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A Beginner’s Guide to Identifying Psychedelic Mushroom Species For Therapy

Anna Wilde
Anna’s focus has been on alternative healing modalities, intentional living, sustainability, deconstruction, and the transcendent relationship between humans and the natural world, which she weaves into her compositions. She combines the two most important ingredients for purposeful writing: knowledge and imagination.

Who needs a trip to Vegas when you can have a wild and adventurous time foraging for magic mushrooms? While discovering potentially psychoactive fungi may be exciting, being certain in your identification is crucial.

Prehistoric artifacts from South America and Spain have indicated that psychedelic mushrooms were being harvested in indigenous communities for cultural and spiritual rituals dating as far back as 7000 BCE (Samorini, 1992).

Needless to say, these cultures somehow knew how to distinguish between toxic mushroom varieties and edible or entheogenic ones, but during colonization, many of these practices were lost in psychedelic history

In more recent records, the first acknowledgements of these types of mushrooms in medical literature occurred in the early 1800s, and, since then, have been studied for their therapeutic effects on mental health.

If you are curious about identifying psychedelic mushroom genera, this article will cover some important considerations, beneficial tips, and resources for identifying desirable varieties. Most importantly, the intricate and complex art of identifying fungi requires more than reading an article, so be sure to check out the resources shared here to optimize identification safety.

The Chemical Constituents in Magic Mushrooms

During altered states of consciousness and perception, psychedelics influence the brain in a variety of ways, but the most notable modes of effect are psilocybin and psilocin.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in around 200 species of mushrooms, and is converted into psilocin in the body. These compounds mimic endogenous serotonin, triggering serotonin neuroreceptors.

They are known to interact with the 5-HT2A receptor in particular, which is involved in mood regulation and sensory perception, and this interaction leads to changes in our physiology and brain activity. 

In addition to psilocybin and psilocin, other chemical compounds found in psychedelic mushrooms may also contribute to their effects, such as baeocystin and aeruginascin.

Because of their metamorphic and evolutionary capabilities to transform the human psyche, magic mushrooms are being studied for their lasting effects on conditions like depression, PTSD, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Each individual species possesses a unique potency and set of effects, so dosing safely and knowing how often to take psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes somewhat depends on the species. 

Safer Options Than Foraging For Psychedelic Mushrooms

For those interested in embarking on a journey of psychedelic exploration, there are potentially safer options available than foraging. One safer option is to use grow kits, which provide reliable spores, instructions, and substrate for safe and easy cultivation, which can be more predictable for magic mushroom harvesting. 

While we have talked about reagent test kits in the past, which are used to test the purity of other drugs like MDMA and LSD, reliable and comprehensive at-home toxicology kits for magic mushrooms aren’t currently available on the market.

While you can find psychedelic mushroom products for therapeutic purposes online, the best way to ensure utmost safety when consuming hallucinogenic fungi is by speaking to an expert identifier.

Here at Psychedelic Passage, we offer harm-reduction and safety protocols for clients ready for a psychedelic journey. If you are in need of support during this process, we encourage you to book a consultation today.

Where Do Psychedelic Mushrooms Grow?

Mind-altering mushrooms are found in nearly every part of the world, but particularly favor cool to warm and damp climates ranging from 50-85 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity.

They typically grow in moist, shaded areas such as mossy forests, overgrown grasslands, and prairie fields, and can also grow in a variety of substrates including decaying trees, soil or compost, animal dung, and decaying plants.

Associated with many myths and lore, mushrooms often propagate in clusters or circular patterns, known as “fairy rings,” which can range in size from a few centimeters to several meters in diameter. 

Some species are known to form symbiotic mycorrhizal associations with the roots of certain trees and plants, both feeding and being fed by their plant host.

The best time to find psychedelic mushrooms is typically during the rainy season or after heavy rainfall, as the increased moisture levels provide ideal conditions for their growth. Fall and spring are the best time for harvesting.

Different climates, substrates, and environments specifically associated with particular genera and mushroom varieties will be outlined briefly in the next section of this article.

Identifying The 7 Most Common Psilocybe Mushrooms

The Psilocybe genus of mushrooms is easily the most important to include here, because they make up the bulk of psychedelic mushrooms on the market. In a past article, we covered the best mushroom strains for psychedelic therapy, however, in this piece we wanted to highlight some of the best-known varieties.

Besides Psilocybe, there are other psychoactive mushrooms in other genera—including the well-known Panaeolus—but also Gymnopilus, Inocybe, and Conocybe. The genera Inocybe and Conocybe both contain poisonous species, so it’s best to avoid these groups until you are familiar and comfortable identifying minute differences between species.

