With an ancient history spanning over tens of thousands of years of human evolution, psychedelic mushrooms are once again making a comeback.
Hallucinogenic mushrooms, also known as ‘magic mushrooms’ or simply ‘shrooms’, are a type of mushrooms that contain the psychedelic compounds psilocybin and psilocin. They are mostly dark-spotted, with darkened-blue tails abundant in their active ingredient. There are approximately 200 discovered species of psilocybin mushrooms that grow in woods and meadows of the tropics and subtropics region.
These mind-altering fungi have been used by humans for tens of thousands of years, long before the first accounts of our written history. Depictions of mushrooms were encountered in various places throughout the globe. Inside of caves, researchers found illustrations of mushrooms painted by the early humans, and the native people of Mesoamerica are renowned for using magic shrooms for their religious and shamanic practices.
But they were not the only ones incorporating mushrooms into their diet, as numerous archaeological studies reveal that many other cultures across the globe did the same. Proof of this stands the wide expanse of these mystic mushrooms that are spread in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The first painting attesting their dietary integration was found inside a cave located in the upper Tassili plateau of northern Algeria. The paintings are believed to be over 7,000 years old.
With the fall of the Aztec Empire, Europeans surprisingly discovered that the natives of Central America were frequently using psilocybin mushrooms ever since pre-Colombian times. As the Spanish priest Bernardino de Sahaguan noted, these fungi were used for divination, healing, ceremonies and communing with the spirits and deities. After Hernan Cortes’ expedition, he wrote the following:
“They (the Chichimecas) possessed a great knowledge of plants and roots, and they were acquainted with properties and virtues of the,; these same people were the first to discover and use the root which they called peiotl, and those who are accustomed to eat and drink them used them in place of wine; and they did the same with those they call nanacatl, which are harmful mushrooms which intoxicate in the same way as wine…”
Sahaguan made a brief mention about how the Aztecs consumed their psychedelic mushrooms. He noted that natives referred to them as ‘teonanácatl’, a term that literally means ‘god mushroom’. Because of this, historians believe that Aztec spiritual leaders were using these mystical fungi to meet and communicate with their deities and various spirits.
Contrary to these beliefs, the Spanish conquistadores and Catholic missionaries that reached Central and South America immediately demonized these hallucinogenic instruments because they though one would commune with the devil itself, rather than higher entities. Although they were heavily persecuted, the natives continued using sacred teonanácatl far from prying eyes in the most remote of areas.
The sacred mushrooms remained unknown to Westerners until recently. Leaving misconceptions behind and with a strong will to explore the spiritual realm, ethnomycologist Gordon Wasson and his wife became the first Westerners to take part in an indigenous mushroom ceremony. Their shaman was Maria Sabina, one of the remaining practitioner of Mazatec shamanism who often engaged in mushroom healing sessions. Wasson was able to participate in some of these ceremonies before returning to the US where he wrote about this life-changing experiences in an article for Life Magazine.
His work rapidly became known across the US because of the novel, alternative way that promised a radical twist of perception over life in general. Soon after the article was published, numerous hippies were flying to Mexico to discover the psilocybin mushrooms.
The 60s and 70s brought a massive production wave of LSD and ‘magic mushrooms’ which further shaped an important cultural movement in the US, spreading to other parts of the globe. Unfortunately, these substances were misunderstood and eventually made illegal and classified as Schedule I drugs in the US, with no medical potential and highly addictive, contrary to what researchers are now discovering.