Among the classical psychedelics, LSD (aka acid) and psilocybin mushrooms (aka shrooms) are likely the most well-known and widely used today. Although LSD is made in a lab and psilocybin is found in mushrooms growing naturally in the ground, both can produce life-altering, transcendent experiences. But if we were to get more granular, what really distinguishes the LSD experience from the psilocybin mushroom experience? In this article, we’ll compare the effects of shrooms vs acid and consider some of the most popular questions concerning their differences. We’ll end by discussing some reasons why one or the other experience may suit you better.
Effects of Shrooms vs Acid
Both LSD and psilocybin mushrooms alter consciousness by interacting with the serotonin system, namely via 5-HT receptor agonism. Experientially, both drugs have a unique ability to facilitate personal and spiritual development. They can produce enduring therapeutic effects for a wide range of disorders and conditions, and at high doses, generate ego-dissolving mystical experiences.
With the abundance of anecdotal data available online, it’s possible to extract some general differences regarding the shrooms vs acid experience. It’s important to note, however, that the effects of shrooms vs acid will depend heavily on one’s individual sensitivity and reaction to each drug, as well as the dosage, set and setting. Set refers to the user’s mindset and expectations going into the trip. Setting refers to the physical environment in which the experience takes place.
Effects of Shrooms Explained
Psilocybin’s effects may be unpredictable and come on intensely. The effects can vary from trip to trip due to set, setting, and dosage. In addition, there are differences in the psilocybin and psilocin content from one mushroom species to another.
Broadly speaking, psilocybin mushrooms, in a dose-dependent manner, produce a trip characterized by:
- Altered thinking and sense of time
- Enhanced empathy
- Closed and open eye visuals
- Feelings of unity/interconnection
- Ego death (higher doses)
- Out-of-body experiences (higher doses)
Psilocybin mushrooms tend to produce an inward focus. This makes the trip highly conducive to deep introspection and personal insight into your thinking and behavioral patterns. When philosophical and deep thinking arises, the focus may be on more big-picture or cosmic ideas. To this end, reverence of nature and/or the divine are consistently emerging themes.
Grounded, Earthy, Wild
Thematically, users often describe the mushroom experience as more earthy, primal, and wild when compared to LSD. As Dr. Albert Hofmann, the Swiss inventor of LSD, stated in his memoir, LSD: My Problem Child, the psilocybin experience for him and his close associates was more “darkly colored” than LSD, carrying them “not into luminous heights, [but] rather, into deeper regions.” With shrooms, you may feel like you’re being swept along by the experience without as much control over the direction in which it’s going. The emotional valence of the trip can change quickly and often. It can feel as if you’re straddling the dividing line between a “good” and “bad” trip. At high doses, this can be intense and disorienting, as your familiar grasp of the world and identity disintegrates.
Compared to LSD, psilocybin mushrooms produce more grounded and intense physical effects. It’s common to feel a heavy body load that can make prolonged movement tricky and couch lock likely. A handful of side effects may emerge early on. These could include GI distress, increased heart rate, pupil dilation, and cold extremities from vasoconstriction. For many, nausea is a significant drawback, especially during the come-up. You can alleviate this effect by grinding the dried mushrooms into a powder. The powder can then be placed in capsules or food/drinks and taken alongside ginger.
Effects of LSD Explained
Similarly to shrooms, LSD will produce the basic effects common to the classical psychedelics. These could include:
- Strong euphoria
- Closed and open eye visuals
- Emotion enhancement
- Altered sense of thinking and perspective
- Sense of unity/interconnectedness
While LSD binds to and activates multiple 5-HT receptors similarly to psilocybin, it’s unique in that it also interacts with the dopaminergic system by agonizing the dopamine D2 receptor.
This difference in pharmacological action accounts for its more extrospective, energetic, and uplifting qualities. As a result, socializing may be easier, including interacting with sober people. This is partly because the LSD trip generally feels more controllable. Many people retain a greater degree of agency over the direction of the experience, compared to a psilocybin trip. As the saying goes, “with LSD you’re in the driver’s seat, with shrooms you’re in the passenger seat.”
Cognitively, LSD tends to produce a headspace that is bright, alert, and clear. It often has a more analytical quality, allowing easy access into your inner psyche. Many people find creative, divergent thoughts and novel insights come more readily. This makes it ideal for psychotherapeutic work in therapeutic settings. Physically, LSD produces a less incapacitating body high, making movements like dancing easier. Since it’s a vasoconstrictor, it can generate some peripheral side effects such as pupil dilation, headaches, cramps, and muscle tension.
