A man’s experiment with psychedelic mushrooms went disastrously wrong and nearly killed him, according to his doctors. In a new case report released this week, they detailed how the man injected a “tea” made from the mushrooms into his body and developed a life-threatening infection that had them growing in his blood. The experience left him in the hospital for close to a month. Fortunately, he survived.
According to the report, the 30-year-old man had been brought to the emergency room by his family after exhibiting confusion. He had a history of bipolar disorder as well as opioid dependence and had recently stopped taking his prescribed medications, his family told doctors. In the course of trying to self-medicate his depression and dependence, he came across research showing some benefit from using psychedelic drugs like mushrooms and LSD.
Days before the ER visit, he had decided to use mushrooms by first boiling them down into what he called “mushroom tea,” then filtering the mixture through a cotton swab and intravenously injecting it. Soon after, he developed symptoms including lethargy, jaundice, diarrhea, and nausea, along with vomiting up blood.
By the time he was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit, multiple organs had started to fail, including his lungs and kidney. Tests revealed that he had both a bacterial and fungal infection in his blood, likely meaning that the mushrooms he injected were now literally feeding off him and growing, the doctors wrote (the fungus found in the man’s blood was the same species of psychedelic mushroom he had injected). Among other treatments, he was given an intense course of antibiotics and antifungal drugs.
It took 22 days in the hospital, including eight in the ICU, but the man did eventually pull through. At the time his doctors had finished writing the case up, though, he was still being treated with a long-term course of antimicrobials.
The report was released online Monday in the Journal of the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry as a pre-proof paper (Pre-proofs are peer reviewed and accepted for publication, but may undergo some minor edits before a final version is formally published).
According to co-author Curtis McKnight, a psychiatrist at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Arizona, this actually isn’t the first known case of someone injecting mushrooms into their body. During their research, he and his colleagues unearthed a case report from 1985, which noted two similar cases. As with the current case, the 1985 case featured a 30-year-old man who became sick with vomiting and other symptoms post-injection, though he recovered quickly after getting medical care.
McKnight and his co-authors note that psychedelic mushrooms—consumed in a safe way—really do seem to be hopeful treatments for depression and substance use disorders. There are ongoing efforts to legalize these drugs for psychiatric use in the U.S. (Oregon became the first state this November to do so), but in the meantime, there will be people who turn to them as an alternative or in addition to their current treatments on their own, as this man did. For those people, it’s important to emphasize the potential risks of these drugs and the safest ways to use them. Though mushrooms can cause side effects like nausea and increased anxiety, for instance, they’re not thought to pose much risk of serious long-term harm, assuming you’re not injecting them.
“The case reported above underscores the need for ongoing public education regarding the dangers attendant to the use of this, and other drugs, in ways other than they are prescribed,” the authors wrote.