Types of Magic Mushrooms

Discover the diverse world of magic mushrooms with our comprehensive guide to the various species of psilocybe and their unique characteristics.

Overview: Magic mushrooms, also known as shrooms, contain psilocybin and have been used for spiritual practices by indigenous cultures. Not all magic mushrooms contain psilocybin, and some can be toxic. Psilocybe cubensis is the most common species, with different strains like B+, Golden Teachers, Costa Rican, and Penis Envy. Psilocybe semilanceata, or Liberty Caps, have a global distribution and distinct features. Psilocybe cyanescens, or Wavy Caps, are potent and found in temperate regions. Psilocybe mexicana, or Teonanácatl, has a long history of use in Mexico. Psilocybe tampanensis, or Philosopher's Stone, produces truffles and is rare. Psilocybe azurescens, or Flying Saucer, is potent and found along the Pacific coast. Psilocybe stuntzii, or Blue Ringer, grows in the Pacific Northwest. Psilocybe baeocystis, or Bottlecaps, has caramel-colored caps and grows on wood-based substrates.

Exploring the World of Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms, or “shrooms,” as they are colloquially known, are psilocybin-containing mushrooms. There are reportedly over 180 species of magic mushrooms, many of which grow right across the globe.

Throughout history, the powerful psycho-spiritual properties of Psilocybe mushrooms have been utilized by a variety of indigenous cultures, most notably the Mazatec people of Oaxaca, Mexico, who have a rich cultural heritage and are known for their use of magic mushrooms in traditional spiritual practices.

Despite the long history of use, magic mushrooms have only recently begun to receive mainstream scientific attention, and much remains to be understood about their effects and potential therapeutic applications.

Importantly, not all types of magic mushrooms contain psilocybin. For example, the enchantingly bright red Amanita muscaria or “fly agaric” — the archetypal mushroom of fairytales — contains muscimol and ibotenic acid, and can be dangerously toxic if improperly prepared. 

You may find some of these naturally occurring psychedelic fungi sprouting up in your local forest and even your own backyard.

If you're intrigued or feel drawn to trying magic mushrooms, it might be because you're curious about experiencing a unique state of consciousness. This state is known for its effects on perception, sensory experiences, thoughts, and mood.

Alternatively, you might be considering them as a potential remedy for a stubborn ailment that hasn't responded to other treatments. If that's the case, it's important to educate yourself about the history, growing conditions, physical traits, psychoactive effects, and potential risks linked to magic mushrooms.

Psilocybe cubensis: Cubes

Psilocybe cubensis is the most common species of magic mushroom — and by a distance. It is known for being relatively beginner-friendly and having a medium-high psilocybin content.

Psilocybe cubensis
A playful, artistic rendering of Psilocybe cubensis

The exact origin of the discovery of Psilocybe cubensis is unknown, as the species is found in many different regions around the world and has likely been used by indigenous cultures for spiritual or medicinal purposes for thousands of years. However, the species was first scientifically described in 1906 as Stropharia cubensis by the American mycologist Franklin Sumner Earle.

There are many different strains of P. cubensis, each with its own distinct physical features, growth patterns, and potency, that are often related to the environment they have adapted to. Psilocybe cubensis is known to grow in warm and humid climates, often in tropical regions.

These mushrooms can be found in various parts of the world, including Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Australia, where they grow naturally on manure and compost piles, as well as on rotting logs and other organic matter in humid, subtropical environments.

The most common strains of P. cubensis include:

B+: B+ is considered one of the most beginner-friendly cubensis strains due to its resilience and ability to grow under a range of conditions. The B+ strain is known to produce a relatively smooth experience and is often recommended for first-time growers and consumers.

It is characterized by large, golden-brown caps and white stems that bruise easily when handled. Although the strength of B+ may differ based on its growing environment, it usually contains medium to high levels of psilocybin.

Golden Teachers: The name for the "Golden Teacher" strain of P. cubensis is derived from the golden-brown color of the cap and its reputation for being a teacher or guide for those exploring psychedelics for the first time. Like B+, golden teachers are known to produce a relatively smooth experience and are often recommended for first-time growers and consumers.

Costa Rican: The Costa Rica strain is one of many mushroom strains named after its place of origin. The effects and potency of the Costa Rican strain may vary from other strains of P. cubensis due to differences in growing conditions, genetics, and other factors.

