While psilocybe is not actually the mother of all magic mushrooms, it is the most popular genus of magic mushrooms, the mushrooms most associated with a psychedelic high. Read on to find out more about these mushrooms, and what the heck is in them.
An overview of psilocybe mushrooms
When we hear the terms ‘magic mushrooms’ or ‘psychedelic mushrooms’ the immediate association is with ‘psilocybin mushrooms’. Truth is, there isn’t just one kind of psilocybin mushroom, and they come from different genera. The most popular genus is the psilocybe grouping, though there are other genera, like Panaeolus and Conocybe.
Psilocybe mushrooms come from the Hymenogastraceae family of fungi, and were split originally into two major groups, that were not well connected to each other. One group for hallucinogenic species, and one group for non-hallucinogenic mushrooms. This was updated later with the hallucinogenic mushrooms staying under the Hymenogastraceae family name, and the non-hallucinogenic mushrooms (mostly) becoming known as the Deconica genera, under the Strophariaceae family.
The name Psilocybe comes from the Greek words for “bare” or “naked” (psilós), and “head” or “swelling” (kúbe), to create a meaning of “bare-headed”. This is in reference to the loose skin over the cap, which is detachable, and which looks like a bald head. The mushrooms look pretty standard for magic mushrooms, probably because they are the most popular, and therefore pictured most frequently. They are long-stemmed brown mushrooms, with a small, usually umbrella-looking cap. The spore-prints range from a lilac-brown to a dark purplish-brown.
These mushrooms come from the general Mesoamerica area which has the widest variety. But they can be found in many parts of the world, with many species found in more temperate weather conditions. This genus includes species like: P. cubensis, P. subcubensis, P. cyanescens, P. Mexicana, P. Semilanceata, P. Aurescens, and P. Pelliculosa, but there are hundreds of different species in the world.
Psilocybe mushrooms contain three psychedelic compounds called psilocybin, psilocin, and baeocystin. The first two of these are often mentioned, while the third is less well-known. While not all species within this genus contain these compounds, the majority of them do.
Psilocybin, psilocin, and baeocystin
When it comes to these mushrooms, there are three psychedelic compounds to consider. The first, psilocybin, is most famous, and is even used to refer to these mushrooms as psilocybin mushrooms. The interesting thing about psilocybin? It’s considered a ‘prodrug’ which implies a biologically inactive compound until it breaks down into a different compound in the body. The compound it breaks down into, is psilocin, making this the more interesting of the two.
Psilocin exists as well in these mushrooms, but in smaller amounts. Though psilocybin itself is inactive, it’s usually the more dominant compound, meaning the majority of the psilocin that affects us, is decarboxylated from psilocybin. It is therefore psilocin that exerts its power on serotonin receptors, and it is this compound responsible for the psychedelic trip. Psilocybin has the chemical formula: C12H17N2O4P, which converts to C12H16N2O (psilocin).
What about this third compound, baeocystin? Much less is known about it, though it was first synthesized in 1959 by a group including Albert Hofmann, the same guy that brought us LSD, and is known as an analog of psilocybin. Author Jochen Gartz, who wrote Magic Mushrooms Around the World, contends that in a study, baeocystin was found to be about as psychoactive as the same amount of psilocybin. Gartz also self-administered 4mg as part of a study, saying it made for “a gentle hallucinogenic experience.”
Another compound is also mentioned in psilocybe mushrooms, norbaeocystin, but though there is no evidence, this compound is thought of as non-psychedelic. Perhaps that story will change in the future as more research is done.
What other research exists on baeocystin?
Baeocystin is interesting because for as much as we know about psilocybin, we know way less about its cousin which appears in the same places. While Gartz talked of a hallucinogenic experience, a 2020 study Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Tryptamines Found in Hallucinogenic Mushrooms: Norbaeocystin, Baeocystin, Norpsilocin, and Aeruginascin, turned up that no hallucinogenic effects were produced in a mouse model that used a head-twitch response. Researchers found “baeocystin was indistinguishable from the control mice that were given saline.”
