Psilocybin[nb 1] (/ˌsɪləˈsaɪbɪn/ sil-ə-sy-bin) is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms, collectively known as psilocybin mushrooms. The most potent are members of the genus Psilocybe, such as P. azurescens, P. semilanceata, and P. cyanescens, but psilocybin has also been isolated from about a dozen other genera. As a prodrug, psilocybin is quickly converted by the body to psilocin, which has mind-altering effects similar, in some aspects, to those of LSD, mescaline, and DMT. In general, the effects include euphoria, visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception, a distorted sense of time, and spiritual experiences, and can include possible adverse reactions such as nausea and panic attacks.
Imagery found on prehistoric murals and rock paintings of modern-day Spain and Algeria suggests that human usage of psilocybin mushrooms dates back thousands of years. In Mesoamerica, the mushrooms had long been consumed in spiritual and divinatory ceremonies before Spanish chroniclers first documented their use in the 16th century. In a 1957 Life magazine article, American banker and ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson described his experiences ingesting psilocybin-containing mushrooms during a traditional ceremony in Mexico, introducing the substance to popular culture. In 1959, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann isolated the active principle psilocybin from the mushroom Psilocybe mexicana. Hofmann's employer Sandoz marketed and sold pure psilocybin to physicians and clinicians worldwide for use in psychedelic psychotherapy. Although the increasingly restrictive drug laws of the late 1960s curbed scientific research into the effects of psilocybin and other hallucinogens, its popularity as an entheogen (spirituality-enhancing agent) grew in the next decade, owing largely to the increased availability of information on how to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms.
Some users of the drug consider it an entheogen and a tool to supplement practices for transcendence, including meditation and psychonautics. The intensity and duration of the effects of psilocybin are variable, depending on species or cultivar of mushrooms, dosage, individual physiology, and set and setting, as was shown in experiments led by Timothy Leary at Harvard University in the early 1960s. Once ingested, psilocybin is rapidly metabolized to psilocin, which then acts on serotonin receptors in the brain. The mind-altering effects of psilocybin typically last from two to six hours, although to individuals under the influence of psilocybin, the effects may seem to last much longer, since the drug can distort the perception of time. Psilocybin has a low toxicity and a relatively low harm potential, and reports of lethal doses of the drug are rare. Several modern bioanalytical methods have been adapted to rapidly and accurately screen the levels of psilocybin in mushroom samples and body fluids. Since the 1990s, there has been a renewal of scientific research into the potential medical and psychological therapeutic benefits of psilocybin for treating conditions including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, cluster headaches, and anxiety related to terminal cancer. Possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms has been outlawed in most countries, and it has been classified as a scheduled drug by many national drug laws