The first ever medical report on the effects of magic mushrooms is featured in an article in Current Biology. The excerpt is from a 1799 report entitled ‘On A Poisonous Species of Agaric’ from an issue of The London Medical and Physical Journal.
The psychological effects of hallucinogenic, or ‘magic’ mushrooms were first documented in the medical literature in 1799: a forty year-old father of four, JS, collected wild mushrooms in London’s Green Park and cooked them as a stew for breakfast for himself and his four young children. The apothecary Everard Brande described what happened then:
“Edward, one of the children (eight years old), who had eaten a large proportion of the mushrooms, as they thought them, was attacked with fits of immoderate laughter, nor could the threats of his father or mother refrain him. To this succeeded vertigo, and a great deal of stupor, from which he was roused by being called or shaken, but immediately relapsed. […] he sometimes pressed his hands on different parts of his abdomen, as if in pain, but when roused and interrogated as to it, he answered indifferently, yes, or no, as he did to every other question, evidently without any relation to what was asked. About the same time the father, aged forty, was attacked with vertigo, and complained that everything appeared black, then wholly disappeared”
The report is curious for two reasons. The first is that, contrary to the title, the mushroom wasn’t a ‘species of Agaric’.
But the report clearly discusses the classic ‘magic mushroom’ found in the UK, psilocybe semilanceata, which is a small brown fungus that has its hallucinogenic effects through the serotonin system – as do most recreational psychedelic drugs.
The other curious thing is that this hallucinogenic mushroom is common in the UK but seemingly lay undiscovered until 1799.
In contrast, mushrooms from the same species that are equally common in South America were first recorded some 2,000 years ago and became a central part of indigenous spirituality. The Aztecs called these mushrooms teonanacatl – the God mushroom – and were considered a way of accessing the divine.
The British, it seemed, either missed or ignored the fungus, and considered it nothing more than an inedible brown pest.