Who’s who in the world of psilocybe mushrooms
María Sabina (1894-1985)
The first mexican native shaman to allow westerners to participate in a healing session (velada, purification and communion with the sacred) involving psilocybe mushrooms. Living in Huautla Oaxaca, southern Mexico, María was the shamanic healer, or curandera of her village.
In 1953 she got to know Gordon Wasson whom she introduced to the Psilocybe mexicana in 1955 (the children being her preferred name for them), explaining to him that these were used to invoke healing and inner cleansing. Wasson took part in the ceremony and then took spores of the fungi to Europe, where they were reproduced from spores and analyzed for their chemical components. Wasson published an article in the magazine “Life”, using the pseydonym “Eva Mendez”, but disclosed María Sabina’s dwelling place so precisely that soon, thousands of westerners came to see her, soon resulting in her being excluded from her quiet village life. Her ultimate downfall came soon after, when suspicions of the mexican police that she might be selling drugs to the hordes of foreigners who came to see her, completely shattered her reputation and made her lose her status and purpose in the village life.
Robert Gordon Wasson (1898-1986)
An american banker, author and ethnomycologist who became acquainted with María Sabina in 1953 and became one of the first westerners to experience the mushrooms in the setting of a healing ritual, two years later. He returned to Oaxaca in 1956 for more extensive research and to help secure some specimen of the psilocybe mexicana for analysis. During this second trip, he was accompanied by CIA operative James Moore, who’d been tasked with gathering information on these “magic mushrooms”. The CIA then later made psilocybin mushrooms subject of the project MKUltra, in which they tested the suitability of psychedelics to weaken the will and extract confessions, rather unsuccessfully.
Wasson published a Life magazine article in 1957 ‘Seeking the magic mushroom’, disclosing his findings on psilocybe mushrooms and María Sabina’s location to the western world, which soon resulted in thousands of members of the counter-culture flocking to her abode. Wasson commented on her tragedy that he’d only meant to contribute to the knowledge of mankind.
He continued to research the role of mushrooms in human societies and later published “Soma – divine mushroom of immortality“, in which he explains the theory that the holy Soma from vedic culture was actually a concoction of Amanita Muscaria.
Gastón Guzmán Huerta (1932 – 2016)
A mexican mycologist who was the first to describe a great deal about psilocybe mushrooms’ biology. He studied the Psilocybe genus in cooperation with Rolf Singer and in 1973 published The Genus Psilocybe: A Systematic Revision of the Known Species Including the History, Distribution and Chemistry of the Hallucinogenic Species, which along with other publications made him the first authority on the subject. 19 species of fungi were named after him.Roger Heim (1900-1979)
Albert Hoffmann (1906-2008)
A swiss chemist who first isolated, synthesized and named psilocin and psilocybin. In 1958 he published “Psilocybin, a psychotropic drug from the Mexican magic mushroom Psilocybe mexicana Heim“. In order to make sure it was really the same substance that had caused Wasson’s psychedelic experience, he travelled to Mexico with him in 1963 and offered his psilocybin pill to a María Sabina, who after testing it, declared the experience was “equal to” experiencing the mushrooms.
For his synthesis, Hoffmann had used mushrooms and spores collected by botanist Roger Heim and Gordon Wasson during their expedition to south Mexico in 1956, to cultivate mushrooms (Psilocybe mexicana) in his laboratory. In the process he also discovered that under the right circumstances, this species would produce sklerotia (magic truffles).
Hoffmann became famous as the “father of LSD” since it was he who in 1938 first and “accidentally” derived LSD 25 (lysergic acid dyathylamide) from lysergic acid, while working to develop new medicines for the company Sandoz.
After having discovered its psychedelic potency five years later, he described LSD as a tool with the ability to advance the human spiritual condition. However, after having tried psilocybin, Hoffman told the chemist and mycologist Jochen Gartz, that to him the experience of psilocybin had been deeper than that of LSD.
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
An english writer and Philosopher who first came into contact with psychedelics in 1953 when he ingested mescaline and deemed the experience so profound that he dedicated a book, “The doors of perception” (download PDF here) to it.
He later became a member of the founding board of The Harvard Psilocybin Project.
From his use of psychedelics he gained the insight that “the brain is an instrument to focus the mind”, a theory much later proven correct by neuroscience.
Humphry Osmond (1917-2004)
An english psychiatrist famous for having coined the term psychedelic (from greek: psyche = mind, delos = to reveal) which he suggested to his peers in 1957 at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Linking psychedelics to addiction treatment was largely his merit, as his early work focused on psychedelics for alcoholism treatment. His study in which he administered LSD to members of Alcoholics Anonymous who had previously failed to maintain sobriety over extended periods of time, resulted in 50% of the participants sobering up – permanently.
This success rate is unparalleled, even today, and led Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, to participate in an LSD trial under laboratory conditions on August 29, 1956. Wilson stated later that he strongly believed the psychedelic experience could benefit many alcoholics.
Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Hospital
Edmond J. Safra Professor of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences at the Imperial College of London, Chair of drug science, president of the European brain council, author of “drugs without the hot air” and former government drug advisor of the UK.
He was awarded the John Maddox Prize for standing up for science, after having been dismissed as advisor for stating that alcohol and tobacco are in many ways more harmful than psychedelics or cannabis.
Head of Psychedelic Research, Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, Division of Brain Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London
Also the first scientist in over 40 years to (legally!) test LSD in humans.