The Effects of Psilocybin Use
- Table of ContentsPrint
- Is Psilocybin Harmful?
- Psilocybin’s Short-Term Effects
- Side Effects
- Long-Term Effects of Abusing Psilocybin
- Psilocybin Dependence
- Psilocybin Addiction Treatment
Is Psilocybin Harmful?
Psilocybin is a compound that is naturally produced by more than 100 species of mushrooms 1. When one ingests one of these mushrooms, psilocybin is converted into a substance known as psilocin, which produces mind-altering effects similar to drugs such as mescaline and LSD 1. Psilocybin is classified as a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug. While there appear to be no known recorded fatal overdoses from psilocybin alone, there are some risks associated with using the drug that include:
- Impaired judgment and feelings of detachment while one is under the influence of psilocybin 1,2,3.
- The development of anxiety or panic attacks as a result of psilocybin-related experiences 1,2,4.
- The experience of having “a bad trip” or unpleasant reaction to hallucinogenic effects 1,2.
- The potential for poisoning and death as a result of consuming the wrong type of mushroom2.
- Flashbacks, which are reoccurrences of psilocybin experiences long after use 2,4. Consistent and impairing flashbacks are a condition known as hallucinogenic-induced persistent perceptual disorder 2,5. These experiences can be quite distressing and interfere with daily functioning.
Persistent psychosis can occur in psilocybin users. This condition may manifest with a number of mental symptoms, such as paranoia, volatile mood, disorganized thought patterns, and visual disturbances 2.
Bizarre public behaviors resulting from psilocybin intoxication may lead to legal problems 2.
Psilocybin’s Short-Term Effects
The effects of taking psilocybin can vary and often depend on the person and the context in which the drug is used. The range of effects includes 1,2,4,5,6:
- Spiritual experiences.
- Hallucinations (most often visual but can occur in any sensory domain).
- Intense emotions and sensory experiences.
- Synesthesia, which is the experience of mixed perceptions, such as seeing sound or hearing colors.
- Changes in perception of time.
- Psychological regression to earlier experiences/states.
Reported side effects of using psilocybin include:
- Impaired judgment and potential for harm or death due to accidents 1,2.
- Paranoia 2,5.
- Psychosis 2.
- Severe anxiety that may manifest as panic attacks 1,2,4;
- Increased risk of having a “bad trip,” which may be emotionally disturbing.
- Excessive sweating 5.
- Dilated pupils.
- Increased blood pressure, irregular breathing, irregular heartbeat 2,5.
- Blurred vision 5.
- Tremors 5.
- Coordination problems 5.
- Significant anxiety or depression 5.
- Nausea 2.
- Loss of appetite 2.
- Dry mouth 2.
- Sleep disturbances 2.
Long-Term Effects of Abusing Psilocybin
The long-term effects associated with psilocybin use are not well defined 2. Many sources suggest that there are few, if any, detrimental long-term effects associated with psilocybin usage 4,6. However, there are instances of reported cases of the individuals displaying a hallucinogenic-induced persistent perception disorder 4. This is a clinical disorder that occurs in a small number of individuals who use hallucinogens (about 4.2% 5). This disorder is commonly referred to as having “flashbacks” by users of hallucinogenic drugs. Essentially, the person re-experiences being on psilocybin despite not using the drug for quite some time. This can be distressing and may be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, stroke, brain tumors, or head trauma 5.
Little is known about what causes this disorder, but it appears that the disorder is more likely to occur in individuals who 5:
- Have chronically used hallucinogens, such as psilocybin, in the past.
- Have used other drugs with psilocybin, such as alcohol, marijuana, or other hallucinogens.
- Have a history of experiencing “bad trips.”
- May have a co-occurring mental disorder, such as a panic disorder or major depressive disorder.
Physical dependence is not the same as addiction and is a normal response to consistent drug use, even when a medication is taken as prescribed 7. The body adapts to the presence of the substance and withdrawal symptoms may occur with cessation of use 7. Someone who is addicted to a drug may be physically dependent, but the presence of physical dependence alone does not constitute an addiction.
Psychological dependence to drugs occurs when individuals feel “out of sync” or experience dissatisfaction when they are not using their drug of choice. They feel they must use the drug to cope with everyday stressors. However, a purely psychological dependence does not result in the arrival of withdrawal symptoms in the same manner that physical dependence does. Instead, this phenomenon serves as the foundation for a compulsion to use the substance, and may underlie the onset of cravings, as well as any mood changes to arise in the absence of the drug.
One research review concluded that the risk of developing a physical or psychological dependence to psilocybin is relatively low 4, although problematic use can develop 5.
Individuals with problematic psilocybin use typically 5,8:
- Use psilocybin as a type of “crutch” to deal with everyday stressors.
- Believe they function better when under the influence of the hallucinogen.
- Turn to psilocybin when they experience stress.
- Often become anxious, distraught, or even depressed when they are unable to use psilocybin.
- Often engage in a number of drug-seeking behaviors that may include risky and/or illegal activities in order to procure the drug when it is not available to them.
- Romanticize their drug usage and may not be realistic about the negative effects of use.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), defines other hallucinogen use disorder (a designation that psilocybin use disorder would fall under) as a pattern of maladaptive use that results in significant distress in the user’s life 5. Below are common signs and symptoms of this disorder 5:
- Psilocybin is taken in larger amounts than originally intended.
- Attempts to quit or cut down on use have failed.
- An inordinate amount of time is spent obtaining psilocybin, using the drug, and recovering from intoxication.
- The individual has strong cravings or urges to use psilocybin.
- Psilocybin use leads to inability to fulfill school, home, or work responsibilities.
- The individual continues to use despite interpersonal and social problems resulting from use.
- Psilocybin use is prioritized over recreational, social, or occupational activities.
- Psilocybin is used in dangerous situations, such as while driving.
- The individual keeps using psilocybin despite physical or psychological consequences.
- The individual needs increasing amounts of the drug to feel intoxicated.
Psilocybin Addiction Treatment
The DSM-5 and NIDA do not recognize a withdrawal syndrome associated with psilocybin use, although it is likely that individuals may develop tolerance to the hallucinogen 2,5. Thus, despite some sources on the internet listing withdrawal symptoms for hallucinogenic drugs, the symptoms of a withdrawal syndrome for psychedelic drugs are not officially recognized.
Individuals who experience emotional issues, such as a lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, etc. when they are unable to use psilocybin, can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in order to teach them stress-management techniques including progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, visualization, etc. Individuals can learn to utilize healthy coping skills and rectify negative thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviors associated with problematic psilocybin use. Individuals who have severe issues with stress may require a combination of medication and psychotherapy to assist them to manage their stress without drug use 8.
- Laing, R. R. (2003). Hallucinogens: a forensic drug handbook. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Drug facts: hallucinogens.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Hallucinogens.
- van Amsterdam, J., Opperhuizen, A., & van den Brink, W. (2011). Harm potential of magic mushroom use: a review. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 59(3), 423-429.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders – fifth edition. Washington DC: Author.
- Hasler, F., Grimberg, U., Benz, M. A., Huber, T., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2004). Acute psychological and physiological effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled dose–effect study. Psychopharmacology,172(2), 145-156.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics.
- Hatfield, R. C. (2013). The everything guide to the human brain. Avon, MA: Adams Publishing.