The cap is typically a golden-brown color and can range in shape from round to flat, while the stem is typically white and can have a hollow or solid texture. 

Penis Envy: Penis Envy is considered one of the most potent and difficult-to-cultivate strains of P. cubensis, compared to other strains. The name "Penis Envy" refers to the physical shape of the mushrooms, which are said to resemble a penis. Due to the very high potency of Penis Envy, they are generally not recommended for first-time growers or users, despite their being highly sought after. 

Psilocybe semilanceata: Liberty Caps

Liberty Caps are a species of Psilocybe mushrooms that have a widespread, global distribution. Liberty Caps were first described by the Swedish mycologists Elias Magnus Fries as Agaricus semilanceatus in 1838, before German scientists Paul Kummer transferred it to Psilocybe in 1871. The use of P. semilanceata for consciousness-altering purposes dates back to at least the late 18th century in London. 

Commonly growing in wet, grassy areas, such as pastures, meadows, lawns, and golf courses, Liberty Caps can be found in the temperate climates of many European countries, including Ireland and the UK, where they are particularly popular, as well as France, Germany, and Italy. Liberty Caps can also be found growing in North America, Canada, and regions in the Southern Hemisphere such as New Zealand and Chile.

P. semilanceata has specific macroscopic and microscopic features that distinguish it from other strains. The cap is usually 0.5-2.5 cm wide and is mostly smooth and conical with a pointed top, while its color can range from dark chestnut brown to pale yellow and the surface is smooth. The stem is 30-90 mm long and 30.5-2 mm wide, with a whitish color that can become more brownish towards the base. The gills are adnexed and range in color from cream to purple-black.

Microscopically, the spores are dark purplish brown and ellipsoid, measuring 10-14 mm x 36-8 mm. The levels of psilocybin and psilocin in Liberty caps range from 0.01-0.91% and 0.01-0.90% respectively. 

types of magic mushrooms
A playful, artistic rendition of liberty caps.

Psilocybe cyanescens: Wavy Caps

Psilocybe cyanescens, also known as "Wavy Caps," are found in temperate regions of the world, including the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, Western and Central Europe, and parts of the Southern Hemisphere. Psilocybe cyanescens can be easily distinguished from other Psilocybe species by its wavy or undulating cap and its potent psychoactive properties — P. cyanescens is considered the most potent of all psilocybe mushrooms. 

Wavy caps are commonly found growing in mulched wood chip beds, as well as in other environments such as disturbed ground, compost piles, and landscaped areas. The moist and nutrient-rich conditions provided by mulched wood chips provide an ideal environment for the growth and fruiting of this species of mushroom.

Psilocybe cyanescens was first named and described by British mycologists Dennis and Wakefield in 1946 in the publication “New or interesting British fungi.”

In 1962, American professor of pharmacognosy Varro E. Tyler and mycologist Daniel E. Stuntz published a study on the chemistry of Psilocybe cyanescens, in which they reported the presence of psilocybin and other psychoactive compounds in the mushroom. This study marked one of the earliest investigations into the chemical composition of this species and helped to establish its reputation as a potent psychoactive substance. 

Due to their high average psilocybin content, Psilocybe cyanescens should be used with caution and under the guidance of a trusted, experienced guide, as they have the potential to cause intense and unpredictable effects.

Psilocybe Mexicana: Teonanácatl

Psilocybe mexicana is a species of psychedelic mushroom that is native to Mexico. P, mexicana has a long history of use in indigenous spiritual and religious practices, particularly among the Mazatec people of Mexico. P. mexicana is also known by the indigenous name "teonanácatl" which means "flesh of the gods" in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs.

In 1958, French mycologist Roger Heim collected a sample of Psilocybe mexicana in Mexico and sent it to LSD discoverer and medicinal chemist, Albert Hofmann. Hofmann was able to cultivate additional mushrooms from the sample and went on to isolate and synthesize psilocybin and psilocin for the first time.

This was a major milestone in the field of psychedelics, and it paved the way for further research and understanding of the effects of these substances on the human brain and consciousness. Together, Heim and Hofmann played a crucial role in advancing our understanding of Psilocybe mushrooms.

The optimal growing conditions for Psilocybe mexicana include a warm, moist environment with high humidity and good air circulation. It is a fast-growing species that can fruit in as little as two weeks, and it typically fruits from spring to fall in its native range in Mexico. 

