At least one other Psilocybe species in addition to Psilocybe semilanceata is known to exist in Europe. At this point, I must emphasize that the differentiation of single species within the Psilocybe genus is subject to considerable controversy among eminent taxonomists. For example, there are different methods of distinguishing the Hypholoma genus from the Stropharia genus.
While Psilocybe semilanceata is a species that has long been clearly defined and is well known by this name, there are, according to Krieglsteiner, other strongly bluing mushrooms that can be described as belonging to the "Psilocybe cyanescens complex". These are all mushrooms that grow on raw compost and plant debris.
In accordance with current states of knowledge, the following names in the literature are merely synonyms for Psilocybe cyanescens Wakefield emend. Krieglsteiner:
- Hypholoma cyanescens R. Maire
- Hypholoma coprinifacies (Rolland ss.
- Geophila cyanescens (R. Maire) Kuhner &
- Psilocybe serbica Moser & Horak
- Psilocybe mairei Singer
- Psilocybe bohemica Sebek
The classification of these synonyms is particularly difficult, because the mycologists involved provided detailed descriptions for isolated collections of fruiting bodies only, followed by comparisons with mushrooms found at other locations, using dates provided in the literature. Under the best of circumstances, an analysis was performed on dried samples from different herbariums. However, the microscopic data pertaining to the Psilocybe species are poorly delineated and oftentimes overlap. It is therefore imperative that additional mycological studies of Psilocybe cyanescens be performed. To this end, fresh mushroom samples from various European locations should be used, and biochemical methods must be included in the investigation. Guzman's division of Psilocybe cyanescens by geographic area, however, definitely turned out to be inaccurate. According to his system, -North Africa was home to Psilocybe mairei, while Psilocybe cyanescens were found in England and Holland and Psilocybe serbica supposedly grew in Serbia and Bohemia. The geographic distribution of the entire species seems to cover a vast area, with variations along climate and terrain at locations where samples were collected. Such disparate morphologies are to be expected when dealing with "young" species, that is, species that have not yet firmly established themselves and are still expanding into new locations.
Figure 7 (p. 14) displays locations in Europe and North Africa where samples of Psilocybe cyanescens have been found.
Spores Introduced From Overseas?
In this section I would like to discuss several aspects of the bluing Psilocybe mushrooms. Detailed information about several isolated sample collections has been presented by Krieglsteiner.
A description of any mushroom species becomes valid only after a Latin diagnosis of the collected sample has been published in a mycological journal, along with distinctive characteristics in relation to other species.
In 1946 Wakefield described as Psilocybe cyanescens Wakefield a sample of bluing dark-spored mushrooms collected at the botanical gardens in Kew, England. It had been suggested that those mushrooms occurred adventitiously, that is, that the spores had been imported from overseas together with other plant materials. The presence of such mushrooms in botanical gardens had been observed quite frequently, and such imports are likely whenever the mushroom in question has never before been found in surrounding areas. The possible importation of Gymnopilus purpuratus is described elsewhere (see Chapter 3.5).
The mushrooms displayed a much more intense blue staining reaction than Psilocybe semilanceata. They were observed growing on small pieces of wood in the forested areas of Kew Gardens during the fall season for several years. Among the mushrooms' most notable features are their undulating, twisted caps. Guzman believes that specimens collected in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest of the United States (Northern California, Oregon, Washington) are identical to those found in Kew Gardens (see Figure 24). Indeed, all of the macroscopic and some microscopic descriptions and photographs match the mushrooms found in England. However, conclusive proof of identity can be provided only by results from DNA analyses and cross-breeding experiments with single-spore mycelia. I will elaborate on this method in a later section.
In 1975, fruiting bodies of this species were also discovered in Holland. Additional bluing mushrooms growing gregariously on grass and decaying reeds were found in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland in 1972 (MTB 8511). Other samples are known to have been collected in the Steiermark region of Austria in the fall of 1976, as well as on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in 1972 and 1984.
On several occasions, a number of fruiting bodies classifed as Psilocybe cyanescens were also discovered in Germany (see Figure 23, p. 32).
