Psilocybe cubensis 101
Psilocybe cubensis is the most well-known and recognizable species in the world of psychoactive fungi (and soon to be the first legal magic mushroom in the United States – thank you, Oregon!).
If you’ve voyaged to other cosmic planes from a sack of fungi, chances are they were cubensis. These are commonly found on the streets, and for a good reason – cubensis are friendly for all levels of mycologists (whether novice, intermediate, or advanced), and the spores to do so are not difficult to find, either (perhaps except for California, Georgia, and Idaho – the three states where Psilocybin spores remain illegal).
Cubensis also owes part of its success to some popular literature released in the 1970s, especially Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide by Terence & Dennis McKenna. After many generations of selective breeding, there are now countless strains to select from, such as:
- Albino A+
- Albino Penis Envy
- Albino Treasure Coast
- Ban Thurian
- Ban Hua Thanon
- Blue Meanie
- Bix Mex
- Costa Rican
- Golden Teacher
- Gulf Coast
- Keeper’s Creeper
- Koh Samui
- Lipa Yai
- Mathias Romero
- Na Muang
- Oak Ridge
- Orissa India
- PES Azurscen
- PES Hawaiian
- PF Albino
- PF Classic
- PF Redspore
- Penis Envy
- PE #6
- PE Uncut
- Pink Buffalo
- Peurto Rico
- R44 cubensis
- Treasure Coast
- Z Strain
Dubbed ‘the most majestic Psilocybe strain’ by famous mycologist Paul Stamets, these fungi have a pleasant golden color and a striking appearance. This golden hue contrasts with the vivid blue displayed when bruised – thanks to the oxidation of Psilocin (one of the two primary active alkaloids in magic mushrooms). Psilocin does not stand alone, however, and is joined by other compounds (including ß and SS-carbolines) such as:
- Cordysinin C + D
Some of these carbolines are traditional ingredients in an Ayahuasca brew, as they inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO), which allows orally-ingested DMT to have a long-lasting psychoactive effect (usually, MAO is present in the stomach and destroys/metabolizes DMT, as well as neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine.
Wild Psilocybe cubensis grows virtually everywhere (except for the extremes like Antarctica and the Arctic – or perhaps we just haven’t discovered the species that grow there yet) – which makes foraging for this fungi a delight (make sure to do proper research and be very careful though – as the saying goes, “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.”).
Psilocybe cubensis as medicine
After decades of lost opportunity in mental health and social advancement due to the war on drugs and the Schedule I status of psychedelics, researchers are being granted licenses to investigate psilocybin as a treatment for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and various other neurological and emotional issues.
Schedule I is the most severe classification for a drug, as it states that the substance has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Yet, ironically, psychedelic mushrooms have been shown to have virtually zero addiction potential, in addition to being a special therapeutic tool for a vast array of health challenges.
One mechanism that prevents addiction is the rapid development of tolerance. After just one dose, a person needs double or more than that exact dosage to achieve any effects the next day. Before long, you’d need an entire farm’s worth of mushrooms to achieve any perceptible effect – and even at this level of consumption, the risk to one’s physical health is non-existent. Additionally, the intensity of the mushroom experience usually prevents one from repeating it anytime soon. Ideally, there is an after-period of ‘integration’ where one reflects on all that was experienced and realized, attempting to integrate the positive benefits into one’s everyday life.
Since most prescription medications come with a laundry list of side effects that vary in severity, we can only hope that we soon see a mass acceptance and legalization of mushrooms (and other psychedelics medicines) to help humankind more effectively and safely deal with all the current issues that plague our minds and bodies. While it may seem like evolution, it would be more of a return to our natural way of being, as people have been using plants and mushrooms as medicine since time immemorial.
The History of Psilocybe cubensis and psychoactive fungi
It is likely that humanity used psychoactive fungi long before civilization began, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years before. The most ancient evidence lies in Northern Australia in the form of psychedelic murals etched into stone. Expert estimates date these illustrations to 10,000BCE (long before even your great-grandma was born.
In the book Mushrooms and Mankind: The Impact of Mushrooms on Human Consciousness and Religion, author James Arthur discusses how Amanita muscaria may be at the root of consciousness, Christmas, and even how the Great Pyramids had special chambers designed to facilitate sacred Amanita rituals. Arthur isn’t the first person to hypothesize that consumption of psychoactive fungi was the spark that ignited our brains’ development, enabling the consciousness unique to humans that we now take for granted.
