Are magic mushrooms safe? In this blog, we'll explore what the studies show.
The potency of drugs varies wildly (not only between different drugs but within the same drug), as does their relative harm to the user and to those around them. According to the 2018 Global Drugs Survey, which surveyed 130,000people in over 40 countries, magic mushrooms rank as the safest drug you can take (see Fig.1). Great news for spiritual consumers, who may argue that they second-guessed the findings and knew this all along.
Although mushrooms aren’t used as much as other ‘party’ drugs, typically 20-30% less, they have a very low risk of causing acute harm and they are non-addictive. The average number of days that respondents to the survey used mushrooms last year was just over 4, suggesting that this is more of a substance for ‘special occasions’. The survey based its findings on those who had to get emergency medical treatment after drug use and so those taking mushrooms were very unlikely to have to visit the emergency room.
The survey also recommended tripping with “trusted company” because these are the people will make the experience a pleasant one and take care of you, should you experience any unusual effects. In reality, it seems, accidental injury is the most likely cause of mushroom-trippers (literally) seeking medical treatment. What better excuse to tidy up and clear the room of tripping hazards before your next mushroom journey!
An overview of recent clinical studies by Tylš et al. (2013) also confirmed that psilocybin has very low toxicity and no fatalities have been linked specifically to ingesting it. According to the article, “one would have to eat approximately 19g of the pure drug or consume their body weight in fresh psilocybin containing mushrooms to bring on death”(p.349). Lasting psychological effects are unlikely to cause a problem in otherwise healthy people.
On a broader scale, Professor David Nutt, the well-known drugs researcher, developed a ‘matrix of harm’ to analyse the harm of different drugs(including some legal ones like alcohol), based on these 9 factors:
Physical harm Acute Chronic Intravenous harm Dependence Intensity of pleasure Psychological dependence Physical dependence Social harms Intoxication Other social harms Health-care costs
Nutt et al., 2007, p.1049
Although the report doesn’t survey mushrooms or psilocybin, it’s interesting to see that the relative harm of different substances doesn’t necessarily equate with how dangerous the drug is considered in the eyes of the law (see Fig.2.).
Alcohol, for instance, is an entirely legal ‘drug’ but it is considered the 5th most harmful drug according to this scale. This is in part due to its easy accessibility and therefore very regular use (we all know the slightly sad parody of the drunken Brit). Astonishingly, according to the research “Tobacco and alcohol together account for about 90% of all drug-related deaths in the UK” (Nutt et al., 2007, p.1047). Perhaps that will give you something to think about next time you reach for a beer.
Another psychedelic, LSD, ranks much lower on the list due to its low risk of physical harm and addiction. In reality, it is considered a ‘Class A’ drug in the UK – the highest category – which carries a maximum penalty for possession of 7 years in prison and an unlimited fine. We can presume that had researchers included magic mushrooms in the research, the mushrooms would be on the right side of the graph below. However, they too are considered a Class A drug in the UK, which judging by the research about mushrooms’ low risk, doesn’t seem to make any sense.
A similar Dutch study on classifying substances used comparable variables and concluded that psilocybin-containing mushrooms had a much lower negative effect than others they measured, such as GHB and methamphetamine (vanAmsterdam, et al., 2004).
These studies raise questions about the classification of different substances. The actual level of harm caused by each substance doesn’t necessarily equal its classification in the eyes of the law, with some more harmful substances given a lower rating, or no rating at all, and others considered to have a lower harm rating classified as more dangerous.
The most harmful drugs according to all the research come from an array of sub-categories (stimulants, anti-psychotics, depressants, hallucinogens) but on opposite ends of the scale, depressants and stimulants seem to be particularly harmful. You’ll see psilocybin nestled in the pink‘Hallucinogens’ bubble of the image below.
It’s worth remembering that alcohol and tobacco are some of the most widely socially used drugs and they’re also addictive, making them highly risky in comparison to other drugs.
Of course, always do your due diligence before taking one of these substances, but it seems that from a pure safety perspective, mushrooms are very unlikely to cause you any harm.
The fact that clinical trials have been approved in both the US andUK also shows that regulators don’t have huge concerns over using psilocybin either.
This vote of confidence may serve as reassurance for those who only know a little about mushrooms and may be considering their use, such as on a lovely psilocybin retreat with our caring team at Truffles Therapy.
The most important thing is to be well-prepared, determine the right dosage and create a relaxed setting in which to experience the wonders of your trip. Happy tripping!
Global DrugSurvey. (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.globaldrugsurvey.com/gds-2018/
Information isBeautiful. (2010). Drugs World(image). Retrieved from: https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/drugs-world/
Nutt, D., King,L., Saulsbury, W., & Blakemore, C. (2007). Development of a rational scaleto assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse. Lancet, 369(9566),1047-53.
Rinkunas, S,(2019). Shrooms Are the Safest Drug You Can Take. Retrieved from: https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/43gey3/mushrooms-are-the-safest-drug-you-can-take
Tylš, F.,Páleníček, T., & Horáček, J. (2014). Psilocybin - summary of knowledge andnew perspectives. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 24(3),342-356.
UK Government.(2019). Drug penalties. Retrievedfrom: https://www.gov.uk/penalties-drug-possession-dealing
Van Amsterdam, J., Best, W., Opperhuizen, A., & De Wolff, F. (2004). Evaluation of a procedure to assess the adverse effects of illicitdrugs. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 39(1),1-4.