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A History of Psychedelic Mushrooms

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Like the psychedelic experiences it induces, psilocybin’s history has been a long and complicated one. From its employment in religious rites in prehistoric societies through its rise to fame in the counterculture revolution.

The story of psychedelic mushrooms in many ways reflects the history of humanity, from ground-breaking discoveries in science to the gloomy days of magic mushrooms.

This comprehensive article includes psilocybin’s whole historical development, which has been described as both wonderful, sad, and inspirational.

A Introductory History of Psilocybin Mushrooms – From Ancient Eras to the Modern Age

The main “ingredient” responsible for the hallucinogenic effects of the magic mushroom is psilocybin. It has been utilized for ceremonial, religious, medical, and recreational purposes for thousands of years.

The Prehistoric Era and the Magic Mushroom

Since the beginning of human civilization approximately 12,000 years ago, psychoactive mushrooms have been utilized, and they may have even been used earlier.

The first proof of psychedelic mushroom use is artwork that was discovered in what is now Northern Australia and features psychedelic images of mushrooms. It has been traced back to roughly 10,000 BCE by archaeologists and modern dating techniques.

grow mushrooms

Magic mushrooms may have been available to and consumed by prehistoric humans in Europe about 4,000 BCE, according to cave paintings in what is now considered Spain.

According to some experts, humans have been ingesting psilocybin since our brains evolved and we became evolutionarily unique. This is due in part to the fact that other animals besides humans seek out and ingest hallucinogenic substances.

For starters, many other animals actively pursue and eat psychoactive substances, including dolphins that take pufferfish venom, reindeer who consume Amanita Muscaria mushrooms (a form of magic mushroom), and jaguars that devour the vine, root, and leaf of the psychedelic Caapi plant more commonly known as ayahuasca.

Psilocybe mushrooms are ubiquitous on every continent except Antarctica currently, therefore early hominids migrating out of the rainforest and into the savanna and beyond must have seen and presumably ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms, unintentionally gaining an evolutionary advantage due to the fungi’s effects leading to a heightened state of self-awareness.

The Stoned Ape Hypothesis and Magic Mushrooms

Terence McKenna, an ethnobotanist and psychonaut, even hypothesized that the magic mushroom may have accelerated human development by causing hyperconnectivity across brain networks, increasing the mass of human brains, facilitating technical advancements, and inspiring concepts like language and belief systems including religion. Expedited human evolution if you will.

While this idea is not proven it does have some claims that are scientifically viable in theory but has no concrete evidence to support the hypothesis.

Ancient Central America (Mesoamerica) and Mind Altering Mushrooms

Psilocybe mushrooms were most notably employed by ancient cultures in Central America, mainly the Mayan and Aztec people. In Central America, indigenous artwork depicting mushrooms as a method of communication with the gods has been documented.

religious rituals

Magic mushrooms were known as Teonanácatl in the Nahuatl language of the Mayans and Aztecs, which translates to “flesh of the gods.”

Mushrooms are mentioned extensively in Aztec, Mayan, and Toltec religious traditions, as being given to their ancestors by the serpent deity who created all life, Quetzalcoatl.

As a result, psilocybin has been utilized in religious and spiritual rites for divination, healing, anesthesia, and celebrations. Their usage can be traced back to 1,500 BCE.

But it wasn’t simply psychedelic mushrooms that Central Americans utilized in their ceremonies. For holy rites, they also employed mescaline, morning glory seeds, and Salvia divinorum also known as Sage of the Diviners.

When the Spanish forcibly subjugated indigenous Americans, they prohibited hallucinogenic ceremonies, branding them savage and opposed to the Catholic church.

As a result, religious ceremonies involving psilocybe mushrooms had to become a clandestine activity.

Magic Mushrooms and Ancient Civilizations

Psilocybin wasn’t simply limited to Central America during antiquity; it was global and many ancient civilizations consumed psychotropic substances. Ancient Greece, Rome, Siberia, and even Egypt are examples of such areas and cultures.

Magic Mushrooms in Ancient Greece

religious rituals

In Ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries, notorious religious rites that were dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone,  involved ingesting a hallucinogenic beverage that was said to contain psychedelic mushrooms. The beverage was known as Kykeon.

Magic Mushrooms in Ancient Egypt 

Numerous works of art depicting psychoactive mushrooms were made by the ancient Egyptians. They named the fungi “food of the gods” and thought they were brought to earth by the god Osiris who was the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life, and vegetation.

ergot fungus

It has has even been proposed that the ancient Egyptians use barley grain to support mushroom cultivation, demonstrating how culturally and spiritually essential their use was.

Because of their value, they were almost exclusively consumed for religious purposes by priests and the upper classes.

Magic Mushrooms and Siberia 

And last but not least, Siberia. Brrrr…

Indigenous cultures in Siberia employed hallucinogenic magic mushrooms called Amanita Muscaria, which reindeer eat as well.

Through the psychedelic effects of these mushrooms, Siberians pushed themselves physically, braving very cold conditions.

These communities are still known to gather and consume the hallucinogenic urine of the reindeers.

Modern History of Mushroom Consumption

The first reliable documentation of psychedelic mushroom usage in the Western World occurred in 1799, and involved a British family who unknowingly collected a few Psilocybe Semilanceata (Liberty Caps) from the Thames river, consumed a meal with them, and soon after felt the typical effects of pupil dilation, hysteria, and euphoria.

This prompted the formal designation of a new species in 1803—first designated Agaricus Semilanceatus, and subsequently renamed to Psilocybe Semilanceata in 1871.

Nearly 100 years later, in a 1957 Life Magazine an article named “Seeking the Magic Mushroom,” the term “magic mushrooms” was coined.

