Usage In South East Asia And The South Pacific Islands

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Since the late 1960s, the custom of using psilocybin-containing mushrooms has been evolving in various countries across Asia and the Pacific Islands. However, there is no conclusive evidence indicating that mushroom usage was endemic among native cultures prior to the discovery of the Mexican species. Most likely, global tourism has been the most significant factor behind increasing knowledge about relevant mushroom species among the populations of these countries, especially after searches for strongly bluing gilled mushrooms were successful. These mushrooms, most notably those found growing on pasture land, strongly resembled similar species from other continents.


Western amateur mycologists helped disseminate information about these species and published articles on the mushrooms in various publications of their home countries. However, little or no efforts were made to identify and describe specific mushrooms species found growing in Asia and the South Pacific Islands. There have also been no research efforts to investigate the overall mycoflora in this part of the world. Thus, during the 1970s, a group of teenagers in Samoa discovered the psychoactive effects of Panaeolus cyanescens. At first, the police took measures to suppress the practice. But persecution by law enforcement agencies was halted when it became apparent that ingestion of the mushrooms did not pose a significant health risk. According to Cox, the teenagers' parents considered their children's mushroom experience "a foolish, but totally harmless episode and a part of normal teenage development". In light of such a reasonable frame of reference, the historic label "fool's mushrooms" (Chapter 2) immediately comes to mind.

By contrast, customs of psychoactive mushroom usage in New Zealand evolved around the same species found in Australia, with criminal penalties also modeled after Australian measures of law enforcement. However, in contrast to Psilocybe semilanceata and Panaeolus cyanescens, Psilocybe cubensis is not a species native to New Zealand, and all psychoactive species are generally referred to as "magic mushrooms".

To date, we do not know about all those geographic regions where the discovery of bluing mushroom species was an event that did not attract much attention, yet contributed to the mushrooms's growing popularity and an ever-increasing number of "silent" users. Scientific-mycological investigations of a small number of samples provided clues to the identification of psychoactive species relevant in this context: the two dung-inhabiting species Psilocybe cubensis and Panaeolus cyanescens, as well as Panaeolus tropicales, a close relative of the latter species. In most cases, the differentiation of the two Panaeolus species is an extremely difficult task.

Panaeolus cyanescens Omelettes

During the seventies and eighties, the mushroom restaurants of Bali became quite famous, since interested tourists could order mushroom omelettes made with Panaeolus cyanescens - house specialties, and all completely legal to boot. At first, local children collected the mushrooms needed to prepare the dishes. In response to increasing demand for this culinary specialty, however, commercial cultivation of the Panaeolus species began, using the method of transferring dung with naturally-grown mycelia onto fresh buffalo manure.

Apparently, no major complications ensued, and this type of mushroom usage remained unchallenged for a long time. In Bali, ingestion of mushrooms has been limited, for the most part, to visiting tourists. In 1992, a German tourist reported that, if anything, the number of restaurants had increased compared to the 1980s. The number of restaurant patrons, however,

Figure 60 - Psilocybe samuiensis on a mixture of rye and horse dung

appeared to have decreased, indicating an increasing familiarity with psychoactive mushrooms species in the tourists's countries of origin.

Similar stories about mushroom specialties exclusively prepared for tourists have also been reported from Sumatra, Java and The Philippines.

Those mushroom species described above are based on samples collected from islands; thus, it is quite logical to expect finding those same species growing on the Asian mainland as well. Soon after Earle published his description of Stropharia (Psilocybe) cubensis in a 1906 edition of a Cuban agriculture journal, Patouillard proposed the species name Naematoloma caerulescens for his own samples of the same species, which were collected in Tonkin (Vietnam) in 1907. In Thailand and Cambodia, Heim found fruiting bodies of the species Psilocybe cubensis, providing the first sample from outside of Mexico used by Hofmann and his collaborators to confirm the presence of psilocybin in the fruiting bodies.

Such positive results inspired the proposal that psychoactive Psilocybe and related species thrive on all continents, a hypothesis that has been fully confirmed.

Other mushroom species from the genus Panaeolus have been found in mainland Asia as well. For example, Ola'h's monograph describes a bluing mushroom named Panaeolus cambodginiensis Ola'h & Heim, a species - as its name suggests - found only in Cambodia. According to Ola'h, all of the species's fruiting bodies contain psilocybin.

Monsoon Climate, Manure and Water Buffaloes

In 1981, Schroeder reported the results of his mycological field work conducted in Nepal during 1978 and 1979, where his research efforts established that mushrooms of the Psilocybe species are wide-spread throughout the area. Guzman proposed that these species can quite possibly be classified as Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe subcubensis Guzman. Macroscopically, the latter species is very similar to the subtropical Psilocybe cubensis species, but its spores are comparatively smaller and its habitat limited to tropical regions.

