When it comes to magic mushrooms, and research into their uses, it’s the psilocybin particle that frequently takes centre stage. Psilocybin is the most abundant psychedelic component in shrooms and magic truffles. Currently, research into the benefits of magic mushrooms often just utilises this compound alone, instead of the whole fungus. So, why is the whole mushroom better? It’s time to learn why the entourage effect matters.
What Is The Entourage Effect?
New research has shown that there are many more effective compounds in magic mushrooms than just psilocybin. Additionally, it is highly probable that they play a vital role in the psychedelic effects of shrooms. This is known as an “entourage effect”. It is widely acknowledged to exist with cannabis. Earlier research into cannabis’ properties focussed solely on THC. Soon however, studies found that it is a whole constellation of compounds that come together to create its effect. It is now agreed that CBD, among other compounds, is vital for cannabis to reach its full potential. Interestingly, it’s something we’re only just discovering when it comes to magic mushrooms. It seems psychoactive compounds like to hang in gangs.
So, psilocybin is the compound that typically draws the most attention. Magic mushrooms contain in between 0.2-1.8% psilocybin by dry weight, depending upon the species. Once consumed, psilocybin is quickly transformed to its active metabolite, psilocin. Both psilocybin and psilocin bind to serotonin receptors. So, these twin troublemakers are accountable for the majority of the psychedelic effects of magic mushrooms.
Don’t Underestimate Baeocystin!
Psilocyin makes up around 0.02-0.6% of the dry weight of magic mushrooms, depending on the species. Then, even lesser known baeocystin is the next most abundant molecule— however, we do not currently understand much about it. Like psilocin, it’s another derivative of psilocybin, so it is likely to also have some sort of psychoactive result. Scientist Jochen Gartz described how a small dose of 4mg provided him with “a gentle hallucinogenic experience”. Baeocystin is present at around 0.005-0.36% in dried magic mushrooms, depending upon the species.
Enter The Beta-Carbolines!
The presence of beta-carbolines has also been recently discovered in magic mushrooms. Beta-carbolines are a class of alkaloids that are found in many plant types. Most notably, the plant medicine ayahuasca includes the beta-carbolines harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine. These obstruct the monoamine oxidase (MAO) enzyme that exists within our stomachs. Ayahuasca brews include the psychedelic molecule DMT, which is normally broken down by the MAO enzyme. You can see now how the beta-carbolines enter play; they block MAO and help the DMT survive longer in the body, where it can have a psychoactive impact.
Recently, the beta-carbolines harmane, harmine, norharmane and perlolyrine were found in four species of shroom. Like DMT in ayahuasca, psilocin is also broken down in the body by the MAO enzyme. However, now we know of the existence of beta-carbolines in magic mushrooms, we can infer that they are blocking the MAO enzyme! This extends and boosts the psilocybin/psilocin experience by preventing it from being broken down.
Shrooms and Ayahuasca— More Similar Than We Thought!
Fascinatingly, the discovery that magic mushrooms also include beta-carbolines could imply that ayahuasca and magic mushrooms are more comparable than we thought! However, are there enough beta-carbolines in magic mushrooms to have a significant effect on the user’s experience? Well, the most abundant of the beta-carbolines found in the species of magic mushrooms was harmane, which was found to be between 0.2-21 ug/g of dried mass. In ayahuasca brews, beta-carbolines are active at levels as low as 0.5 micrograms for an average person. This suggests that a moderate magic mushroom dose (around 2 grams of dried shrooms) would be ample for these beta-carbolines to contribute to the trip.
Two Studies Stand Out
Since most clinical research into magic mushrooms has focussed entirely on psilocybin, there’s not much info out there comparing the subjective results of psilocybin compared to whole mushrooms. Nevertheless, there exists two animal studies with pertinent results. In a study from 2009, mice were given either pure psilocybin or magic mushroom extract. The results showed that magic mushroom extract was more effective at lowering nervous behaviours in the mice than pure psilocybin alone.
Another study, in 2015, found that magic mushroom extract was around 10 times more effective at altering anxious behavioural actions in mice compared to pure psilocin. This appears to confirm what researchers hypothesised when they discovered beta-carbolines in magic mushroom types— that the entourage effect in magic mushrooms may be the key to their effectiveness. Basically, as they taught you in school, teamwork usually produces a better result.
Strengths May Vary
Additionally, it was recently found that different parts of the same mushroom can contain varying amounts of psychoactive substances. In some species, the caps can include twice as much psilocybin as the stems! Similarly magic truffles contain different quantities of psilocybin when compared to magic mushrooms.
So What Does This Mean?
So what does this mean for our understanding of the magic mushroom experience? Generally, almost all medical research on humans into the therapeutic potential of magic mushrooms has utilized isolated psilocybin or psilocin rather than extract of the whole shroom.
Why The Entourage Effect Matters
However, this new interest in the entourage effect will likely grow. Perhaps in a future when psychedelic treatments are commonplace, the difference between consumers choosing a supplement of isolated psilocybin by a pharmaceutical company, or a microdose of real shroom or truffle will come down to aspects like the entourage effect. This is why the entourage effect matters.
Real vs. Synthetic
So, when reading a research study on synthetic psilocybin or psilocin it is good to keep this difference in mind. And next time you trip on shrooms or truffles remember to appreciate the harmony of compounds, working together to create your experience!