The functioning of the human brain is highly complex, and this implies that a very wide variety of substances and chemical elements are involved. Normally, these tiny compounds work in a coordinated manner, causing a certain balance to be maintained in mental processes. However, there are some substances that, when they arrive from outside the body, totally alter the functioning of the neurons.
Psilocybin is one of those compounds that, when entering the nervous system, profoundly affect its overall functioning. In particular, it is famous for its psychoactive effect.
In this article we will see what psilocybin is, what its effects are and why hallucinogenic mushrooms containing it have become popular.
What is psilocybin?
Psilocybin is an alkaloid that occurs naturally in certain types of mushrooms , which are known to be hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The consumption of these mushrooms as a recreational drug is due to their hallucinogenic effects, which lead many people to ingest the mushrooms for the mere interest these experiences arouse; some users define it as dreaming or becoming aware of other realities, using a lexicon linked to mysticism.
However, the effects of psilocybin do not need to be explained by mentalist and dualist beliefs. In fact, although it is not known exactly what happens when this substance enters the brain, the basic mechanisms by which it causes transient syndromes based on hallucinations are known. Let’s look at it.
How does it work in the brain?
The brain is, in part, made up of neurons, which communicate with each other by exchanging a series of chemicals called neurotransmitters . The amount and timing with which a neuron receives different types of neurotransmitters determines what its activation pattern will be, which in turn will be “passed on in a chain” to other nerve cells that will end up releasing neurotransmitters, etc.
Psilocybin causes at least one of these neurotransmitters, serotonin, to have more intense effects on certain neurons. Let’s say that this psychoactive compound has a serotonin agonist effect, since it causes more neuronal receptors to trigger a type of activation that should only occur when this substance is present in normal amounts.
The fact that these neurons receive orders from the serotonin that are at the wrong time and do not start from the balance that the organism itself maintains causes hallucinations to appear.
The effects of psilocinine
The main effects of psilocybin start between 15 and 50 minutes after oral consumption of the substance (although this also depends on the state of the stomach), and can last up to 8 hours. They are as follows.
Changes the perception of time
Studies suggest that among the common effects of this psychoactive substance is different experimentation with the passage of time, causing it to happen faster or slower than normal, or even creating moments of confusion by giving the impression that a time loop has been entered.
Expands neural connectivity
Psilocybin causes parts of the brain that are normally not very connected to each other to start exchanging signals more often. This causes the quality of the perception of the environment to change completely.
It is, on a large scale, something that is quite similar to what happens in people with synaesthesia, a phenomenon by which sensory modalities are mixed together making, for example, certain sounds to be perceived while evoking the perception of a different color for each of them.
Specifically, some of the parts of the brain in which we see signs of greater connectivity are the hippocampus and cingulate cortex, areas linked to the storage of memories belonging to declarative memory, on the one hand, and to the experiencing of emotions and the creation of plans, on the other.
This is the central feature of psilocybin as an element of psychoactive drugs. These hallucinations can be visual, auditory, tactile and of all kinds .
Generates mystical experiences
The hallucinations that occur with psilocybin are not simply “movies” that the consumer watches as a spectator. On many occasions the person who has eaten the hallucinogenic mushrooms becomes emotionally involved with what they see, hear and touch, to the extent of believing that everything is as or more real than what they experienced before taking the drug.
This causes some of the hallucinations to be interpreted as divine revelations , or breaks in reality, through which another alternative reality appears.
Its long-term effects: personality changes
There is evidence that psilocybin consumption is capable of producing permanent changes in the consumer’s mental processes. In particular, changes in personality. Normally these changes are linked to a tendency to curiosity about what is new , probably motivated by experiences related to hallucinations.
Does it have therapeutic potential?
Research is currently being conducted to explore the possible therapeutic potential of psilocybin and other hallucinogenic substance and drug compounds such as LSD. However, due to their recent nature (until recently, research in this area was not allowed in many countries), there are still no conclusive results, although there is reason to believe that these resources may be useful in clinical practice in the future .