More elaborate descriptions of several such collections are provided below:
On October 31, 1983 considerable quantities of fruiting bodies in all stages of development were found in the lower regions of Bavaria (MTB 7542). Interspersed with grass, the mushrooms grew along a 100-yard stretch right next to an old garbage dump forming colonies, some small and others larger, that were partially intertwined. They were found scattered across decaying plant materials, such as leaves, twigs and mulch. There were greenish and distinctly bluish stains on the caps, and most notably a bluish color near the base of the stem. Other fruiting bodies quickly developed blue stains in reaction to being handled, even in very cool temperatures.
The description of Psilocybe cyanescens below is somewhat condensed, but essentially applies to all other collections, while the relative measures and sizes may vary:
Caps: 5-40 mm broad, conic at first, with cortinate fibrils ascending steeply to the stem, but fading quickly, bell-shaped later on, partially with an acute umbo. Later expanding to plane, with undulating or wavy margins, no remnants of veil, also broadly convexed to umbonate in older mushrooms. Deep chestnut brown when fresh and moist, fading to a whitish color when drying, with stains of bluish to blue-green coloration.
Gills: Attachment adnate to broadly subdecurrent, color light to dirty beige when young, later on changing to cinnamon-purple brownish color due to maturation of spores. Blue staining reaction is slight in response to pressure. Stem: 30-85 mm long, uniformally thick at 1.5-3 mm. Stems and mycelial fibers turn blue in response to touch, if blue stains not already present.
Odor: Somewhat like flour or potatoes.
In 1976, bluing mushrooms growing on plant debris were found in the Saarland region of Germany. Other collections came from the Southern regions of the Black Forest (MTB 7515, 1959, 1963), as well as the Vogtland area (1979) and the Rheinland area (MTB 4706, 1982). Similar mushrooms were also discovered near Hamburg (MTB 2428, 1983) and Bremen (1982, 1983). The latter collections are especially interesting, because the greenhouses at the Rhododendron Park and People's Park in those cities provided layers of wood chips during the fall which enabled the mushrooms to fruit much more prolifically (thousands of mushrooms) than they did naturally in surrounding areas, where the species was also fruiting in several locations. These findings most likely indicate the presence of a similar, imported species, because native fruiting bodies require exposure to the shock of colder temperatures of fall in order to develop from the mycelia. For instance, other wood chipdwelling species have been reported from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., such as Psilocybe stundi, Psilocybe baeocystis, Psilocybe pelliculosa and others (also see Chapter 7.1). Psilocybe caerulescens Murr. from Mexico is also related to these species. This was the first Psilocybe mushroom to be recognized as psychoactive by Wasson in the course of his selfexperiment on June 29, 1955.
Very little is known about the chemical composition of the collections cited above. I analysed a few mushrooms from collections found in the Rheinland area of Germany in 1989. The results were as follows:
Psilocin: 0.08 % of dried mushrooms
Baeocystin: 0.04% of dried mushrooms
A few other analyses of German mushrooms yielded similar results. These values were well within the range of concentrations of alkaloids found in Mexican species. The most extensive studies on distribution, psychoactivity and chemical compounds of Psilocybe cyanescens complex were conducted in the former Czechoslovakia, where the mushrooms are generally known as Psilocybe bohemica, a name which is also used in the text below.
Kubicka first discovered the species on December 6 and 13, 1942 in the Kresicky Creek Valley village of Poricko v Pozavi near Sazava (Czech Republic). In 1950, mycologist Herink described the mushrooms in detail. He also believes that Fries classified mushrooms of the Psilocybe cyanescens complex as Psilocybe callosa during the 19th century. On November 11, 1986 I had the opportunity to work with Herink and other Czech mycologists on a mycological field research project at the location, where we found 440 fruiting bodies (550 g or 19.6 ozs). Covering a segment almost two miles long, the species was fruiting among nettles along both sides of the creek on wood chips of Carpinus, Alnus and Salix, on raw compost mixtures of Picea, Pinus and Larix needles, as well as on decaying pine cones. Several specimens up to 15 cm (6 in.) tall with caps up to 5 cm (2 in.) broad were found growing on a rotting log whose underside was exposed to the running water. A water-loving Psilocybe species, it primarily fruits in late autumn (see Figure 21, below), when short night frosts induce maximum possible fruiting. The brown caps are strongly hygrophanous and their color fades to a white-milky brown when dried. Its odor has been compared to anything from radishes to poppies. In my experience, the odor is highly variable and thus difficult to define. Young, dry mushrooms develop intensely blue stains in response to handling, while older fruiting bodies tend to be found at the location with dark blue stains already in place. It is remarkable that the mushrooms were fruiting at the same location near Poricko for so many years in a row, producing a large number of fruiting bodies each year. Unfortunately, in recent years the location was partially destroyed, due to construction of a road.
