Funky Fungi In Depth

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Psilocybe cyanescens
Psilocybe semilanceata
Psilocybe cubensis
Psilocybe baeocystis

With more than 200 species of psychoactive fungi

The best known member of the ergot fungi family is Claviceps purpurea. It is a parasite fungus that grows on the world’s grasses, occurring globally. Its place in entheogen history is set as it was involved in the production of kykeon by the ancient Greeks (known as the Eleusis mystery) as well as being an additive to the narcotic Soma of the ancient Vedic of the Indian subcontinent. Today wise shamans avoid self‐experimentation with the actual fungi. Nonetheless, modern juggernauts continue to enjoy Claviceps purpurea chemistry. Albert Hofmann used the alkaloids of ergot – Claviceps purpurea – in his initial production of LSD.

Amanita muscaria is the best known psychoactive Amanitas, although a number of these shrooms contain the neurotropics ibotenic acid and muscimol and thus are also active. While definitely useful as an entheogen, it is important to remember that some members of the Amanita family can kill a person with only a single bite. Many folks disdain the Amanita trip as heavily somatic (physically uncomfortable) and with more than a touch of delirium. Most imbibers avoid it – preferring the real “magic mushrooms” journey.

Coined by the editor of Life Magazine in 1957 – “Magic mushrooms” refers to mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe. Psilocybe is Greek for “bare headed” and by extension a nickname for one’s phallus ‐‐ an association made clear by anyone who has seen photos of slightly immature shrooms. Currently there are 18 species in Canada and the United States. Since psilocybin and psilocin are scheduled compounds – magic mushrooms are illegal in the United States as containers of these illegal substances. For a nice vacation consider southern Mexico where a whopping 44 species of psilocybin mushrooms can be found. And while the Psilocybes are illegal in Mexico, the government seems to have little interest in them.

Fifty years ago there were only a total of twenty known psychoactive fungi species, as most of the world’s Psilocybe mushrooms were as yet undiscovered. Today there are more than 200 known species. The ethno mycologist Jochen Gartz has noted that the psychoactive mushrooms seem to “occur in abundance wherever mycologists abound.” Basically whenever mycologists study materials and samples collected from any region they find new species. Given the fact that new psychoactive fungi are continually being discovered it is certain there must be as yet undiscovered species. Magic mushrooms are rather prolific on Mother Earth and are located on every continent on the globe. There is even a Psilocybe mushroom in the Antarctica.

All the active Psilocybe mushrooms contain amounts of the same four psychoactive substances – psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin and norbaeocystin, in addition to lesser amounts of other possibly psychoactive compounds. For the chemists among us – it might be important to note that these four compounds are structurally related to each other. They are part of the psychedelic tryptamine family, bearing close resemblance to the neurotransmitter serotonin. The serotonin affinity explains the psilocybes trippy nature. Baeocystin and norbaeocystin are psilocybin without one and two methyl groups.

The amounts, percentages and proportions of these four integral psychedelic substances vary from species to species and also among the different the strains within the same species. The proportions of these compounds may affect the qualitative essence of the journey although this has not been proven. It is also possible that the other minor psychoactive compounds found in these mushrooms might modulate the effect of the other psychoactive substances found.

Some studies have shown that P. azurescens as the magic mushroom with the highest concentration of psilocybin/psilocin while other studies have suggested any of the following species might be the strongest: P. bohemica, P. semilanceata, P. baeocystis, P. cyanescens, P. tampanensis or P. cubensis. Within any species there can be a tenfold range in psilocybin and psilocin content. P. cubensis has been widely propagated in commercialized venues and there is evidence that this strain is gaining in strength. Magic shrooms cultivated indoors consistency seem to be stronger than the field‐collected variety. While some ‐‐ myself included ‐‐ believe that certain magic mushrooms species may render a particular subjective effect, the tripper’s stomach contents previous to ingestion and his or her emotional state will be most directive of the journey. Set and setting – mind‐set, emotional state and setting, and the tripping environment are most important. Magic mushrooms are the perfect entheogen in many ways. Perceptions can be magnified thousand fold so have a clear mindset before you munch. Be hungry but remember you will be taking what gives. Those without a purposeful mindset who chose a safe place for imbibing will more than likely get the experience they want. Be aware also that mushroom – indeed all psychedelics ‐‐ are not for the mentally unsound, as they can precipitate instability and breaks from reality. Be respectful of what the goddess wants to show you.