The mushrooms primarily grow in valley areas with monsoon climate conditions, at altitudes of about 3,000 ft. on substrates of partially decomposed cow manure as well as on water buffalo dung. While the species fruits all year round, it does so most abundantly in May and June, the rainy months that precede the monsoon season.

Nepal is another country where no evidence was found of any mushroom usage by the indigenous population. Mycophilic Western visitors, however, having discovered the species, soon indulged in usage of the mushrooms for hallucinatory purposes, a practice that failed to draw much public attention. It appears that a relatively large dose was required to achieve the desired effects, since several individuals consumed forty or more of the fleshy mushrooms at a time.

"Soma": A Psilocybian Species?

Within the context of discovering this species, Schroeder and Guzman proposed a most interesting hypothesis. They suggested that "soma", the substance revered as a deity by the mysterious, ancient Aryan civilization, who are said to have developed a soma cult, did not, in fact, refer to the fly agaric mushroom, as initially proposed by Wasson. More likely, soma was the name of a psychedelic Psilocybe species, based on its spectacular psychotropic effects and the mushroom's geographic distribution pattern.

An article authored by J.W. Allen and M.D. Merlin concludes that currently Thailand is the country with the largest consumption of psychoactive mushrooms.

In several areas across Thailand, tourists can find menus offering mushrooms prepared as part of omelettes, soups, teas, pizzas or juices. Allen specifically studied patterns of usage on the two islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan. Previously, sporadic reports from other islands off the Thai coast contained descriptions of similar practices there. In January 1990, Allen also confirmed usage of the mushrooms in the northern areas of Thailand.

German Tourist Boom

On Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan, the mushroom dishes are enjoyed primarily by German tourists. Along with a few other foreigners, some Thai teenagers use the mushrooms as well, sometimes even attempting to smoke them in a bamboo pipe. As a salt-like chemical compound, psilocybin requires temperatures of about 200°C for it to melt and partially break down without sublimation, so that a tobacco pipe will not be effective in achieving the desired psychoactive effects.

During the fall of 1988, Thai authorities distributed warning leaflets at tourist centers, providing a detailed description of a bizarre panic reaction experienced by an Australian tourist, who was hospitalized briefly as a result. Allen thoroughly analyzed this event by seeking additional information about the circumstances of this case, including interviews with all other individuals involved. Allen discovered that the Australian visitor had used excessive amounts of various pharmaceuticals, including highly addictive substances, which is why he eventually required hospitalization.

Finally, in January 1989, this incident was central to justifying passage of a law that prohibits usage of psychoactive mushrooms ("hed keequai" in local language), with harsh penalties provided for non-compliance. Until that time, many restaurants posted signs advertising the various types of mushroom dishes on their menus. But mushroom usage continued despite passage of the law. Specific species still being used were identified as Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe subcubensis and Panaeolus cyanescens. It is unknown if a tourist in Thailand has ever been sentenced for usage or possession of mushrooms. In addition to the collection of fruiting bodies growing naturally on buffalo dung, Thai as well as German residents on Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan began to cultivate the mushrooms, outdoors and inside houses. In accordance with the "natural cultivation" approach, rice debris was added to fresh manure and mixed with dung already permeated by mycelia. After prohibition, mushroom cultivation continued at hard-to-reach wilderness locations.

Moreover, Allen found evidence that some restaurants temporarily served dishes made from regular table mushrooms apparently spiked with a synthetic hallucinogen (LSD?) whose effects lasted much longer than those of psilocybin. This dangerous practice caused unexpected reactions with effects lasting for up to 10 hours. Some consumers experienced dysphoric side effects which persisted for as long as several days. One individual developed an aversion against all kinds of mushroom dishes for several months.

As in Mexico during the sixties, a large variety of mushroom images and products are marketed commercially in Thailand these days. Among merchandise offered for sale there are hand-painted and mass-produced T-Shirts (see Figure 56, p. 78) with pictures of Panaeolus cyanescens and Psilocybe subcubensis, shown together as well as separately, not to mention postcards, posters, lighters and key rings, all featuring mushroom-motif decorations. Allen reported that such goods are available in both Northern and Southern Thailand.

In coming years, we can well expect a wealth of new discoveries and insights into the ethnopharmacology, taxonomy and natural chemistry of Asia's mycoflora.

Not surprisingly, another new mushroom species was discovered in Thailand in August, 1991 and named Psilocybe samuiensis Guzman, Bandala & Allen (see Figure 60, p. 99). The species is similar in appearance to Psilocybe semilanceata, but the fruiting bodies do not contain baeocystin. Psilocybe samuiensis is a bluing species that grows on fertilized soil, but not directly on top of dung. We successfully cultivated this species on a mixture of rye, horse dung and water (2:1:2), but found that we needed to add a casing layer consisting of peat and chalk (2:1).

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