LSD vs Magic Mushrooms

LSD and magic mushrooms are two of the most popular recreational psychedelics globally. LSD is also commonly known as acid, and magic mushrooms (or shrooms) are sometimes called psilocybin mushrooms, as per their main active compound. If used in a proper setting and with a proper mindset, they can both induce powerful, mystical experiences. They can both elicit strong perceptual changes and profound spiritual realizations.

However, when comparing a shroom and acid trip, it’s clear that they are experientially quite different. This is in large part due to their distinct chemical compositions, but it also depends on the dosages, personal sensitivity, intention and circumstances of use, and many other factors.

So, let’s look into what makes these two psychedelics similar, and what distinguishes LSD from magic mushrooms.

History of LSD vs Magic Mushroom Use

LSD is a relatively recent human invention. Unlike magic mushrooms, it doesn’t occur naturally, but has to be synthesized in a lab. It was first created by the chemist Albert Hofmann of Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. Hofmann was researching derivatives of lysergic acid, which is an alkaloid isolated from ergot, a fungus that attacks rye. On November 16th, 1938 lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was born. However, it would take another five years for Hofmann to look into the compound again and experience the world’s first (accidental) acid trip on April 16th, 1943.

After its discovery, LSD became a substance of interest to the US government, who saw potential in it as a consciousness-weakening and mind-controlling weapon to be used against their opponents. The CIA’s infamous MK-Ultra project was executed in order to research LSD as a chemical weapon during the 1950s and ‘60s. Numerous brutal, often covert and illegal experiments were conducted over these two decades.

The next chapter in the story of LSD was in stark contrast. As a powerful tool for consciousness expansion, it was lovingly embraced by the beat/hippie counterculture movement in the 1960s and ‘70s, becoming something of a cornerstone of music festivals, spiritual liberty and opposition to governmental control. LSD fueled massive creative expression and the feelings of peace, love, and unity that were the fundament of the movement.

After the UN convention on psychotropic substances of 1971, acid slipped away to the margins of society. However, although it dwindled over the next few decades, its use never really stopped. LSD use saw a resurgence in the 1990s and has been globally present in psychedelic assortments ever since, both for first-timers and experienced psychonauts.

Magic mushrooms have a much more ancient history of use. Central Saharan rock art dated back to 7-9,000 years ago indicates that psychoactive fungi have served these early hunter gatherer societies’ ritualistic needs. Mushroom symbols were also found in artifacts and artwork of various pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations including Olmec, Zapotec, Mazatec, Maya, and Aztec societies. These ancient peoples also used psychedelic mushrooms in ritualistic and divinatory purposes, for establishing connection to their divinities.

Learn more about the history of magic mushrooms in our Beginner’s Guide to magic mushrooms.

The dissolution of these civilizations meant that ritualistic use of magic mushrooms largely dwindled over the course of the following centuries. It was resumed on a much smaller scale by their descendants, and some sacramental use still happens to this day. An example are Mazatec healers in the northern part of Oaxaca, Mexico. Magic mushrooms are employed by these indigenous shamans even though their recreational use is officially illegal in the country.

Otherwise, since the “discovery” of these communities by Robert Gordon Wasson in the 1950s, magic mushrooms quickly entered the Western public eye, ultimately joining the favorite psychoactive substance roster of the beat/hippie counterculture movement. Like LSD, mushroom use also declined after the UN ban in 1971, but much less so, as picking them from nature was seen as a much less risky action than buying LSD from street dealers. They were also often imperceptibly distinct from regular edible mushrooms in the eyes of law enforcement, busy with the drug war against synthetic substances whose international smuggling was a bigger priority.

Magic mushrooms remained a part of the psychonautical subculture and eventually reemerged during the 1990s, as novel scientific research into their therapeutic potential started being published.

LSD vs Magic Mushroom Use Today

Nowadays, LSD is used in a similar way as it was decades ago in the counterculture movement. It’s an extrospective recreational psychedelic that keeps the user grounded in reality, doesn’t impair motor function, and boosts creativity and self-expression. Thus, it’s a popular choice for music events, walks in nature and in cities, whether solo or with friends, in almost any kind of context.

Magic mushrooms, on the other hand, can render the user somewhat less capable of moving around and interacting with others. This is why they are best suited for solo users or small, well-connected groups of friends either in a peaceful, natural environment or at a music event that doesn’t tend to get too overwhelming. Being profoundly introspective, magic mushrooms and magic truffles are also used in guided retreats for spiritual healing and personal advancement purposes.

