Updated: Dec 5, 2022
With the growing interest in the medicinal benefits of psilocybin for treating a range of mental health problems, it follows that there is greater interest in where psilocybin comes from. Psilocybin is one of the classic psychedelics, a natural compound found within psilocybin-containing mushrooms from the genus Psilocybe. Psilocybe is a diverse genus, with species found on all continents (except Antarctica) within various habitats. It turns out that psilocybin-containing fungi are quite widespread with other genera—including Gymnopilus, Inocybe, and Conocybe—also containing psilocybin. I love mushrooms? Tired of contamination and failure? Maybe you know how to grow mushrooms, but let us handle the sciencey and risky stuff. Try our grow kit, the ZoomBag magic mushroom grow kit, it is super easy to use, and get 2-4 ounces of dry mushrooms.
Fungi have always had an association with some element of the magical, and as we investigate these associations in more detail, we find their use in surprising places. The use of Psilocybe in Central America and Amanita muscaria among the shamans of Siberia is well documented. There is also some evidence that the fungus ergot was part of the Eleusinian mysteries. Records of other fungi used in ceremony appear in academic literature, including a Boletus used in the curious “mushroom madness” of the Kuma of New Guinea, and the use of a Lycoperdon puffball in northern Mexico among the Tarahumara of Chihuahua for divination. Despite mentions in literature, some references lack detail, with further investigations revealing either ritual practices or other entheogens as the cause for the altered states of consciousness.
The Classic Psychedelic - Psilocybin
Psilocybin and psilocin are the main active compounds in “magic mushrooms”. Psilocybin is the prodrug for psilocin: psilocin can cross directly over the blood-brain barrier, while enzymes in the body dephosphorylate psilocybin, converting it into psilocin. Psilocybin is an indole alkaloid that is structurally very similar to serotonin. Psilocybin is considered one of the classic psychedelics because it is structurally related to the neurotransmitters serotonin or dopamine (which are 5-HT2A agonists). Other classic psychedelics include LSD and mescaline.
The psychedelic effects include heightened/altered sensory experiences of vision, sound, and physical sensations. Other effects include a distorted sense of time, increased empathy and connection to others and the natural world, ego dissolution, and mystical/spiritual experiences. Effects of psychedelics are dose and setting dependent; they can evoke a state of inward reflection that can be deeply personal and existential. Side effects may include disorientation, increased heart rate, anxiety, and paranoia, which create what some people call a “bad trip”. Some people have reported long-term effects from these negative experiences, such as flashbacks, while others return to baseline without further issues.
Varieties of Magic Mushroom
“Magic mushrooms” can also be referred to as neurotropic fungi, a group of fungi that produce “psychoactive” effects. This group includes species containing psilocybin, species containing ibotenic acid, the ergot fungi, and species used in a ceremonial context without reliable chemical studies. The most well represented group is the psilocybin-containing group.
All psilocybin-containing mushrooms, bar one, can be described as agarics, which means that they are gilled mushrooms with a cap and stem. The main type of mushroom that we refer to as “magic” are the genus Psilocybe—in 2005 Guzman, author of “The Genus Psilocybe”, estimated 227 species of Psilocybe, with 144 known to be hallucinogenic. In general, Psilocybe have hygrophanous caps (with caps changing color as they dry out), often have fibrous stems, and are considered “little brown mushrooms”. They have very distinctive blue bruising where the flesh of the mushroom is damaged, be it the stem, cap, gills, or mycelium. The psilocybin-containing mushroom that is not an agaric is actually a lichen from Ecuador—Dictyonema huaorani.
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The genus Psilocybe has changed significantly over time, and, for a while, Psilocybe was synonymous with the genus Deconica, which means the two were considered the same genus. Over time, these species have slowly been distinguished: many of the non-bruising species were referred to as Psilocybe, while the others were denominated Deconica or were moved into other genera. In 2009, after a reassessment of both Deconica and Psilocybe, Psilocybe was nearly renamed. However, due to legal implications, the group of blue bruising species retained their name Psilocybe.
While “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms” are typically from the genus Psilocybe, these are not the only species of mushrooms that contain active compounds. Some species from Gymnopilus, Inocybe, and Conocybe also contain psilocybin. It should be noted that in the case of Inocybe and Conocybe caution is highly recommended as these genera contain toxic species. In the United States, psilocybin and psilocin are listed as Schedule 1 drugs, making possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms illegal. Spores do not contain psilocybin or psilocin, which means they are legal to trade or sell in most US states. Spores are illegal in Georgia, Idaho, and California. The sale of spores for the purpose of growing hallucinogenic mushrooms is illegal. The cultivation of hallucinogenic mushrooms is considered the manufacture of a Schedule 1 substance.
