PSILOCYBE SEMILANCEATA: THE CLASSIC SPECIES AMONG EUROPEAN PSYCHOTROPIC MUSHROOMS
Listen Well to this Frightful Story from St.
James's Green Park
About 200 years ago, E. Brande published an account about a remarkable case of mushroom intoxication in London. On October 3, 1799 an impoverished family picked some mushrooms in St. James's Green Park and prepared them for a meal (see Figure 8, p. 15).
Shortly after eating the mushrooms, the father and his four children developed symptoms of intoxication, such as markedly dilated pupils, spontaneous laughter and delirium. The progression of symptoms was experienced as wave-like, with cycles of increasing and fading intensity. In addition, the father's visual perception was affected so that everything around him appeared to be black - a frightening experience he believed to presage his impending death.
Even though two family members (ages 12 and 18) consumed only small amounts of the cooked mushrooms, the ensuing symptoms of intoxication were no different from those observed in family members who had eaten comparatively larger portions. After several hours, the psychic and perceptual disturbances subsided and finally disappeared, without any lingering side effects. Attempts to treat acute symptoms included administration of emetics and fortifying tonics. In the end, these potions were heralded as the crucial treatment that "cured" the family.
For the most part it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to assemble complete and accurate details on many aspects of magic mushroom history from source materials available today. Thus, it is an instance of rare good fortune and a boon to mushroom historians that E. Brande's description of a typical psilocybin syndrome was augmented by J. Sowerby, author of "Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushrooms" (London, 1803). Sowerby's book included a rendition and description of the mushroom species responsible for the poisoning case described by Brande (see p. 17). Within the context of Sowerby's book, only the variety of mushrooms distinguished by their cone-shaped caps were believed to cause intoxication. Figure 9 shows a typical rendition of Psilocybe semilanceata. This mushroom species was known to Sowerby's contemporaries as "Agaricus glutinosus Curtis" and its descriptions are fully compatible with current knowledge about Psilocybe semilanceata.
A few years later, renowned Swedish mycologist E. Fries referred to "Agaricus semilanceatus" in his book entitled "Obser-vationes Mycologicae" (1818). Later on, the same mushroom also appeared under the names Coprinarius semilanceatus Fr. or Panaeolus semilanceatus (Fr.) Lge. Not until 1870 did Kummer and Quelet classify this mushroom as a member of the genus Psilocybe. Consequently, two valid designations may be found in the literature:
-- Psilocybe semilanceata (Fr.) Kumm. or ---- Psilocybe semilanceata (Fr.) Quel.
Around 1900, M. C. Cooke reported two or three new instances of accidental mushroom intoxication involving children in England. Interestingly, Cooke noted that symptoms were caused only by a variety of mushroom known to turn blue (var. caerulescens). He was the first mycologist to wonder if a bluing variety of this species was poisonous, or if the bluish color was induced by external factors, causing changes in the mushroom's chemical composition so as to render them poisonous.
A close relative of Mexico's psychoactive species, Psilocybe semilanceata is a mushroom whose physical appearance resembles Psilocybe semperviva Heim & Cailleux and Psilocybe
Stalks generally single, sometimes clustered, from two to four inches in height, the thickness of a goose quill, thread shaped whitish almost solid, the tube being very small, glutinous; ring, a little below the cap, scarce perceptible.
" Cap, from one to two inches in breadth, of a brown color; in the full. grown ones hemispherical, always convex, and more or lets glutinous; wet with rain, it becomes browner and transparent,'so that it sometimes appears striated.
" Gills numerous, single, of a brownish purple color, clouded; whole ones about twenty, horizontal, three shorter ones placed betwixt them; they throw out a powder of a brownish purple color."
With respect to the use of it, he only says, « There is nothing acrimonious or disagreeable in its taste, yet its appearance will not recommend it to the lovers of mushrooms."
Figure 9- Drawing and description of Psilocybe semilanceataby J. Sowerby (London, 1803).
