Why did my friend temporarily lose his mind?
August 27, 2007 11:33 AM   Subscribe

MushroomsFilter: What causes a person to "lose their mind" temporarily on magic mushrooms?

This weekend, a large group of my friends and I went up north to a cottage here in Ontario.
On Saturday night, one of my friends announced that he had brought magic mushrooms, and about 10 of us did them. Most did 1 gram or less, and had a great time.
My friend who brought them, and myself, both did about 3 and a half grams (or an eighth of an ounce). We're both around 220lbs, and have both done mushrooms many times in the past.
I had a great time, remember it all, and felt very in control the whole time.

However, after about 3 hours, my friend lost it. We were just sitting around chatting under the stars, and he started sweating profusely. Before we knew it, he started pacing back and forth, making odd sounds then ranting continually about "the establishment" and repeating various inane sentences like "Am I established? I'm established." and "The establishment is the cause and the reason". Interspersed with various swearing and odd noisemaking.
This included rolling around on the ground, and at one point eating dirt (which we stopped him from doing).

We took him inside and laid him down on the couch and stayed with him. It continued, all-told, for almost an hour, then he just snapped out of it.

Spent the next 20 minutes extremely paranoid and asking what happened, convinced at first that it was a dream and then that there was something we weren't telling him.

Now, I've had bad trips on mushrooms before but nothing like this, however I've heard of it happening before. I knew that he would be okay, and we stayed with him and kept him drinking water.

However, without discussing the positive and negative effects of poisoning ourselves with magic mushrooms, I'm wondering if someone can explain to me why this happens?

Did the drugs make his mind go into a state of dreaming, where he had no control? What causes it?
posted by anonymous to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It was, in essence, just a bad trip, but some people are far more prone to extreme ones than others. Psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD (and even marijuana, to an extent) can act on slight chemical imbalances that don't normally manifest themselves in daily life, and while this can be long lasting with LSD it's extremely unlikely to be harmful on on mushrooms.

It's hard to say what exactly triggers it, it's different in everyone - they always say that your set (mindset) and setting (environment) need to be appropriate, and perhaps he just had a bad day or had a lot on his mind. Is he normally a little uptight or awkward?
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:43 AM on August 27, 2007

However, without discussing the positive and negative effects of poisoning ourselves with magic mushrooms, I'm wondering if someone can explain to me why this happens?

I dont know if you consider this moralizing but: youre ingesting a psychoactive substance. How the drug affects the brain and particular psychology of a person is largely unknown and unpredictable. There are many causes for a bad trip.

I dont think theres any specific reason why things turn out the way they do. Its largely subjective. For instance theres no answer like "eating mcdolands before shrooms leads to dirt eating."

Unpredictability and loss of control are way psychoactive drugs arent mainstream and are considered a risk.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:43 AM on August 27, 2007

Psilocybin, like most hallucinogens, tends to have two quite different sets of effects depending on whether what's called the "breakthrough" point is reached-- which depends on the dosage, but also on the individual and a variety of situation-specific factors.

"At low doses, hallucinatory effects occur, including walls that seem to breathe, a vivid enhancement of colors and the animation of organic shapes."

"At higher doses, experiences tend to be less social and more entheogenic, often catalyzing intense spiritual experiences. For example, in the Marsh Chapel Experiment, which was run by a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School under the supervision of Timothy Leary, almost all of the graduate degree divinity student volunteers who received psilocybin reported profound religious experiences."
posted by ITheCosmos at 11:47 AM on August 27, 2007

The first problem with your question is determining what you ingested. Did you really ingest a psilocybin mushroom? Or did you eat a supermarket button mushroom that had been prepared with phencyclidine, LSD, DMT, or something else? You don't know and probably have no practical way of finding out.

The second problem is determining how much of the whatever-chemical was ingested. You don't know and have no way of finding out. Unlike pharmaceutical companies, mycelia do not standardize the amount of psychoactive compound they deliver, so even carefully weighing them as you describe is not very reliable in terms of expected effects.

The third problem is that you have asked a 'why' question about the functioning of the mind. These questions are hard and there are no good answers to them - the mechanisms of conscious awareness are complicated and still partially obscure, especially at the level of the neurotransmitter which psychoactive compounds mimic.

Your friend experienced a period of toxic delirium - that much is clear from your description. Delirium has nothing to do with normal dreaming, which occurs during REM sleep. Whether the delirium occurred in the context of a systemic serotonin syndrome, or whether it was due solely to a drug action on his limbic system, is not possible to determine. Frankly I don't think anyone knows enough to answer your question with certainty.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:21 PM on August 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

In terms of his obsession with "the establishment," see Set and Setting, one of the key factors to consider when tripping. The drug is a catalyst, but your mind and environment provide the fuel.
posted by alms at 12:29 PM on August 27, 2007

There's more to setting dosage than physical weight. Different people who are the same weight will respond differently to the same dosage.

