Researchers decode hallucinogens in mushrooms
Chemists have discovered how mushrooms produce psilocybin, the substance that creates hallucinations and altered consciousness. Four different enzymes are responsible for this and will probably soon be able to be produced in the laboratory.
Path to the spirit world
The magical mushrooms have been a "mount" in the spirit world in shamanism for thousands of years, just like the toadstool.
In Central America in particular, they played a central role in spiritual rituals and Mayan medicine.
If we ingest the mushrooms, the psilocybin turns into psilocin, which binds to the "happiness hormone" serotonin and thus leads to hallucinations that can be compared to LSD.
Hallucinogenic bald heads
Psilocybin occurs especially in mushrooms of the genus bald heads, in Central Europe in the pointed-conical bald head. The concentration of psilocybin is highest at 1.78% in Psilocybe azurescens and lowest at P. Infomans at 0.16%.
How does psilocybin work?
Quantities up to 6 mg trigger a slight intoxication, the typical dose is around 10 mg. At more than 20 mg, a strong hallucinogenic effect sets in. Those affected feel euphoric, physically light and full of energy. Your visual perception changes, objects and living beings appear smaller or larger and in different colors.
A psychologically undesirable effect is the so-called horror trip, which is associated with panic attacks, but psychotic side effects are far less dangerous than with LSD. Vomiting and nausea can also occur, especially at high doses. Medicine has no organic damage.
However, like all psychedelic substances, psilocybin can trigger an already latent psychosis. The consequences are distorted sensory perception and limited self-perception.
Legal situation in Germany
Mushrooms containing psilocybin are among the non-marketable and non-marketable substances in Germany, handling them is prohibited to the general public, but not consumption.
The ethnomycologist Gordon Wasson coined the term "magic mushrooms" in 1958 in an article of the same name in the magazine "Life". Shortly afterwards, the chemist Albert Hoffmann isolated the psilocin from cultivated fruiting bodies.
Biosynthesis with enzymes
The chemist Janis Fricke and his team from Jena have now decoded the biosynthesis of psilocybin. They found that the mushrooms use four enzymes to reshape the amino acid tryptopan.
How is psilocybin created?
A previously unknown group of tryptophan decarboxylases cleaves a carboxyl group from the amino acid. Then a monooxygenase appends an alcohol group and a kinase supplements a phosphate group. A methyltransferase then connects two methyl groups to the molecule. This is how psilocybin is created.
The scientists produced three of the four enzymes with fungal and bacterial cultures. Together with 4-hydrox-L-tryptophan, they reconstructed the biosynthesis of psilocybin in the laboratory.
If psilocybin can be made biosynthetically, it could provide the basis for new drugs. Doctors promise a lot of medicines based on psilocybon for anxiety patients: These include general anxiety disorders, specific anxiety disorders, but also depression and anxiety in cancer patients. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)