1733. A. semilanceatus Fries (Observ. II. pag. 178).
Synon. : Agaricus semiglobatus Sowerby (Engl. Fungi taf. 240. fig. 1-3). Hut etwas hautig, spitz kegelfdrmig, fast zugespitzt, 11/ Cent. breit, 1/2 Cent. hock, feucht klebrig, fein streifig, gelb oder grunlich, zah, mit Anfangs umgeknicktem Rande und leicht trennbarer Oberhaut. Stiel zah, gebogen, 11 Cent. hock, kahl, blass. Lamellen angeheftet, aufsteigend, purpur-schwarz. Sporen ellptisch, hellbraun, 9 -16 u lang, 4 - 9 u dick.
Ax Wegen, auf Grasphitzen, besonders wo Mist gelegen hat.
spitzkegeliger Kahlkopf (Psilocybe semilanceata). Kegel-glockenformig mit papilenertiger spitze Hut-o,5-1 cm breit, bis 2cm hock, lehmfarben mit oliv-grunem Stich, klebrig. Lamellen breit, oliv-lehmfarben, spater purpurbraun. Stiel schlank, glanzend. - Gedungte Wiesen, Wegrander. Stellenweise. Wertlos.
Figure 10 - Two descriptions of Psilocybe semilanceata from the German-language literature. The first description (top) was written over a hundred years ago, while the second one (bottom) dates to 1962. Significantly, the more recent entry classifies the species as "essentially worthless". Also see Figure 11.
mexicana Heim. Like Psilocybe semilanceata, these Mexican species thrive in meadows and pastures. Another common trait among these species is the rather subdued and subtle quality of their bluing reaction. Recognition of these similarities with Mexican species sparked the curiosity of scientists who wanted to learn more about Europe's Psilocybe species. A research team that included A. Hofmann and R. Heim began to study samples of Psilocybe semilanceata, in collaboration with C. Furrer, a mycologist who examined fruiting bodies collected in Switzerland and France. By 1963, paper chromatography testing had yielded data of historic significance. For the first time, scientists had confirmed the presence of 0.25 % psilocybin in dried samples of Psilocybe semilanceata. Publication of the results represented an extraordinary achievement, because psilocybin had never before been detected in a European mushroom species. Previously, the alkaloid had been found only in Psilocybe species native to Mexico, Asia and North America.
While Psilocybe semilanceata was not recognized as an important psychoactive species until the 1960s, descriptions of the species were included in many standard German language mycology reference books published before 1963. Figure 10 shows examples of two such descriptions, one of them dated 1962 and the second one written about 60 years earlier. Note that the 1962 version designates Psilocybe semilanceata as a "worthless" species - a rather incongruous conclusion likely to amuse today's readers. On the other hand, accounts of and knowledge about cases of mushroom intoxication in England did not find their way into Germany's mycological literature. A few authors, such as Michael & Schulz (1927) and A. Ricken (1915) see Figures 11 and 12, pp. 19-20) contributed excellent and valuable descriptions of Psilocybe semilanceata, but these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. A description of Psilocybe semilanceata from 1977 reflects less emphasis on details, and a rather cursory approach to differentiation of the species, except for additional data on the mushroom's microscopic characteristics (see Figure 13).
In addition, a German aquarelle painting from 1927 of five fruiting bodies depicts the mushroom's habitus in remarkably realistic detail (see Figure 1, p. 4).
In 1967 and 1969 Psilocybe semilanceata samples from Scotland and England were found to contain psilocybin as well. Later on (1977), Michaelis reported discovering the alkaloid in samples collected in Germany (see Figure 14).
Since the late 1970s, investigators in several countries have been using of state-of-the-art methodology (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) to test samples and quantify their alkaloid content. The following sections include more detailed reviews of these tests and their results.