For one thing, the mushrooms themselves may not be consistent.

But what's more important is liver function. Different people's livers are more or less efficient in processing the toxin that causes the hallucinogenic effect, allowing more or less of it into the blood.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:40 PM on August 27, 2007

To put it briefly, his biochemistry and mindset weren't the same as yours, and his dose may have also been greater. Metabolism of drugs [and medications, food, etc.] varies a lot, both between people and within the same person at different times and under different conditions. There's also the question of mindset: psychedelic experiences are, as you no doubt know, highly dependent on the mindset and environment of the person taking the drug.

Furthermore, not all "magic mushrooms" have the same amount of psilocybin, even if they're from the same batch. Thus, the fact that you both had 3.5g of mushroom doesn't mean that you got the same amount of the actual psychoactive substance [psilocybin or psilocin.] [Here it should, perhaps, be noted that it's not all that likely that your mushrooms were doped; psychedelic mushroom species grow wild in many parts of the world, and they can be cultivated as well, so they're often not very hard to get. The experience you describe is certainly not unheard of for high doses of mushrooms, and chemicals like LSD, PCP, or DMT, which are synthesized in a lab from precursor chemicals that are themselves often illegal, are often harder to get. ]

As to whether he "went into a state of dreaming": Such extremely intense trips [bad or not] do happen, yeah, and are more likely to happen the higher your dose is. The chance of having such a trip may also be increased by the consumption of other drugs (including non-psychedelic drugs like pot or alcohol.) The neurochemistry behind it is not something that's well-understood, unfortunately, because study of psychedelic drugs is limited, to say the least, by today's political climate. This would apply even if it wasn't psilocybin/psilocin that caused the trip; we just don't know that much about the science behind tripping [as caused by any drug], despite the fact that psychedelic compounds are really very interesting from a neurochemical point of view.
posted by ubersturm at 1:02 PM on August 27, 2007

ikkyu2 is on the money -- buying a genuine psilocybe from a dealer is going to be on par with trying to buy a genuine Rolex off the street, since dealers have many other substances at their leisure with which to create a pseudo-psychedelic drug. You can't be sure of what you all ingested until you figure out where these mushrooms came from.

With that said, psilocybin's effects are largely an echo chamber for one's frame of mind. It will likely be a cakewalk for those who are content and happy souls, but it could become the spawn of Satan for anyone dealing with a lot of mental baggage at the time. Psilocybin also has a "ramping up" effect with anxiety and weak chills before the psychedelic effects set in, and that can scare some first timers and distort one's frame of mind. In my opinion, psilocybin is not really a drug for fucking around haphazardly with, and I think is one of the few that should be treated with respect.
posted by calhound at 1:09 PM on August 27, 2007

I had someone from the DEA come to a class once and give the "Shrooms are really PCP" talk. I didn't quite understand; from what I could tell in my local market PCP was both more expensive and much harder to come by than mushrooms. Shrooms are easy to grow, and depending on where you are in the country may grow naturally if you know where to look. LSD now is similarly harder to get.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:43 PM on August 27, 2007

The first problem with your question is determining what you ingested...

ikkyu2 is on the money -- buying a genuine psilocybe from a dealer is going to be on par with trying to buy a genuine Rolex off the street

This is really BS as anyone who has had any real experience in the black market is well aware.

Not only are psychadelic mushrooms a relatively inexpensive drug commodity, varieties of which grows wild widely in the south and pacific northwest, and the cultivation of which is well understood and easily within the technological grasp of any dedicated hobbyist, they are also morphologically quite distinct and easy to identify.

Anybody who is acquainted with mushrooms would easily identify them by appearance and the high is pretty unmistakable. There is no evidence of widespread faking of magic mushrooms. You're basically just making this up.
posted by nanojath at 1:50 PM on August 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

(Other than that though, ikkyu2's response was pretty much spot on).
posted by nanojath at 1:56 PM on August 27, 2007

There was an incident in Denmark a couple of years ago when somebody on mushrooms killed a stranger, some woman living some houses down the street, really not knowing what he did.

