First, thanks to @RachaelRettner for even covering the story. Don't take my criticism as being unappreciative. I'm trying to be constructive here - as well as point out the facts that I'm aware of... [and I understand that, unfortunately, your ability to state facts may be limited by politics]
So I guess I feel like this is pushing some of the myths a bit far, from the referenced article on LiveScience:
However, use of the substance, called psilocybin, is not without risk. Its side effects include paranoia and delusions
and then later quoted a researcher as saying:
"Someone having an adverse reaction might be so scared they might run across a highway and be hit by a car,"
Seriously? And exactly how many times has that ACTUALLY happened? What is the ACTUAL risk? 1 in a billion? Sure, it COULD happen, in theory... but come on. You could also watch a sad movie, have a tear in your eye, and not see a car and get hit by it. That's a risk, it COULD happen - how often is that Risk highlighted in a movie review? The problem is that they present this like you are completely out of your gourd or something, that simply isn't even in the ballpark. You would have be very sensitive and take an absolutely massive dose and just be really unlucky to reach that point.
What is risk of an overdose and complications associated with Acetaminophen? According to http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=an0NgFGyErgU&refer=worldwide
Acetaminophen overdose was linked to 458 deaths and 26,000 hospitalizations annually from 1990 to 2001
How many deaths from psilocybin are there annually? 0.1 maybe? if you stretch the facts a bit. By some accounts it is Zero.
150 people die from food allergies every year in the US. There are maybe half-a-dozen TOTAL cases in the world where psilocybin mushrooms MIGHT have been related to cause of death. An investigation into one of them found issues: http://www.erowid.org/plants/mushrooms/mushrooms_journal5.shtml.
National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 2009 data suggests that 8.1% of the population had used psilocybin - that's 24.9 MILLION people in the US alone (and potentially over 500 MILLION people world-wide). And we know use of these mushrooms is MUCH higher in South America where they have been used for centuries as medicines.
The vast, vast, vast majority of dangers associated with psilocybin ONLY exist BECAUSE it is illegal (proper identification, purity, etc). It is an absolutely absurd situation in my opinion.
The risk of death from psilocybin overdose is virtually nonexistent – there remains no conclusive evidence of any fatalities despite ingestion (often accidental) of dosages greatly exceeding the eﬀective amount. No apparent physiological damage from the use of psilocybin has been observed from the limited research conducted to date (Grinspoon and Bakalar 1997; Stamets 1916)
I'm NOT saying it's harmless (here comes my own CYA), a trip can certainly be extremely intense (I would say for a majority of people, a full dose trip would likely be THE most intense experience of their entire lives) and the person should be aware of what is going to happen and take appropriate precautions. Yes, it is prudent to have a "sitter".
These are the kinds of cautions and facts that should be given as a reservation or caution. Real facts, not the propaganda. As always, check out http://www.erowid.org/ for detailed drug fact info.
Human beings have used psilocybin for at least many thousands of years (direct evidence of use as far back as ~9,000 BCE), if not tens or hundreds of thousands (paleolithic, shamanistic cave paintings in Chauvet Pont d'Arc, Lascaux, Altamira, Chauvet, Magura, et al.: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/clottes/page7.php). Yes, there is risk - but we don't need hyperbole or propaganda that seems rampant in this line of research and reporting today (no doubt due, in part, to the racist and politically motivated "Drug War").
Beyond that, let's be honest - the hallucinations not a "side-effect" they are the effect.
If you have never "been there" (an apt metaphor) it would probably be wise to speak with someone who has so they can give you a better/deeper explanation.
It is always amusing (in a sad and disappointing sense) to read the clinical list of 'effects' of these types of substances like "increased heart rate, disorientation, lethargy, giddiness, euphoria, joy". That's like describing an orgasm as "muscle spams". These capture nothing of the essence of the experience.
How often to do you see ecstatic, noetic, unity, ineffability, awe, astonishment in the list (The Johns Hopkins studies actually do)? You can be utterly transported to 'elsewhere', you can feel the greatest joy or greatest sadness, or greatest fear or sometimes all three at once. It is incomprehensible to someone who doesn't have the experience against which to compare notes. It's like describing color to a person blind from birth - the description just doesn't replace the "felt presence of immediate experience" (to borrow a phrase from McKenna).
I hope this is helpful in some ways to someone.