Psilocybe semilanceata has clearly established itself as t h e psychotropic mushroom species in Europe. The species thrives throughout the European continent, where it has sparked extensive research efforts. In terms of usage, Psilocybe semilanceata is Europe's most popular psychoactive species. In his 1983 monograph, Guzman suggests that Psilocybe semilanceata may well be the most common psychoactive Psilocybe mushroom in the world. Even though the species is known to flourish in Europe, North America, Australia and Asia, the mycofloras of many countries have not yet been studied or documented. Thus, we cannot yet evaluate the prevalence of Psilocybe semilanceata on a global scale.
In Europe, however, discoveries of Psilocybe semilanceata have been reported from the following countries: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Russia, Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Scotland, England, Wales, Italy and Spain.
Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive maps detailing the species's distribution pattern. Traditionally, mycologists have often neglected relatively tiny species, such as Psilocybe semilanceata, that tend to share their habitats with other, more prominent species. The sarcastic phrase "The mushrooms occur in abundance wherever mycologists abound" is particularly pertinent in reference to the Psilocybe species. Prior to the discovery of psilocybin, the Psilocybe genus languished in the literature, shrouded in obscurity. To this day, few
189. Psilocybe semilanceata Fr. [Worthless]
The cap is uniformly conic to bell-shaped, with a pointy or obtuse center forming an almost wart-like protrusion; initially, caps are often taller than they are wide, margins are bent and curved inward; later on, width of cap is 1.5-4 cm. Hygrophanous; coloration is a dirtyish olive-brown when wet, with translucent striate margins; at the center, coloration is ocher or greenish-yellow against an overall shade of smudgy pale yellow and oftentimes some greenish stains; only the margins are banded by a darkcolored, watery stripe around the edge. No stripes or banding evident when mushrooms are completely dried. Lacking a veil, caps are thin-fleshed, bald, with an easily separable pellicle that remains gelatinous-sticky for a long time, turning shiny when dry.
Gills are olive brown to blackish purple brown in color, with the edges often remaining white, gill spacing is quite crowded; gill attachment is either roughly linear or mostly adnexed; up to 3.5 mm wide; attached at the stem only, fully detached later on.
Spores are elongated to ellipitical in shape, smooth and large, measuring 12-16 u by 6-8,u. Color of spore dust is blackish purple brown.
Stem is very slender, almost uniformly thin and always twisted, 6-12 cm long and 1.25-2 mm thick, yellowish or whitish in color; areas subjected to pressure develop bluish-green stains. Stems are silky smooth and roughly at the center, cortinate fibrils appear like remnants of a veil, which is brittle and lined with a white fibrous cord of wool-like texture.
When dry, the flesh of the cap is colored pale yellow, while the stem's flesh is ocher brown in color, especially towards the bottom. It is odorless and its flavor is mild. The mushroom grows from August to October, frequently in gregarious clusters, and can be found in pastures and along roadways, growing on dung that has undergone complete decomposition. It is not a particularly rare species.
Figure 11 (above) This excellent description of Psilocybe semilanceata by Michael & Schulz (1927) is shown here as originally published in German, with an English translation.
757. Psll. semllanceAta (Fr. 1818). Spitzkegeliger Kahlkopf. Taf. 66, Fig. 6.
H. braunoliv oder grünlichgelb, zartgerieft, mit schmieriger, leicht absehbarer Haut, kahl und nackt, auch ohne Spur eines Velums, bleilmd-«pitzkegelig, hiiher ah breit 1,5/1,5 — 2, mit anfangs eingeknicktem Rande, fast häutig. St. bräunlichblaß, fast scidenglänzend, faserig, fast gleich-dünn 7—10/2, bisweilen aufwärts fast verdickt, wellig-verbogcn. knorpelig, markig-ausgefullt oder innen weißwollig. L. olivbräunlich, sdil. rotbraun mit weißer, gefranster Schneide, aufsteigend, angeheftet. Fl. feucht gleichfarbig, trocken blaß, mild, geruchlos.
