If you missed Part 1, catch it here.
Ancient History of Psilocybin
The primary function of fungi is to decompose organic matter. Mycelium are amoung the oldest and largest living organisms on the planet. (*There is 9.7km2 site of continuous mycelium growth in Oregon State which could be considered to be the largest organism on the planet. It is 2,200 years old and is an estimated 1665 football fields in size.)
Magic mushrooms are also the most widely dispersed psychotropic substance in existence and can be found on every inhabited continent.
The earliest known depiction of psilocybin mushrooms are from the rock paintings in Tassili n'Ajjer (a prehistoric North African site identified with the Capsian culture) in Algeria from around 9,000 BC. They show, amoung other things, shamans holding fist-full’s of mushrooms and mushrooms sprouting from their body with lines connecting them to the centre of the shamans head. These have been identified by author Giorgio Samorinias as depicting the shamanic use of psilocybin mushrooms.
In India, scholars still argue over what was “Soma”, the intoxicating psychedelic taken by the Veda’s that was held in great reverence. Some believe it was a concoction of plants that included things like ephedra, ergot, cannabis or amanita muscaria however others like Terrance McKenna have presented convincing evidence to suggest it was psilocybin.
There have been many mushroom cults throughout the ages leaving stone relics of mushroom carvings, religious texts and rock paintings as evidence of their religious significance. Celtic Druids were aware of their power and the “Manna from Heaven” depicted in the bible is even believed by some academics to be magic mushrooms.
Terrance McKenna was a highly respected enthnobotanist (he could also be described as a philosopher, researcher, teacher, lecturer and a writer on various subjects such as human consciousness, alchemy, language, psychedelic substances, the evolution of civilizations and the origin / end of the universe).
Terrance dedicated his life to the study of, amoung many other things, plant-based hallucinogens. We highly recommend typing his name into YouTube and spend the next few years listening to his many speeches, ideas and interviews. He came up with many hypothesises, mathematical algorithms and even an evolutionary theory that your brain probably won’t allow you to process first time round because it sounds too farfetched. We will give you a brief run-down of this theory but we suggest you watch the below video for an in depth and convincing analysis.
(*Before people start sending me messages about this ridiculous “pseudoscience” please note the word “theory” and if you are of the persuasion that the theory of evolution is not accurate because it has a few holes in it and therefore God must have created the world in 7 days with just one man and one woman who had two boys to procreate the rest of humanity with, then don’t bother reading on.)
The Stoned Ape Theory
In Africa today you can witness primates turning over cattle or buffalo dung to search for beetles and other insects. Why is this important? When the spores of psilocybin mushrooms are eaten along with grass by ungulate mammals (cattle, zebra, buffalo, donkey, camel, giraffe, antelope, gazelle, etc.) they fertilize and sprout on their dung very effectively. It stands to reason that these bands of wandering hungry primates who were forced to change their diet would not have encountered these mushrooms and consumed them.
Here is where it gets interesting. Studies done in the 1960’s and 70’s by scientist Roland Fischer showed that a small, non-intoxicating dose of psilocybin would increase the user’s visual acuity far greater than the control groups who had not ingested the psilocybin. They also reported an increase in libido at higher doses. Therefore the early hominoid primates who were consuming these mushrooms had an advantage over the primates that were not consuming them as their vision improved their ability to hunt (and desire to make sweet monkey love increased also, leading to greater procreation).
Under McKenna’s theory, the diet of our early ancestors (which is likely to have included psilocybin) is overlooked when considering the causality of the apparent “jump” in our evolutionary biology. Psilocybin has also been shown to affect linguistic thinking which could have promoted vocalization and even the “cleansing” of the brain (based on a scientific theory that vibrations from speaking cause the precipitation of impurities from the brain to the cerebrospinal fluid).
As psilocybin has the effect of dissolving boundaries and producing profound cognitive contemplations, consuming mushrooms was also believed by McKenna to have given hominoids their first genuine religious experiences and this became the foundation for subsequent religious beliefs.
In India (where the Rigveda details the use of Soma), Hindus have a special reverence for cattle and will not kill or eat them. To a primitive person the cow essentially excretes a way of talking to God and anyone who has taken a “heroic” dose of mushrooms can testify that they would have had a spiritual or “religious” experience. It would therefore make sense to worship and not to kill them. Some indigenous tribes in India have over 50 words for mushrooms. Rock paintings all over Africa, Spain, Europe and the Middle East depict cattle and bison and many other cultures also venerate cattle as deities (this really pissed off Moses in the Bible).
The pre-Columbus cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Aztecs and the Maya revered the mushroom which influenced their art, religion and curiosity about the stars and time-recording. “Teonanácatl” literally meaning “flesh of the gods” was the Aztec name for the mushrooms in their native Nahuatl language and mushrooms were used in religious ceremonies. When the Europeans came and conquered the land they declared the use of mushrooms to be satanic and they embarked on arguably one of the worst genocides man-kind has ever seen. The indigenous use of psilocybin was then restricted to only the most isolated tribes in parts of Mexico. This brings us to the rediscovery of the mushroom by western science in 1957.
Modern History– Wasson, Hoffman, Leary and Maria Sabina
While conducting his own independent research, he made a number of contributions to the fields of ethnobotany / enthnomycology, botany and anthropology. He is also the person who first coined the term “Entheogen” which essentially translates to the “divine within” and is used to refer to psychotropic plants and fungi that are used by indigenous communities for shamanic purposes.
His curiosity for these vision plants sent him to the remote Sierra Mazateca mountain range in Oaxaca, Mexico. Here he was introduced to the world’s most famous Shamaness; Maria Sabina of the Mazatec Indians.
The Mazatecs use a number of entheogens including Salvia Divinorum and Morning Glory seeds (which contain a substance called LSA, similar to LSD). However it was their use of “the little children” or Psilocybin Mexicana that interested Wasson the most. These “little children” were considered to be the body of Christ as their indigenous religions had merged with Christianity. They were used to heal the sick and convey divine wisdom. Shortly after this discovery in 1957, Life magazine wrote an article about these “magic” mushrooms found in Mexico and this sparked great interest amoung hippies and the counter culture.
This proved disastrous for the Mazatec people as their community become overrun with westerners wanting to experience the mushroom trip. Maria herself was subject to police harassment for drug dealing and this unwanted attention caused her to be ostracized by her community. Her house was even burned down as a result and she later regretted having introduced the “little children” to Wasson saying that because of their misuse by foreigners their magic was lost forever.
Wasson brought the mushrooms back to Harvard University and introduced them to Timothy Leary (the infamous Guru of LSD who led the counter culture of the 60’s to “tune-in, turn-on and drop-out”). Prior to this, Leary was a psychologist but after taking Wasson’s mushrooms he had what he said was the most profound and religious experiences of his life. The Harvard Psilocybin Project was then started and the mushrooms were brought to Switzerland where Albert Hoffman (the scientist who discovered LSD) synthesized psilocybin for the first time. Timothy Leary began to promote the use of LSD instead as it was more widely available than the mushrooms in the US at the time. Wasson was also the first Westerner to collect the other Mazatec entheogen, Salvia Divinorum, which is one of the most unique and powerful psychedelics known to man. This substance remains legal to this day.
Psilocybin, mescaline, LSD and other hallucinogens were being used in psychiatric research during the short time they were legal, showing amazing results for a number of applications from treating alcoholism to helping people deal with the anxiety associated with being diagnosed with a terminal illness. These psychedelics were greeted with the same enthusiasm in the field of psychiatry as the smashing of the atom was to the field of physics. Unfortunately they escaped from the science lab to the wider public and their use was promoted by people like Timothy Leary to create a counter culture against the US power structure leading them to be banned outright in 1966 without any hope for further scientific research.
Psilocybin is now just starting to recover its position as a psychiatric and medicinal tool. The thought of using magic mushrooms to treat people is often greeted with ridicule and dismissed by people who are ignorant about the subject. However it is getting increasingly difficult to ignore the results that being recorded today by people suffering from cluster headaches, OCD and interestingly, those diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Cancer victims (or anyone with a terminal illness) who have no further options in terms of treatment understandably go through a traumatic mental process. MDMA has previously been used in psychiatric therapy for people in this situation as it allows them to lose their inhibitions and talk openly about how they feel, thus aiding the process of psychotherapy. Psilocybin however has now been used in clinical trials to give terminally ill patients a novel and “mystical” experience that allows them to face their own mortality and reduce the anxiety associated with the process of dying. As stated earlier psilocybin is a tryptamine similar to DMT and it has been hypothesized that DMT is released in the brain during death.
Rigorous research using double blind experiments from John Hopkins University in 2006 showed that 79% of participants reported moderate to greatly improved life satisfaction and sense of well-being after one dose of psilocybin. 14 months following the experiment, 94% of the volunteers rated it as their Top 5 most spiritually significant event in their lives (44% rated as the most significant). 89% reported positive changes in their behaviour following the experiment.
Anyone who knows somebody who suffers from cluster headaches can attest to the fact that this must be one of the most agonizing afflictions anyone could experience, often called but "one of the worst pain syndromes known to mankind. Just watching someone suffer from a cluster headache attack is painful.
In approximately half of patients just one dose of psilocybin has been shown to eradicate the symptoms entirely while others needed to take psilocybin again periodically (every couple of months) in order to stave off the attacks.
This is a phenomenal breakthrough in treating one of the most painful afflictions known to man. Only a sub-hallucinogenic dose is required for effective treatment and there is currently NO other medication available that has been reported to stop a cluster headache cycle.
However because of the insanity associated with the drug war, this natural and free medicine remains unavailable to people who are suffering. This same system which says “drugs are bad” sees no hypocrisy in prescribing Methlyphenidate (Ritalin), which is a type of amphetamine (speed), to a hyperactive child.
College Times does not condone or condemn the use of psilocybin but would like to advise readers that this substance should be treated with respect. For certain people in certain situations it can have a profoundly positive impact on their life and their physical and mental health. For a young person who is looking to experiment with magic mushrooms we would advise that you exercise caution and research the substance. Some people have suffered adverse mental health effects or engaged in dangerous activity while under their influence.