, and with its tie to the anti-war movement, psychedelics reputation began to sour, like a 1 week old pint of milk in the sun. 

Rediscovery and the prohibition era 

  • 1897- Doctor Arthur Heffter isolates mescaline from the peyote cactus
  • 1958-Albert Hofmann discovers psilocybin and accidentally takes some...
  • 1966-California state criminalises the possession, sale and manufacture of LSD 
  • 1971- The UN publishes the convention of Psychotropic Substances stating that psychedelics including LSD, DMT and MDMA are now controlled substances 
  • The U.S Controlled Substances Act comes into effect, transferring most major psychedelics to schedule 1 status 
  • UK passes Misuse of Drugs act 1971, enforcing controls on most known psychedelics 

Good intentions, gone bad

In 1960, Dr Timothy Leary headed the Harvard Psilocybin Project, looking at the positive effects of magic mushrooms. Two years into research, Leary was fired after he was caught giving lab psychedelics to his students for recreational use. Encouraging young Americans to use LSD, ‘turn on, tune in and drop out’ was preached during a time of great social unrest, Leary was named enemy number 1 and was branded a disgrace.

Acid had its own great escape, finding its way into college campuses, rock concerts, festivals, and into the hands of experimental and open-minded youths. Tales of bad trips and crazy crimes under the influence or even being sectioned in a mental institution began to surface - some say curated by the American government to sway public opinion. With counter culture growing, the American government forced the psychedelic movement underground with harsh laws and a dangerous narrative.

1971 was the nail in the psychedelic coffin. 

After the tireless efforts of some doctors advocating for psychedelics to used be as medicine, uncontrolled recreational use led to governments around the world to clamp down. Public misuse led to the stagnation of psychedelic research, going from a promising medicinal discovery to on the worlds most wanted list. The war on drugs left the psychedelic industry inactive for decades, its therapeutic potential almost forgotten. 

With many things happening in between (Read Michael Pollan's 'How to Change Your Mind'), especially since the early 2000sThe third wave of psychedelics has now begun, with the FDA and DEA approving studies for the first time in years, this renaissance of research will help examine the positive aspects of psychoactive drugs in treating mental health illnesses. 

In the meantime, mushlove. 

Images @vsco & @ladyhigh