R. Gordon Wasson, a banker and hobby mycologist, wrote the essay after he and his wife Valeria were among the first “westerners” allowed to take part in an indigenous mushroom rite led by shaman Maria Sabina in 1955.

Their participation occurred in the little community of Huautla de Jiménez in Oaxaca, Mexico, and had a tremendous impact on Gordon, who went to considerable efforts to publicize it.

The news immediately spread, attracting the attention of experts such as Albert Hoffman, the scientist best known for discovering LSD, and Roger Heim, the mycologist who established that the mushrooms were Psilocybe Cubensis based on samples Wasson provided him.

By 1958, Hoffman, who had also received samples, had effectively extracted and identified the active compounds psilocybin and psilocin, and had manufactured synthetic versions of these psychedelic drugs, which were distributed by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals using the brand name Indocybin. Magic mushrooms were not part of any controlled substances act in 1958.

The famous Life article aroused the curiosity of Harvard professor Timothy Leary, who was encouraged to trek deep into Mexico’s Mazatepec area and see these magic mushrooms for himself.

Leary was caught giving psychedelics to undergrads

When he returned to Harvard, he co-founded the controversial Harvard Psilocybin Project with Richard Alpert, who eventually had a spiritual experience and became known as Ram Dass.

Because of their own experiences with the compound, Leary and Alpert held great hopes for psilocybin, believing that it could address the Western World’s emotional issues.

This study obtained pharmaceutical grade psilocybin, from Sandoz and employed it in a variety of trials, ranging from providing it to jail prisoners in an attempt to reduce recidivism to dosing Harvard undergraduates in an attempt to induce a divinatory or spiritually meaningful experience, which almost all of the subjects experienced.

Although the initiative had good objectives and ethical intentions, there were several questions about safety, administration standards, and abuse of power over students as students in Leary’s seminars were pressed to partake.

These worries were exacerbated in early 1962 when a student was sedated after a poor psilocybin trip, and culminated on March 14, 1962, at an internal Harvard faculty conference, which was probably more of a trial for Leary and Alpert.

The couple was suspected of misusing the compounds they were investigating and disciplined, but they were permitted to continue their research as long as they were clean.

Leary and Alpert were discovered to be administering psychedelics to undergraduates in the spring of 1963, despite the fact that only graduate students were authorized to participate in the study.

The infamous team was fired right afterwards, allowing them to pursue their next enterprise, “The Zihuatanejo Project,” a short-lived psychedelic retreat in Mexico to which many applied but only a handful were chosen.

The Counterculture Era and the Drug War

Psychedelic substances spread rapidly throughout the counterculture throughout the 60s, until they were outlawed by the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

This convention aimed to reduce the expanding popularity of these substances, as well as the accompanying disenchantment with “the system” that typically results from their usage.

Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace, had shared this opinion since 1969, and he used anxieties fueled by dubious, if not biased, data to enact the Controlled Substances Act in May 1971, launching his notorious “War on Drugs.” By dubious we mean dishonest and completely driven by abuse of power and racism. The War on Drugs has been called one of the worst and most damaging campaigns in the history of the USA.

elvis presley, richard nixon, black-and-white

In the instance of Psilocybe mushrooms, the UN agreement restricted the compound Psilocybin rather than the spores or mycelium of magic mushrooms, which do not contain psilocybin but have the capacity to do so under the appropriate conditions.

This omission has resulted in a perplexing double standard, allowing mushroom spores/mycelium to be distributed openly while sporadic UN treaty adherence on the part of various member countries has permitted magic mushrooms to stay lawful in a number of countries, most notably Brazil and Jamaica.

The Hiatus on Research Ends

For over thirty years, there was a stoppage in psychedelic fungi research, which ended in 1997 with the first post-Drug War Psilocybin study at The University of Zurich.

A group of researchers led by Dr. Franz Vollenweider investigated whether brain function under the effect of psilocybin was congruent with brain function in chronic schizophrenia patients, discovering a substantial difference between both brain states.

They also discovered that psilocybin enhanced brain activity in a variety of locations while decreasing the ego-influenced Default Mode Network.

This study sparked research at a number of additional organizations, including The Heffter Institute, The Beckley Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Toronto.

Psilocybin has been proven to be useful in the treatment of a variety of psychiatric problems, as well as chronic pain from illnesses spanning from cluster headaches to neuralgia in later investigations.

This rising amount of knowledge has also influenced public opinion at all levels of government, propelling campaigners across North America to advocate for legal reform regarding “entheogenic” drugs in general.

Growing mushrooms is legal in New Mexico, and important and progressive communities like as Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and parts of Michigan have decriminalized them. More than 100 other municipalities are also conducting ballot proposals.

Magic Mushrooms in the 21st Century

The possibility of decriminalization or legalization, as well as statistically measurable evidence of medicinal value, highlight the critical problem of equitable access to Psilocybe mushrooms.

Over the coming years, we should expect additional studies and clinical trials to corroborate and expand on the findings of past studies.

The proven effectiveness of psychedelic substances in trying to treat psychological conditions has in recent times served to scientifically validate what spiritual societies have understood for numerous generations; in the meantime, future archaeological discoveries may confirm that these substances have had a significant impact on our advancement as a species.

We are at a watershed point in the history of magic mushrooms: the end of prohibition. Many activists feel that we should use the democratic process to persuade governmental authorities to extend study into, and equitable distribution of, these mind expanding substances.

The Ultimate Magic Mushroom Strain Guide

Learn all about the different psilocybin mushroom strains nature has to offer.

Video: Ancient History of Psilocybin Mushroom Use



1UpMaps is a community resource that serves as a one-stop-shop for credible information, including a strain library as well as products and doctors/healers who are able to offer trip sitting during or integration therapy after an experience.

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