OPEN Foundation


Harm potential of magic mushroom use: A review


In 2007, the Minister of Health of the Netherlands requested the CAM (Coordination point Assessment and Monitoring new drugs) to assess the overall risk of magic mushrooms. The present paper is an updated redraft of the review, written to support the assessment by CAM experts. It summarizes the literature on physical or psychological dependence, acute and chronic toxicity, risk for public health and criminal aspects related to the consumption of magic mushrooms.

In the Netherlands, the prevalence of magic mushroom use was declining since 2000 (last year prevalence of 6.3% in 2000 to 2.9% in 2005), and further declined after possession and use became illegal in December 2008.

The CAM concluded that the physical and psychological dependence potential of magic mushrooms was low, that acute toxicity was moderate, chronic toxicity low and public health and criminal aspects negligible. The combined use of mushrooms and alcohol and the quality of the setting in which magic mushrooms are used deserve, however, attention.

In conclusion, the use of magic mushrooms is relatively safe as only few and relatively mild adverse effects have been reported. The low prevalent but unpredictable provocation of panic attacks and flash-backs remain, however, a point of concern.

van Amsterdam, J., Opperhuizen, A., & van den Brink, W. (2011). Harm potential of magic mushroom use: a review. Regulatory toxicology and pharmacology, 59(3), 423-429.
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Prehistoric mushroom use in Spain


Europeans may have used magic mushrooms to liven up religious rituals 6000 years ago. So suggests a cave mural in Spain, which may depict fungi with hallucinogenic properties – the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.

The Selva Pascuala mural, in a cave near the town of Villar del Humo, is dominated by a bull. But it is a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects that interests Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico. They believe that the objects are the fungi Psilocybe hispanica, a local species with hallucinogenic properties.

Like the objects depicted in the mural, P. hispanica has a bell-shaped cap topped with a dome, and lacks an annulus – a ring around the stalk. “Its stalks also vary from straight to sinuous, as they do in the mural,” says Akers.

This isn’t the oldest prehistoric painting thought to depict magic mushrooms, though. An Algerian mural that may show the species Psilocybe mairei is 7000 to 9000 years old.

Read Akers’ publication A Prehistoric Mural in Spain Depicting Neurotropic Psilocybe Mushrooms? for more information.

Start Your Own Religion: New York State’s Acid Churches


This paper describes a radical and short-lived spiritual movement that emerged in New York State in the 1960s. With Dr. Timothy Leary as the figurehead, two of these psychedelic religions rose to brief cultural prominence in period of 1963–1968 when Leary and his communal group made their home in the small village of Millbrook, New York. Due to negative media attention and a subsequent law enforcement crackdown brought upon at least partially by the increasingly provocative stance of the leaders of these psychedelic groups, they were forced to flee the state by early 1968. This paper establishes the historical significance of New York State’s Acid Churches within the culture of the 1960s and draws the link to today’s Neopagan and New Age movements and the rebirth of the use of psychedelic substances within the modern scientific, psychological, and therapeutic communities.

Lander, D. R. (2011).  Start Your Own Religion: New York State’s Acid Churches. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 14(3), 64–80.
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A Prehistoric Mural in Spain Depicting Neurotropic Psilocybe Mushrooms?


The Selva Pascuala mural, a work of post-Paleolithic rock art in Spain, contains fungoid figures herein hypothesized to depict neurotropic fungi, especially Psilocybe hispanica, a species that occurs in a neighboring region. This hypothesis is based on features of these figures related to fungal morphology, along with ethnographic analogy, and shamanistic explanations of rock art. If correct, this interpretation would support inference of prehistoric utilization of this fungus in the region. The mural represents the first direct evidence for possible ritual use of Psilocybe in prehistoric Europe.

Akers, B. P., Ruiz, J. F., Piper, A., & Ruck, C. A. P. (2011). A Prehistoric Mural in Spain Depicting Neurotropic Psilocybe Mushrooms?. Economic Botany, 65(2), 1–8.
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Rediscovering MDMA (ecstasy): the role of the American chemist Alexander T. Shulgin


Aims: Alexander T. Shulgin is widely thought of as the ‘father’ of +/-3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). This paper re-assesses his role in the modern history of this drug.

Methods: We analysed systematically Shulgin’s original publications on MDMA, his publications on the history of MDMA and his laboratory notebook.

Results: According to Shulgin’s book PIHKAL (1991), he synthesized MDMA in 1965, but did not try it. In the 1960s Shulgin also synthesized MDMA-related compounds such as 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3-methoxy- 4,5-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MMDA) and 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDE), but this had no impact on his rediscovery of MDMA. In the mid-1970s Shulgin learned of a ‘special effect’ caused by MDMA, whereupon he re-synthesized it and tried it himself in September 1976, as confirmed by his laboratory notebook. In 1977 he gave MDMA to Leo Zeff PhD, who used it as an adjunct to psychotherapy and introduced it to other psychotherapists.

Conclusion: Shulgin was not the first to synthesize MDMA, but he played an important role in its history. It seems plausible that he was so impressed by its effects that he introduced it to psychotherapist Zeff in 1977. This, and the fact that in 1978 he published with David Nichols the first paper on the pharmacological action of MDMA in humans, explains why Shulgin is sometimes (erroneously) called the ‘father’ of MDMA.

