Magic mushroom research has come a long way since our ancestors discovered the psychedelic compound. From its spiritual properties to groundbreaking applications for mental health, the fungus is one of the most versatile in history.

How did it start, and what progress have we made today? If microscopy proves anything, there are still far more buried secrets we know nothing about. 

Join us as we take a time capsule to explore the origins of psilocybin shrooms. Learn how humanity discovered, researched, suppressed, then revived them again. Then, peek into the future to see how they could benefit us further. 

 

Prehistoric Humans Discover a New Trip

To trace the roots of magic mushroom research, we must travel back to prehistoric times. 

Some historians and archaeologists pinpoint the discovery of the fungi to around 9,000 or 10,000 BC. They believe the earliest humans stumbled across their psychotropic properties and used them in rituals and religious ceremonies. 

The most conclusive evidence exists in cave paintings and indigenous artwork from Northern Africa, Australia, and parts of Europe. 

Ancient Aztec and Mayan tribes, particularly in central America, called a specific species of mushrooms “Teonanácatl.” The moniker translates to “flesh of the gods,” alluding to the belief that their ancestors received it from a life-giving serpent deity.

There was no looking back after humanity uncovered a way to alter consciousness and connect profoundly to the world around them.

Research methods back then were limited, so indigenous people relied on trial and error to discover specific benefits. Over time, they started using magic mushrooms for healing, treating pain, and alleviating physical and emotional distress.

The positive applications of the fungi remained a secret for centuries, kept sacred within various secluded cultures. It wasn’t until the 1900s that genuine magic mushroom research began, exposing the western world to a life-changing alternative medicine.

 

Looking Back at the Evolution of Magic Mushroom Research

Magic Mushroom

Although many early Americans likely discovered psychedelic shrooms millennia ago, widespread recognition only occurred around the early 20th century. The first published research paper appeared in the 1939 Harvard University Botanical Museum Leaflets.

Flash forward to 1957, when ethnomycologist Robert Gordon Wasson coined “magic mushrooms.” He and his wife, Valeria, traveled to Central America to study the fungi further. They brought it back to America and published their research in Life magazine. 

Following the article’s circulation, more westerners became curious about these so-called “magic” fungi. The increased interest spurred scientists to conduct formal studies on psilocin and psilocybin, two primary psychedelic compounds in the popular mushrooms.

A year after Wasson’s travels, Albert Hofmann, a chemist from Switzerland, became the first to isolate and synthesize psilocybin. His employer, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, sold his synthetic compounds as a revolutionary treatment for specific psychiatric disorders.

New magic mushroom research took the US by storm. Along with LSD and marijuana, many wanted to experience this new fungus that could expand their minds. The “hippie movement” and counterculture groups became fierce advocates for psychedelics.

Piqued fascination led to the infamous Harvard Psilocybin Project. University professors Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert acquired pharmaceutical psilocybin and experimented on themselves and student volunteers.

The evaluations ran from 1961 to 1963, during which they also conducted their Concord Prison Experiment on various inmates. Several Harvard staff members and higher authorities expressed concerns about their safety and scientific credibility, terminating the project. 

Despite their abrupt interruption, Leary, Alpert, and many third parties deemed the research a success. 

Follow-up studies confirmed the Concord Prison Experiment’s benefits and reported how numerous subjects experienced positive results after consuming psilocybin. 

Other researchers attempted to pursue further evidence. Unfortunately, the 1968 US ban and the 1971 Controlled Substances Act halted progress, again throwing humanity into the dark. We didn’t lose hope, though, as modern magic mushroom research was on the horizon.

 

Gaining Enlightenment in the 21st Century

21st Century

From the late 1990s until now, studies on the benefits of psychoactive fungi have breached uncharted territory. For the first time, there’s a legal acknowledgment of their therapeutic applications.

Colorado decriminalized magic mushrooms in 2019, paving the way for more cities to follow suit. Many advocates worldwide have led campaigns and encouraged scientists to conduct conclusive research. As history proves, the voices of the people hold power for change.

In 2020, Oregon introduced the first scientifically backed framework to grant adults legal access to psychedelic therapy. Many people attest to the benefits for various psychiatric ailments, including schizophrenia, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Updated research on using psilocybin to aid a treatment-resistant episode of major depression shows positive results. After consuming a significant dose of the compound, some participants reported a substantial reduction in symptoms.

More places like New York and California also want to introduce guided psychedelic sessions. Other states have decriminalized psilocybin, and some countries worldwide are legalizing them.

The 21st century has experienced the most significant progress. More people are gaining enlightenment, and soon we may see the psychedelic compound accepted globally. 

 

Understanding the Past to Shape the Future of Magic Mushroom Research

Why have psychoactive fungi and psychedelics remained such heated topics of debate? Humans have always shied away from things they don’t understand, but as perception changes, so does attitude. Looking back, we see how magic mushroom research has evolved. 

Perhaps our ancestors knew the fungi would become controversial, so they tried to preserve their sacredness. Maybe they simply didn’t want anyone else to learn of their capabilities. Either way, we wouldn’t have advanced this far without them.

Visit our Fungushead blog to dive deeper into the history, evolution, and modern advances of these enchanting mycelia.

 

 

All of the content and images on our site are for informational reference only. The cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms is federally illegal in the United States. We do not promote the cultivation of psilocybin “magic” mushrooms under any circumstances. Do not contact us asking for advice related to this subject. Any products found on this site are for microscopy and taxonomy purposes only. None of the psilocybin mushroom spores we offer are for consumption or cultivation. We do not sell any products containing psilocybin.