However, Panaeolus—the most well-known being Panaeolus cinctulus and Panaeolus cyanescensare dung loving mushrooms and don’t include any edible varieties, just psychedelic and toxic ones. Inocybe are extremely difficult to identify but often have a symbiotic, mycorrhizal relationship with plant hosts. 

When it comes to magic mushrooms, there is something called a “little brown mushroom,” which refers to the vast majority of mushrooms closely resembling each other in spite of some being toxic and safe. 

For this reason, beware that many little brown mushrooms are psychedelic or edible, while others are extremely toxic. Just be sure to do your spore tests, consult a field guide, consider the tips later in this article, and maybe get a second opinion before ingesting.

Psilocybe cubensis: ‘Golden Teachers’

This variety is the most commonly available and frequently used psychedelic mushroom species on the planet because of its easy cultivation and reliable potency.

Golden Teacher Mushrooms

Photo Credits: InoculateTheWorld

  • Distinctive Features — a golden, smooth, and sticky cap ranging from 1 to 8 centimeters with a white stem and grayish gills
  • Preferred Climate — warm and humid; native to subtropical and tropical regions of Central and South America but is now widely cultivated and found throughout the world
  • Natural Substrate — animal dung and decomposing plant matter; most commonly found in cow pastures, fields, and lawns; home cultivation usually uses brown rice flour or vermiculite

Psilocybe semilanceata: ‘Liberty Caps’

Liberty Cap Mushroom

Photo Credits: InoculateTheWorld

  • Distinctive Features — yellow to brown cap; the stipe is either pale cream or yellow; grayish brown gills; stipe is skinny and cap is conical with a nipple-like protrusion on top
  • Preferred Climate — damp and cool; believed to be native to Europe but is now widely cultivated and found throughout the world; summer and autumn seasons
  • Natural Substrate — most commonly found in grasses of pastures, meadow slopes, and occasionally lawns

Psilocybe mexicana: ‘Teonanácatl’

This interesting species gets its name from its long history of use by indigenous cultures near modern-day Mexico. Mexicana mushrooms grow sclerotia, which are basically reserves for the mushrooms’ survival. 

Psilocybe Mexicana Mushrooms

Photo Credits: InoculateTheWorld

  • Distinctive Features — the cap is typically a deep yellow with a brown ring just at the bottom; the stipe is skinny and yellow as well; grayish brown gills; the cap is conical with a similar nipple-like protrusion on top, resembling Liberty Caps
  • Preferred Climate — damp and warm; native to Central and North America; summer and autumn seasons
  • Natural Substrate — prefers grasslands and forms symbiotic mycorrhizal relationships with neighboring trees

Psilocybe cyanescens: ‘Wavy Caps’

Psilocybin Cyanescens Mushrooms

Photo Credits: InoculateTheWorld

  • Distinctive Features — the cap is round when young but wavy as it matures, in a caramel brown color with lighter yellows and creams toward the edges; the stipe is light gray and thicker than Liberty Caps, appearing less delicate; gills are often visible as the cap curls upwards
  • Preferred Climate — damp and cold; native to Europe and North America; mostly found during the autumn
  • Natural Substrate — grows in wood chips and rotting forest debris primarily 

Psilocybe azurescens: ‘Flying Saucer’

One of nature’s most potent magic mushroom varieties, it gets its name from the UFO-like shape of its smooth cap. 

Psilocybe Azurescens Mushrooms

Photo Credits: InoculateTheWorld

  • Distinctive Features — a wider, flatter cap than those previously in this list, with gold and orange tones; cap is smooth and gills are light in color; the stipe is whitish gray and slightly thicker than Liberty Caps
  • Preferred Climate — found in the United States along the West coast; tolerant to multiple temperatures and seasons
  • Natural Substrate — prefer sandy substrate such as sea grasses, dunes, and decomposing wood 

Psilocybe baeocystis

  • Distinctive Features — arguably less appetizing than the rest on this list; caps are a dark grayish brown with an uneven shape and gooey appearance; stems are thicker in proportion with the cap and are light in color with light brown texture; if you could imagine what a rotten mushroom looks like, you would be picturing this species
  • Preferred Climate — found in the United States along the West coast; tolerant to multiple temperatures and seasons
  • Natural Substrate — feeds on rotting organic materials and wood

Psilocybe tampanensis: ‘Magic Truffles’ 

Not the only truffle forming species but one of the most commonly searched, tampanensis forms these spherical spores underground.  

Psilocybe Tampanensis Mushrooms

Photo Credits: InoculateTheWorld

  • Distinctive Features — dryer than the others on this list; a less sticky appearance; light tan with a slight gradient to a caramel brown on top of the cap; conical shape and thin, tan stipes; truffles appear as light brown, uneven and nodular shapes
  • Preferred Climate — first found in Florida; native to Southeastern United States
  • Natural Substrate — feeds on rotting wood chips and forest debris

Psilocybe cubensis and ‘Magic’ Mushroom Look Alikes

The most common magic mushroom look alike is the toxic Galerina marginata, also known as the ‘Deadly Galerina,’ which contains amatoxins which can cause liver and kidney failure. This mushroom can easily be mistaken for a psilocybin mushroom due to its similar appearance of yellow brown caps with a skinny stipe, and even being mistakable when they are dried.

