This Is Your Brain on Magic Mushrooms

Science explains why this fungus makes you see sounds and hear colors.

The earliest evidence of humans using magic mushrooms stretches back over 3,500 years.

The Aztec people likely used mushrooms in conjunction with religious ceremonies, LiveScience explains. The "magic mushroom" causes profound psychedelic effects on the brain, causing hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. These mushrooms can be widely found throughout the world, and there's evidence that many other cultures used them in a similar way. 

But why is it that some species of mushroom are able to cause intense psychotropic effects, while others merely taste good on pizza?

The difference is the chemical psilocybin.

There are about 40 different species of mushroom that contain psilocybin around the world, but Psilocybe cubensis is the most common species used as a recreational drug. When an individual consumes the mushroom, psilocybin is converted to psilocin. The molecular structure of psilocin is very similar to serotonin (the so-called "happiness molecule") and is able to bind to serotonin receptors in the brain for several hours after the mushrooms have been eaten.

This additional chemical stimulation causes many users to have intense, euphoric experiences on mushrooms.

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that a single trip on mushrooms can cause long-term positive effects in an individual. Out of the 51 people used in the study, over half were still experiencing changes to their personality around 14 months later. These changes included openness with regards to feelings, increased creativity and imagination, and a more positive regard for life in general.

While these results do sound encouraging, don't run off to your nearest drug dealer to buy some shrooms just yet.

Some people have a very negative experience while on mushrooms.

As positive of an experience as some have while on mushrooms, others have pretty much the exact opposite. Rather than colorful, joyous hallucinations that can still incite happiness over a year later, some users see scary images and feel panicked and scared for hours on end. Some also have a negative physical reaction, and will vomit profusely while on the bad trip.

Why is it that some people have a profound, life-changing experience on shrooms, while others live their own personal hell?

Well, scientists don't really know. Studies into psychotropic drugs are fairly limited, given that it is a felony to have them. Getting approval for scientific studies is extremely rare, which means that scientists really aren't able to make claims about mushrooms with a large amount of certainty. While there are studies that monitor the effect of psilocybin on mice, it isn't quite the same as testing on people.

Some scientists would like to change the law as it applies to research, because if they better understood why some people have a great experience and others have a bad trip, they might be able to develop new medications for anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders, as Smithsonian Mag explains.

Learn more about the effects of magic mushrooms on the brain with this video by AsapSCIENCE: