What Magic Mushrooms Do To Your Body and Brain

June 17, 2016

There’s evidence that tripping on magic mushrooms could actually free the mind.

Several small studies have linked the psychoactive ingredient in shrooms (which are illegal) with several purported health benefits, including the potential to help relieve anxiety and depression.

But, as with any drug, shrooms also come with risks. And because they’re classified as Schedule 1 — meaning they have “no accepted medical use” — it’s been pretty tough for scientists to tease out exactly what they can and can’t do.

Here are a few of the ways we know shrooms can affect your brain and body:

Shrooms can make you feel good.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, magic mushrooms can lead to feelings of relaxation that are similar to the effects of low doses of marijuana.

Like other hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD or peyote, shrooms are thought to produce most of their effects by acting on neural highways in the brain that use the neurotransmitter serotonin, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. More specifically, magic mushrooms affect the brain’s prefrontal cortex, part of the brain that regulates abstract thinking, thought analysis, and plays a key role in mood and perception.

They can also make you hallucinate.

Many users describe things like seeing sounds or hearing colors. A 2014 study was one of the first to attribute this effect to the way psilocybin affects communication across brain networks.

In people injected with 2 milligrams of the drug, researchers saw new, stronger activity across several regions of the brain that normally rarely or never engage in such “cross-talk.” To visualize what they were seeing in the people given the drug (as opposed to those given a placebo), the researchers created the image above.

These hallucinations may be key to understanding how shrooms could help ease depression.

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