Are Magic Mushrooms Inducing a 'Waking Dream'?
3 min

Are Magic Mushrooms Inducing a 'Waking Dream'?

3 min

Magic Mushrooms can show us vision beyond normal imagination. There is growing evidence to suggest this could be due to them inducing a waking dream, so what exactly is going on?

Trips are often described as “dream-like”, and shroomers can receive profound messages shrouded in imagery from their subconscious mind. Many users report that after tripping they find they have vivid, borderline-lucid dreams for a few days afterwards. Mushrooms have even been known to fix the dreamlessness experienced by heavy marijuana users. It would seem, on the face of it, that there is a link between psilocybin and dream states.


The visuals one receives from a low dose of mushrooms are remarkably similar to the imagery seen during hypnagogia - the state of consciousness just before the onset of sleep. During this transitional stage, the brain “winds down” from wakefulness and visual and auditory phenomena can manifest.

At higher doses, fully formed hallucinations appear - as if they are right there in the room with you. You can lose your sense of self and forget where you are. And at extreme doses, you can have a fully-immersive breakthrough experience in which you meet conscious entities and travel through other realities and dimensions. These experiences feel real and tangible in the same way that a lucid dream does.

Lucid dreaming is a dream state in which the user is fully aware that they are dreaming and often are able to control the events of the dream. This usually occurs during REM sleep - where your deepest dreams occur. To achieve this state, the dreaming patient must first notice they are in a reality that doesn't make sense. One of two things will happen- either they will wake up, or the patient will realise they are dreaming and achieve lucidity.


What's interesting is that both the dreamer and the mushroom-eater tend to find themselves in a state of acceptance - what you are experiencing is nonsensical to the conventional mind, and yet it "feels" real to the user - and it's easy to accept what is happening as if it's normal. In these lucid dream states you can control the environment around you, even achieve the supernatural. It is said that lucid dreams can be used to induce out-of-body experiences.

To better understand a link, we need to look at both dreaming and tripping as certain states. If we think of lucid dreaming as “dreaming awake,” then perhaps psilocybin offers a “waking dream” state – in which the doors to the subconscious are unlocked, but the user is still in conscious reality, receiving sensory input from the “real world.”


So what happens when we dream? It has long been suspected that dreaming occurs during REM sleep due to endogenous DMT production from the pineal gland. DMT and the pineal gland have been associated since ancient times with dreaming, astral travel, and death.

The DMT molecule and the psilocin molecule are very similar in their structures - the practical difference being that psilocin is orally active. Nature has developed this very conveniently - the magic mushroom is one of the only DMT- like substances that is active without first consuming a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. So, if DMT is a dream molecule, it makes sense to assume that psilocybin offers something similar.


Upon ingestion, the psilocybin molecule dephosphorylates into the orally active psilocin. This molecule binds to 5-HT2A and 5-HT1 receptors just like the endogenous neurotransmitter serotonin.


A study from 2014 at Imperial College London injected 15 participants with pure psilocybin and placed them in an MRI machine. What they found was that the psilocin in the volunteer's systems dampened the brain regions associated with higher thinking and sense of self. This would account for the boundary dissolution and loss of ego experienced while tripping on shrooms.

The researchers also noted that activity in areas of the brain associated with base emotions (the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex) became more pronounced. This pattern of activity is very similar to what we see happening in dreaming subjects, with the brain “winding down” it's higher thought processes and reverting to a more “primitive” state.

So here we begin to see a connection. It would seem that the mushrooms induce a "waking dream" state, in which the subconscious can be explored and insight can be gained with lucidity. Perhaps consuming psilocybin on an occasional basis might even be a way of regulating the body’s natural processes - including dreaming and sleep?


It is thought that psilocybin mushrooms were consumed by the first proto-humans to come out of the jungle. The shrooms were plentiful on the plains, growing in the dung of grazing cattle, and the hungry tribes were eager to test this new food source. Terence Mckenna supposed that these "stoned apes" would eventually develop language, agriculture, early religious cults and the first archaic tribal societies. Psilocybin mushrooms are intrinsically linked with human metabolism, and we think McKenna's theory that they were the catalysis for our early mental evolution is noteworthy.

Certainly, they have at least been used for centuries. To the Aztecs, they were known as teonanácatl- the flesh of the Gods. Christian settlers banned the use of the mushroom and since then, governments around the world have controlled their legality in what could be considered to be an uninformed, backwards move.

However, in recent years, scientists have been reclaiming the right to study them in controlled conditions - and what we have learned is startling. Psilocybin mushrooms are very powerful. They dissolve boundaries in the mind and strip you of your ego. They allow you to explore visionary worlds, other dimensions, and also explore one's own psyche. Researching the mushroom is providing our species with fascinating insights into consciousness, and could provide clues towards the next stage of human psychic evolution.

Irrespective of your views on mushrooms, research is opening up discoveries that would otherwise simply be philosophical debate. There is both evidence on both a theoretical and scientific level that mushroom may not only induce waking dreams, but help us function as people. The mushrooms can be our allies, and together we can achieve great things. Dare to dream?

Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl has been writing about cannabis, the wellness potential of cannabinoids, and the positive influence of nature for over a decade. Working with several cannabinoid-centric publications, he publishes a variety of digital content, supported by strong technical knowledge and thorough research.
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