The Major Magic Mushroom Species You Should Know About
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The way that magic mushrooms are spoken about in some circles, you could be forgiven for thinking that the term refers to just one specific psychedelic mushroom species. In reality, the world of psychedelic fungi is considerably more diverse than most people might realize.
Current estimates put the number of different psychedelic mushrooms at over 180 unique species belonging predominantly to the genus Psilocybe (117 species), but also from the genera Gymnopilus (13 species), Copelandia (12 species), and Panaeolus (7 species) to name just a few. These mushrooms naturally produce amounts of the tryptamine alkaloids psilocybin and psilocin, which can elicit powerful subjective psychedelic experiences in humans if ingested in high amounts.
These psychedelic mushroom species can be found worldwide and different species have been used by indigenous groups around the globe for cultural and medicinal purposes for centuries. The Aztecs, for example, used a substance called teonanácatl (“flesh of the gods”), which is understood to have been a psychedelic mushroom, and cave paintings at Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria suggest that indigenous north African groups may have been using magic mushrooms as early as 9,000 years ago.
Each unique psychedelic plant species differs in terms of its geographic prevalence, its ideal growth conditions, and even its subjective psychotropic effects. Below, Analytical Cannabis takes a look at five of the most well-known and prevalent psychedelic mushroom species around the world.
Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms are the archetypal psychedelic mushroom. Unlike other members of the Psilocybe genus that thrive naturally on lichenous substrates, P. cubensis prefers to grow on well-manured ground or animal dung, but they are also one of the easiest species of psychedelic mushroom to grow indoors. As a result, P. cubensis has gained popularity to become the most commonly used psychedelic mushroom. As such, the species has spread from its natural habitat in the tropics to be cultivated indoors by growers the world over.
There are significant differences in appearance between P. cubensis mushrooms that are grown in the wild and those cultivated indoors, and this has only been exaggerated by years of strategic cultivation to create newer, more potent strains of the P. cubensis species.
Mycologist Paul Stamets wrote in his 1996 book Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World that P. cubensis “gets a rating of ‘moderately potent’.” Other research indicates that P. cubensis contains approximately 0.63 percent psilocybin and 0.6 percent psilocin. In contrast, Penis Envy, a particularly potent (and brazenly named) strain of P. cubensis, is thought to contain up to 50 percent more psilocybin and psilocin than its wild predecessor. As a result of this intensive genetic isolation, the Penis Envy strain has extremely thick stems (get it?) and underdeveloped caps as compared to less modified P. cubensis strains.
As to be expected with a species that has so many different strain variants, it is impossible to neatly sum up the type of psychedelic experiences that come with using these mushrooms. Adding to the complexity, most of the scientific research relating to psychedelic mushrooms tends to use synthetic psilocybin, and so it is equally challenging to verify the experiences that are reported by users. Psilopedia, an online encyclopedia of psychedelic mushroom strains, reports that the Penis Envy strain tends to be associated with feelings of intense euphoria. Other well-known strains, such as Golden Teacher and Hultua, are reportedly well-known for their ability to induce spiritual or mystical experiences.
Although most psychedelics research opts to use synthetic psilocybin, there are still a number of active researchers who are specifically interested in investigating P. cubensis. Earlier this year, Medicinal Genomics published a highly contiguous reference genome for the mushroom, which the team hopes will inform more research into the genes of interest and pathways responsible for producing psilocybin.
Psilocybe azurescens is generally regarded as the most potent wild mushroom that has been discovered to date, containing on average around 1.8 percent psilocybin and 0.4 percent psilocin. P. azurescens also contains significant amounts of another tryptamine alkaloid, baeocystin, which is an analog of psilocybin.
As the story goes, P. azurescens was first discovered in 1979 by a group of boy scouts on a camping trip in Oregon, although they were not counted as an official species until the late 1990s when Paul Stamets published his findings on the mushroom. But it is arguably remarkable that these mushrooms were discovered at all; unlike the other mushroom species that grow over multiple countries and continents, the P. azurescens species is highly localized to the coastal dune grasses in Oregon and Washington state.
Likely due to the large volume of tryptamine alkaloids it contains, there are some reports of P. azurescens users experiencing temporary paralysis when using high doses of the mushroom. However, this high potency has also made these mushrooms a popular option among those looking to practice microdosing.