By late 1982, the mushroom species had been found at 51 locations in the former Czechoslovakia, with only seven of them located in Bohemia, 40 in Moravia, and four in Slovakia. Elevations vary from 200 m to 700 m (600 ft to 2,100 ft) above sea level, with only two locations known to exist above 700 m (2,100 ft). By this time, 112 collections had been reported, 44 of which came from the classic location near Sazava.
Figure 21 - Fruiting curve of Psilocybe cyanescens based on observations at several locations in the former Czechoslovakia.
Figure 21 - Fruiting curve of Psilocybe cyanescens based on observations at several locations in the former Czechoslovakia.
The mycelia make use of different kinds of plant debris and even grow on wet cardboard, where they develop into rhizomorphs just like they would in nature. Rhizomorphs are thick strands of mycelia that serve to transport nutrients and water. They also develop intense blue stains (see Figure 22).
Psilocybe bohémica rhizomorphs growing on wet cardboard.
Distribution pattern of Psilocybe cyanescens in Germany and adjacent areas (according to Krieglsteiner). Locations are indicated by black dots.
Psilocybe bohemica is a very psychoactive species. Its effects are vividly documented in the following account of one natural scientist's experience as part of controlled clinical trials in Prague:
About 30 mg of psilocybin in mushroom tissue was prepared in hot water, with effects already noticeable ten minutes after ingestion. I grew increasingly quiet. At first, my legs began to tingle, then my underarms as well. Aside from a deeper breathing rhythm, few other somatic effects were noted. Initially there were fits of laughter caused by unusual cognitive associations; this laughter also affected the two "sober" guides. A growing hyperacuity interfered with the ability to listen to music, so that Vivaldi's "Springtime" caused painful stabs inside the brain. I compared the pain to that caused by a "sawing knife". The experimenters appeared bloated and yellow... Existing bodily characteristics, such as thinning hair stimulated a person's illusionary transformation into a monk with tonsure. Their voices also appeared reverent and, from a somewhat paranoid point of view, these gentlemen at times seemed to be working a switching station that, for some reasons, was my enemy. At the same time, I found both of them to be quite likeable. During this time period, the other female subject perceived fantastic images of moving colors and saw visions of her whole life unfolding behind closed eyes. During this period, I had the distinct impression that an electrical current was flowing through my body, which was not an uncomfortable sensation. About three hours later, the gentlemen retired to the kitchen and the nature of the experience changed quite drastically.
At first I felt as if my legs were increasingly merging into the wall, a very comfortable experience. In a state of utter clarity of consciousness, I finally felt as if I had no body at all. I said. "The most descriptive expression is the experience of a pure soul". Using words as triggers, we were able to induce shared experiences of color visions and we travelled together around the word as well the spiritual realm. She made a clearly telepathic statement about my hometown, which I could not fathom or interpret at the time, nor could I do so later on. While under the impression that the thinking process itself was something supernatural, I was filled with confidence when I realized without a doubt that death itself was but a levitation of the soul, which may or may not entail looking down upon the "normal" world. I did, however, anxiously reject her offer to see into my future and tell me about what she learned. Yet 1 knew that she was already seeing such things.
The above account vividly illustrates the cosmic-mystical aspects of the mushrooms' effects. Such effects have frequently been described following ingestion of high doses of hallucinogens, especially in cautious and protective environments ("setting") coupled with a positive, internal mood ("set") primed by careful preparation. Of course, the detailed content of such experiences varies across individuals. Pahnke's masterful study during Good Friday Services in 1962 has become a famous event in the history of research into these states of consciousness.