Legality of LSD vs Magic Mushrooms

LSD is illegal in most of the world. A few countries that make up the notable exceptions include:

  • Ecuador – possessing less than 20μg is legal;
  • Czech Republic – possessing up to five blotters can result in a low monetary fine;
  • Portugal – possession is decriminalized for amounts not exceeding a 10-day supply for personal use;
  • Mexico – possessing up to 15μg is not a criminal offense.

Magic mushrooms are also largely illegal, however a higher number of countries either have a more lenient stance toward them or are gradually opening up to the idea of decriminalization. These include:

  • USA – psilocybin is illegal on a national level. However, there is a growing number of local exceptions. Growing psilocybin mushrooms (this doesn’t apply to commercial manufacturing) is not illegal in New Mexico. Additionally, Denver, CO and Oakland, CA recently became the first cities to decriminalize personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms, while Chicago, IL is also pushing for decriminalization – read more about decriminalization efforts here. All of this may be an indication that psilocybin may soon be a legal or, at least, medically available substance throughout the country;
  • Canada – although psilocybin mushrooms are scheduled substances, there is an option to purchase psilocybin microdoses from a private dispensary that the government is as of yet not seriously attempting to dismantle;
  • Mexico – although illegal, use of psilocybin mushrooms that includes an indigenous healer is permitted;
  • Ecuador, Peru, Brazil – the use of natural, traditional medicine in these South American countries is generally not stifled by law. This includes psilocybin mushrooms, which grow in abundance throughout the northern half of the continent;
  • Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Austria, and Portugal – these European countries have ambiguous or lenient stances toward personal psilocybin use. Portugal is a notable exception, since the government has explicitly decriminalized possession and use of small amounts of any psychoactive substance. Spain has distinct local regulations for different municipalities. Italy, Czech Republic, and Austria have largely decriminalized possession of small amounts of psilocybin;
  • The Netherlands – magic truffles are legal for personal and commercial use. Magic mushrooms are not. There are many centers offering retreats with magic truffles;
  • Jamaica, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, and the British Virgin Islands – these Caribbean countries don’t have specific regulations on using psychoactive substances and host many retreat centers in which ceremonies with various psychedelics, including magic mushrooms, are held. Mushrooms are also often openly sold;
  • Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia – although psilocybin is explicitly illegal in these Southeast Asian countries, in select spots magic mushrooms can be bought and consumed without consequences in the form of mushroom shakes.

Chemistry and Pharmacodynamics of LSD vs Magic Mushrooms

LSD is an ergoline alkaloid that can be completely chemically synthesized from a reaction of diethylamine with activated lysergic acid. Lysergic acid can be derived from ergot fungus or, less practically, from ergine (LSA) extracted from morning glory seeds.

LSD is a serotonin and dopamine agonist; it partially activates the 5-HT2A, 5-HT2B, and 5-HT2C receptors, and to a higher degree the 5-HT1A serotonergic receptors, as well as various dopaminergic receptors, most notably the D2 and D1.

Psilocybin mushrooms are fully natural and can be ingested straight after picking, or dried for increased potency. Their main active compounds are psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, and norbaeocystin. Psilocybin is an indole alkaloid, which dissolves in water and also rapidly breaks down into psilocin in the digestive tract, making this compound the actual workhorse of magic mushroom psychoactivity.

Psilocin is a tryptamine alkaloid consisting of an N,N-dimethyltriptamine (DMT) molecule and four hydroxy radicals that protect it from being metabolized by stomach enzymes. Like LSD, it also affects the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor (but more substantially), as well as the 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B. Unlike LSD, it does not have action at the D2 dopamine receptor.

LSD vs Magic Mushroom Dosages and Trip Length

A normal dose of LSD is between 90 and 175μg. Low doses are between 25 and 90μg. High doses are anything above 175μg. LSD trips last about six to twelve hours on a moderate to high dose.

A low to moderate dose of magic mushrooms is between one and three grams of dried mushrooms. High doses are between three and five grams, and “heroic” doses are over five grams. Doses lower than one gram have been known to cause confusion and disorientation, while even smaller microdoses of 0.2-0.5g can be pleasant and mood-boosting. Mushroom trips last about four to six hours on a moderate to high dose.

