Looking for a way to keep your brain healthy? Want more focus, a better immune system and improved mental health?
Lion’s mane mushrooms could be the answer. These medicinal mushrooms have been taking centre stage as more and more research shows the incredible benefits they have to offer - from better brain health, improved mood and focus, better mental health and even a stronger immune system.
But mushrooms, that are not of the culinary sort, >have a bit of a stigma attached to them.
Mention “using mushrooms” at the dinner table and granny drops her fork and an uncomfortable silence fills the room.
You see, many people think that you’ve got your standard mushrooms - the kind you chop up in your stir fry, and then you’ve got magic mushrooms.
But there’s a whole other type of mushrooms out there: medicinal mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms are NOT magic mushrooms.
They won’t make you hallucinate or get you high. But they do have some amazing benefits for your brain and your body.
In this blog post we’re going to address the stigma attached to mushrooms that are used medicinally, and answer the question “What is the difference between magic mushrooms and Lion’s mane mushrooms?”.
Magical But NOT Magic
If you want to know what makes a medicinal mushroom different from a magic mushroom, the first place to start is understanding what magic mushrooms really are and why their use is so stigmatized.
The effect a user can get from mushrooms depends on the variety of mushroom and the way it’s used, but humans have been using mushrooms to aid with mental and physical health for centuries.
By learning how mushrooms work inside the human body, you’ll be able to easily see the differences between medicinal and magic mushrooms.
The Mushroom Myth
Are medicinal mushrooms the same as magic mushrooms? The common myth is that mushrooms will give you a high if you eat them, specifically the kind of mushrooms your local supermarket wouldn’t stock!
Anything that isn’t a portobello is instantly suspicious.
In truth, the type of mushrooms people are often referring to when they say ‘magic mushrooms’ are shrooms that contain the hallucinogenic compound of psilocybin.
What’s psilocybin? It’s what puts the ‘magic’ into magic mushrooms. But more on that later…
The stigma surrounding mushrooms doesn’t make a lot of sense, since history shows a variety of cultures using all types of mushrooms (magic and not) for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, since at least 3000BCE.
The myths around mushrooms largely come from the fact that psychedelic mushrooms are classed as a Class A drug and are therefore illegal here in the UK.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are not magic mushrooms.
They don’t contain psilocybin and are therefore not AT ALL hallucinogenic - and they are totally legal.
Mushrooms aren’t something to be afraid of. Scientific studies and traditional medicines show that mushrooms have a multitude of safe uses and beneficial effects.
What Is Psilocybin And What Does It Do?
Psilocybin is found in magic mushrooms - it’s what scientists call a psychotropic chemical, meaning it has an effect on your brain and perceptions of the world.
As one of the most stable psychoactive chemicals found in shrooms, it’s been popular in scientific studies, particularly ones investigating the effect of magic mushrooms on conditions like depression and anxiety.
Psilocybin is the part of the magic mushroom that has some psychedelic effects: like hallucinations, changes in how you perceive time, and often a general feeling of euphoria. Psilocybin isn’t just about a ‘trip’ though.
Lion’s mane mushrooms do not contain ANY psilocybin.
This means they are NOT hallucinogenic - you won’t get a high, see things that aren’t there or suddenly fall in love with the stranger standing next to you.
So Psilocybin Is Bad?
Although psilocybin is the part of the magic mushrooms that’s responsible for the “high”, it’s not all negative.
More recent studies have shown that this psychoactive chemical can repair damaged brain cells. This was discovered through research on mice that had been subjected to electric shocks. While the psilocybin doses appeared to make the mice less fearful and more relaxed, it also appeared to restore some of their partially damaged brain cells.
As you can guess, this was good news for the scientists and the mice.
But psilocybin isn’t the only thing working in your body when you take magic mushrooms.
Psychedelic mushrooms also contain something called baeocystin, which on its own can produce a trip. The amount of baeocystin in magic mushrooms is comparably minor compared to psilocybin, so it’s more like an extra sprinkle of psychedelic seasoning on your shroom experience.
But while it’s the psilocybin that makes magic mushrooms magic, there are other magical (and non-psychedelic) components in mushrooms that have a hugely positive effect on your health.
Magical Mushrooms Without The “Magic”
Psychedelic magic mushrooms aren’t the only mushrooms that can benefit humans. In fact, psilocybin mushrooms make up a tiny portion of the many mushroom varieties that are used medicinally.
Think of Penicillin - This wonder drug that has saved many millions of lives was produced from the fungi Penicillium.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are one such mushroom.
Research shows that Lion’s mane can help to reduce inflammation, improve brain function, protect your nervous system from some degenerative diseases, improve your mood and help to combat several mental and physical health challenges such as anxiety, depression and even cancer.
But to really understand how medicinal mushrooms help us, you need to know about secondary metabolites.
Secondary Metabolites Explained
We won’t get too sciencey here, I promise.