Benzenhöfer, U., & Passie, T. (2010). Rediscovering MDMA (ecstasy): the role of the American chemist Alexander T. Shulgin. Addiction, 105(8), 1355–1361.
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Hallucinogenic botanicals of America: A growing need for focused drug education and research


Botanical sources for medicines in America have been known since long before the arrival of Columbus. Nevertheless, both scientists and the general public are often unaware that some of these botanical drugs are also potent intoxicants. We provide a quick overview of hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs harvested from nature or that are openly and legally cultivated in the United States. Examples of harmful outcomes reported in the media are contrasted with existing responsible ingestion by others, some of whom have the protected right to do so for traditional or sacramental religious purposes. Despite an ongoing and expensive effort to warn people of the potential harms of recreational drug use, little is known about the extent of use of these psychoactive botanicals, and the recent explosion of information available via the Internet could herald a storm of morbidity to come. Mounting more targeted research and educational efforts today may reduce later use and abuse, inform society about the special circumstances of religious use, and better prepare clinicians and other health care providers about the issues involved when people choose to indigenously source psychoactive drugs for human consumption.

Halpern, J. H., & Sewell, R. A. (2005). Hallucinogenic botanicals of America: A growing need for focused drug education and research. Life sciences, 78(5), 519-526.
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Hallucinogens (psychedelics) are psychoactive substances that powerfully alter perception, mood, and a host of cognitive processes. They are considered physiologically safe and do not produce dependence or addiction. Their origin predates written history, and they were employed by early cultures in a variety of sociocultural and ritual contexts. In the 1950s, after the virtually contemporaneous discovery of both serotonin (5-HT) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25), early brain research focused intensely on the possibility that LSD or other hallucinogens had a serotonergic basis of action and reinforced the idea that 5-HT was an important neurotransmitter in brain. These ideas were eventually proven, and today it is believed that hallucinogens stimulate 5-HT2A receptors, especially those expressed on neocortical pyramidal cells. Activation of 5-HT2A receptors also leads to increased cortical glutamate levels presumably by a presynaptic receptor-mediated release from thalamic afferents. These findings have led to comparisons of the effects of classical hallucinogens with certain aspects of acute psychosis and to a focus on thalamocortical interactions as key to understanding both the action of these substances and the neuroanatomical sites involved in altered states of consciousness (ASC). In vivo brain imaging in humans using [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][18F]fluorodeoxyglucose has shown that hallucinogens increase prefrontal cortical metabolism, and correlations have been developed between activity in specific brain areas and psychological elements of the ASC produced by hallucinogens. The 5-HT2A receptor clearly plays an essential role in cognitive processing, including working memory, and ligands for this receptor may be extremely useful tools for future cognitive neuroscience research. In addition, it appears entirely possible that utility may still emerge for the use of hallucinogens in treating alcoholism, substance abuse, and certain psychiatric disorders.

Nichols, D. E. (2004). Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 101(2), 131-181.

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Hallucinogens: An update


Research of hallucinogen abuse rarely extends beyond epidemiology and observed pathology. Even less research has been completed on the special circumstances surrounding the religious use of hallucinogens or on potential therapeutic applications. Rather than offer another basic review on the well-known hazards of illicit hallucinogen use, this paper provides an overview and practice recommendations on compounds the clinician may be less familiar with, such as the botanical plant Salvia divinorum, the drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“ecstasy”) and synthetic hallucinogen analogs. The often-warned, but rarely occurring, hazard of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (“flashbacks”) is also reviewed with treatment recommendations provided. The current status of clinical research with the hallucinogens is presented, with case vignettes suggesting hallucinogens may have anti-addictive applications. The special circumstances surrounding the religious, nondrug use of hallucinogens as sacred sacraments in the US and elsewhere are also presented. It is hoped that the reader will gain a more nuanced understanding of how these physiologically nonaddictive drugs may offer legitimate benefits in modern society. By appreciating that such benefits may one day be borne out by careful, methodologically sound research, clinicians should be better armed in raising the topic of hallucinogen use and abuse with their patients.

Halpern, J. H. (2003). Hallucinogens: an update. Current psychiatry reports, 5(5), 347-354.

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The psychopharmacology of hallucinogens.


Hallucinogenic drugs have been inhaled, ingested, worshipped, and reviled since prehistory. With the purification and synthesis of bontanical preparations and the ensuing discovery of chemically unique agents, hope was raised regarding their therapeutic potential, but this hope has been clouded by an epidemic of abuse and an inventory of adverse effects. This review examines aspects of that controversy, including the history of hallucinogens, epidemiology of current hallucinogen abuse, the association of LSD use with prolonged psychoses and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, and the efforts to demonstrate the drug’s therapeutic efficacy. Human subject ramifications in hallucinogen experimentation are discussed. Future lines of research are suggested in human, animal, and tissue culture paradigms.

Abraham, H. D., Aldridge, A. M., & Gogia, P. (1996). The psychopharmacology of hallucinogens. Neuropsychopharmacology, 14(4), 285-298.
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21 March - Ketamine Discussion with Celia Morgan, Filip Tylš & Will Barone