I figure if you intoxicate you with stuff that is difficult to get exactly the right amount of, you are in for some fun stuff ;-) (you have to do some really good math before getting the right dose: I weigh so and so, I slept so and so well last night, I feel more or less stressed, I had so much or little to drink that is still affecting my body, my athletic condition is so good or bad, etc.).
posted by KimG at 3:03 PM on August 27, 2007

Seconding nanojath.
posted by Roach at 3:16 PM on August 27, 2007

KimG, I'd sure like to see a citation on that anecdote because it is totally unbelievable. The idea that mushrooms are some kind of crazy, unpredictable psychotic reaction waiting to happen is simply untrue. The use of mushrooms is incredibly common, they are reasonably consistent and predictable. To the non-naive user dropping mushrooms is no more an unknown quantity than getting moderately drunk.

For heaven's sake, I'm really not a wild-eyed advocate of gobbling handfuls of magic mushrooms, my own days of experimentation are long lost in some fictional-seeming past life when I didn't routinely refer to myself in the third person as "daddy." I would definitely default to the advice that people should err on the side of caution and safety whenever ingesting any kind of mind altering chemical, even when supermarkets sell it in silver cans advertised by large-breasted women.

It is a fact that some people don't mix with mushrooms and it is also a fact that they are a relatively powerful hallucinogen that can disassociate you from reality pretty extremely at very high doses. But my God, can we have a reasonable discussion about commonplace drugs with extensive and well-documented histories of human use without all the drug war hysteria? You wanna talk about a drug that routinely facilitates murder? Let's talk about alcohol.
posted by nanojath at 4:26 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Both psilocybin and Amanita Muscaria mushrooms are sometimes called 'magic mushrooms' and your friend's reaction seems to me to fit descriptions of amanita intoxication better than psilocybin, but if they were in fact psilocybin, then I think your friend's reactions to the mushrooms (along with yours and everyone else's) may possibly have some connection to dreaming-- though I think ikkyu2's remarks about dreaming and delirium are very well taken.

As you may know, melatonin (sometimes referred to as the "hormone of darkness") is produced by the pineal gland when it's dark. (It's also produced by the retina, the gut, and the lens, of all places.)

Psilocin and psilocybin, respectively the minor and major hallucinogenic constituents of psilocybin mushrooms, have a strong molecular shape resemblance to melatonin (they have an even more direct resemblance to dimethyl tryptamine, which has been described as an endogenous hallucinogen, and is also claimed to be produced by the pineal and to be the source of the surreality of dreams, though I did not find adequate support for these claims for the purpose of this answer).

According to the Wikipedia article linked above:

Many melatonin users have reported an increase in the vividness or frequency of dreams. High doses of melatonin (50mg) dramatically increased REM sleep time and dream activity in both narcoleptics and normal people.[22]...It has been suggested that nonpolar (lipid-soluble) indolic hallucinogenic drugs emulate melatonin activity in the awakened state and that both act on the same areas of the brain.[22]

Do keep in mind that these statements are referenced to a book dedicated to evangelizing the world for melatonin, but I consider them sufficient to point to at least a possibility that the effects of psilocybin mushrooms, because of the resemblance of their hallucinogenic components to melatonin, could have something in common with dreams.
posted by jamjam at 5:14 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

In response to KimG's allegation of a murderous mushroom maniac, I'm pretty sure PCP, heroin, and alcohol have far worse track records.

Back on to subject though: I have watched a similar breakdown occur in a friend who was tripping, along with several other people who all ate the same dose. This person basically got stuck in a circular thought pattern, and was unable to break out of it, causing the rest of the people tripping with him to be a little freaked out. We basically did what you did with your friend, and rode it out. We theorized that his reaction might have been in part due to his particular brand of mental disorder. I'm not suggesting your friend has any specific mental disorder, but I would say that having certain mental twitches predisposes you to having some interesting trips. A certain family member of mine had a bad trip on acid, and we think it's because she cannot handle not being in control of her mental functions at all times, so she basically just tried to stop tripping. That never works.
posted by nursegracer at 5:26 PM on August 27, 2007

Thirding everything nanojath said.

I have experienced the "break through point" several times. A fun happy go lucky "gee this is fun" goes to "let's eat some more!" and then suddenly you are on planet psychaedelic subway. I have had a couple of extremely hallucinatory trips, including full room visuals where all surfaces are covered by flowing vibrant patterns. And I have also had non-hallucinatory spiritual trips.