LSD vs Magic Mushrooms Tolerance and Cross-Tolerance

Although both psychedelics are non-addictive, they do cause a buildup in the system which means that, if they are repeatedly used in short intervals, higher dosages will be needed. This is because the neurons and receptors in the brain need a while to recover from the activity, and return to their natural resting potential. This process depends on individual physiology and on dosages taken. However, generally speaking, in two weeks time, everything goes back to default state; one week should be enough space for a similar intensity trip with the same dosage; one to a few days in between two trips will generally require higher dosages, and sometimes the second trip may turn out quite underwhelming.

Because they have similar biochemical mechanisms of action, LSD and psilocybin also create cross-tolerance. A very early study of these effects confirmed both significant tolerance and cross tolerance buildup in individuals taking mushrooms and LSD for a week and two weeks in a row. Online forums such as reddit are also full of anecdotal reports confirming this.

Likewise, taking mushrooms and LSD at the same time is not the best idea, at least not for inexperienced users. Because of their cross-tolerance, dosages and timings need to be determined precisely and coordinated with individual subjective experience to achieve a pleasurable effect. Otherwise, users report either sub-optimal effects of the second substance taken or an uncomfortable headspace with identity loss and paranoia. They often describe the conjoined effects as the two psychedelics “not getting along” very well.

The Difference between an Acid High and a Mushroom High

LSD and magic mushroom trips are quite distinct experientially. As can be seen from their pharmacological actions, LSD activates more receptors; specifically, its action on the dopamine receptor would account for the energy and euphoria acid trips are known for.

Energy

It can be said that, in general, LSD experiences are more extrospective, while mushroom experiences are more introspective. An LSD trip is often suitable for socializing, conversing, and performing high-energy activities such as dancing at music festivals, whereas mushroom trips will usually leave the user occupied with deep thoughts and/or visuals and unable to move nimbly, if at all. LSD trips tend to be more “wild” and high-octane while mushroom trips are usually more gentle and lulling.

Body load

This ties in to the bodily effects. While LSD’s body load is normally quite low, mushrooms can feel like they are melting the user into the ground, with body tingling (especially in the extremities) and perceived inability to get up or otherwise move. This inertia is not real—movement is possible once started, but while sitting or lying down it can feel like an enormous challenge.

Trip quality

Whether you’re experiencing a good trip or a bad trip, acid is normally quite extreme and the experience is unequivocal. Good parts are positive, colorful, interesting, and energetic, while bad parts are harrowing, dark, nasty, or even demonic. Mushrooms trips are sometimes not so explicitly interpretable. It’s not uncommon that you don’t really know whether what you’re feeling is good or bad, and emotions and visuals can oscillate quite quickly between the two, leaving you confused and overwhelmed.

Acid trips are often characterized as “fun” and “crazy,” whereas adjectives such as “profound” and “insightful” apply better to experiences with mushrooms. It could be said that acid causes a dazed amazement at everything currently going on, whereas mushrooms instill a kind of reverence and appreciation of deeper aspects of life. LSD also often tends to not provide many answers and solutions to your questions, whereas with mushrooms it’s common to feel as if there were some grand intelligence listening and responding to your thoughts.

Very generally speaking, mushrooms are also less likely to cause a bad trip than acid; they usually offer a supportive and blissful ride, while acid’s wackiness more easily turns to horror. However, as off-putting as this may sound to some, it’s actually one of the greatest lessons LSD can teach—that good and bad trips are just our reactions to what we experience in parts of one same, whole journey.

Trip intensity

Whether mushrooms or LSD will cause a stronger trip is highly dependent on personal susceptibility to each of these psychedelics, their quality, dosages, mindset, and setting. It’s impossible to say which one is stronger until you’ve tried both and can compare their effects at relatively similar dosages in a suitable setting without distractions.

Visuals

As for the visuals themselves, both acid and mushrooms can cause incredibly intricate and spectacular displays of colored light fractals and/or otherworldly sceneries and animation-like sequences. However, LSD imagery generally tends to be more detailed, fast-moving, and bizarre, whereas psilocybin hallucinatory content is commonly more organic, vibrant, and pulsating. The magic mushroom visuals can offer more chance to appreciate and marvel at the glory of what’s being shown.

