What are the Differences Between Psilocybin (Magic) Mushrooms and LSD?

Psilocybin (magic) mushrooms and LSD are two of the most popular “classical” psychedelics. While they share many similarities, there are also some subtle differences between the two substances. In this article, we shed light on these similarities and differences.

Dosages

The restrictions on research of psychedelic compounds coupled with the subjective nature of each psychedelic experience makes it difficult to get especially specific about comparing LSD and psilocybin experiences. Still, major thresholds, such as the dose at which effects are felt, can be marked.

Generally speaking, users begin to experience minor effects of LSD with doses of 20 micrograms (µg).1 By comparison, magic mushrooms tend to produce noticeable effects at dosages of about 0.25 grams.2

The typical recreational dose of LSD taken is usually between 50 and 150 µg 3, whereas common recreational doses of magic mushrooms range from 1 to 2.5 grams. 2 One can expect these experiences to be, from an intensity perspective, fairly similar.

The “saturation point,” or the dose at which the effects will more or less stay the same even if higher doses are taken, seems to be around 400 to 500 µg for LSD 1 and above 9 grams for dried psilocybe cubensis, which is one of the most commonly seen species of psychedelic mushroom. 4 5

Neurological Mechanism

Before comparing lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to mushrooms, it’s important to note that psilocybe mushrooms typically contain three psychoactive compounds. The most prominent is psilocybin, with psilocin and baeocystin appearing second and third most often, respectively. Of course, exact percentage content of each compound varies slightly from one mushroom to the other, but studies on one of the most widely known magic mushroom species, psilocybe cubensis, showed an average of 0.63% psilocybin content, 0.60% psilocin content, and 0.025% baeocystin content. Other common species of psychedelic mushrooms have an even higher ratio of psilocybin to psilocin. 6

It must be pointed out that psilocybin is a “prodrug” of psilocin, and is dephosphorylated in the body, converting to psilocin, which is the compound that produces hallucinogenic effects. 7

LSD and psilocin are chemically similar molecules. Both possess a dual indole ring that makes them structurally similar to serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters in the brain. Because of their analogous indole rings, LSD and psilocin function as partial agonists for many serotonin receptors, specifically the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) receptors, which are associated with mood regulation. 1 8 One of the primary sites of hallucinogenic activity is the 5-HT2A receptor, for which LSD has a greater affinity. 9

In layman’s terms, this means that LSD and psilocin function as a “bonus reservoir” of serotonin, with minimal impact on brain chemistry (outside of psilocin indirectly producing dopamine production in the basal ganglia 10) after the duration of the trip. LSD also acts as a dopamine substitute and has an affinity for D2 dopamine receptors, whereas psilocin does not. 8

Effects/Nature of Trip

Length of Trip

The most obvious difference between LSD and magic mushrooms is the length of time that a trip will last. Typically, an LSD experience lasts between 6 and 11 hours, with the peak coming at about the 2 or 3 hour mark. 11 With psychedelic mushrooms, a trip will last roughly 4 to 7 hours, with a peak at 1 or 2 hours after ingestion. 12 Recently, it was discovered that one of the primary reasons that the effects of LSD last as long as they do is that the aforementioned serotonin receptors form a “lid” over the LSD molecule upon binding. 13

Experiential Differences: Theory

Unfortunately, the legal status of these compounds has greatly limited the number of studies available that describe the experiential difference between LSD and magic mushrooms. General descriptions have emerged by way of collected anecdotes, but it is important to note that experience varies greatly based on the individual taking either substance, their expectations, and even more heavily on “set and setting” before and during the trip.

Before, we mentioned that LSD has a higher affinity for 5-HT receptors in the brain, but this simply means that LSD is a stronger compound than psilocybin by weight, 9 and does not necessarily speak to a functional difference in experience (at least, not one that academia has documented well yet), as the normal dosage of mushroom vastly outweighs the small dosage of LSD one usually takes.

Some magic mushrooms, as already explained, have more than one psychoactive compound present. However, the compound may not necessarily produce a radically different experience than psilocybin/psilocin, as baeocystin is an analog of psilocybin, and what we do know about this compound seems to indicate that it creates a similar experience to psilocybin. 14

Experiential Differences: Anecdotes

While hard scientific evidence demonstrating an experiential difference between the two substances is hard to find, general anecdotes about either experience have emerged. For example, magic mushrooms users may report that a trip is more “in tune with nature” or an LSD user may feel as if they are somewhat more capable of “normal” social interaction than they would be on a dose of psilocybin mushrooms, which is typically more associated with introspection. The “come up” of a mushroom trip is also often reported as more intense than that of LSD.

Still, these are all obviously abstract ideas and nothing that can be specifically quantified with scientific study. Every person, set and setting, and individual experience (even on the same substance) will be somewhat different.

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