P. azurescens. (Caleb Brown via Wikimedia Commons)
Psilocybe semilanceata is thought to be one of the oldest and most commonly recognized Psilocybe mushrooms. The earliest reliable report of P. semilanceata intoxication dates back to 1799, in which a doctor in the London Medical and Physical Journal describes the effects of a man serving P. semilanceata to his family for breakfast, after having found the mushrooms in London’s Green Park. The doctor who attended the family reported that one of the children was “attacked with fits of immoderate laughter” along with “vertigo, and a great degree of stupor.”
The species name semilanceata derives from a Latin term meaning spear-shaped, though this species is also sometimes called the “Liberty Cap” mushroom in reference to the distinctive shape of the Phrygian liberty caps worn by groups in ancient Turkey and eastern Europe.
The P. semilanceata is the third-most potent of the common Psilocybe mushroom species, after P. azurescens and P. bohemica, with around one percent psilocybin content. It is also considered the most widespread species of mushroom in terms of its natural habitats as it is prevalent across most of the northern hemisphere and in certain pockets within Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and New Zealand.
While the Liberty Cap mushrooms may be fairly distinctive in appearance compared to other Psilocybe species, it can also bear a resemblance to the poisonous Conocybe filaris species (also sometimes known as Pholiotina rugosa). Like P. semilanceata, C. filaris naturally grows across North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. C. filaris is a very poisonous mushroom that contains the same mycotoxins as the infamous Death Cap mushrooms. Consuming C. filaris can be fatal.
P. semilanceata has been studied in laboratory tests and found to be a good inhibitor of the soil-borne water mold strain Phytophthora cinnamomi, a major cause of plant root rot. In another study, P. semilanceata was also shown to exhibit strong antimicrobial activity against the growth of the human pathogen methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), though the mechanisms behind this effect remain unknown.
Psilocybe cyanescens is the last of the four most predominant Psilocybe strains. It owes its prevalence in part to increasing human urbanization, as it grows readily on humus soil enriched with materials such as twigs, chopped wood, and sawdust. From its roots in the Pacific Northwest and central Europe, the strain has used the lumber and mulch production industries to increase its spread around the globe.
P. cyanescens mushrooms are also commonly known as Wavy Caps on account of their distinctive rippled mushroom head that is unique among the common Psilocybe species. However, this is a similar profile to the very toxic Galerina marginata fungus – known colloquially as the Funeral Bell or the Deadly Skullcap – which enjoys the same growth conditions as P. cyanescens and can often be found growing nearby.
G. marginata, aka the “Funeral Bell”. (Alan Rockefeller via Wikimedia Commons)
Although P. cyanescens has a reasonably high potency of the psychedelia-inducing tryptamine alkaloids, it is generally not cultivated by mushroom enthusiasts to the same extent as the other common Psilocybe species as it can be challenging to grow indoors. Similar to P. azurescens, there are also anecdotal reports of P. cyanescens inducing a temporary paralysis when consumed in high enough amounts.
Copelandia cyanescens, aka Panaeolus cyanescens
Copelandia (Panaeolus) cyanescens is one of the most notable non-Psilocybe species of psychedelic mushroom, though a confusing naming convention means that it can often be confused with the Psilocybe cubensis strain Blue Meanies – C. cyanescens mushrooms are also commonly nicknamed Blue Meanies due to the blue and blue-green colored bruising that can easily develop on their stems and caps when handled.
C. cyanescens (Cactu via Wikimedia Commons)
The species is sometimes also referred to as Copelandia Hawaiian, or simply the Hawaiian, as Hawaii is where the species is most commonly found and consumed, but it can also be found throughout south-east Asia, the Caribbean, and other tropical and neotropical environments.
According to the American ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox, C. cyanescens is cultivated in Bali for use in native festivals and for the tourist trade. In Samoa, Cox reports that the caps of C. cyanescens mushrooms are boiled to form a black juice which is mixed into coffee and drunk. The effects of this brew are said to produce feelings of euphoria with visual and auditory hallucinations that can last for many hours.
C. cyanescens is most well-known for its potency, which would explain the rapid manifestation of hallucinogenic effects that were reported by those users in Samoa. According to the 1980 book The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens (2nd ed.) by the American biologist Richard Schultes and Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, C. cyanescens had a higher level of alkaloids than any other psychedelic mushroom that had been discovered at the time of writing.