Photo by Joe Lingeman

Learn | 01.19.2024

What Do Magic Mushrooms Do To The Brain?

Magic mushrooms decoded: a look inside the psychedelic adventure.

Welcome to a deep dive into the heart of what makes psilocybin-packed fungi, or magic mushrooms, so captivating. 

From the swirl of colors igniting the visual cortex to the deep emotional waves that redefine consciousness, we unravel how these tiny powerhouses profoundly impact our brains.

Focusing on the chemical ballet of psilocybin and its transformative effects, we’ll explore everything from the nuances of dosage to the sweeping range of experiences they evoke.

Join the ride as we discover the science, sensation, and sheer wonder behind magic mushrooms. 

What Are Magic Mushrooms? 

Photo by yellowstonerecovery

Magic mushrooms, or psilocybin mushrooms, are a group of fungi famed for their psychoactive elements, psilocybin and psilocin. Among these, Psilocybe cubensis stands out as the most popular. Their claim to fame? The ability to spark psychedelic experiences by converting psilocybin into psilocin in the human body.

The secret behind the psychedelic prowess of these mushrooms lies in their chemical makeup, predominantly psilocybin and psilocin. 

Ingestion and Conversion: When magic mushrooms are consumed, psilocybin, which is not psychoactive in its original form, is rapidly metabolized by the body into psilocin. 

Interaction with Serotonin Receptors: Psilocin, the active form, closely resembles serotonin’s chemical structure. In the brain, serotonin is a neurotransmitter primarily responsible for mood modulation. Due to the similarity of serotonin, psilocin can bind and activate serotonin receptors, specifically the 5-HT2A receptor. 

Psychedelic Effects: The activation of 5-HT2A receptors is primarily responsible for the psychedelic effects associated with magic mushrooms. This includes altered perception, mood, and cognition, transitioning to profound shifts in consciousness and understanding of the self. Stimulating these receptors also increases neural connectivity, manifesting hallucinations, emotional changes, and altered time perception. 

Neural Connectivity: Research suggests that psilocybin and psilocin can induce temporary increases in neural connectivity, which allows different brain regions to communicate in novel

ways. It is this communication that is believed to facilitate the consciousness shift and profound introspection. 

Psilocin’s interaction with serotonin receptors is responsible for altering neural communication and activity in various brain regions. These regions, which might not typically communicate extensively, start interacting in new and complex ways. This breaking of the brain’s conventional communication barriers is what underlies the profound sensory and cognitive experiences characteristic of a psychedelic state. 

One of the most profound impacts of psilocybin is observed in the Default Mode Network (DMN), a group of brain regions active during rest and associated with self-referential thoughts. Psilocybin reduces activity in the DMN, which correlates with the ego-dissolution experiences reported by many users, where there is a sense of merging with the environment or a universal oneness. 

Such neurological alterations are not just responsible for the immediate effects experienced during a trip but also hold potential implications for long-term brain plasticity and mental health. 

The dosage of magic mushrooms plays a pivotal role in shaping the intensity and nature of your psychedelic experience. At the higher end of the spectrum, doses typically around 5 grams or more of dried mushrooms can catapult you into a classic, full-blown psychedelic journey. This is where you will likely encounter vivid, kaleidoscopic visuals, profound emotional revelations, and deep, introspective musings. 

In the mid-range, moderate doses – think between 0.5 and 3 grams – can create a milder yet still perceptible psychedelic effect. Here, you might notice the world becoming a tad more vibrant, with colors popping and patterns catching your eye, alongside thoughtful introspection. 

Conversely, we have microdoses ranging from 0.1 to 0.5 grams. These tiny amounts are designed to be sub-perceptual, subtly enhancing your mood, sparking creativity, and dialing down anxiety without the full psychedelic experience.

Psychedelic Effects Of Psilocybin

Photo by yellowstonerecovery

When psilocybin is metabolized into psilocin in the body, it significantly influences the visual cortex in the brain. This interaction with the visual cortex triggers a cascade of perceptual changes.

Users commonly experience a dramatic intensification of colors and dynamic geometric patterns. Surfaces might appear to move or breathe, creating a surreal, almost dream-like environment. These alterations in visual perception often lead to vivid imagery and visuals, both with open and closed eyes, as if the mind’s eyes itself are painting a constantly evolving scene.

A fascinating effect of psilocybin is the induction of synesthesia, a blending of sensory experiences. This phenomenon might manifest as seeing colors in response to sounds or hearing music in visual patterns. The sensory cocktail shakes how you perceive the world, blurring the usual boundaries of perception. 

Psilocybin’s impact goes beyond sensory alterations, profoundly influencing emotions and thoughts. Users often experience a range of emotions, from intense euphoria and a profound connection to the world to insightful, introspective journeys that can feel transformative. However, in less supportive environments, these emotional shifts might lead to anxiety or a sense of unease.

After the experience, individuals often find themselves mentally rejuvenated, feeling a sense of cognitive renewal or mental exhaustion, reflecting the depth of their emotional and introspective journey. 

Risks And Safety

While the potential benefits of magic mushrooms are significant, their use is not without risks.

Users may experience distressing psychological effects, such as anxiety, paranoia, and unsettling hallucinations, especially in unsuitable settings or among those with mental health vulnerabilities. Physically, effects like nausea and dizziness are common, though physical dependency is rare.

Crucially, the legal status of psilocybin mushrooms varies globally, with many regions classifying them as illegal, posing legal risks and uncertainties about quality and dosage.

Ongoing research is essential to fully understand their long-term impacts and safety, emphasizing the need for caution and responsible use.

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