New Study Finds Psilocybin is a ‘Relatively Safe’ Drug

New explorations and industries in alternative medicine will typically bring its nay-sayers, questioning the validity and safety of substances like psilocybin. Still, research shows increasingly that psilocybin could not only help to treat a number of mental health conditions, but a recent analysis of a large, international drug survey also suggests that psilocybin is relatively safe.

The findings were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Using data from the 2017 Global Drug Survey—a large, anonymous online survey on patterns of drug use conducted between November 2016 and January 2017—the study investigated the 12-month prevalence and nature of psilocybin-related adverse reactions resulting in emergency medical treatment, using the global sample of survey participants reporting magic mushroom use.

Researchers found that, out of 9,233 past-year magic mushroom users, just 19 (0.2%) had sought emergency medical care after their use. They found that young age was the only predictor associated with higher risk of emergency medical presentations.

The findings also note that these adverse incidents are generally psychological in nature, with respondents seeking emergency medical care noting anxiety/panic (68%), paranoia/suspiciousness (68%) and seeing or hearing things (42%) as the top symptoms. The reasons most reported for incidents were poor mindset (47%), poor setting/being in the wrong place (37%) and mixing substances (37% reported cannabis use and 32% reported alcohol use).

The research also notes that all but one respondent returned to their normal state within 24 hours.

Study author Emmy Kopra, a PhD student at King’s College London, told PsyPost that, while no drug is entirely risk free, relative to most recreational drugs, psilocybin mushrooms demonstrate a good safety profile, based on the rate of respondents needing emergency treatment. This is compounded by the fact that these most adverse reactions were psychological in nature and reported as short-lasting.

“Based on perceived reasons for these experiences, risk of adverse reactions can be reduced by certain safety precautions such as ensuring one is in the right state of mind (‘set’) and physical environment (‘setting’), as well as avoiding mixing substances,” Kopra said. “Regardless, perhaps owing to their complex and profound psychological effects, responses to psychedelics are difficult to predict with high certainty and sometimes adverse reactions occur even with careful use.”

The introduction of the analysis notes that psilocybin is a physiologically safe substance relative to other psychoactive drugs, with no evidence of neurophysical deficits, organ damage or addiction potential, and the acute physiological effects that have been observed are mild. 

Researchers also note that there are only three known deaths attributed to magic mushroom toxicity, with six grams of psilocybin constituting the lethal dose, equivalent to about 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of magic mushrooms. Because of this, they say that lethal overdose from eating magic mushrooms is “impractical.”

Kopra also said that psychedelic use in the general public is increasing, so it’s important to gather balanced information on their safety profile. She notes the “rather polarized” perspectives between positive media reports on the mental health benefits of psychedelics, versus the legacy of the War on Drugs and the misinformation that came with it, surrounding the dangers of psychedelics.

“Previous evidence suggests psilocybin-containing mushrooms are relatively safe especially regarding physiological toxicity, but overall there is little academic research on the occurrence and nature of adverse reactions,” Kopra said.

As legislation continues to shift, medical research around psilocybin continues to improve and markets like Oregon’s first-of-its-kind psilocybin program for therapeutic use make their way to fruition, we’re bound to continue expanding our knowledge on this peculiar psychedelic substance on the road ahead.


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