Psilocybe mexicana is a small, reddish-brown to yellowish-brown mushroom that grows in the wild on the dung of various mammals, including cattle, horses, and pigs. The cap is usually 1-2.5 cm in diameter, convex to plane, and has a smooth or slightly viscid surface. The gills are narrow, close together, and adnate or slightly decurrent. The stem is thin and fibrous, typically 3-7 cm long, and has a bluish tint that becomes more pronounced when the mushroom is handled or bruised.

Psilocybe tampanensis: Philosopher’s Stone 

Psilocybe tampanensis is native to the Gulf Coast region of Florida, USA, where it grows on substrates of wood chips or sawdust in urban environments.

P. tampanensis was discovered by mycologist Steven Pollock in Tampa, Florida in 1977. The exact origin of the name "Philosopher's Stone" is not clear, but it is rather interestingly speculated that the name was inspired by the idea of alchemy and the pursuit of spiritual growth that is often associated with the use of psilocybin mushrooms.

P. tampanensis was scientifically documented by Pollock and the Mexican mycologist Gastón Guzmán in a 1978 publication in the journal Mycotaxon.

Psilocybin tampanensis is a species of mushroom that produces sclerotia, commonly known as truffles or philosopher's stones. Similar to the fruiting bodies of other types of magic mushrooms, truffles can be used for their psychoactive effects. Magic truffles, as they are sometimes called, can be consumed fresh or dried. The philosopher's stone is considered to be one of the rarest (in terms of natural occurrence) species of psilocybin mushrooms.

In the Netherlands, the sale and distribution of magic truffles is tolerated through a legal loophole, and they can be purchased at specialty stores and are sometimes consumed at magic truffle retreats. 

The macroscopic features of this species of mushroom include a cap that ranges from 1 to 2 cm in diameter and has a convex to plane shape with an ochraceous-straw brown to yellowish-gray color. The surface of the cap is smooth.

The whole mushroom has a stem that is 20 to 60 mm long and ranges from yellowish brown to reddish brown in color with a smooth surface. The gills are adnexed and range from brownish to dark violet brown in color.

Microscopically, P. tampanensis spores are purplish brown and are sub ellipsoid-sub rhomboid in shape. The spores are 7.5 to 10 mm in length and 34 to 8 mm in width. The psilocybin levels in these mushrooms range from n.d. to 0.19%, while the psilocin levels range from 0.01 to 0.03%.

Psilocybe azurescens: Flying Saucer 

Psilocybe azurescens is a medium to large-sized Psilocybe mushroom that typically grows in clusters. It is native to the Pacific Northwest region of North America, and is commonly found growing on wood chips and wood-based substrates, often along the coast. 

Flying saucers prefer cooler and damper conditions than other Psilocybe species and it is known for its high potency and unusual growing habits, as it is often found growing on wood chips and dune grasses along the Pacific coast of the United States. 

Reportedly, flying saucers were first discovered in 1979 by a group of boy scouts that were camping near the Columbia River in Oregon. P. azurescens were formerly named and described by Paul Stamets and Jochen Gartz in 1995, two well-known mycologists who have made significant contributions to the study of psilocybin mushrooms.

Interestingly, the name “Psilocybe azurescens,” was inspired by Stamets' son Azureus, whose name was derived from “azure,” the color that appears on Psilocybe mushrooms when they are injured.

The cap on P. azurescens is caramel to dark brown in color, and can be conical to bell-shaped, typically measuring 2-6 cm in diameter. The gills are purplish-brown, crowded, and run down the stem. The stem is slim, flexible, and has a length of 5-15 cm, often wider at the base. It is also light brown to gray in color and covered in a whitish powdery veil when young. The spore print of P. azurescens is purplish-brown.

Psilocybe stuntzii: Blue Ringer 

Psilocybe stuntzii is a small to medium-sized mushroom that typically grows in clusters, found in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, growing on wood chips and other wood-based substrates in urban areas. Blue ringers prefer moist and shady environments and typically grow in the fall.

Mycologists and ethnobotanists Jonathan Ott and Gastón Guzmán first described and chemically analyzed P. Stuntzii in 1976. The species was named after Daniel Stuntz, a mycologist at the University of Washington, and the same Daniel Stuntz who analyzed P. cyanescens in 1962, who first found the species growing on the university's campus. 

