There's new evidence that magic mushrooms could be among the safest recreational drugs

Ask a healthy person who’s tripped on magic mushrooms what it felt like, and they will probably tell you they saw sounds or heard colours: The crash-bang of a dropped box took on an aggressive, dark shape. A bright green light seemed to emit a piercing, high-pitched screech.

It doesn’t exactly scream “safe place.”

Nevertheless, experts say this is one of the reasons magic mushrooms aren’t nearly as dangerous as other recreational drugs — this type of experience is not one they’d likely be driven to repeat, making it unlikely to be addictive. Plus, the drugs have yet to be linked to an overdose.

A new survey provides some additional support to that idea.

The survey, published Wednesday by independent British research company Global Drug Survey, found that of the more than 10,000 people who reported taking magic mushrooms in 2016, just 0.2% of them reported needing emergency medical treatment. That figure is more than five times lower than the rate for alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamines.

While this sounds promising, it’s important to keep in mind that these results are from a survey, essentially a questionnaire in which people are asked about their behaviours. It is not a scientific study — there are no controls or variables, and people’s results could be influenced by everything from fear about being truthful to how well they remember an event. In other words, there’s plenty of room for human error, so these findings should be taken with a grain of salt. In addition, like any drug, magic mushrooms can come with risks, including intense feelings of panic and anxiety that can accompany a psychedelic experience or “trip.”

Still, a growing body of scientific research does suggest that magic mushrooms are safe and, more importantly, that they could have therapeutic uses for people struggling with mental illness.

In actuality, the cross-wiring of “seeing sounds” or “hearing colours” is known scientifically as synesthesia, and it may be one example of the underlying mechanism by which the drug works to alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

David Nutt, the director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London and one of the researchers leading the charge for studying these uses, told Business Insider in January that he believed psilocybin, magic mushrooms’ main psychoactive ingredient, would be approved as a medical treatment for depression within 10 years.

And as far as shrooms’ safety profile generally, said Nutt, “We know it’s a safe drug; probably tens of millions of people have used it. And so far as we know there’s never been a death.”

More from Erin Brodwin:

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