The most commonly used magic mushrooms are P. azurescens, P. baeocystis, P. caerulescens, P. cubensis, P. Mexicana, P. pelliculosa, P. semilanceta, P. stuntzii, Panaeolus subbalteatus and Copelandiacyanescens. In truth, the different kinds of magic mushrooms may be a moot point as most people will never get to try more than p. cubensis. P. cubensis is not necessarily so potent but it is the easiest to grow.

As the exact alkaloid content can vary greatly from species to species as well as having great variety among individuals of the same species, just how many mushrooms to take can be tricky. Start out with small modest doses – a shroom or two. Between 4 and 8 mg of psilocybin is needed per person to get off nicely. Get ready to sit back – sink into Gaia – enjoy vivid involuntary memory, religious exaltation, ecstatic delirium….

The big 4 Magic Mushrooms – plus one honorable mention P. cubensis aka Stropharia cubensis – the most commonly grown and consumed magic mushroom due to its ease of cultivation and its abilities as asolid producer. Native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas – it can also now be found growing in other places, such as the American Gulf coast. If one does journey with magic mushrooms the chance is good it will be with this species. Cubies have a lovely cap ranging from reddish cinnamon brown to radiate golden yellow in color. The cap is 1.5 to 8cm broad and stands 40‐150 cm high. It bruises blue and thrives in cattle dung. Of all the magic mushrooms this one is the only one easily cultivated.

P. semilanceata – Found worldwide and common in the Pacific Northwest this is known as the “Liberty Cap” mushroom. It is frequently found and fairly easy to spot in cow pastures. The proverbial favorite of the Pacific Northwest – possibly because of its relative ease of identification. This is a small shroom, with a .5 to 2.5 cm cap that stands .4‐1.2 cm tall. Its cap is extreme conical in shape, translucent dark chestnut to light tan in color and viscid. The Liberty Cap can vary widely in strength – some studies have identified it as super strong, whereas many of us who harvest this species regularly find it very modest in strength. This has led scientists to conclude that there must be several distinct varieties of P.semilanceata, although this has not yet been proven.

P. cyanescens – also native to the Pacific Northwest and nicknamed “wavy caps” due to its undulating cap shape – this species can also be easily misidentified with other deadly (Galerina) mushrooms. A fairly strong and visionary shroom and this shaman’s personal favorite for more than twenty years, it has a chestnut brown cap 2‐4 cm broad becoming more caramel colored with age. This little shroom occurs in areas enriched with woody debris. Apparently it has an affinity for the commercialized wood chips that are sold on the west coast for mulching urban gardens. In the late fall in Seattle, when the rains begin this delight can be located in assorted city lawns and ardens to the great joy of local enthusiasts.

P. azurescens is a highly potent – perhaps the most potent ‐‐ species of magic mushroom. Once again native to the Pacific Northwest… more prolific in Oregon than Washington. This shroom has become quite popular in outdoor cultivation and so its range is fortunately expanding. This mushroom stands 9 to 20 cm tall and has a chestnut to brown to caramel cap 3‐10 cm broad. Rapid blue bruising occurs where injured. This shroom also prefers the deciduous wood chip environ but also equally thrives in sandy soils of grassland. This wonderful entheogen is especially prolific in the Astoria region of the Oregon Coast.

P. baeocystis – another fairly small shroom with a 1 to 5cm cap that stands 5‐7cm tall. It bruises blue particularly easy enhancing its ability to be identified. It grows in environs similar to P. cyanescens as it also prefers the cultivated landscape. Look for it among the wood chipped gardens and rhododendron gardens of the Pacific Northwest.

Remember NEVER EAT A MUSHROOM THAT YOU ARE NOT 100% SURE OF ITS IDENTIFICATION. Be aware too that a number of Psilocybe shrooms look very similar to the extremely poisonous mushrooms, including Galerinas. Therefore this article should only serve as an initial guide for further exploration of magic mushrooms.

ContFor more info check out:
Paul Stamets’ guide Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World (1996) →