Amanita muscaria, on the other hand, undoubtedly has psychotropic effects, and is a beautiful and canonical mushroom which contains potentially fatal toxins. Interestingly, these toxins are water soluble, so adequate boiling and preparation can remove poisonous constituents like ibotenic acid and muscimol, making the species edible. 

It is still not recommended to dabble with Amanitas or Fly Agarics, because if technical precautions are not followed, the consequences can be serious. 

Tips For Identification of Therapuetic Magic Mushrooms

When identifying a particular mushroom species and comparing with a field guide or other identification tool, consider these key factors:

  • Location — Pay attention to where it was growing and if the substrate, location, and climate matches the presumed variety. For instance, is it growing in dung, plant materials, or wood? Is it growing in a meadow, field, or forest?
  • Growing Pattern — Take note of whether the mushroom was growing in a group, in a cluster, or all alone. 
  • Bruising — Notice if it bruises blue, because blue-bruising mushrooms are most reliably of the psilocybe variety, even though many of them bruise at different rates.
  • Spore Print — Psychedelic mushroom spores typically show as dark purple in spore prints; beware if the spore print shows in orange or rusty brown colors.
  • Lamellae (Gills) — Does it have brown or gray gills? How are they arranged and attached to the stem? Note that young mushrooms sometimes have a veil that conceals the gills partially or entirely, but gills are typically attached to the stem in psychedelic varieties.
  • Stipe (Stem) — Consider the texture, height, shape, and color of the stem. Psilocybin mushrooms often have firm and coarse stems.
  • Pileus (Cap) — Reflect on the shape, colors, texture, and size. Many psilocybin mushrooms have slimy or sticky caps with a smooth texture. 

Tools For Identification of Therapeutic ‘Shrooms

For psychedelic mushroom enthusiasts, Paul Stamets’ Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide is simply a must. Joining an online identification community with expert foragers and mushy lovers—such as on Facebook or Reddit—could also help you crowd-source verification for any mushroom in question. 

Be sure to pay attention to whether the group provides identification for psychedelic varieties, being respectful of their guidelines. While the use of apps are a common identification tool, we do not recommend using any apps as a final or primary means of identification given that their technology is often unreliable. 

In a previous article, we created a guide titled, “How Long Do Shrooms Last? Do They Expire or Go Bad?” which may be an important consideration when preventing your mushrooms from spoiling via proper preparation and storage. Overall, the best way to identify a species is through careful consideration and speaking with an expert mycologist. 

Disclaimers & Legal Considerations For Magic Mushroom Foraging

Foraging for psychedelic mushrooms can come with risks and dangers, so we do not encourage engaging in this activity without proper knowledge, training, and legal permission. 

The risks associated with consuming toxic mushroom varieties can lead to serious health issues and even death in rare cases, with many toxic mushrooms being easily mistaken for edible and hallucinogenic ones.

It is important to note that the legality of psychedelic mushrooms varies by location, and many countries and states have laws prohibiting the cultivation and consumption of these fungi.

Furthermore, identifying psychedelic mushrooms can be a challenging task, and even experienced foragers can make mistakes. It is imperative to consult with expert identifiers before consuming any mushroom found in the wild. 

We hope that this article provided necessary information and resources to help foragers mitigate risks associated with the incorrect identification of fungi, truffles, and mushrooms.

Explore How It Feels To Be Connected

Now that you have peered into the magical and complex world of psychedelic mushroom foraging and identification, we’d like to conclude by reminding you to always exercise caution when consuming any wild mushroom.

Interestingly, even medicinal mushrooms without psychotropic qualities are still easily mistakable for toxic lookalikes, so exercising caution and getting multiple opinions can be life saving—literally. 

We at Psychedelic Passage provide resources and connect clients with expert psychedelic facilitators to help ensure a safe and transformative journey for psychedelic seekers. 

Consider booking a consultation with our concierges today to get connected with a network of pre-vetted psychedelic guides, or check out our resources page for additional information about magic mushrooms and other entheogens. Happy foraging!

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At Psychedelic Passage, we offer professional 1-on-1 guidance and companionship on your journey of healing. We simply can't sit back and let Americans continue to sit in silent suffering trying to battle mental health issues within a broken health care system, all while knowing that effective alternatives exist. We stand for the sacred, at-home, ceremonial use of psychedelics for consciousness exploration, which we believe to be a fundamental human right.

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