In this study it was concluded “…baeocystin alone would likely not induce hallucinogenic effects in vivo“. This is probably because “…baeocystin alone would likely not induce 5-HT2A receptor-mediated psychoactive effects in vivo.” Researchers believe this is because of MAO action. MAO molecules use oxygen atoms to take out amine groups from other molecules, breaking them down. Baeocystin’s metabolite norpsilocin, discovered in 2017, gets degraded faster in the body compared to psilocin by the MAO. Researchers hypothesized that baeocystin also can’t cross the blood brain barrier.
How does norpsilocin do at the 5-HT2A receptor sites that are associated with serotonergic psychedelics? This metabolite compound (4-HO-NMT) showed to be a full agonist, with a higher potency than psilocin – Emax 93% compared to psilocin’s 73%. Which means though baeocystin might not be psychoactive, its metabolite norpsilocin does seem to be. That norpsilocin has these properties opens a whole new door of study into magic mushrooms, and their medicinal components. Though it appears quite possible that MAOs keep the compound from getting a chance to exert its effects.
Say the researchers, “The in vivo data combined with assessment of the pharmacological liabilities suggest it is unlikely that baeocystin or its putative metabolite norpsilocin contribute significantly to centrally mediated psychedelic effects, likely due to rapid degradation by MAO or inability to cross the blood−brain barrier.” But went on to say, “…baeocystin could potentially exert a synergistic effect with psilocin/psilocybin by competing for MAO, effectively increasing psilocin concentration in the blood.”
The idea that baeocystin itself doesn’t cause a psychedelic reaction was reiterated by mycologist Paul Stamets, an expert on magic mushrooms, who also self-administered 10mg of the compound. He explained on the Joe Rogan show that he never got a high off the pure compound. According to Stametz, “I was ready for liftoff. I was hoping for liftoff, I know what liftoff feels like, and I didn’t get it.”
Unfortunately, while psilocybin is easy to get as a pure compound, access to baeocystin and norpsilocin is apparently much harder, leading to less experiences and data on these compounds, apart from the examples mentioned. It suffices to say, that there is certainly way more to know, and hopefully in upcoming years, more will come out.
Oregon and psilocybe mushrooms
Oregon was the very first state to legalize the recreational use of magic mushrooms on a state-wide basis. In a 2020 ballot measure the state passed the Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative via Measure 109. 55.75% of the voting population voted yes to start this adult-use magic mushroom market.
However, Oregon is in no way creating a free-for-all. Not only is the state only allowing legal use within specified facilities, and under the watch of a trip-sitter (though one without medical/psychological training), it’s also only allowing one type of mushroom for this market. The one allowed species of psilocybe mushrooms is called Psilocybe cubensis, and is the most popular of the psilocybe mushrooms. This point was very much debated after draft rules came out earlier, but Oregon didn’t budge on this point, reasoning:
“OPS received comments requesting that the rules allow additional species of mushrooms and use of additional substrates. The Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board recommended limiting cultivation to Psilocybe cubensis and prohibiting substrates that may pose a risk to health and safety.”
And continued, “To avoid the risk associated with deadly, poisonous look-alikes and the potential for wood lover’s paralysis and animal-borne pathogens, OPS has upheld this recommendation in final rules… OPS looks forward to consideration of additional species in the future through continued dialog with the public and recommendations from the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board.”
Realistically, while the legalization is weak at best, it is the start to something. Whether other states looking to do this will expand out beyond that one species, is yet to be seen. Considering the number of states looking into legalizations for entheogenic plants, it’s hard to imagine that laws won’t get a little looser over time.
Psilocybe mushrooms represent the biggest genus of magic mushrooms, which contains the most varieties of mushrooms with psychedelic compounds. Chances are, if you’re doing magic mushrooms, you’re most likely doing some species of psilocybe.
Psilocybe mushrooms are the most popular of the psychedelic mushrooms, but there’s still plenty we need to learn about these fungi! Cannadelics is an independent news site bringing you news and commentary in the growing cannabis and psychedelics spaces. We also provide the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter for our readers to access regular updates on big stories.