Auf Triften, an Graswegen, gesellig 9—10. Nicht »cltcn. Sp. lünj»Iid»-ellip-tisch 12—16/6-8 glatt. 25-30/8-10«, CvAt. an Schneide »pindelig-pfriciii-lich 20—25/4—5 /*. Eine durch den blcibend-sdunnlkcgeligen, gritnlidtrn, schmierigen Hut auffallende und sehr bestimmte Art, stets niit aufsteigenden, fast linearen Lamellen.
Figure 12 - A. Ricken's description of Psilocybe semilanceata from 1915.
Beschreibung: Psilocybe semilanceata (Fr.) Qull. (= Geophüa semilanceata Quil.)
H u t gelbgrünlich bis braunoliv, oft blaugriin-fleckig, mit zartgeriefter, schmieriger, leicht abziehbarer Oberhaut; kahl ohne Velum, spitzkeglig mit mehr oder weniger scharf ausgeprägter spitzer Papille, höher als breit, sehr dünnfleischig, 2 cm breit und 2,5 cm hoch (1,5/1,7 cm oder 1,2/1,5 cm) mit anfangs eingebogenem Rand. Stiel 8-10 cm manchmal bis 15 cm lang, schlank, 2-3 mm dick, hellockerfarbig bis blaßbräunlich, Stielbasis häufig blaugriin gefärbt, faserig, etwas seidig-glinzend, bisweilen aufwärts verdickt, knorpelig-weißmarkig-wattig gefüllt; immer wellig-verbogen. Larael-1 e n oliv-braun bis dunkelrotbraun mit weißer, flaumiger Schneide, gedrängt, aufsteigend, schmal, leicht bauchig-lanzettlich; bei kleinen Stücken fast linear angeheftet. Fleisch im Hut blaß-gelblich, im Stiel bräunlich werdend, ohne auffälligen Geruch oder Geschmack. Sporen länglich-elliptisch, erst grauviolett dann gelbbraun durchscheinend, glatt, mit Keimporus, 11-15 x 6,4-8 /im; Sporenstaub purpurbraun. Zystiden an der Blattschneide zahlreich, spindelig-pfriemlich, 22-27 x 6-8 ¿im. B a s i d i e n 4sporig, 25-35 x 8-10 ¿im.
Figure 13 - Description of Psilocybe semilanceata by H. Michaelis (1977).
Psilocybe semilanceata (Fr.) Quel. (Spitzkegliger Kahlkopf) Nachweis von Psilocybin in deutschen Funden
Im Oktober 1972 fand ich in Thüringen Psilocybe semilanceata (Fr.) Quel., die nach Heim (1969) die einzige Psilocybin enthaltende Psilocybeart in Europa und nach Ricken ein häufig vorkommender Pilz ist. Da die Untersuchung von Pilz-Inhaltsstof-fen zunehmend an Bedeutung gewinnt und in USA, Kanada, England, Frankreich und der Tschechoslowakei in dort wachsenden P. semilanceata Psilocybin nachgewiesen wurde, sollte mit diesem Beitrag festgestellt werden, ob dies auch für in Deutschland (Bundesrepublik und DDR) wachsende Pilze dieser Art zutrifft.
Figure 14 - Excerpt from the first article reporting the discovery of psilocybin in Psilocybe semilanceata samples from Germany (Michaelis, 1977).
Mycologists specialize in the study of Psilocybes, despite the fact that Psilocybe semilanceata is the most common and conspicuous species among the Psilocybes. Also, mushroom lovers whose interests are not purely scientific (see Chapter 7.4) do not usually preserve their knowledge for posterity in the form of distribution maps. However, there is one map from 1986, which shows the distribution pattern of Psilocybe semilanceata across Germany (see Figure 20, p. 28).