While these theories certainly don’t have the concrete backing of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, they are fascinating to ponder (to say the least). Some do not realize and may even argue against the fact that the desire to alter one’s state of mind is an innate human drive. At one point or another, we all want to change how we feel – it could be as simple as caffeine or sugar, but the drive exists nonetheless.
Human beings are not the only creatures with such peculiar impulses; take the Amanita-munching reindeer in Siberia, for example. Or perhaps the dolphins that seek out pufferfish (these aquatic animals secrete a psychoactive chemical when threatened that is thought to produce effects not entirely dissimilar from LSD), while jaguars are known to ingest Banisteriopsis caapi – a primary ingredient in Ayahuasca.
A recent technology known as functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that the active compounds in mushrooms created a hyperconnected state between various brain regions, ultimately resulting in enhanced neurogenesis that significantly alters thought pathways. Wowza. Discoveries like these are at the root of the ‘Stone Age Hypothesis’ proposed by the late ethnobotanist and mystic Terence McKenna (may he rest in peace).
This radical theory suggests that numerous factors like cooking with fire and ingesting psychedelic mushrooms catalyzed the doubling in size of the human brain. This rapid increase in size may have been responsible for our development of tools, language, spirituality, and culture.
Other ancient artwork in Central America suggested that they saw psychedelic mushrooms as a direct line of communication with the Gods – not a far stretch since the Aztec word for magic mushrooms ‘Teonanácatl,’ literally translates to ‘Flesh of the Gods.’ There is strong evidence that other cultures used these mushrooms in ceremonies, such as:
The Siberian tribe known as the Tungusic has a particularly fascinating way of communing with the ethereal, as they ingest the urine collected from the reindeer who eat Amanitas. Before you think they’re crazy, check this out – Amanita mushrooms contain toxic compounds (ibotenic acid) which the reindeer metabolize, while the desirable active alkaloids (muscimol) are excreted unchanged – genius, right? Aside from divination purposes, this tribe takes advantage of the Amanita-induced dissociative state to perform physical feats beyond their standard capabilities, especially helpful in the harsh Siberian tundra.
It’s not just psyched-out tribal cultures tripping through time on mushrooms, though. Scientifically and philosophically advanced civilizations like the Romans, Greek, and Egyptians also left compelling evidence of their fondness for these mystical fungi.
In Ancient Greece, it’s believed that exclusive cults held ceremonies called ‘The Eleusinian Mysteries’ to worship Demeter and Persephone. This club boasted the membership of individuals like Aristotle, Plate, and Homer. In addition, evidence from a temple at the Mas Castellar site in Girona, Spain, points to the usage of Ergot (the fungus used to synthesize LSD).
One may almost assume the Egyptians used magic mushrooms, if nothing else, for their fondness of vivid and detailed hieroglyphics and bizarre rituals. This mysterious culture had an enormous amount of fungus-inspired artwork, with various nicknames for mushrooms that roughly translate to Son or Food of the Gods. As mushrooms have no seed, Egyptians believed Osiris placed them on Earth (solid logic). Consumption of psychedelic fungi was restricted to the upper classes and priesthood (thought to be descendants of the gods – like our current political leaders…..joking). It’s possible they even grew these mushrooms on barley grains, perhaps making them the world’s original mycologists.
1799 marks the year of the first reliable documentation of magic mushroom ingestion in modern Western Civilization. An English family cooked Psilocybe semilanceata into their dinner (by accident, of course) and experienced subsequent bouts of euphoria, hysteria, and pupil dilation.
The slang term ‘magic mushroom’ didn’t come into usage until nearly 100 years later, in 1957, thanks to a Life Magazine piece written by R. Gordon Wasson. In 1955, Wasson and his wife became among the first westerners to participate in a ‘velada’ with shaman Maria Sabina. Profoundly inspired by the experience, Wasson put great effort into publicizing it. The article quickly gained the attention of colleagues like Albert Hoffman and Roger Heim – now-legendary figures in the history of psychedelic drugs.
Also captivated by the article was the now infamous Timothy Leary (often known for creating the phrases ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ and ‘set and setting’), who felt drawn to travel to Mazatapec and experience this velada for himself.
The Life article also captured the interest of infamous Harvard professor Timothy Leary (credited with the phrase ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’), who was inspired to travel to Mazatepec and experience these mushrooms for himself. Upon his return to Harvard (and with the help of Richard Alpert – also known as Ram Dass) founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project.
As you can see, Psilocybe cubensis has a very long and exciting history – let us hope that in our lifetimes, we can pay proper respect to what humans have known for so long; that this mushroom has so much to offer us in every way and on all levels.
To your health and happiness, always!