Scientists trace why magic mushrooms evolved to be “magic”

It doesn’t have anything to do with humans.

Mar 20, 2018
New Study Traces Why Psilocybin Mushrooms Evolved To Be Psychedelic

You know how they say you should know what you put into your body? Well, the question becomes a lot weirder when you ask what these things do once they’re inside you.

The mechanisms of cannabis in relation to the human body are shrouded in mystery. We’ve been using anesthesia for over 100 years and we still don’t know why it works. Psilocybin, the compound that makes magic mushrooms magic, has been used by various cultures for centuries, and we may be just figuring out now why it makes us trip out. 

A recent study analyzed three species of psychedelic shroom—Psilocybe cyanescens, Gymnopilus dilepis, and Panaeolus cyanescens—to unlock their secrets. Psilocybin is present in dozens of different mushrooms, so tracing how and why it evolved was no easy task. Researchers discovered that the most common shared trait between the psychedelic mushrooms was their preferred growing areas: rotting wood and dung heaps.

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NETHERLANDS – OCTOBER 08: Mushrooms sit ready to be harvested at the Procare mushroom plantation in Hazerwoude-Dorp, The Netherlands, on Monday, Oct. 8, 2007. (Photo by Roger Cremers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It turns out their hallucinogenic properties have less to with humans than other critters in the animal kingdom. Rotting things serve as cozily a home to magic mushrooms as they do to regular ol’ bugs. Some mushrooms are straight up poisonous to ward off their predators. But instead of killing the creatures who wanted to share their turf, the researchers hypothesize that hallucinogenic mushrooms developed psilocybin to trip them out. Or, to be more specific, to make bugs drowsier, lazier, and less hungry to eat mushrooms but to allow them to hang around if they wanted.

It’s not unlike the pleasant coincidences of spicy foods. The kick is meant to ward off predators in the animal kingdom, but it also happens to have effects that humans enjoy. Silly plants. “The psilocybin probably doesn’t just poison predators or taste bad,” said University of Ohio’s Jason Slot, who was part of the study. “These mushrooms are altering the insects’ ‘mind,’ if they have minds, to meet their own needs.”

Mar 20, 2018