It could be said that acid puts on a wild show fueled by the twisting and tumbling of the material in the subconscious without much personal involvement or choice, while mushrooms feel more like they connect the subconscious to some grander source of otherworldly intelligence and engage the user to admire it and co-create the experience. Mushroom visuals feel more organic and are usually more gentle in the way they evolve. They can also feel more like they are communicating some content to the user, while LSD spectacles are more passively witnessed.

With open eyes, both LSD and magic mushrooms can cause the user to see movement or undulation of textures or entire objects, and dark tracers left behind motion. Colors and lights can also become more vibrant and saturated. LSD normally makes things appear much crisper and more detailed, with an apparent ability to see more detail in farther objects. Mushrooms, on the other hand, can make the scenery appear to “melt” and the colors change with more cohesion toward a certain shade.

Insight

Generally speaking, mushrooms seem to allow more profound, life-altering insight to take place during the trip. While acid often keeps the user distracted with the strange, fast-paced visual displays and energized to interact with the environment, in a way, mushrooms force the user to calm down and look deep inside, pondering their life choices and the workings of the universe. During this time, the visuals sometimes wash over this introspection, while at other times they catalyze it without being distracting.

Spirituality

So, are magic mushrooms more spiritual than LSD? Maybe. Because of the nature of their action, they just seem to provide more space and focus for profound inner work. As a naturally occurring psychedelic, they also have an organic quality to them which can allow users to profoundly connect with nature and feel the unity of everything that exists. It’s not a coincidence that shrooms have been used since ancient times for communing with divine spirits.

However, both the LSD and shroom experiences are entirely dependent on the mindset, context of use, personal susceptibility, and dosage. Acid can be an equally powerful introspective tool if used properly. Due to being a synthetic chemical, though, the trip can often feel quite wild and alien, and induce restlessness and desire for stimulation rather than introspection. If these aspects can be managed well, LSD can be a solid catalyst of spirituality.

Shrooms vs LSD Therapeutic Potential

While both psychedelics can be used to manage some psychological difficulties, psilocybin has been found to have clearer positive and prolonged effects on disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. These effects are often attributed to its effect on the 5-HT2A serotonin receptors. And while LSD has also showed some positive effects, it has not received as much scientific attention as magic mushrooms, which will hopefully be corrected in the future.

So, LSD or Magic Mushrooms?

That is the question. This really depends on what you’re looking for from a psychedelic experience and how you’re approaching it.

If you’re looking for a grounding but hypnotic, profoundly introspective journey that can provide intense emotions, feeling of unity with all, de-clutter your mind and make you release dysfunctional patterns of thinking, while at the same time showing you glorious visual displays, go for mushrooms.

If you’re looking to retain lucidity and control over your body, while at the same time discharging emotionally and having intricate, wild, and entirely ineffable visions, but maybe not as much spiritual realizations, go for LSD.

Whichever one you choose, if you take it with a proper intention, a healthy mindset, and in a supportive setting, it will be but a tool for consciousness expansion, providing you exactly what you need to experience.

About Xavier Francuski

Born in India, grew up in Serbia, lived and traveled throughout the world, Xavier's uprooted existence fuels his instinct for exploration. With a masters degree in research psychology, he is a passionate educator on the topic of psychedelics, trying to reconcile the astounding nature of the realms beyond with what sense we can make of them in this one. Currently living in Southeast Asia and working as a staff writer for several major psychedelic websites.

5 Comments

  1. Jeff Lebowe on March 3, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    This is the most comprehensive Shroom/Acid comparison article that I have found online! I am researching deeper into LSD (as I only have experience with mushrooms) and especially enjoyed the section on metabolism and pharmacodynamics – something that isn’t found in any other article I have read. A super interesting analogy I have heard (which is consistent with your article) compares Shrooms to Lord of the Rings (introspective and mystical) and Acid to Star Wars (extrospective and high-octane) Great work Xavier!

  2. John on July 5, 2020 at 2:36 am

    Is it fine to take some Xanax if the anxiety gets too frantic , especially on the climb , I find mushrooms to be quite a challenge to reach the “peak”, I’ve found a small dose of Xanax quite helpful.

  3. John on July 5, 2020 at 2:39 am

    Can I use a small dose of benzodiazepines to help with the climb when starting to get altered . I find the anxiety quite severe at the beginning, especially on mushrooms .

    Would love to hear your response !
    Thanks

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