“These are remarkable compounds, with I think remarkable implications, if we can understand how they work and why they work,” says Roland Griffiths, a scientist at Johns Hopkins University, where some of the world’s leading psychedelic research is taking place.
Psilocybin mushrooms provoke mystical experiences and spiritual journeys when the body breaks the chemical down into a compound that is very similar to serotonin, a natural neurotransmitter in the brain. But psilocybin and serotonin aren’t exactly the same, explains Robin Carhart-Harris of the Imperial College London, and “that subtle difference in its pharmacology confers profound effects on consciousness.”
“What seems to happen in the psychedelic state is that when something is positive, it has the potential to be incredibly positive, to the extent of being euphoric, or ecstatic,” Carhart-Harris says. “But similarly if something is negative, it has the potential to be quite hellish and dysphoric and frightening.”
Griffith led a study published in 2006 in which volunteers received psilocybin or a comparative drug and were allowed to relax with soothing music in the presence of people with whom they had a trusting relationship.
Psilocybin mushrooms have helped human beings unlock their egos for centuries. This video, Psychedelic Science: Psilocybin by Reason TV, features interviews with two leading researchers who explain what we know about the magic mushroom effect and how much more we have to learn.