Spotlight On North America And Hawaii

In 1961, V.E. Tyler became the first investigator to report the detection of psilocybin in Psilocybe pelliculosa (Smith) Singer & Smith, a North American mushroom species. One year later, two research groups, working independently, discovered psilocybin, as well as psilocin, in samples of Psilocybe baeocystis Singer & Smith from the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Additional chemical and taxonomic findings on that region's mycoflora have been published up to the present day. This area includes the states of Washington (USA), British Columbia (Canada) and western Oregon (USA). The region is considered a major center of psychoactive mushroom use in North America. Some areas along the U.S. Gulf states have acquired similar reputations.

In 1966, Heim and his colleagues reported that an unknown Psilocybe species had been confiscated in Canada. The mushrooms appeared to be very similar to Psilocybe semilanceata. Shortly thereafter, A.H. Smith determined that the same mushroom species was popular among students in Vancouver. It wasn't long before Psilocybe semilanceata was recognized as a species quite common throughout the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, the mushrooms turned out to indistinguishable from European Psilocybe semilanceata samples.

The Spread of Psilocybe semilanceata

From the late 1960s onward, Psilocybe semilanceata usage increased, particularly in areas between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains that range from Southern Oregon north to British Columbia. It is likely that during these years, Tom Robbins's popular book "Another Roadside Attraction " significantly contributed to the mushroom's increasing popularity. Today, Psilocybe semilanceata is the most widely used species in the Pacific Northwest, and its habitat is expanding into pasture lands east of the Cascade Mountains.

As in Great Britain, the mushroom is referred to as "Liberty Cap" in the United States.

Psilocybe semilanceata has the reputation of being one of the most potent species without generally causing unwanted physical side effects (also see Chapter 3-1). As indicated in previous chapters, recurrent claims about different types of effects from different psychoactive species should be systematically studied, including comprehensive biochemical analyses. These research efforts will likely uncover new biodynamic ingredients.

Another factor that accounts for different types of effects is the variability in levels of alkaloid content. In the course of casual experimentation it is also not uncommon for a number of expectations to become self-fulfilling. The assumption that Psilocybe baeocystis (see Figure 72, p. 119), a strongly bluing species, causes a comparatively larger number of physical problems than other species is undoubtedly rooted in the mushroom's "reputation" as being the only Psilocybe species to date responsible for the only known fatality involving Psilocybe baeocystis - a child who died after eating some of these mushrooms (see Chapter 8 for more details on this incident).

Psilocybe baeocystis primarily grows in inland areas of the Pacific Northwest, on top of wood debris and on lawns in parks. It is a species that can often be found and collected on school and university campuses. Psilocybe pelliculosa, a mushroom mentioned in previous chapters, is a species also known as "Liberty Cap". Macroscopically, it is extremely difficult to distinguish from Psilocybe semilanceata. Unlike the latter species, however, Psilocybe pelliculosa will grow in forests on wood chips and sawdust.

Beug and Bigwood were able to furnish analytical proof in support of the claim that Psilocybe pelliculosa is weaker in its psychotropic effects than comparable species. Psilocybe pelliculosa contains about 30-50% of the amount of psilocybin found in Psilocybe cyanescens (slang names: Blue wavy, Cyan, Grandote), a species common across the Pacific Northwest. It fruits primarily in parks, forming partial fairy rings. This species did not become popular among users until the mid-1970s.

A New Psychoactive Mushroom

Several additional Psilocybe species have been found in the Pacific Northwest, even though the taxonomic classification of most of these species remains inadequate, despite the fact that monographs such as those by P. Stamets offer quite detailed descriptions of the psychotropic mycoflora. In the mid-1970s, Guzman and Ott reported a rather spectacular event concerning the spread of a "new" mushroom species. During the fall of 1972, large numbers of a strongly bluing gilled mushroom with a distinct ring pattern were found at the University of Washington in Seattle. The fruiting bodies were found growing on bark mulch, which came from a central distribution point and which had been spread widely across the campus by gardeners. Due to the bluing reaction, students at the university assumed that the mushroom contained psilocybin, a belief that was confirmed later on. The sudden appearance of massive numbers of fruiting bodies quickly inspired students at the university to use the mushrooms as a hallucinogen.

In my opinion, it is still uncertain if the mushroom really appeared spontaneously, or whether it fruited on bark debris simply because the substance had previously been mixed with spawn derived from fruiting bodies that originated elsewhere.

In any case, in 1976, the mushrooms were named Psilocybe stuntzii Guzman & Ott (slang name: "blue veil" or "stuntzees", (see Figures 54 and 71). Today, the species can be found growing on bark and on lawns in parks, on golf courses, football fields and gardens in numbers so large that it is considered the second most important species in terms of usage, after Psilocybe semilanceata. In addition, Panaeolus subbalteatus is another regionally important mushroom species (slang name: "red cap"), even though its users believe it to be slightly more poisonous than the Psilocybe species. Still, the mushroom is used quite frequently, because it begins to fruit during the spring. The Psilocybe species, on the other hand, do not appear until fall and continue to grow into early winter, when temperatures consistently drop below freezing, which inhibits further fruiting of the species. Under favorable conditions, only Psilocybe stuntzii can fruit year-round, even though this species still fruits most abundantly in the fall.

Mushroom Trips as a Popular Sport

In 1977, J. Ott estimated that several tens of thousands applied dosages of psychotropic mushroom material are harvested and used each year, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Despite these quantities, there have never been reports of fatalities or serious physical damage as a consequence of using the Psilocybe or Panaeolus species. Local papers merely mentioned occasional panic reactions that subsided as soon as the acute effects of the mushrooms had worn off.

The usage of psychotropic mushrooms in the United States tends to cluster geographically in areas that are considered mushroom Eldorados. For example, the city of Redmond, WA used to be known as the "bicycle capital". Since 1978, several newspapers have renamed this city the "psilocybin capital".

Since the late 1960s, the usage of Panaeolus cyanescens and its closest relatives has become fashionable in Hawaii, even though the taxonomic differentiation of the Panaeolus species from each other is extremely difficult. There were initial attempts to preserve the fresh mushrooms by freezing them with dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) for export to the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. Apparently, these entrepreneurs were unaware of the fact that psychoactive ingredients will remain stable, as long as the mushrooms are dried and stored at temperatures below 50'C (122'F). Such export efforts were soon abandoned, because freezing the mushrooms turned them to mushy pulp that was difficult to transport. In addition, several local species had been discovered in the Pacific Northwest. During the early 1970s, fruiting bodies of the Panaeolus species preserved in honey began to appear on the black market in Hawaii and, on occasion, in North America. Again, this method fell short, because mushrooms could be preserved for only short periods of time.

Panaeolus subbalteatus grows in several areas in the Hawaiian Islands, but it is used less frequently than other Panaeolus species. Even though one often hears about "Hawaiian strains" of Psilocybe cubensis, the species is not native to The Islands and should grow there only under conditions of artificial cultivation. Any spawn used for cultivation, however, must have been isolated from fruiting bodies that originated elsewhere. In Hawaii, the extent of adverse reactions was also limited to a few panic reactions observed in recreational users who had ingested mushrooms of the species Panaeolus cyanescens. In 1972, an apparent fatality was definitely not caused by ingestion of mushrooms, but instead was most likely the consequence of a heroin overdose, as reported by J. Allen, who has researched this incident extensively.

The legislatures in North America and Hawaii do not pay very much attention to the usage of psychoactive mushrooms. The identification of species is often quite difficult, so that police enforcement activities primarily target misdemeanors such as parking violations and the willful destruction of fences around pastures. The latter is not uncommon during attempts to force entry into areas where Psilocybe semilanceata can be found.

In December 1979, the High Court of British Columbia ruled that the Canadian Narcotics law prohibits psilocybin only in its pure form, whereas mushrooms containing the alkaloid as a natural ingredient are exempt from the law. This decision seems both realistic and reasonable, considering the substantial, uncontrollable spread of these mushrooms and an ongoing battle against truly addictive drugs that requires all available efforts and resources.

Even though the extent of prosecution of drug law violators in Canada and the U.S. varies from state to state, psilocybin-containing mushrooms are only a minor factor in the overall "war on drugs". In California, however, mushroom cultures are illegal, as well as spore prints (!) from the Psilocybe species. Spore prints, however, are impossible to control. Psilocybe cubensis is common across the South, and Panaeolus subbalteatus grows across the Southwestern U.S., where the mushrooms are used extensively. By one estimate, there were 100,000 "Magic Mushroom People" in the state of California alone, a number likely to be much higher today. The demand created by this growing market is probably being met through cultivation of Psilocybe cubensis. These users ingest psychotropic mushrooms as a form of recreation, or incorporate them in the ritual practice of natural mysticism. Other users prefer mushrooms as an aid to meditation or to attain communication with the realm of the divine. Regardless of motivation, users tend to lead secluded, self-sufficient lives in close proximity with Nature. Across North America, the total number of magic mushroom consumers is likely close to one million, quite possibly higher.

By the early 1980s, prominent experts in the field had estimated that the number of hallucinogenic mushroom users in the United States outnumbered LSD users for the first time, a trend that went hand in hand with a rise in environmental awareness. In this context it is interesting to note that the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which collects data from throughout the United States, documented only 31 cases of clinical interventions for usage of psilocybin-containing mushrooms in 1982. In some of these cases, the mushrooms were used in combination with other substances, confusing the pharmacological picture. In comparison, LSD was involved 1,498 times, while marijuana was cited in 5,295 cases. It should be noted that the high number of marijuana cases cited appears inflated and suspect, in light of data from other studies.

It is interesting to note that T. Leary's psilocybin experiments during the early 1960s provoked severe reactions of a moralistic-puritan nature, while medical reports about prolonged psychoses and other such side effects did not appear until the "LSD era" some years later.

North America's mushrooms offer many opportunities for additional taxonomic work and many more still remain to be discovered. To illustrate, a new mushrooms species was recently reported from Oregon. The mushroom, Psilocybe azurescens Stamets & Gartz is unusually large and very potent due to its high psilocybin content. North America's rich mycoflora, particularly in regions of wet climates in the eastern and midwestern United States is wide open for further research efforts that may well yield valuable and amazing new results.

As early as 1909, Murrill described "Inocybe infida", a mushroom with "narcotic" effects from New York. In 1911, Ford named "Inocybe infelix" as a species that also caused strange effects, without inducing symptoms of muscarine poisoning. These descriptions immediately bring to mind the psilocybin-producing fibreheads, even though visionary experiences are not expressly mentioned.

In the future, we should expect an increase in usage of local, psychoactive species from locations across the U.S. and Canada.

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