Ancestral Medicines: Mushrooms
A Long Documented History
For thousands of years humans have experimented in one way or another with hallucinogenic mushrooms. Human uses of hallucinogenic mushrooms have been suggested in 10,000 year-old rock art discovered in the Central Saharan desert, and some researchers believe our profound relationship with these psychedelic fungi could go back much further than that.
Studies have shown that the use of psychoactive substances weren't uncommon in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies, and mushrooms in therapeutic and spiritual use amongst tribal societies have been practiced and documented for thousands of years.
Evidence of the spiritual and medicinal use of mushrooms has also been found in parts of the Old World, including the religious use of psychoactive mushrooms by indigenous tribes in Siberia.
Mushrooms in Medicine
Psilocybin, the primary psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, was discovered in the late 1950s, and was quickly embraced by many researchers around the world.
A groundbreaking study of psilocybin was published in 2006 with remarkable results. Over 60 percent of the psilocybin subjects fulfilled the study's criteria of meeting a "full mystical experience," while 30 percent rated it as the most spiritually significant experience of their entire life, and over 60 percent rated it among the five most meaningful experiences in their life.
The longer term effects were also compelling. A two-month follow up found 79 percent reported increased well-being and life satisfaction compared to the rates of the placebo group.
Despite new knowledge, mushrooms remain an enigma amongst many in the medical field, but this is rapidly changing. Although mushrooms have been used as medicine f or thousands of years by various cultures, only recently has modern science rediscovered what people knew long ago; many mushrooms contain powerful medicines. The increase in interest is not only related to the deep cultural history of their use, but it is also due to modern methods for the scientific study of mushroom tissue cultures.
Apart from the legal decisions made in the 1960’s, the lag in time for modern science to explore mushrooms for their medicinal properties may also be due to their nature. Mushrooms may be in our view for just a few days, whereas plants and animals can be studied for months or years.
Also, using these medicines requires both a working knowledge of toxic versus safe mushrooms and the ability to physiologically respond to the chemicals they produce. The array of responses that we have to mushrooms is astounding. Some mushrooms can feed you, some can heal you, some can kill you, and some can send you on a spiritual journey.
The list of health benefits medicinal mushrooms provide is lengthy (think: brain booster, hormone helper, antioxidant powerhouse). They have been found to contain health-giving additives having medicinal benefits, such as prevention or treatment of Parkinson, Alzheimer, hypertension, and high risk of stroke.
Each mushroom is unique and provides its own distinct health advantages. Some mushrooms are utilized to reduce the likelihood of cancer invasion and metastasis due to their antitumoral attributes, while others act as antibacterial, immune system enhancer, and cholesterol lowering agents. In addition, mushrooms are important sources of bioactive compounds. As a result of these properties, some mushroom extracts are used to promote human health and are found as dietary supplements.
As we have recognized the value of mushrooms, we have started to cultivate them to further exploit their medicinal purposes, finding many active constituents that were unavailable to our ancestors. Already, more than 150 unique enzymes have been identified in mushrooms. In the last decade, the interest for pharmaceutical potential of mushrooms has been increased rapidly, and it has been suggested that many mushrooms are like mini-pharmaceutical factories producing compounds with miraculous biological properties
Today, magic mushrooms are making a comeback as society is becoming more accepting of these psychedelic fungi. Studies have pushed the decriminalization movement of psychotropic substances into action. Ballot initiatives are in progress in several cities while Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz have already decriminalized magic mushrooms.