Key Differences Between Shrooms and Acid
LSD is a semisynthetic substance that’s just over 80 years old. “Semisynthetic” means it is derived from natural precursors, in this case ergot, a fungus that grows on rye. Not long after its psychic effects were revealed in 1943, LSD became a hot topic of study in psychiatry. Researchers began to evaluate its use in therapy, and the CIA researched it as a possible truth serum. After escaping the laboratory, it soon acquired a reputation as the poster child of the 1960s counterculture and, subsequently, a problem child for Dr. Hofmann. Over recent years, several LSD analogs have been synthesized, most notably 1P-LSD. While much less studied than LSD, it has subjective effects that are reportedly nearly identical.
People have used psilocybin mushrooms in sacred shamanic and religious contexts for thousands of years, mostly in southern Mexico. They were first popularized in the West in the late 1950s by the ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson. Nowadays, psilocybin mushrooms hold center stage in psychedelic clinical trials. Owing to the studies’ extremely promising results, the FDA has designated psilocybin a breakthrough therapy. Moreover, decriminalization efforts are advancing in numerous states, with Colorado and California leading the way. The main psychoactive compounds in the roughly 200 species of magic mushrooms are psilocybin, psilocin, and baeocystin. These compounds exist in variable quantities, depending on the mushroom species in question. After we ingest psilocybin, our bodies remove a phosphorus atom from the psilocybin molecule, turning it into psilocin. This is the primary bioactive component responsible for the effects of magic mushrooms.
Do Psilocybin Mushrooms Feel More “Natural” than LSD?
Generally, as noted above, users commonly describe psilocybin mushrooms as more “earthy” and “wild” compared to LSD. Intense wonder in nature and heightened feelings of interconnection to the Earth are all part and parcel of a mushroom trip. In addition, the deeply rooted, grounded physical effects of psilocybin mushrooms may feel more natural than the more stimulating and cerebral effects of LSD.
Since shrooms naturally grow on every inhabitable continent, this gives them a wild and organic quality that further contributes towards their reputation of feeling more natural. One may feel as if under the tutelage of a sacred, time-tested entheogen, considering that Indigenous peoples have used psilocybin mushrooms in ritualistic contexts for millennia to commune with the natural world and divine realms.
Users sometimes liken the experience of ingesting psilocybin mushrooms to learning from a wise, ancient source—as if one is channeling a reservoir of sacred knowledge and insight into the unconscious from the planetary mind. After all, one of the most popular strains, aptly enough, has the name of Golden Teachers.
Voices of Experience
In his book Food of the Gods, Terence McKenna likens psilocybin to a molecular tool that grants the psyche access to ancient shamanic states of ecstatic communion. McKenna states,
“The ambience of psilocybin is different from that of LSD. Hallucinations come easier, and so does a sense that this is not merely a lens for the inspection of the personal psyche, but a communication device for getting in touch with the world of the high shamanism of Archaic antiquity.”
Regardless of what the effects reveal, the perception that shrooms feel more natural could be strongly influenced by one’s expectations and beliefs going into the trip. For instance, according to one Reddit user,
“I’ve always gotten Sci-Fi vibes from shrooms, and more earthy/fantasy vibes from LSD. I blame Terence McKenna for implanting the idea in me that mushrooms are aliens that came from outer space, and I always have considered LSD to be very human/earthy because it was created by humans out of Earth’s elements.”
Are There Different Visuals with Shrooms and Acid?
Both LSD and psilocybin generate vivid, immersive open eye visuals at normal to high doses. Under closed eyelids, both will lead to the traversal of some spectacular psychic landscapes similar to the hypnagogic state between waking and dreaming. Despite individual variability, there are some consistent differences between their visuals.
LSD commonly produces sharp, realistic visual drifting and intricate environmental patterning. Colorful kaleidoscopic patterns may appear fast-moving, mathematical, and fractal-like. As Dr. Hofmann famously wrote in his account of the first-ever (intentional) LSD experience,
“… In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”
The visual effects of LSD mirror its cognitive effects in the sense that they strongly accentuate clarity and brightness. Colors can appear vibrant and highly saturated, and visual perception can feel tuned to a higher acuity, as if you’ve gained “HD vision.” It’s common to experience tracers on moving objects, as well as afterimages and depth perception distortions.
Users often describe psilocybin visuals as being more organic, vibrant, and abstract. Static objects may begin to melt, breathe, morph, and undulate. The visuals may evolve more slowly and smoothly, building in complexity over time as the user pays attention to a given spot in the visual field. Perspective distortions may make objects seem much taller, and angles can begin to take on impossible forms. Halos may appear around lights and objects, and there may be a pastel color tint overlaying the entire visual field. At high-to-heroic doses, autonomous entities and imagined objects may appear, making their visual effects more similar to 4-AcO-DMT and ayahuasca.
Are Psilocybin Mushrooms “Safer” than LSD?
In terms of physical toxicity, the estimated lethal dose (LD50) of Psilocybe cubensis for a 130-lb. human is 3.7 lb. of dried mushrooms. The lethal dose of LSD isn’t precisely known, but it is presumed to be extremely high—on the order of 10,000 doses. After ingesting psilocybin, our bodies remove a phosphorus atom from the psilocybin molecule, turning it into psilocin. This is the primary bioactive component responsible for the effects of magic mushrooms based on animal LD50 values.
