A brief history of magic mushrooms, and how they can improve our lives.

Psilocybe Bohemica mushroomsPsilocybe Bohemica mushrooms in the wild.

Psychedelic mushrooms have been used by numerous cultures for thousands of years.

The history of magic mushrooms is particularly rich in Central and South America, where they can be traced back to pre-Columbian times. Mushroom-shaped statues have been found dating back over 2,000 years. 

There is evidence that psychedelic mushrooms were revered during the times of the Aztecs. A magic mushroom species known to the Aztecs as teōnanācatl – “divine mushroom” – is said to have been served at the coronation of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II, in 1502.

Some of this history can be found in stone carvings and statues. But the real knowledge lies in the cultures of the indigenous peoples of these areas, and the shamanic traditions and ceremonies that have been passed down from one generation to the next.

It was only in the 1950s that westerners came to learn of these traditions.

In 1955 two Americans, Robert Gordon Wasson and Allan Richardson, traveled to Mexico and took part in a mushroom ritual with the Mazatec people.

Wasson wrote an article about his experiences for Life magazine, where it was published in 1957.

On his next trip, he went with a French mycologist, Roger Heim. He, in turn, sent samples of the Mazatec mushrooms to a Swiss chemist, Dr. Albert Hofmann. 

Dr. Hoffman isolated the active components of the magic mushroom as psilocybin and psilocin.

Interestingly, it was Dr. Hoffman who also discovered the psychoactive drug LSD in 1943. And guess what… he isolated LSD from an ergot fungus. 

Throughout the 1950s, researchers had been studying LSD as a treatment for depression, alcoholism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the 60s they added magic mushrooms to their research calendars.

Magic mushrooms soon traveled north to be embraced by the hippie counterculture.

Soon after news of the hallucinogenic properties of magic mushrooms crossed the Atlantic to Switzerland, it traveled north to Harvard University… into the receptive arms and mind of Timothy Leary.

Psychedelic experiences with magic mushrooms

Leary travelled to Mexico to find out more and, on his return, teamed up with Richard Alpert to create the Harvard Psilocybin Project.

Leary and Alpert lit a flame that would help ignite the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. 

For their troubles they were fired from Harvard in 1963.

After that, they focused their energy on exploring the psychological and mystical experiences that were triggered by taking psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs.

Throughout the 60s, the effects of psilocybin were being studied both in the laboratory and on the streets.

And then came the Controlled Substances Act.

In 1970 The U.S. government passed the Controlled Substances Act.

It was push-back against a counterculture that many older Americans felt uncomfortable with. Similar laws were soon passed in the U.K., Canada and other countries.

It was a lockdown on psychedelic drugs.

The law not only made LSD and magic mushrooms illegal on the street, it also made it illegal to possess these drugs for research purposes.

In other words, all research into magic mushrooms more or less stopped for several decades.

Of course, that didn’t stop some people from growing and sometimes selling their own magic mushrooms. 

Finally, those laws are beginning to loosen up a little.

Fortunately, things are changing.

The use of psilocybin is now legal in Oregon for mental health treatment in supervised settings.

And possession of magic mushrooms has been decriminalized in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Denver, Colorado, Oakland, California, Santa Cruz, California, and Washington D.C.

That said, don’t get too excited just yet. The use, sale, and possession of psilocybin in the United States, despite recent changes to state laws, is still illegal under federal law.

In Canada, Health Canada approved the use of psilocybin for end-of-life care. Since then, regulators have granted more than a dozen other exemptions, including to at least one patient not in palliative care.

Most important of all, researchers are now able to run studies and learn more about the contributions magic mushrooms can make to our health and wellbeing. 

In September 2019, Johns Hopkins University opened its Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Their goal is to research psilocybin as a possible treatment for everything from opioid addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, nicotine and alcohol dependency, and more.

In other words, the doors are being cracked open again, little by little.

magic mushrooms

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