Newswise – Calls to U.S. poison control centers related to psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms,” among teens and young adults surged after several U.S. cities and states began decriminalizing the hallucinogen, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found have.

Between 2018 and 2022, psilocybin-related calls more than tripled from 152 to 464 among teenagers ages 13 to 19 and from 125 to 294 among adults ages 20 to 25, according to anonymized data from the National Poison Data System than doubled. Local and state efforts to decriminalize the possession, use, and cultivation of psilocybin began in May 2019. Oregon and Colorado have decriminalized psilocybin, as have several cities, including Washington, DC, Detroit, and Seattle.

In comparison, the number of psilocybin-related calls to poison control centers for patients ages 13 to 25 remained largely unchanged between 2013 and 2018, the researchers found.

“It concerns me greatly that children are having access to these products,” said Christopher Holstege, MD, director of UVA Health’s Blue Ridge Poison Center and chief of the division of medical toxicology at the UVA School of Medicine. “We have limited data on the potential long-term consequences for children’s developing brains when they are exposed to compounds that affect brain neurotransmission. “We also do not fully understand why some people experience significant adverse complications from psilocybin, so-called “bad trips,” which can result in harm to the person taking psilocybin or to others who may become victims of violent behavior.”

The effects of psilocybin

During the ten years examined in the study, most calls involved intentional use of psilocybin (81.1% of calls aged 13 to 19 and 78.3% of calls aged 20 up to 25 years). Men made up about 75% of calls in both age groups.

Approximately 75% of adolescents ages 13 to 19 and 72% of young adults required some type of medical attention after exposure to psilocybin alone. Researchers found that the most common effects of the drug were hallucinations or delusions (36.6% of calls), agitation (27.6%), unusually fast heart rate (20.2%) and confusion (16%). The powerful psychological effects of psilocybin, even in moderate doses, can cause side effects that can include anxiety, disorientation, fear, sadness, paranoia, and panic attacks. Impaired judgment and cognition caused by psilocybin can lead to dangerous behavior, accidents, self-harm, and even a risk of suicide. There have been reports of deaths from falling or jumping from tall buildings attributed to the use of psilocybin.

The researchers note that the increase in psilocybin-related calls among young people between 2018 and 2022 is “particularly alarming” because use of the hallucinogen is banned for people ages 21 and younger, even in cities and states , in which it was decriminalized.

“As psilocybin may become more widely available, it is important for parents to be aware that psilocybin is also available in edible forms such as chocolate and gummy bears,” said Rita Farah, PharmD, MPH, PhD, Blue Ridge epidemiologist Poison Center. “And we’ve learned from our experience with edible cannabis that young children can mistake edibles for candy.”

If someone has an adverse reaction to psilocybin or another substance, trained health care providers at the Blue Ridge Poison Center are available 24 hours a day. Call 800.222.1222 for assistance. Calls are free and confidential.

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