But secondary metabolites are the key to understanding the powerful and positive effects that mushrooms can have.
Secondary metabolites are compounds that are not essential for growth but give an organism a better chance at survival. Good examples of secondary metabolites for humans are proteins, carbohydrates and friendly bacteria.
Many widely used medicines are created from fungi and secondary metabolites. Because we evolved alongside these natural organisms we are able to enjoy their benefits. In fact, our bodies are designed to use secondary metabolites to our advantage, as we have receptors in our body that can take in these non-human molecules.
This is where you can begin to see the difference between magic mushrooms and medicinal mushrooms.
While both psychedelic and medicinal mushrooms work through secondary metabolites, not all secondary metabolites are psychoactive.
You wouldn’t get any kind of psychedelic experiences from taking penicillin, for example.
Lion’s mane mushrooms fit into the medicinal category, not the “magic” category, because they do contain secondary metabolites but they DO NOT contain psilocybin or baeocystin (the psychedelic compounds).
What Makes A Magic Mushroom Psychedelic?
So knowing all the sciencey stuff now, what makes a magic mushroom psychedelic?
A mushroom that contains psychoactive secondary metabolites is a psychedelic mushroom.
The psychoactive metabolites we’re talking about include things that we’ve already covered, like psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin. With over 180 varieties of fungi containing these compounds, magic mushrooms can be found all over the world.
Some of the most popular types of magic mushrooms include Pink Buffalo, Golden Teachers and other (more humorously named) strains of psilocybe cubensis.
What Makes A Mushroom Medicinal?
If psychoactive secondary metabolites make a mushroom psychedelic, what makes a mushroom medicinal?
A mushroom that has secondary metabolites that are not psychoactive is medicinal, not magic.
The use of medicinal mushrooms is widespread, with fungi being used to create antibiotics and other medicines.
Aside from being medicinal, these non-psychoactive mushrooms are popular culinary dishes! Shiitakes, lion’s mane mushrooms and oyster mushrooms are among the many mushroom varieties that are consumed because of their secondary metabolite benefits.
Lion’s mane mushrooms sit firmly in this camp. They are medicinal, not magic.
Medicinal Vs. Magic Mushrooms
So to summarise:
Magic Mushrooms Make You High, Medicinal Mushrooms Don’t
Many mushrooms have medicinal properties (magic mushrooms included!) but not all mushrooms with these properties contain the psychedelic compounds that make you hallucinate.
Magic mushrooms contain psilocybin and baeocystin, which are responsible for the “trip” that many people associate with mushrooms. But medicinal mushrooms, such as Lion’s mane, don’t contain these and CAN NOT make you high or distort your experience of reality.
Magic Mushrooms Are Illegal, Medicinal Mushrooms Are Not
Magic mushrooms are illegal in the UK. While they do grow wild, as a Class A drug it is against the law to possess magic mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms, such as Lion’s mane, are totally legal. You can grow them, pick them, dry them, eat them or sell them just like any type of mushroom that you’d find in the supermarket.
Magic and Medicinal Mushrooms Have Health Benefits
Studies show that both magic mushrooms and medicinal mushrooms have health benefits to offer such as reduced anxiety, better mood, improved immune system function and better brain preservation.
However, as magic mushrooms are illegal and not everyone wants a “trip”, medicinal mushrooms are a safer bet.
Both Magic & Medicinal Mushrooms Have Been Used For Centuries
All types of mushrooms have been used medicinally for centuries. A 2021 study showed that medicinal mushrooms (ones that do not contain psilocybin or cause a high) give us a huge selection of pharmacological uses. They have antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiallergic effects. And the list goes on!
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms - All The Magic With None Of The Highs
What if there was a mushroom that had all the therapeutic benefits of a psychedelic mushroom but didn’t cause a high?
That’s where Lion’s mane mushroom comes in.
The Lion’s mane mushroom, or hericium erinaceus, is known for its ability to reduce inflammation and improve your cognitive health. It’s even been linked more recently to helping fight the onset of dementia.
Lion’s mane does not contain psychoactive secondary metabolites, so it can’t get you high.
This magnificent mushroom is protected by UK law because it’s so rare and sought after. Because Lion’s mane has been found to help with so many issues and not contain any psychedelic compounds, it’s become hugely popular as a supplement and extract.
Medicinal And Magic Mushrooms Explained
When it comes down to it, the most obvious difference between a magic mushroom and a medicinal mushroom is whether it contains a psychoactive secondary metabolite.
Mushrooms that have the chemical psilocybin produce a high and are usually illegal in the UK, but studies still show that they have promise in mental health treatments, making them medicinal in their own way.
On the other hand, medicinal mushrooms have been a staple in human society for 7000 years.
We utilise them in medicine and food almost every day. Mushrooms that do not contain psychoactive secondary metabolites, like Lion’s mane, are quickly becoming the most used and studied because they have all the benefits of mushrooms without the high.
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