Psilocybin: What you need to know

Mar 19, 2021

Recently, psilocybin – the hallucinogenic chemical compound produced by certain types of mushrooms – has received a lot of attention from the media due to scientific studies uncovering its potential beneficial and therapeutic properties. However, despite the increased publicity around psilocybin, there are many common misconceptions that exist around its use, properties and origins. In this article, we will address some of the most common questions regarding psilocybin and its use.

What is psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic compound naturally produced in over 200 species of fungus and is the active ingredient of “magic” hallucinogenic mushrooms. In addition, psilocybin produces a mind-altering “high” similar to that of LSD and mescaline. Typically, it produces the sensation of euphoria, as well as changes in perception, and visual and auditory hallucinations. Recently, psilocybin has been studied as a potential therapeutic treatment from some types of mental illness and addiction, demonstrating promising results as a novel therapeutic.

Is psilocybin legal?

Psilocybin is currently classified as a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada and its possession is illegal. In addition, it has not been officially approved by Health Canada for medical use. However, in the U.S., psilocybin is now legal in Oregon, making it the first state to both decriminalize psilocybin and legalize it for therapeutic use.

How does psilocybin work?

When ingested, psilocybin becomes converted to the molecule psilocin, producing mind-altering effects by activating serotonin receptors in the brain, resulting in changes in mood, cognition and perception.

The hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin can begin within 30 minutes of ingestion and last for several hours. Moreover, the type and intensity of the hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin can depend on the dose taken, the user’s past experiences and even on the expectations for the anticipated experience.

How is psilocybin used?

Hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin are usually ingested orally; however, since psilocybin has a bitter taste that most people find unpleasant, dried “magic” mushrooms are often made into tea or mixed into other foods prior to ingestion. Often, it is taken recreationally by individuals at parties or in small groups of friends.

What are the effects of psilocybin?

Psilocybin results in altered sensory experiences and hallucinations, as well as inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. In addition, it may also create the sensations of panic reactions and psychosis, especially with large doses of psilocybin. Specifically, some of the physiological effects of psilocybin include alterations in the following:

· Mood and sensory perception alterations

· Euphoria

· Changes in emotions

· Visual distortions

· Depersonalization

· Unusual body sensations

· Loss of muscle control

· Dizziness

· Dilated pupils

· Paranoia

It is important to note that effects of psilocybin can vary between individuals, and can depend on differences in mental state, personality of the user and the environment in which psilocybin is ingested.

Is psilocybin addictive?

Psilocybin does not have addictive properties and does not cause physiological withdrawal symptoms after stopping its use. However, its frequent use can result in tolerance, as well as cross-tolerance with other drugs, such as LSD and mescaline. Developing a tolerance can increase risks of consuming large doses of psilocybin, potentially resulting in overdose symptoms, including seizures, diarrhea, vomiting, panic or paranoia and psychosis.

In addition, after extended psilocybin use, users may experience psychological withdrawal and have some difficulty adjusting to reality.

What are the potential medical uses of psilocybin?

Numerous research studies have examined the potential therapeutic value of psilocybin in treating various medical conditions, when it is used in very small doses called microdosing. So far, depression has been one of the most extensively researched indications for psilocybin therapy, demonstrating its potential as an effective treatment. In 2020, psilocybin received a “breakthrough therapy” designation by the FDA for the treatment of depression.

Furthermore, psilocybin has been showing promise in treatment of some substance use disorders, including tobacco, alcohol and cocaine addiction. It has also shown effectiveness in reducing cancer-related psychological distress, as well as reducing other types of distress related to terminal illness.

What are the risks of psilocybin?

Psilocybin can increase the risk of engaging in reckless behavior, such as driving while intoxicated, and can cause long-term and distressing alterations in perceptions, which can last from weeks to years after using the hallucinogenic compound. Together, these symptoms are referred to as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). In addition, consuming psilocybin also involves a small risk of accidental poisoning from eating a poisonous mushroom by mistake.


While numerous research studies examining potential therapeutic uses of psilocybin are currently underway, it is not clear when it would get approval as a medical therapy by the FDA or Health Canada. Under the controlled conditions of clinical trials and studies, the use of magic mushrooms has been demonstrated to be relatively safe, with relatively mild adverse effects reported.