OSU researchers discover why magic mushrooms become magical

Magic mushrooms produce a natural hallucinogenic chemical called psilocybin- something that's been banned in the U.S. since the 70s. (WSYX/WTTE)

Magic mushrooms produce a natural hallucinogenic chemical called psilocybin- something that's been banned in the U.S. since the 70s. "There's been prohibition on the science for decades and so the science has really fallen behind," says OSU plant pathologist Jason Slot.

Scientists at Ohio State have been studying the mushrooms, trying to figure why they evolved to become magical in the first place. "Fungi are very mysterious organisms but they seem to be involved in a lot of important things in the environment," adds Slot.

They found that mushrooms growing in environments where there are lots of insects- like on a rotten log or animal manure- are able to transfer the hallucinogenic portions of their DNA among each other. The mushrooms are then equipped with the magical properties they need to ward off insects. "They're kind of like the closest thing to studying alien life on earth. They're very different from any kind of animal we know or plants that we're more familiar with," says graduate student Emile Gluck-Thaler.

Some researchers believe the mind-altering chemical may be helpful in treating neurological diseases like depression and addiction. "There are already clinics around the world where certain hallucinogens are being employed for psychotherapy," says Slot.

The OSU researchers hope that understanding the mushrooms better will help remove any stigma, and that one day they may be as common as medical marijuana in the U.S. "We can certainly influence public opinion by showing people that there is an ecological significance to these."

A ballot measure was filed last year in California that would decriminalize psilocybin. It's being sponsored by a man who says he used magic mushrooms to help him stop using heroin. If he gets enough signatures, California will vote on the ballot later this year.

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