Three years later, a remarkable range of effects was observed in the same participant of an experiment conducted in Prague, where mycelia from Psilocybe bohemica were used. Due to an analytical error, the four participants each ingested 72 mg of psilocybin, plus some psilocin, instead of the intended dosage of 30 mg of psilocybin each:
Days before the experiment, I already began to suspect that this experience would not evolve as smoothly as it had three years ago, given the amount of personal stress I had suffered over the previous two months. However, I had faith in the expertise provided by psychiatric guidance. Prior to the experiment, I asked the psychiatrist about the possible causes underlying my seeming inability to fully experience the unfolding of visual imagery. He brushed aside my question with a short and terse reply : "Resistance", which only heightened my feelings of anxious tension.
After ingestion of the hot preparation, fifteen minutes passed until the sudden onset of its effects. I ceased to perceive the music and sank into an autistic state devoid of visions which lasted for three hours. This state was subjectively experienced as one of confusion with a partial loss of consciousness as well as the loss of a sense of time and place. This torturous period, however, did not include any rough somatic disturbances. After I woke up, I felt like a broken machine; only the compassion of the other participants, which were also suffering, helped to clear my head temporarily. My experimenter attempted to counterbalance these effects and to provide a firmly groundedfocus ofreality, but his efforts were unsuccessful in the long run. I felt as if I was extremely drunk, except there was none of the aggression typical of alcohol intoxication. Soon afterwards, I began to project my emotions onto the psychiatrist. I saw him undergo illusionary changes; initially he appeared to be a dominant rooster which transformed into a punk rocker. Then 1 felt that he would understand what 1 was going through, given his extensive background and experience with psycholytic therapy. So I asked him, if the two of us could retire to another room. When he consented, I began to undergo a psychic split. The sound of my voice was strange and whiny. I felt as if part of me had split off and become an observer, while the rest of my prone body had assumed the position ofan infant, sucking on a finger and crying, crumbling up tissue papers at the same time. On the psychoanalytic level, an extraordinary experience began to unfold. I became conscious ofall recent and past conflicts, especially those involving my parents. This part of my personality articulated and worked through the emerging conflicts. Even though one might assume this process was facilitated by the psychiatrist, this was not the case. In the semi-darkness 1 perceived him as my deceased grandfather, as a human skull and as an American football player, whose armor I recognized as a projection of my own uptight personality.
Afterwards I looked at my reflection in a large mirror and reconciled my differences with myself as the two halves of my personality merged into one. I saw a soft and tearful face and soon realized that the person I was looking at was none other than myself, that I had learned to accept myself, in spite ofall my problems. At the time I also noticed that my self-disciplined behavior was overly exaggerated, a trait generally judged as unfavorable by those around me. I resolved to become more relaxed and carefree in attending to my daily routines. I believed this psychological insight to be a revelation. With my eyes closed, I saw images of translucent vessels atop a brilliantly blue surface. In the weeks and months after the experiment, those around me noticed that my behavior had changed to become more relaxed, which was mentioned spontaneously on several occasions.
The experience of an initial, painful delirium illustrates a resistance to dealing with the conflicts that invariably emerge in response to high dosages - conflicts that were resolved through an intense psycholytic catharsis (also see Chapter 9). A psychedelic experience ensued as both parts of the divided personality were merged into a whole. This is a decidedly positive outcome of a psycholytic episode with corresponding therapeutic benefits - a result that was entirely unintended (!). Personal stress prior to the experiment apparently facilitated the manifestation of deep-seated conflicts and issues that might otherwise never have been dealt with. With the exception of the attending psychiatrist, outside observers appraised this experience as a "bad trip". The subject, however, thought the experience to be enlightening and illuminating, even five years after it took place. Grof describes very similar reactions to LSD therapy. After "going through Hell", subjects proceed to reintegrate their personality at a higher level of consciousness, while experiencing visionary images of clear, bright lights and illumination.
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