Fungi have flourished on Earth for quite a while, possibly more than 2 billion years. They've evolved some impressive tricks during that time, including many that are either fascinating or frightening to humans — and sometimes a bit of both.
Some ancient fungi grew nearly 30 feet (9 meters) tall before trees existed, for example, and today a honey fungus in Oregon may be the largest organism on the planet, spanning an area of about 400 acres (162 hectares). Certain kinds of fungi can glow in the dark, and a few turn insects into zombies. Some species are lethal to humans, while others provide us with valuable superfoods.
And then there are magic mushrooms, also known as "shrooms." These fungi are famed for their psychedelic effects on people who ingest them, an ancient practice dating back to prehistoric "mushroom cults" and shamans who may have inspired Santa Claus. Yet even after centuries of experience, we are only now demystifying many of the magical — and medicinal — powers these mushrooms possess.
This article is not necessarily meant to advocate casual use of magic mushrooms, which are widely illegal and potentially dangerous. Even when they provide the health benefits described below, they're typically used in a controlled clinical setting, often with counseling or other guidance from medical professionals. That said, however, they are also natural wonders of our planet that we would be foolish to ignore.
So, for a closer look at these mystical members of Mother Nature's medicine cabinet, here are a few interesting facts you may not know about magic mushrooms: