What Molecules are in “Magic” Mushrooms?

 Molecules in Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms have recently received considerable attention in the popular news media.  However, aside from (incorrectly) crediting psilocybin as the active compound, these articles pay little or no attention to the molecules within the mushrooms.

First, technically psilocybin is not the active compound in magic mushrooms.  When ingested psilocybin is converted into psilocin, which is the active compound.  Psilocin is the active chemical that is responsible for the observed psychoactive properties.

Second, magic mushrooms contain many other active compounds, which are largely ignored by the community.  These active compounds can be divided into two categories: psilocybin derivatives, which share the hydroxy-tryptamine core; and “other” active molecules.

Below, we list a variety of psilocybin derivatives.  Other active compounds (like phenylethylamine) also contribute to the pharmacology of psychoactive mushrooms.

Psilocybin Derivatives – A Library of Active Molecules

The term “Psilocybin derivatives” refers to a collection of molecules sharing the hydroxy-tryptamine core.  These compounds may vary from psilocybin at one or more positions.  Examples of psilocybin derivatives include the following:

  • Psilocybin;
  • Psilocin (sometimes spelled psilocyn);
  • [3-(2-trimethylaminoethyl)-1H-indol-4-yl] dihydrogen phosphate
  • 4-hydroxy-N,N,N-trimethyltryptamine;
  • Baeocystin (aka [3-(2-methylaminoethyl)-1H-indol-4-yl] dihydrogen phosphate);
  • 4-hydroxy-N-methyltryptamine;
  • Norbaeocystin (aka [3-(aminoethyl)-1H-indol-4-yl] dihydrogen phosphate); and
  • 4-hydroxytryptamine
A Chemical Perspective: Psilocybin and psilocin are two (of many) different molecules found in magic mushrooms.

Aside from psilocybin and psilocin, none of the other psilocybin derivatives listed above has received much attention.  For example, although baeocystin is found within many species of psychoactive mushrooms, no work has been done to understand its pharmacological properties.

Focus on Magic Molecules Instead of Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin technology can be improved by shifting our focus from magic mushrooms to magic molecules.  This can be accomplished by isolating each psilocybin derivative and studying how it affects cellular receptors (e.g., serotonin) both (1) alone and (2) in combination with other molecules.  This approach requires bringing a chemical perspective to a field that is currently defined by mycologists.