I guess my point is that in my experience the mushrooms and dosage vary widely. Once you know what they look like it is very easy to tell if they are real or not. Also when dealing with people in intense situations I have found it is best to remind them that they are on a drug, and it will go away, so just hold on and try to enjoy the ride.
posted by Big_B at 5:30 PM on August 27, 2007

jamjam: the neurochemistry isn't necessarily quite that simple. Tryptamines are more closely similar, structure-wise, to DMT [which is endogenously produced, albeit in small amounts] or serotonin, and there are non-tryptamine psychedelic drugs, the largest class of which is phenethylamines, which are more structurally similar to other neurotransmitters like dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, etc. Interaction with serotonin receptors (specifically, the 5-HT2A receptor) is a primary part of the way psychedelic drugs work, according to current wisdom. Plus, there's the matter of metabolites: psilocybin, for example, is dephosphorylated within the body to form psilocin, which is probably the active form in the brain. Other, less-studied hallucinogens may undergo similar reactions, and it's the structure of these metabolites that matters, not the structure of the original drug. (Note that it's not always a simple matter of shape, either; charge and the shape of the proteins a molecule interacts with will both affect whether a given similarly-shaped molecule will be able to interact with that system at all.)

Of course, there's a lot that just isn't yet known about serotonin and its regulatory system in general, and about how precisely interaction of non-serotonin molecules with 5-HT receptors produces the effects we perceive as psychedelic. The melatonin explanation proffered by wikipedia thus sounds a little overly simplistic; serotonin, melatonin, and related neurotransmitters are part of a vast and complicated web of reactions, and tinkering with the system produces many non-obvious results. (Take a look at SSRIs, for example!) While melatonin quite possibly may be involved in the series of neurochemical events that comprise the experience of tripping, it's probably not in such a straightforward way, and may not end up involving the REM machinery at all. (And there are plenty of aspects of REM sleep that are not generally replicated in psychedelic experiences - REM atonia, for example.)
posted by ubersturm at 6:08 PM on August 27, 2007

nthing the "don't know what you are ingesting" as BS.

come on people. they are cheap and easy to grow, or FIND IN A PASTURE, and it would be a waste of time, money, and reputation to do anything stupid like try to alter it.

Not to mention the fact that the different effects of the chemicals listed and those of mushrooms would be immediately obvious to anyone who's done it before.

But yeah, people react differently, often dramatically, and it sounds like your friend got off relatively easy, as far as bad trips go.
posted by Espoo2 at 6:21 PM on August 27, 2007

If you're eating dried mushrooms, I can see how you would not be able to clearly identify the species, or know if they were just plain button mushrooms laced with something. My first thought was, "did they eat fly agaric, or psilocybin mushrooms?" Both grow in the US.

In the long run, it doesn't make any difference. Your friend is probably well advised to not conitnue recreational use of these substances, and I would simply suggest that you check out erowid and support the Multidisciplinary Association for the Study of Psychodelics if you want further answers to these questions. Science doesn't really have them yet. There is considerable research that hopes to answer questions about these drugs so that they might be used for therapeutic purposes.

And that Marsh Chapel Experiment was looked into more deeply by Rick Doblin. It's more commonly known as Walter Pahnke's Good Friday Experiment. The original write up left some important information out. You can find the 1991 update, which includes information about the long term experiences of the test subjects, here.

I just finished taking an anthropology course titled "Hallucinogens and Culture" and while I wasn't thrilled with out text, it was Plants of the Gods by Richard Evans Schultes and Albert Hoffman. Yes, that Albert Hoffman.
posted by bilabial at 7:48 PM on August 28, 2007

nthing the "don't know what you are ingesting" as BS.

I have a paper from the 90's describing that 92% of tabs purporting to contain Ecstasy (MDMA), seized in one county over a year's time actually contained none of that compound. The most common substitute was meth plus LSD; meth plus DMT, MDA, PCA, and other similar-but-not-identical compounds.

I've also seen plentiful reports of button mushrooms (grocery store food mushrooms) dried down and adulterated with all sorts of compounds, including LSD and PCP. If you read the MMWR or the DEA newsletter, you'd have read these reports too.

Why would MDMA dealers be 92% dishonest, but mushroom dealers 100% honest? Growing a psychedelic mushroom in a manure pile is smelly and takes months; hunting for them takes hours and hours, in addition to a certain amount of expertise in being able to identify them.

Adulterating a mushroom with LSD or PCP is a matter of completing a moderately difficult synthesis - a few hours will produce a year's worth of sales - and then dripping a fifth of a milligram onto a store-bought mushroom. Unless the dealer's time is worth nothing to him, it's by far the cheapest and easiest way to produce a mushroom.

In short, obtaining a real psilocybin mushroom is more difficult and costly than obtaining an adulterated one is, and the phenomenon of adulterated mushrooms for sale as psilocybes is well and frequently documented.

That doesn't mean that it's impossible to obtain a psilocybin mushroom. But saying that black market mushrooms are always what they purport to be is, in the words of the poster above, truly BS.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:29 AM on September 5, 2007

« Older The Pre-Emptive Break-Up   |   Oooh, ooh, you look just like Mumy Holly. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.