Psilocybin has been the shining star to-date in the new wave of psychedelic research, making headlines as studies prove its ability to revolutionize mental health.
What many don’t realize is that psilocybin owes its notoriety and mind-altering properties to a related but much lesser-known compound called psilocin (sounds like "sil-loh-sin.")
This guide compares psilocin to psilocybin, highlighting differences and similarities in how they work in the body, their effects, strength, benefits, and legality.
What Is Psilocin?
Psilocin (also spelled psilocine, psilocyn, or psilotsin) and psilocybin are both naturally occurring active compounds belonging to a class called tryptamine alkaloids, mostly found in plants and fungi.
Psilocin is the pharmacologically active version of psilocybin, responsible for most of the hallucinogenic properties of psilocybe mushrooms, also called magic mushrooms or “shrooms.” For this reason, psilocybin is characterized as a prodrug of psilocin.
In other words, when people consume magic mushrooms, the body converts psilocybin (the prodrug) into psilocin (the bioactive compound) through metabolic processes. Specifically, psilocybin undergoes enzymatic dephosphorylation, a biochemical reaction in which the phosphate group is removed, resulting in the formation of psilocin.
This transformation is crucial for people to experience the psychoactive effects, as psilocin interacts directly with serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to altered perception, mood, and consciousness.
Psilocybin vs. Psilocin
Psilocin and psilocybin share many characteristics. Both psilocybin and psilocin are compounds, and more than 200 fungi species produce them naturally. However, the natural levels of psilocybin in psychedelic mushrooms are much higher, with most mushroom subspecies containing only trace amounts of psilocin.
Despite occurring in much smaller amounts, psilocin is primarily responsible for the psychedelic effects of magic mushrooms. This fact results from the differences in psilocin vs. psilocybin, which come down to their chemistry, bioavailability, and stability. These differences significantly affect how they interact with the human body and their applications in scientific research.
Psilocin Chemistry and Active Mechanisms
Psilocin (also known as 4-HO-DMT, 4-hydroxy DMT, 4-hydroxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) and psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) are similar forms of tryptamine alkaloids.
Structurally, they are both serotonin analogs, making them serotonin “agonists”—substances that can bind and interact with serotonin receptors. Specifically, they interact with 5-HT2A, 5-HT2C, and 5-HT1A receptors, neurotransmitters claimed to regulate visuals, decision-making, and mood.
The difference between psilocin and psilocybin is their chemical structure and binding affinities.
- Psilocin contains hydroxyl, while psilocybin contains phosphate. The phosphate in psilocybin’s structure makes it more stable, explaining why most lab research uses psilocybin rather than psilocin.
At the same time, psilocin’s lack of phosphate gives it a higher binding affinity as an agonist for the 5-HT2A receptor than psilocybin. The difference is striking, with psilocin binding at rates almost 100 times higher.
That's because when psilocybin passes through the liver, it loses its phosphorous chain and becomes psilocin, allowing it to bind more effectively. Interestingly, this metabolization process also contributes to nausea that some people report after consuming Psilocybe mushrooms.
Psilocin vs. Psilocybin Bioavailability
Psilocin is unstable, but only outside the human body. Once ingested, its bioavailability is strong. Psilocin’s lack of phosphate makes it metabolically available in the body and more easily absorbed in the intestines.
On the other hand, psilocybin is not bioactive due to its phosphate chain. As a result, it won’t cause hallucinogenic effects on its own after orally ingesting (eating) mushrooms, the most common consumption method. Psilocybin becomes psychoactive in humans through dephosphorylation, which removes the phosphate group on psilocybin, creating psilocin.
Dephosphorylation occurs when an alkaline phosphate enzyme breaks down psilocybin in the digestive tract, turning it into psilocin and distributing it all over the body via the bloodstream. Researchers can detect psilocybin and psilocin in human blood plasma 20-40 minutes after someone takes psilocybin. They find maximum levels in the blood 80-105 minutes after administration.
In pharmacology, a substance that converts into an active substance in this way is called a prodrug. Psilocybin is a prodrug to the drug psilocin.
Sources of Psilocin
Mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms or “shrooms,” are the principal source of psilocin. Psilocin levels are much lower than psilocybin, but more than 180 species of mushrooms contain both substances.
