Like everything in nature, magic mushrooms are subject to the effects of their surrounding environment. These variables (what Paul Stamets calls “a constellation of factors” 1) include temperature, soil conditions, humidity, competition for resources, and the impact of diseases and predators. Changes in one or more variables effect where magic mushrooms grow, when, how well, and the compounds they contain as well as the amounts of them.
The Compounds in Magic Mushrooms
Magic mushrooms contain a cocktail of compounds, some of which cause psychoactive effects in humans. Some of the known compounds in magic mushrooms are psilocybin, psilocin, norpsilocin, baeocystin, norbaeocystin, and aeruginascin. Also, different parts of a mushroom can have different quantities of compounds. For example, one study found the highest amount of psilocybin in the caps of Panaeolus subalteatus compared to the rest of the fruiting body.2
Variability in the Chemical Composition of Wild and Cultivated Magic Mushrooms
Several studies on wild magic mushrooms have revealed the high variability in the compounds they contain. These variations are seen not just from species to species but from batch to batch within a species. Also, studies are shedding light on how controlling growing conditions influences the number and type of active compounds in cultivated magic mushrooms.
Wild Magic Mushrooms
In 1982, researchers Bigwood and Beug noted a tenfold difference in the psilocybin content of Psilocybe cubensis collected in the wild.3 Another study tested 52 samples of wild Psilocybe semilanceata collected in Switzerland over 5 years. The psilocin content varied from 0.21 to 2.02% and baeocystin from 0.05 to 0.77%.4 Traces of psilocin were also present. The researchers determined that variability depended on the age of the mushrooms, their size, and the part of the fruiting body they tested. A study by Gartz found the psilocybin content of dried Psilocybe semilanceata varied from 0.19 to 1.34%.5 The mushrooms with the lowest mass had the highest concentration of psilocybin.
In 1988, Gartz found aeruginascin in ten fruiting bodies of Inocybe aeruginascens.6 He also noted a correlation between the amount of psilocybin, baeocystin, and aeruginascin in the fruiting bodies. Jensen et al. studied aeruginascin from I. aeruginascens collected in Potsdam, Germany.7 The mushrooms contained varying levels of psilocybin, baeocystin, norbaeocystin, and aeruginascin.
The table below shows data on the components in other magic mushrooms.
Table 1: Components in several species of dried Psilocybe mushrooms. Taken from the Paul Stamets book Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World.
|Percent by Weight of Dried Mushroom Material|
|P. bohemica||1.34||0.11||0.02||9, 10|
|P. baeocystis||0.85||0.59||0.10||11, 12|
|P. stuntzii||0.36||0.12||0.02||11, 12|
Cultivated Magic Mushrooms
Bigwood and Beug saw a fourfold difference in psilocybin content in Psilocybe cubensis grown on rye grain.3 Their work also revealed important findings regarding the amounts of psilocybin and psilocin in successive flushes (another word for the fruiting or harvesting periods) of cultivated P. cubensis. In general, there was no psilocin in the first and sometimes the second flush. The level of psilocin reached a maximum by the fourth flush. The level of psilocybin showed no upward or downward trend over the course of several flushes. However, it was variable by over a factor of four as fruiting progressed. Overall, the level of psilocybin was nearly always twice that of psilocin.
In 1989, Gartz found that increasing the tryptamine concentration in a cow dung-rice growing medium increased psilocin content in Psilocybe cubensis from 0.09% to 3.3% of the dried mushroom weight.14 Also, using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and thin-layer chromatography (TLC), Gartz discovered that the mushrooms grown on the tryptamine-enriched mixture contained only a small amount of psilocybin (0.01 – 0.2%).
The Synergy of Compounds in Magic Mushrooms – Limitless Potential for New Findings
Currently, scientists don’t understand (and are not studying) how the compounds in magic mushrooms interact with each other and with serotonin receptors in the brain, particularly 5-HT2A. It’s possible that allosteric modulation plays a role in the overall entourage effect.
The clinical trials currently being conducted by COMPASS Pathways are using pure psilocybin in psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression. By itself, psilocybin causes different effects that it would in the presence of the other compounds ingested when eating magic mushrooms. Evidence for this lies in the anecdotal experiences (like those on Erowid and BlueLight) of users reporting different effects from ingesting different species of magic mushrooms. Some of these effects are considered good or desirable such as feelings of euphoria and amazing visualizations. Other results are less desirable such as muscle weakness and paralysis.
No one knows how psilocybin-assisted therapy could improve if researchers had a better understanding of the interaction between all of the components in magic mushrooms. That’s not to say the clinical trials are not credible or important. What needs to be understood is that psilocybin is not the only active ingredient or prodrug in magic mushrooms. Research in this area needs to take a step back and gain a deeper understanding of the chemistry of magic mushrooms.
There are many variables controlling the type and amount of compounds found in magic mushrooms. As a result, these mushrooms have substantial variability in the concentration and types of chemicals they contain. The limited scientific studies done so far barely scratch the surface of understanding.
Eating magic mushrooms unleashes a chemical cocktail of potentially psychoactive components into the bloodstream, resulting in very different effects than ingesting pure psilocybin. Awareness of this concept in the scientific community is needed, followed by conducting more research into understanding the specific effects and interactions of magic mushroom components.