Perceived harm, motivations for use and subjective experiences of recreational psychedelic 'magic' mushroom use

J Psychopharmacol. 2020 Sep;34(9):999-1007. doi: 10.1177/0269881120936508. Epub 2020 Jul 17.


Background: Data on actual harm of magic mushrooms suggest that toxicity and abuse potential is low, however, their legal status suggests otherwise. We aimed to gauge perception of harm of magic mushrooms in both users and mushroom-naïve participants. We also aimed to observe differences in expectations of effects between users and mushroom-naïve participants, and whether motivations for use predicted their expected effects.

Method: In total, 73 polydrug users with experience of using magic mushrooms and 78 mushroom-naïve participants completed an online survey. We asked participants to rank a list of 10 substances from most dangerous to least dangerous and questioned them about expectation of effect using a modified magic mushroom expectation questionnaire. Users were asked about their motivations for using magic mushrooms.

Results: Both groups perceive mushrooms to be safer than heroin, cocaine, prescription painkillers, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), ecstasy, tobacco and alcohol. However, the mushroom-naïve group ranked mushrooms as significantly more dangerous than the user group. Non-users reported greater expectancy for negative intoxication. Users reported greater expected entactogenic, prosocial, aesthetic and mood effects, and perceptual alterations. Finally, expectant effects of mushroom use were associated with different motivations for use, for example using for personal psychotherapy was associated with expectation of increased entactogenic effects and decreased negative effects.

Conclusion: Our data suggest a general perception of harm that is in line with data on actual harm, but at odds with current legal classifications. Future clinical investigations may require management of negative intoxication expectation of participants with no prior experience of psilocybin.

Keywords: Magic mushrooms; perceived harm; psilocybin; subjective effects.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / adverse effects
  • Hallucinogens / pharmacology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Psilocybe*
  • Psilocybin / adverse effects
  • Psilocybin / pharmacology*
  • Recreational Drug Use*
  • Young Adult


  • Hallucinogens
  • Psilocybin

Supplementary concepts

  • Psilocybe cubensis