According to the 2017 report from the Global Drug Survey, in 2016, only 0.2% of the 10,000 people who used psilocybin mushrooms reported they required emergency medical treatment, the lowest rate of all the drugs assessed. This rate was five times lower than that of LSD, which was responsible for 95 trips to the emergency room. By and large, psychological adverse effects account for these visits—underscoring the importance of set and setting for both substances.
Shrooms vs Acid: Safely Sourcing and Dosing
When it comes to sourcing, psilocybin mushrooms may be a safer option as well. LSD is sourced on the black or dark web markets and is sometimes sold as more dangerous synthetic psychedelics, such as 25I-NBOMe, unbeknownst to many users who don’t test the substance. On the other hand, you can be sure you are taking the shrooms you desire, provided you have established a trustworthy source—or grown your own supply. The exception here is if psilocybin mushrooms in the wild are mistaken for a poisonous variety. This can be prevented by foraging with a mycologist, and confirming the mushroom identification 100% prior to consuming them.
Lastly, LSD’s extreme sub-milligram potency, coupled with unpredictability in dosage from batch to batch, can produce an intense and, possibly, harrowing trip for the unaware. Tabs have been known to range in potency from less than 50 micrograms to several hundred micrograms. Psilocybin mushrooms may also vary in potency depending on the specific mushroom in question. For instance, P. azurescens (“azzies”) is more than twice the potency of the popular P. cubensis species. But being 100 times less potent than LSD, there is more leeway in dosing errors and inconsistencies.
Which Experience Lasts Longer?
When you eat psilocybin mushrooms on an empty stomach, the effects come on within an hour, usually with more intensity than LSD. The effects peak after about two hours and start diminishing after approximately four hours. Overall, the psilocybin experience lasts a total of roughly four to six hours. The normal aftereffects last up to eight hours.
LSD, on the other hand, has a considerably longer duration of action, anywhere from eight to 12 hours or more. LSD’s effects gradually ramp up in intensity, hitting a peak about three hours in, with the possibility of multiple peaks over the 3-to-6-hour plateau time frame. The comedown begins roughly seven hours after dosing, giving way to an appreciative afterglow that can last into the next day.
For some people, LSD’s longer duration of action is a drawback, especially if the experience turns out to be challenging. For those that are microdosing, LSD’s long duration of action can sometimes lead to insomnia, unless it’s dosed very early in the morning.
Can You Take Shrooms and Acid Together?
Taking shrooms and acid together (known colloquially as “soul bombing”) can be an intense and life-changing experience for seasoned psychonauts. Some people say the energetic clarity of LSD can nicely complement the loopy fuzziness of psilocybin. Others say the effects of each substance pull you in different directions, resulting in a weird headspace of paranoia, disorientation, and conflicting feelings. For the inexperienced, they can easily synergize into something too powerful, making one more likely to lose control and grip on the physical world.
A strong recommendation is to first get comfortable with each substance separately. If you do decide to take them together, proper dosage is key to having a good experience. Start with a lower dose (perhaps less than 1 tab and 1.5 g of dried shrooms) to get a feel for the intensity of the combination and how they interact. The development of cross-tolerance and the different timelines of effects are additional factors you must take into account and properly coordinate. For instance, if you want the peaks to align, try taking the shrooms about two hours into the acid trip.
Which Experience is Right for You?
Overall, it’s possible to piece together a general comparison of the effects of shrooms vs acid, but at the end of the day, it comes down to your unique biochemistry, as well as your mindset and trip location. Generally speaking, If you’re looking for a longer-lasting psychedelic experience that’s more energetic, social, and cerebral, LSD may be the better choice. If you’re after a shorter psychedelic experience that’s highly contemplative, grounded, and mystical, go with psilocybin mushrooms.
Your choice between shrooms vs acid may also depend on where you want to trip. Many people find shrooms are best taken in nature, in solo journeys, or with a well-trusted group of friends. On the other hand, the more outgoing nature of the LSD experience makes it better suited for recreational settings, such as music events and festivals. Regardless of which you choose, having a trusted, sober trip-sitter who can lend support and hold space during the experience can go a long way toward having a safe and enjoyable time.
Contributing RS Author: Dylan Beard
Dylan is a freelance science writer and editor based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. After finishing his physics degree and dabbling in neuroscience research at UC Santa Barbara in 2017, he returned to his first love—writing. As a long-term fan of the human brain, he loves exploring the latest research on psychedelics, nootropics, psychology, consciousness, meditation, and more. When not writing, you can probably find him on hiking trails around Oregon and Washington or listening to podcasts. Feel free to follow him on Insta @dylancb88