Recent research by scientists in Cologne, Germany and Maastricht University in the Netherlands has found that the effects of a single (sub-acute) dose of truffles containing psilocybin and psilocin last for seven days.1 The study, “Sub-acute effects of psilocybin on empathy, creative thinking, and subjective well-being” was published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in January 2019. Previous research has only focused on the subjective effects of psilocybin truffles. This is the first study to examine how long the subjective effects last after the psychedelic intoxication wears off.
Psilocybin truffles (also known as “magic truffles”) are different from magic mushrooms or pure psilocybin. Truffles are compact masses of the mycelium of some fungi, also called the sclerotia. Sclerotia form when weather conditions (such as drought) aren’t optimal for the fleshy mushroom part of a fungus to develop. During these times the organism stores food and psychoactive chemicals in its sclerotia.
The subjects of the study were 55 people (26 women, 29 men) who attended psilocybin retreats in the Netherlands.1 About half of them had used psilocybin previously, and nearly half had used a psychedelic other than psilocybin at some time in their lives.
The psilocybin and psilocin (and whatever additional water-soluble active components were in the truffles) were administered to the study participants via a steeped tea. Under the guidance of the facilitators, each participant added boiling ginger tea to an unspecified amount of crushed truffles (also unspecified is if the truffles are fresh or dried). After infusing for a few minutes, the participants drank the tea. They were told they were free to add more water and repeat the process 2 to 3 more times and eat the leftover truffle flesh in the cup.
A 15-gram sample of the truffles used in the study (Psilocybe Hollandia) was analyzed using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and found to contain 1.9 mg of psilocybin and 10.5 mg of psilocin.1 The researchers state that the study participants ingested an average of 34.2 grams of truffles throughout the day. They used a metabolic calculation factor of 0.719 to convert the amount of psilocybin ingested to the amount of psilocin the body would create through dephosphorylation. The calculation shows that on average each study participant ingested about 27.1 grams of psilocin.
Study participants completed creativity, empathy, and well-being assessments at the retreat in the evening before the test and the morning after.1 Completing the third assessment was done online seven days after dosing. Specifically, the assessments were a picture concept task (PCT) to measure creativity, a multifaceted empathy test (MET), and completion of the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). Of the 55 study participants, 22 completed at least some parts of the 7-day post-dosing online assessment.
Several acronyms and definitions are essential for understanding the study results.
- CT = Convergent Thinking – Finding a single optimal solution to a problem, part of the creativity measure.
- DT = Divergent Thinking – Generating several ideas to solve a problem (i.e., brainstorming), part of the creativity measure.
- EE = Emotional Empathy – The ability to feel what another person is feeling.
- Implicit EE – Measured by answering the question “How aroused does this image make you feel?”
- Explicit EE – Measured by answering the question, “How concerned do you feel for this person?”
- CE = Cognitive Empathy – Recognizing and understanding what another person is feeling.
- LS = Life Satisfaction – A measurement component for evaluating subjective well-being.
Statistical analysis of the data revealed several interesting findings. Here are some of the highlights:1
- Effects on empathy:
- Implicit and explicit EE was increased the morning after use, whereas CE was unaffected.
- Enhancement of implicit EE persisted to seven days after use.
- Arousal to the negative emotions of others lasted longer than the ability to feel for others.
- Effects on creative thinking:
- DT performance increased the morning after ingestion, CT was unaffected.
- Seven days after ingestion, DT returned to baseline levels, but CT performance was enhanced.
- The data showed no relationship between changes in DT or CT and LS.
- Effects on subjective well-being:
- LS increased the morning after ingestion and seven days after use.
- Other measurements of well-being lasted into the seventh day after use.
- Changes in explicit EE positively correlated with changes in LS.
- Participants with previous psilocybin experience had higher LS baseline scores than those who were psilocybin naive. However, the researchers note that this had no relationship to the test outcomes between the two groups.
This study had some limitations including no control group, the use of a non-random sample of people, and a small sample size of those people completing the survey after seven days.
The results of this study show that the beneficial effects of psilocybin truffles outlast the acute intoxication they cause. The sub-acute effects of psilocybin in a naturalistic setting include enhancements to divergent thinking, convergent thinking, emotional empathy, and life satisfaction with a positive correlation between emotional empathy and life satisfaction. The authors state that the sub-acute effects of psilocybin increase “…individuals’ ability to feel what other people are feeling without affecting individuals’ ability to understand what other people are feeling.” Also, the researchers point out that several of this study results correlate with previously-published findings.
It should be noted that in their writing, the authors attribute the effects seen in the study to psilocybin. They do not mention or take into account other psychoactive components that may have been present in the truffles other than the metabolite psilocin. Psilocybin truffles likely contain a cocktail of potentially psychoactive compounds just like magic mushrooms. It is important for study designers to take this into account and analyze truffles or mushrooms for baeocystin, norbaeocystin, norpsilocin, and aeruginascin. Ideally, two or three batches of truffles with different amounts and combinations of psychoactive compounds could be used along with different dosages to look for interactions between the compounds and their subsequent effects.