Q&A: Mushrooms in Ayurveda

What does Ayurveda have to say about medicinal mushrooms, including psychoactive mushrooms? Why does Ayurveda consider mushrooms to be tamasic in nature? And what are the effects of microdosing on psilocybin mushrooms?

These excellent questions were asked in an Ayurveda Facebook group by someone who has been microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms and experiencing relief from anxiety, insomnia, and related symptoms. I’m sharing my response to these questions here for those who may find it interesting. More thoughts on related topics (including medical cannabis) coming soon.

A: Medicinal mushrooms (reishi, cordyceps, lion's mane, etc.) are definitely useful. Chinese medicine makes use of these substances, but Ayurveda does not. The idea that mushrooms are tamasic is because they grow underground. They bring us closer to Earth consciousness which is tamasic. I personally don't really buy this logic and have found medicinal mushrooms to be useful in my own experience. We forget that in the Earth is the essence of Heaven and mushrooms seem to exemplify this. Reishi feels like a great rasayana, Lion's Mane a wonderful cooling nervine, and so on. We have to remember the cultural limitations of traditional medical systems. Look at how TCM and Ayurveda share five element theory among so many other things and yet their dietary recommendations are vastly different. This is due to culture, philosophy, and what is around. Tibetans for example rarely discuss the type of diet that is relevant for us because they lived in the mountains, so Tibetan medical texts don't help us too much with diet aside from outlining the theory. Learn the theory and become sensitive and you can apply it universally. 

As for psychoactive mushrooms (psilocybin), there is some great research on its therapeutic benefits. See Michael Pollan's "How To Change Your Mind" book. Ayurvedically, these substances should be understood to be quite powerful. They temporarily increase vata and possibly other doshas as well. This may or may not be pathological, depending on your constitution and overall balance. Most important is that while using psychoactive substances, you have to maintain ojas. These substances feed on the vital essences of the body, so they come with a responsibility. Mushrooms among other things have been used traditionally in India by yogis in the context of disciplined Spiritual practice. Such people were already masters of their own energies. 

It is important to remember that there is no magical substance that can enlighten us or heal us. We all have to be responsible for our health and practice the proper diet, lifestyle, and so forth that enables it. Also important to remember that when it comes to powerful substances such as psilocybin mushrooms or even cannabis, so much depends on your agni and ojas. If you have the agni for it (not just physically, but also energetically and psychologically), then it can be a nectar for you in the right times and places. If you don't have the agni, it will feed on your ojas, and over time deplete your immunity and vitality, becoming an effective poison. 

So, as with all things Ayurvedic, the real answer is "it depends". I am not aware of any direct references to psychedelic mushrooms in Ayurvedic texts, but all of these substances belong under the category of "soma". That does not mean it is nourishing and you should just eat as much as you want. Soma is the devotional offering into the Vedic fire. These substances were used in that ritual and shamanic context. If your inner fire is burning, then you can offer the soma, and you will see what happens. Whether or not soma was one plant or not is irrelevant in my view. It was likely a number of offerings that were made, and ultimately, is a way of describing the sacrifice of our own earthly life-force into the fire of heaven.