Hallucinogenic drugs like mushrooms alter the chemical composition of the cells of the brain, and when they’re active, they produce a profound shift in both perception and sensation.
Mushroom highs, known as “trips,” can last for hours and hours, and when they’re done, users might feel as though they’re returned to a reality they both know and understand, with no longstanding damage left behind. In reality, these drugs can leave a big swath of chemical changes in their wake, and in some cases, these alterations can be considered both damaging and dangerous.
Mushrooms and the Brain
An intensive study conducted in England suggests that mushrooms dampen activity in the portion of the mind responsible for processing sensory information. The researchers suggest that the brain is constantly taking in all sorts of data, and it processes those details to some degree before presenting information to the conscious mind. Mushrooms interrupt this pre-processing function, so each and every bit of data that could be identified by the brain is presented to the consciousness. This is responsible for the mind-altering experience people feel while they’re under the influence. Their chemical blinders, caused by preprocessing, have been removed.
These changes come about, in part, due to alterations in the chemical serotonin. This is a key chemical in use in the cells of the brain, and in addition to providing data about perception, this chemical also helps to regulate vital body functions, including the speed at which the heart beats. Many of the concerns about mushrooms have focused on this aspect of the drug, as some people who take mushrooms experience heart difficulties and overheating. But research also suggests that tinkering with serotonin on a regular basis could change the way the brain works down the line.
Some mushroom-related changes come about due to the intense experiences people endure while they’re under the influence. For example, a study discussed in LiveScience suggests that one single dose of magic mushrooms can change the user’s personality for a year or longer. The researchers suggest that the mystical changes and feelings of connectedness are responsible for the change, as people see things while under the influence that change the way in which they relate to the world. Users report feeling more open after taking mushrooms, and sometimes they consider that a beneficial change.
But a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that mushrooms can be so persistent that they can change a user’s ability to recall the details in memories. Portions of the brain are firing at a different rate when mushrooms have been introduced to the brain, and that might mean that users remember things that didn’t happen, or they embellish the few details they really can remember. It’s not at all clear that this is a good development, particularly in people who have unsettling incidents in their past that they’d like to forget. Mushrooms might make that difficult.
These two studies, and many others like them, indicate just how profoundly powerful mushrooms are. It’s hard to know how these drugs might impact all people. Could they trigger a mental illness? Could they cause long-lasting psychosis? These are the sorts of questions that are just impossible to answer at the moment. Researchers know that the drugs are strong and that their influence lasts, but they’re not clear about how dangerous those drugs might be.
It is clear, however, that some people who abuse mushrooms experience flashbacks. These people are plunged into terrifying memories that they put down when they were under the influence of mushrooms, and those upsetting memories may persist for minutes, hours, or even days. It’s difficult for people who experience flashbacks to know when they might come, and they often have no control over how long the scary feelings last.
While magic mushrooms might be considered potentially dangerous on their own, dealers who sell these drugs often choose to make their products more potent by adding in other substances, including:
Any or all of these combinations could do a significant amount of damage to the delicate cells of the brain, and it might be hard for users to either understand or control the changes that take hold when these other elements are inside of the mushrooms they try.
Similarly, some people avoid dealers altogether, and they choose to go hunting for their own mushrooms in the forests and fields around their homes. These users might think that they’re avoiding dangerous drugs by following this method, but they could be picking the wrong type of mushroom, and that could make their damage even more intense.
For example, the author of the novel The Horse Whisperer reportedly experienced intense kidney damage in 2008 when a mushroom he ate while on a woodland walk damaged his kidneys. Kidney damage like this allows toxins to build up in the body and the brain, and in time, it can be fatal. Since mushrooms are so difficult to identify, particularly for people who are relatively inexperienced in the wide variety of shapes and sizes these plants can assume, this is a real possibility for anyone who chooses to partake of plants picked in the wild.
Choosing Other Drugs
If mushrooms carry so many risks, users might be tempted to try out other hallucinogenic substances, such as Ecstasy, to buffer the damage they might face. Unfortunately, these drugs carry many of the same risks seen in the mushroom market. For example, substances sold as “Ecstasy” might contain all sorts of ingredients that have nothing to do with Ecstasy at all, including cocaine and PCP.
Users who buy Ecstasy from dealers are taking the same kind of brain health risks seen in people who buy mushrooms.
A study of people who took Ecstasy on a regular basis, published in the journal Addiction, makes these risks quite clear. Here, researchers found that people who took Ecstasy developed a variety of problems, including subtle cognitive declines and memory loss. Heavy use seems to make these problems a little easier to spot, which might mean that the drug is directly associated with the changes seen.
A separate study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that regular users of Ecstasy had ongoing difficulties with feelings of depression, along with:
- Psychotic episodes
- Low motivation
These are very serious results, and they seem to suggest that hallucinogenic drugs like Ecstasy can do a significant amount of damage in no time at all. People who ignore search results like this could experience something wonderful while under the influence, but they might be left with damage that’s palpable and difficult to correct.
If you’ve been using a psychoactive drug like mushrooms, replacing that drug with another harmful substance won’t help you to amend the damage and change your life. Instead, you could make your health status deteriorate yet further. Thankfully, you have options. We’d like to help you find them.
At Black Bear Lodge, we specialize in helping people who have addictions. Our counselors can assist you in both identifying and dealing with any mental health condition that might stand behind your addiction, and we can help you to build up the skills that can help you to resist the allure of hallucinogenic drugs in the future. Just call 706-914-2327, and our admissions coordinators would love to tell you about how to get started.