Its cap is caramel to light brown in color, and can be conical to bell-shaped, typically measuring 1-3 cm in diameter. The gills are gray to purplish-brown, crowded, and run down the stem. The stem is slim, and flexible and has a length of 2-6 cm, often wider at the base. It is also light brown to gray in color and covered in a whitish powdery veil when young. The spore print of P. stuntzii is purplish-brown

Psilocybe baeocystis: Bottlecaps, Bluebells

This species was first described scientifically by mycologists Paul Stamets and J. Anthony Allan in 1979. P. baeocystis is commonly found in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, where it grows on wood chips and mulch, particularly in urban areas. Bottlecaps prefer a moist and shady environment and tend to grow in clusters. 

Psilocybe baeocystis was first described by Singer and Smith in 1958. In 1962, the presence of psilocin was first documented in P. baeocystis by Benedict et al., before Leung and Paul discovered the related compounds baeocystin and norbaeocystin shortly thereafter, extracting them from a saprophytic culture.

The levels of psychoactive compounds in this species are reported to range from 0.15% to 0.85% psilocybin, up to 0.59% psilocin, and up to 0.10% baeocystin.

The cap of P. baeocystis is brown to caramel-colored, convex in shape, measures 1-3 cm in diameter, and becomes more bell-shaped as it matures. The gills are brown to gray and crowded, running down the stem. The stem, which is slim, flexible and has a length of 2-6 cm, and is often wider at the base, is also brown to gray in color and covered in a whitish powdery veil when young. The spore print of P. baeocystis is dark purple-brown.

Amanita muscaria: Fly Agaric 

Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric mushroom, is a species of mushroom that is found in many temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, Asia, and North America. It is one of the most distinctive and recognizable mushrooms in the world, with its unmistakable bright red cap adorned with white spots.

A. muscaria has been used for thousands of years for spiritual and recreational purposes, particularly among indigenous cultures of Siberia. However, its use is not widespread among indigenous cultures. 

A. muscaria’s primary psychoactive constituents — muscimol and ibotenic acid — can produce an altered state of consciousness that is distinct from that typically produced by psilocybin. The dreamlike trip occasioned by A. muscaria may be characterized by alcohol-like intoxication, delirium, and hallucinations, but can also produce euphoria and personally meaningful religious and spiritual visionary experiences. 

However, although considered non-fatal, it is important to note that Amanita muscaria can also be toxic and cause serious health effects if improperly prepared, consumed in large amounts, or consumed in combination with other substances. Therefore, it is generally advised that Amanita muscaria should not be consumed without proper knowledge, preparation, and the support and guidance of an expert or trusted guide.

For more on the storied history, rich folklore, unique effects, and potentially dangerous risks associated with the famous fly agaric, check out this blog on legal psychedelics

kinds of mushrooms
Amanita Muscaria (fly agaric)

Take-home Points: Risks and Legality of Magic Mushrooms 

Many different types of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms are rapidly growing in popularity, largely for their medicinal and visionary properties, such as their ability to alleviate symptoms of depression or produce mystical-type experiences. Many of these fascinating species of magic mushrooms are not covered above, such as blue meanies, Psilocybe zapotecorum, Psilocybe allenii, and Psilocybe caerulescens. 

Although the different types of magic mushrooms are generally considered to be safe when used cautiously and responsibly in a safely controlled environment under the supervision of a therapist or trusted companion, the safety and potential health risks associated with consuming magic mushrooms are not yet fully understood.

Also, many wild, toxic mushrooms very closely resemble some of the psychedelic magic mushrooms described above. For example, P. stuntzii closely resembles the highly poisonous Galerina marginata, and several instances of poisoning have occurred due to individuals mistaking the latter for the former. So, it is crucial to properly identify any wild mushrooms before consuming them to be absolutely certain of their safety. 

It is also important to mention that the legality of magic mushrooms can vary widely from country to country, and even within different jurisdictions within a country. In some jurisdictions, psilocybin mushrooms may be legal for medical or therapeutic purposes, while in others they may be classified as illegal drugs.

Additionally, some countries or states may have laws that allow for the use of psilocybin mushrooms in religious or spiritual practices. It is always a good idea to be informed about the specific laws and regulations in your area before engaging in any activities related to psilocybin mushrooms.

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