Almost no published information is available about locations where Psilocybe species have been found in eastern Germany. During my own field trips, I have discovered Psilocybe semilanceata specimens in various locations, such as near my hometown of Mansfeld in the Vorharz Mountains, in the marshlands of Duben as well as in other eastern German marshland areas. In addition, friends who are also mycologists have told me about finding the mushrooms in other parts of the country. A book published in 1952 is among the rare sources that includes details about specimens discovered in the southeastern state of Saxony (see Figure 16, p. 23).
The Psilocybe species grow most abundantly on wet pastures surrounded by forest areas. In my experience, Psilocybe semilanceata grows in most of Germany's forestlands. The species fruits during the fall, from late September through October. It favors acidic soil and grassy terrain alongside trails or around the edges of forest lands. Specimens are generally clustered in small groups of 30 mushrooms or less. Deer droppings or other animal feces are usually present at those locations, even though the mushrooms never grow directly on top of dung. Occasionally, extremely stunted specimens may be found in the mountains by the side of the road.
The soil below older cow pastures provides an excellent medium for extensive mycelial growth. In some locations, large areas yield an abundance of fruiting bodies, mirroring the extent of mycelial saturation in the soil. Given adequate moisture, maximum yields can be expected, if the pasture was grazed at least once during the weeks before fruiting season. However, the mushrooms also thrive under similar conditions on horse and sheep pastures. Such grassy areas inside forests are usually grazing areas for deer, who provide the soil with additional fertilization. However,
Psilocybe semilanceata does not grow in locations where artificial fertilizer has been used. Such pastures are often flanked by creeks or swamp lands, which saturate the soil with water. During the summertime, the warm climate in these wet areas provides an excellent environment for optimal mycelial growth. In Germany, the mushroom's habitat ranges from the coastal areas to mountainous regions, where the species has been found at altitudes of up to 1,720 m (5,160 ft) above sea level (MTB-8443, 1985). In the former Czechoslovakia, samples have been collected at altitudes ranging from 330 to 1,000 m (1,000 -3,000 ft), with one location at 1,400 m (4,200 ft) above sea level. According to these distribution patterns, the species does not appear to favor a specific altitude. As of 1986, 44 locations in the former Czechoslovakia had been logged, yielding a total of 54 samples. In contrast to other mushroom species, such as the cultivated commercial white mushrooms (Agaricus bisporis), Psilocybe semilanceata will fruit in a comparatively much wider range of temperatures.
While Psilocybe semilanceata is common throughout Germany, the species does not appear to favor specific areas where it occurs in marked abundance or density. One obvious limitation on the growth of the species is the limited presence of fertilizer in areas that would otherwise be excellent locations for the mushroom to thrive in. Most likely that is why the species has not expanded into new habitats in Germany over the last few decades. Descriptions of frequency of occurrence in the older literature are comparable to contemporary observations.
On occasion, however, Psilocybe semilanceata can produce a huge number of fruiting bodies at certain locations where conditions for growth are excellent.
Between a Creek and a Marshlands Pond
At this point, I would like to provide some more details about two marshlands locations, where we have conducted mycological field research over the course of several years.
At the first location, the fruiting bodies grew in a shallow grass valley among very tall grass on slightly acidic soil. This grassy area was a forest clearing between a creek and a marshlands pond. In areas exposed to direct sunlight, temperatures were significantly higher than they were in surrounding areas, a phenomenon that persisted during the fall season. Deer droppings contributed to frequent fertilization of the area. The fruiting bodies from the first batch of mushrooms found in this location had stems of up to 8 / 2 i n . [ ! ] (21.5 cm) tall, due to very tall grass in the area. The caps of the mushrooms were so tiny, that clear identification of the species as Psilocybe semilanceata was not immediately possible. Even though a bluing reaction was present, chromatography testing was needed to confirm the species. Subsequent discoveries, however, yielded samples that could be identified on the spot based on their morphological characteristics. We were able to collect 30 to 60 specimens at this location every fall for three consecutive years. Unfortunately, the location was destroyed soon afterwards, due to man-made modifications to the marshlands and construction of an access road.