Variety Upon Variety
There are many types of magic mushrooms. The majority are in the genus Psilocybe, but there are other genera such as Panaeolus, Gymnopilus, Inocybe, and Conocybe. In addition to these genera, some mycologists include Amanita muscaria. It should be noted that Amanita muscaria is an associated mushroom, but its effects cannot be classified as psychedelic. Psilocybe is by far the main genus, and species can be found on all continents except Antarctica. It is a diverse genus, existing in a variety of habitats living off a variety of plant-based substrates, including grass, dung, wood, or well-fertilized soil.
Given this diversity, foraging for shrooms can be a spiritual journey in itself.
That said, care should be taken, as many mushrooms from Psilocybe can be confused with fungi from poisonous genera, particularly Galerina, which is poisonous. Given that both genera share brown caps and the same habitat, they can easily be confused. Psilocybe can also be confused with other poisonous mushrooms, such as Hypholoma fasciculare, Leratiomyces ceres, and any number of Cortinarius spp. It is recommended before you go foraging to know the species present in your area and to be aware of possible look-alike species.
The archetypal Psilocybe species are Gold Tops (Psilocybe cubensis), Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata), Wavy Caps (Psilocybe cyanescens), and Blue Meanies (Panaeolus cyanescens). Psilocybe cubensis and Panaeolus cyanescens grow in most tropical and subtropical regions where cattle are farmed. Psilocybe semilanceata, also known as Liberty Caps, are thought to be the most widely distributed Psilocybe occurring in temperate regions on all continents. Psilocybe cyanescens, with their sinusoidal (wavy) caps, are known to grow at forest edges and in woodchip mulch in many places in both the United States and Europe.
Most mushroom species will only grow in the particular climatic regions to which they are adapted. Thus, it is worth having some familiarity with the different climates in your country. For example, the eastern part of the United States has two climate zones: humid continental and humid subtropical. In contrast, the west is a mixture of arid and semi-arid. The west coast is classified as having an oceanic climate, which stretches down the west coast from Canada to California, where the climate transitions into a Mediterranean climate.
Psilocybe cubensis and Panaeolus spp., particularly the strong Panaeolus cyanescens (otherwise known as Copelandia cyanescens), grow in the humid subtropical zone that stretches from Florida through Texas. In some regions, it fruits year-round. In comparison, the fungi found in the humid continental region are Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata and the rare Psilocybe caerulipes, also known as Blue Foot. Psilocybe species found in the Pacific Northwest oceanic climate, from British Columbia and Washington into Oregon, are Psilocybe Azurescens, Psilocybe allenii, Psilocybe pelliculosa, Psilocybe stuntzii, and Psilocybe baeocystis, also known as bottle caps. Some of these species also occur in the Mediterranean climate of California, particularly Psilocybe cyanescens and Psilocybe allenii.
From Mexico, stretching down through Central America into South America, there is a dry and wet tropical climate. In southern Mexico, particularly around Oaxaca, we find Psilocybe caerulescens also known as Derrumbes, Psilocybe mexicana, and Psilocybe zapotecorum. However, many lesser-known species are present in this region as well, and further study is required to identify them all.
Northern Europe is mostly an oceanic climate; the species present are Psilocybe cyanescens, Psilocybe azurescens, Psilocybe serbica, and Psilocybe semilanceata. The most sought-after psilocybin-containing mushrooms in Europe are Liberty Caps and Wavy Caps. In the Netherlands, it is legal to sell Philosophers Stones, the sclerotia Psilocybe tampanensis, a very rare mushroom from Florida. In Australia, the main species foraged are Psilocybe subaeruginosa (P.Subs), Psilocybe cubensis, and the poo-meanie, Psilocybe alutacea.
Potency in mushrooms from the genus Psilocybe exist on a spectrum. There are the potent species, such as Flying Saucers, Wavy Caps, and P. Subs, which are high in psilocybin and low in psilocin. They are also high in baeocystin and other tryptamines. Additionally, there are “median” species, such as Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe semilanceata, and Psilocybe tampanensis. Median species may be better suited to group ceremonies. For solo ceremonies, rather than concentrating on the species of mushrooms, it is better to focus on intentions, set and setting, and how experienced the person is.
There are still new species being discovered on a regular basis. Compared to other organisms, the distribution and chemistry of fungi are little understood, not to mention how many species there are. With more people taking an interest in foraging and contributing citizen science data, we continue to gain a better understanding of fungi. However, there is still so much to learn around psychedelic mushrooms, which makes it an exciting time to explore the mycological world! Want to know how to grow magic mushrooms? If you want to grow your own magic mushrooms in a psilocybin magic mushroom grow kit check out the ZoomBag Magic Mushroom Grow Kit which we sell here!