Psilocybe cubensis – History

Traditional Usage

The Spanish firstly mentioned hallucinogenic mushrooms in literature after the conquest of Mexico. The Indians of central Mexico have used mushrooms for ceremonies until this century. These ceremonies had spiritual purposes, but were also used for predictions about the fate of sick people. Only the shamans were allowed to consume the intoxicating mushrooms after sunset and with this to gain clairvoyant powers. After Schultes and Hofmann (1980) reports about the ceremonial intake of hallucinogenic mushrooms were found. One of these sources is the Sahagún (1829-1830) which was published about 3 centuries after its writing. The Sahagún reported about “… small mushrooms called ‘Teonanácatl’ which grow in pastures and cause a kind of intoxication the same way as wine“ (Badham, 1983). In the same script the word ‘Nanácatl’ is generally used for fungus, whereas ‘Teonanácatl’ is referred to the intoxicative mushrooms used for ceremonial consumption. Additionally, it was reported that “… the first thing that they ate at the banquet were small mushrooms called ‘nanácatl’ which intoxicate and make one see visions…”. The personal physician of the King of Spain described ‚Teonanácatl’ as „the intoxicating kind“ of mushrooms (Hernández, 1651). Beyond Mexico the ritually intake of intoxicating mushrooms was almost unknown, even though numerous reports mentioned ‚Teonanácatl’ as intoxicating mushroom (Wasson, 1962).

In 1939 the scientist Schultes collected samples of the mushrooms used during ceremonies and adduced the evidence that ‚Teonanácatl’ belongs to a species of hallucinogenic basidiomycetes. After Schultes more scientist proved the ceremonial usage of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Wasson (1957) and his wife Valentina Wassons described the rites using hallucinogenic mushrooms, making the Americans for the first time aware of the usage of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico. They undertook several expeditions to isolated areas of Mexico and actively participated during mushroom-ceremonies. Additionally, they classified the collected mushrooms and identified the genus Psilocybe (6 species), Stropharia (1 species), and Conocybe (1 species) (Heim, 1956).

Consumption today

Today psilocybin mushrooms are consumed because of very different purposes. Eul and Harrach wrote that more and more people are discovering drug experimentation in search of their fundamental insights, hidden desires, and to be unity with cosmic eternity. They stated that the use of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin satisfy these desires. In the techno scene, where mainly LSD is consumed, psilocybin gets also very popular as a very intense body feeling is generated in connection with the music and the lighting conditions. Following the traditional rituals of Mexico and South America mushroom-ceremonies are also recently held in Europe, where a group of about 10 people eat mushrooms and about one hour after intake a stick is passed around. The stick-holder has to describe his current condition, while the others are listening. After the intoxication has ceased the experiences are handled by discussing them with the other group members.

Medical usage

Psilocybe was used for centuries by healers of many Mesoamerican groups to predict the origin of disease or for psychological counseling. In the early 60’s, pure Psilocybin has been used for scientific purposes. It was widely used in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and studies showed that regular consumption reduced depression and aggression and encourages social responsibility (Eul and Harrach). The usage of Psilocybin in psychoanalysis and in psychotherapy was a promising approach, as a dreamlike state is created, without losing consciousness or affecting the memory. The approach is that events that deeply lie in the subconscious mind are brought to the surface and can then be processed systematically by the therapist. However, an improvement of the psychological condition after Psilocybin consumption could only be observed in connection with a professional psychological supervision; thus, the effect is not only due to the pharmacological effect but rather a result of the professional processing of the feelings and experiences by a trained psychologist. It is also important to choose a suitable framework for the treatment; the therapy is more successful if the patient feels safe and that everything is done professionally. After a worldwide ban of psilocybin and LSD, the medical applications also stopped immediately.

It was found that Psilocybin can also ease migraine, especially the cluster headache (the most painful type of headache). This was found out accidentally by a 31 year old man, who was diagnosed with cluster headache at the age of 16. He said that his headache was completely gone after he began to take LSD with 24 year on a recreational basis. At the age of 25 he stopped and the headaches had returned. Then, he strated to treat the headache by himself by eating psilocybin containing mushrooms. A single dose (so low, that no noticeable intoxication occured) every 3 months made the headache disappear, whereas it returned when he missed the intake appointment. After reporting this his to a hospital, a study with 53 person of different nationalities and backgrounds began, who also treated their headaches with LSD or psilocybin. After surveying these people it was found that, no matter if psilocybin or LSD was consumed, the headaches were relived to a great extend or even completely disappeared. This study, however, cannot be regarded as fully valid, since no blanks (no placebos) were distributed, no control took place, and the statements made by the patients were subjective. Anyway, this study is raised the hope for an appropriate treatment of cluster headaches, because until now no drug is known, to treat them as effectively and sustainable as psilocybin (Sewell et al., 2006).

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