During the same year, we discovered a second location within about half a mile of the first one. The area was very large, a former cow pasture which had been grazed regularly. It was located next to a creek that saturated the soil completely. Today, sheep occasionally graze the area and deer droppings are commonly found in the grass. Here, Psilocybe semilanceata fruits in abundance. Each fall season, the pasture is covered with hundreds of fruiting bodies (see Figure 15, p. 23).
For three years, we returned to the area three times each fall, and harvested a total of 2,800 mushrooms (ca. 140 g or 5 oz dry weight) at the location. While some of the fruiting bodies could be spotted easily on the grassy soil (see Figure 17) the vast majority of the specimens were usually concealed inside clumps of grass (see Figure 18).
When the weather is dry, Psilocybe semilanceata is an easily recognizable species. The fruiting bodies are extremely hygrophanous, which is why the color of the caps changes to a dark olive black-brown when the mushrooms are wet. Only a close inspection of the gills and the crooked stems enabled us to differentiate the wet mushrooms from the Panaeolus species (see Chapter 3.3). Like many other psychotropic mushroom species, a crucial characteristic of
Psilocybe semilanceata is the blue discoloration of parts of the cap and the lower half of the stem, While the degree of discoloration is relatively minor, it is particularly noticeable when the mushrooms are wet. Fruiting bodies that are old and wet may spontaneously develop transparent, blue stains across their caps. On the other hand, discoloration of the stems does not set in until the fruiting bodies have been separated from the mycelia for about 30 to 60 minutes. Even in areas of abundant harvests, I have always found mushrooms with bluish-green discoloration's alongside others that lacked this characteristic. During the drying process, the blue coloration is preserved, even though some fading may occur.
The historic descriptions of Psilocybe semilanceata cited above are so detailed that I cannot add any of better quality. In spite of many opinions in the literature to the contrary, there is a noticeable odor that emanates from damp fruiting bodies that have been opened. This odor is similar to, but weaker than the one associated with Psilocybe bohemica, which is often described as reminiscent of radishes or poppies, but as generally not unpleasant (also see Chapter 3.2).
In addition, the mushrooms have another special attribute that rarely occurs in other species. Under the light of a quartz lamp, Psilocybe semilanceata specimens turn fluorescent. The substance responsible for this phenomenon, however, has not yet been identified.
Psilocybe semilanceata is quite likely the most potently psychoactive mushroom among the European species. The impressive nature and rapid onset of the effects are reflected in the description of an intoxication from England cited above. These elements are also part of the following account, which details a mycologist's first self-experiment:
After ingesting 1.3 g (less than one-sixteenth of an ounce) of dried and pulverized mushrooms (30 mushrooms total) in water on an empty stomach, 20 minutes passed before the sudden onset of hallucinatory effects, including a heavy flow of tears. The apparitions are best described as a conjunction of visions and
Figure 16 - A good description of Psilocybe semilanceata from Saxony, Eastern Germany (1952).
a) Oberholz, Ndw., auf breitem Wiesenstreifen am Wege, zahlreich. 5. 11. (6'C). — b) Cradefeld, Lbw., im Grase unter jO/terais, Accr, litltilti, Coryl/is, sehr gesellig. 27. 9. — c) Wolftitz (»Strcit-wald«), auf grasigem Weg, mehrfach. 8. 10. Z. — d) Denkwitz, zerstreut auf sandiger Wiese, sehr große üppige Stücke. 22. 10. '/.. C*.-?