The most consumed psychedelic mushroom species, containing psilocin and psilocybin, include:
- Psilocybe cubensis (Gold Caps, Golden Teachers): The most well-known and widely cultivated psilocybin mushroom
- Psilocybe azurescens (Flying Saucer Mushrooms): Noted as the most potent psilocybin mushroom in the world
- Psilocybe cyanescens (Wavy Caps)
- Psilocybe natalensis (Natal Super Strength)
- Psilocybe baeocystis (Bottle Caps, Knobby Tops, Blue Bells, and Olive Caps)
- Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Caps)
- Psilocybe mexicana (Conical Caps)
- Copelandia cyanescens (Panaeolus cyanescens, Blue Meanies)
Psilocybin and Psilocin Dosing
Dried mushrooms are the most common way to consume magic mushrooms. Dosing ranges from microdosing, a sub-perceptive dose, to macro-dosing, in which people can completely disconnect from reality.
Assuming most mushrooms contain about 1% psilocybin potency:
- Microdose: 0.1-0.3 gram
- Low dose: about 1 gram (10 mg of psilocybin)
- Medium dose: about 1.75 grams (17.5 mg of psilocybin)
- High dose: about 3.5 grams (35 mg of psilocybin)
- Mega (maco) dose: 5 grams or more (50 mg of psilocybin)
Psilocin Strength and Effects
Psilocin, like psilocybin, produces a hallucinogenic experience similar to mescaline and LSD that lasts several hours.
Psilocin reacts with excitatory and inhibitory receptors in the hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex, an area linked to emotional thinking and memory. Its physiological effects resemble a sympathetic arousal state, similar to “fight or flight” responses. Specific observed effects include:
- Increased heartbeat
- Dilated pupils
- Visuals with eyes open and closed
- Hearing colors and seeing sounds
Psilocin vs Psilocybin Potency in Magic Mushrooms
Psilocin concentration varies based on species and strains. Regardless of the strain, however, psilocin potency is always a fraction of the overall active analytes in magic mushrooms.
For example, our Certificate of Analysis (COA) below shows that the mushroom contains 0.083% psilocin compared to 1.741% psilocybin. In other words, it has about 20 times more psilocybin than psilocin.
As far back as the Mesoamericans, Indigenous people used hallucinogenic mushrooms in religious ceremonies and considered them sacred. Over the past two decades, a new wave of research has shown psilocybin and psilocin may have potential applications in treating various ailments, including:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Improving the quality of life for terminally ill patients
However, due to psilocin’s instability outside the body, almost all research has been done with synthetic psilocybin. This has been the case since the 1950s when a Swedish scientist first isolated the substances and figured out how to create them synthetically. However, psilocin shows many potential benefits if it could be administered directly, such as:
- Faster onset time: There is no need for digestion, so psilocin may act more quickly than psilocybin.
- More consistent dosing: Administering psilocin would remove inconsistencies caused by different metabolism rates.
- Improved delivery methods: Psilocin is a much better candidate to deliver through non-ingestive methods, such as sublingually or transdermally.
- Fewer side effects: Psilocin could eliminate the lower gastrointestinal side effects commonly associated with psilocybin.
Clinical trials are currently underway to test psilocin’s potential physiological and psychological benefits over psilocybin when taken orally.
Many myths circulate about psilocybin and psilocin in magic mushrooms, claiming they can cause bad trips and flashbacks that lead to permanent brain damage and insanity. According to the 2017 Global Drug Survey, psilocybin is one of the safest psychoactive substances available, with only 0.2% of users needing emergency medical treatment.
Risks from psilocin and psilocybin are few and usually related to adverse yet temporary physical reactions, such as:
A “bad trip” can also happen and might cause effects such as:
- Dysphoric hallucinations
- Uncontrollable paranoia
- Reckless behavior
The DEA lists both psilocybin and psilocin as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act, making the compounds and the magic mushrooms that contain them federally banned in the United States. However, it is legal to possess and grow magic mushrooms in certain cities and states around the country, such as Oregon, Denver, Washington, DC, and Oakland.
Psilocybin gets the headline as the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. However, the body metabolizes psilocybin into its bioavailable form, psilocin. Both substances produce psychedelic effects by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain, but psilocin has a much higher binding affinity. While psilocybin is more active outside the body, psilocin is responsible for vivid hallucinations and the high during a mushroom trip.
With magic mushroom use increasing in popularity, mycological enthusiasts, medicinal patients, and DEA-licensed clients want to be better informed about products and their active ingredients. ACS Laboratory has cutting-edge techniques and equipment to ensure the potency and purity of multiple psychedelic compounds, including psilocybin. Contact ACS Laboratory about quality mushroom testing.