1887

Occurrence and use of hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin alkaloids

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In some parts of the world mushrooms have had a central role in religious ritual ceremonies. Ethnomycological studies among the Indian tribes of Mexico - the Aztecs and the Chichimecas - revealed the mushrooms to be hallucinogenic. Chemists from a leading Pharmaceutical company took over, isolated and described the mushroom alkaloid psilocybin, that upon dephosphorylation after collection of the mushroom or in the human body, form psilocin that is the active hallucinogenic compound. For a long time psilocybin/psilocin was expected to become a constituent of psychedelic drugs useful for treatment of specific psychoses. As the effect of psilocybin/psilocin resembles that of LSD the isolated compound, as well as mushrooms containing the compound, became popular among recreational users of hallucinogenic drugs in Western America, and from there the habit of using these mushrooms have spread around the world. Psilocybin/psilocin is legally prohibited in many countries which usually treat the compound as a narcotic drug. Some countries also prohibit the use of some or all psilocybin-containing mushrooms. In this respect, the legal situation differs between Nordic countries. Although psilocybin-containing mushrooms are not what Nordic mushroom pickers are trying to find as food or food supplement, there is a risk, admittedly small, that these mushrooms accidentally will be collected. At the present situation, this may be a legal problem in some Nordic countries. This document aims at identifying when this might be the case without going into legal interpretations.

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Summary

From having been used in ritual religious ceremonies over thousands of years, hallucinogenic mushrooms started to be used as a recreational drug late in the 1960’s. Which the hallucinogenic mushrooms used in religious ceremonies by Indian tribes in Mexico were, became known from ethonomycological investigations in the 1930s and 1940s, but the first list of hallucinogenic mushrooms of Mexico was not published until 1961. At that time, chemists working for the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz had already identified the compound in the mushroom responsible for the effect. It was a phosphorylated alkaloid, given the name psilocybin (a phosphoric acid ester of 4-dihydroxymethyltryptamine) after the mushroom species from which it was originally isolated, Psilocybe mexicana. Subsequent studies showed that the real hallucinogenic compound is psilocin, which is formed from psilocybin by dephosphorylation. The dephosphorylation can take place in the mushroom after harvest or when damaged, or in the body of the consumer.

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