So-called magic mushrooms (those that contain the molecule psilocybin) have been used by people around the world medicinally and ceremonially for a very long time. Rock art in Kimberley, Western Australia, that depicts mushroom-headed beings, suggests people were using them 10,000 years ago to attain trance-like states. Strikingly similar images have been found in the Sandawe paintings of eastern Tanzania and in the Algerian Sahara. Now, after decades of these hallucinogenic fungi being consigned to the grubby margins of legality, humans appear to be rediscovering their benefits.
From July, authorised psychiatrists in Australia will be permitted to prescribe psilocybin to patients with treatment-resistant depression. This hasn’t come out of the blue: the drug is a major ingredient in what has been dubbed the psychedelic renaissance – a resurgence of public interest and research in substances that began to be recognised for their medicinal qualities in the 1950s, before a wave of moral panic and irrational legislation placed them off-limits for years.