Sp Staub purpurbraun; erst grauviolett, dann gelbbraun durchscheinend, länglich elliptisch, mit Keimporus, glatt, 12 —16X(6) 7—8; auch 13-15 7 X; sehr massig ausgefallen; auch 11 — 15X7—8. — '/, klein, zahlreich au der Schneide, spindelig-pfriemlich, 18—24 /4-5 ('»)•
Beschreibung (komb.): II dauernd spitz, kegelig, hUhcr als breit, *. M. * breit X 2,5 hoch, oder i,j y, 1,7, oder i.iX i.j; mit etwa» eingebogenem Rand, parabolisch, gelbgrünlich mit bräunlichem Scheitel oder im ganzen leichtbräunlich, schmierig, trocken-glänzend, glatt, kahl, mit leicht abziehbarer Oberhaut, am Rande zart gerieft, ohne Velum, dünnfleischig. — St X-9X 2—1'/i; schlank, blaß, bräunlichblaß, nach >bcn fein wcißschuppig, nach unten glatt • ind seidig-glänzend, gleichdünn, meist wellig verbogen, im Innern weißmarkig (wattig) ausgefüllt, siarr, knorpelig. — L olivbraun bis dunkelrotbraun mit weißer, flaumiger Schneide, gedrängt, aufsteigend, schmal. Lieht bauchig (lanzettlich), : 0,5; bei klein.-n Stücken fast linear, angeheftet. — H im Mut blaßgelblich, im Stiel bräunlich werdend; ohne auffälligen Geruch und (>c-schmack.
Der »Spitzkegelige Kahlkopf« ist durch die gelblichgrünliche bis olivbräunlichc Farbe, die bleibend spitzkegelige Form des Hutes (höher als breit) und die aufsteigenden schmalen Lamellen gut charakterisiert. Das hehlen des nicht seltenen Pilzes im Verzeichnis der l'ilze Sachsens dürfte wohl auf einem Versehen beruhen.
thoughts - later on I discovered the term "visualization" in the literature. I had an extremely uncomfortable experience of a daydream-like flight, where my arm had been seized by a witch... There were three of us flying somewhere, sometime. After that, all objects in my immediate surroundings appeared pale and bleached. With my eyes closed I "saw" abstract ornaments with no distinct luminescence or emotional impact. During this time, free-floating dysphoria developed, along with guilt-ridden ruminations. After five hours, the effects ended suddenly, followed by the gradual onset of a mild headache, while no other side effects were noted.
On the other hand, a second experiment involving about half the previous dosage stood out because of a surge of memories and the simultaneous re-experience of childhood emotions, along with some curious feelings of melting and merging:
One day in late summer I was out on a nature walk and ingested 0.6 g of pulverized mushrooms. The weather was warm and sunny and I was walking through open areas near my hometown, were I had often played as a child. Suddenly, I experienced an emotional state most accurately described as child-like wonder and amazement about the surrounding forest. The area nearby appeared in very sharp contrast and my visual perceptions seemed fresh and pure. Suddenly I remembered in vivid detail just how small the trees had been decades ago and how I never observed any other plant growth there before dark, which had sometimes frightened me. At the same time, my body movements felt much more elastic and childlike. This delightful state of reliving my childhood lasted for about two hours. On the way home I noticed a small calf out on the pasture.
The calf evoked a great amount of empathy in me, when I noticed how much it was bothered by pesky flies. These feelings of compassion culminated in a brief experience of completely merging with the calf. I found it to be rather strange and quite uncomfortable. After four hours, the effects subsided without any lasting side effects.
Finally, a third mushroom experiment with Psilocybe semilanceata in Oregon led to an experience of complete identification with a person from the 19th century:
We collected a large number of "liberty caps" in a pasture near Astoria. Later on, back at our lodgings, I ate no more than six fresh mushrooms. The key stimulus for the following experience was provided by a water color painting of an elegant lady from the 19th century that captured my attention completely. Suddenly I knew that I was re-living an earlier incarnation, a life that began when I was born in Germany in 1813.
My name was Alexander Schmitt, and I knew that I had died in 1871. As a child, I travelled by boat to North America, together with my parents and other immigrants. In the United States, 1 changed my last name to Smith. I was a logger in a small Kentucky town named Sharpville or Shopville. My life there was hard and full of sacrifices and I drank a lot of alcohol. These circumstances of my existence were indicative of my lifestyle, which included beating my wife and otherwise mistreating her like the tyrant I was. As the experience deepened, I completely identified with the person of Alexander Smith. During these moments I forgot my native German altogether, and my thinking processes unfolded entirely in English. In this manner, I eventually experienced the last hours of Alexander Smith's life. I was lying in bed on several white sheets and was very ill. Suddenly I knew that my wife had poisoned me, to put an end to my continuous degrading treatment of her over the years. I knew that I did not have long to live. I was about to die. Fortunately, the experience ended before I had to face the final struggle against death. Today, over three years later, this unique experience is still etched into my memory in vivid detail.
The experience's emotional impact has not diminished with the passage of time.
Such experiences of earlier incarnations cannot be explained in terms of the accepted tenets of western science. In any case, a thorough attempt should be made to research the existence and historic accuracy of the locations and persons involved. The individual who experienced the events described above had never been to Kentucky, did not know whether or not a town named Sharpville or Shopville has ever existed there and had never before had the slightest interest in this U.S. state. Due to his strictly atheistic upbringing, he had never thought such experiences possible. S. Grof, however, has described similar sequences and emphasized that they can occur quite unexpectedly under the influence of hallucinogens. He also noted that such experiences are not exactly unusual, when an individual experiences repeated applications of hallucinogenic substances.
In closing this section, I would like to present a short account of an experience that illustrates how the effects of psychotropic substances can vary across individuals, depending on the setting in which the experience takes place:
After ingestion of 0.6 g of pulverized mushrooms in orange juice, the effects began to manifest after about 30 minutes: An endless sequence of images behind closed eyes. At the same time, no distinctly euphoric nor dysphoric emotional states were noted; the reaction to these images is most fittingly described as "temporary amazement". The initial images of entwined ornaments changed with the passage of time and became plants, some of whom had several surreal characteristics not known to exist on Earth. I believe these images reflected my longstanding preoccupation with the world of plants. Then, when a mirror was placed in front of me, I perceived "a gloomy-looking fellow with a fixed gaze". Then I admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that this impression did, in fact, reflect my everyday demeanor and that I usually did not make it easy for others "to see behind the facade ". The experimental guide confirmed my own impressions. Prior to this incident, we had never discussed this issue.
The Psychotherapeutic Potential of Psilocybin's Psychotropic Effects
The preceding account of an experience by a 67-year-old mycologist contains elements that illustrate the beneficial potential of psilocybin's psychotropic effects as an adjunct to psychotherapy. We will return to a discussion of these benefits in Chapter 9.
In accordance with their strong psychoactivity, chemical analyses of Psilocybe semilanceata specimens have revealed high levels of psilocybin. It is safe to say that this species has been more thoroughly studied than any other Psilocybe species, including the Mexican species, whose dried mass is known to contain 0.2 - 0.6 psilocybin.
Collections of Psilocybe semilanceata from England, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, the United
States as well as from Switzerland and the former Czechoslovakia have, for the most part, been extensively analyzed. It was discovered that the combined analysis of several dried mushrooms for alkaloid content yielded an average value of 1 % psilocybin of the dry weight, regardless of country of origin. The issue of chemical race has been hotly debated with respect to other species, such as the fly agaric mushroom. But in contrast to plants, such a phenomenon has not yet been proven to exist in the higher mushroom species. So far, there is no evidence to support the notion that the basic chemical make-up of a species can vary dramatically from sample to sample. Among the species discussed here, Psilocybe semilanceata and Inocybe aeruginascens (see Chapter 3.4) appear to be the two species with the lowest degree of variability in psilocybin content across samples. The first three analysis results shown in Table 1 represent data from my own research conducted in the course of a workshop with other investigators in Prague.
Was this article helpful?