Is Norbaeocystin an Active Component of “Magic” Mushrooms?

Many anecdotal reports suggest that different species of magic mushrooms result in different effects for the user, but other psilocybin-like compounds present in mushrooms have been largely ignored.


Norbaeocystin is a psilocybin derivative, i.e., an analog of the psychedelic prodrug psilocybin. It is also described by the chemical name 3-(2-ammonioethyl)-1H-indol-4-yl dihydrogen phosphate and the molecular formula C10H13N2O4P.1 It has a molecular mass of 256.2 grams per mole.

Norbaeocystin has a primary amino group on the ethyl amine group that is common to the psilocybin derivatives.  However, unlike baeocystin, aeruginascin, or psilocybin, it has no methylation on the ethylamine group. By contrast, baeocystin has a single methyl group at this position, psilocybin has two methyl groups, and aeruginascin has three methyl groups.

Molecular structure of Norbaeocystin

The chemical structure of norbaeocystin. Norbaeocystin Occurs Naturally in some Magic Mushrooms.

Norbaeocystin was first isolated from submerged cultures of Psilocybe baeocystis.2  In the study, solvent extractions provided material enriched in psilocybin derivatives. Those chemicals were further separated by chromatography to provide pure fractions of norbaeocystin, baeocystin, and psilocybin.

Recently, it was demonstrated that norbaeocystin could be an intermediate in the biosynthesis of psilocybin.3 In vitro tests demonstrated that L-tryptophan is converted to tryptamine by the enzyme PsiD which is then converted to 4-hydroxytryptamine by the enzyme PsiH. PsiD can also synthesize 4-hydroxytryptamine directly from the substrate 4-hydroxy-L-tryptophan. Norbaeocystin is then synthesized by the enzyme PsiK.

Researchers propose that additional methyl groups are added by the enzyme PsiM, generating baeocystin (one methylation) and psilocybin (two methylations). This research establishes the foundation for in vitro enzymatic synthesis of psilocybin and psilocybin derivatives. Alternatively, the desired compounds could be produced by biotechnological production through the genetic engineering of suitable fermentation hosts.

Never Studied and Poorly Understood

For the most part, norbaeocystin has been ignored by the scientific community. It is almost never discussed. And, the biological effects are not well documented.

Researchers have hypothesized that norbaeocystin is generally found at lower concentrations than psilocybin.  Documented chemotyping of psychoactive mushrooms supports this hypothesis, showing considerably higher amounts of psilocybin vis-a-vis other (unspecified) psilocybin derivatives.

A thin layer chromatogram showing separation into several different molecules.

Norbaeocystin is generally regarded as non-psychedelic. However, there is no evidence to support this belief.  Furthermore, the absence of psychedelic properties does not exclude it’s potential for therapeutic uses — for example in modulating the properties of drugs and/or endogenous neurotransmitters (e.g, serotonin) — without an intoxicating effect.

If we draw an analogy to the accepted metabolic pathway for psilocybin, we would infer that norbaeocystin is dephosphorylated in the body to form 4-hydroxytryptamine, which is further metabolized. Notably, the proposed 4-hydroxytryptamine compound would differ from serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) only by the position of the hydroxy- group.  Norbaeocystin is hydroxylated at the 4th position in the molecule whereas serotonin is hydroxylated at the 5th position.

Different Effects from Different Mushrooms?

Many anecdotal reports suggest that different species of magic mushrooms result in different effects for the user.  However, almost all discussions of magic mushrooms focus on just one molecule: psilocybin. Some molecules in magic mushrooms have never been formally studied.

Different Molecule = Different Drug

Structurally different molecules almost certainly provide different effects when ingested by the user.  They are different drugs.

Understanding how each psilocybin derivative contributes to the overall effect of a magic mushroom experience would allow researchers to create targeted formulations.  Such formulations could be optimized to provide certain properties without undesired side-effects.  See, e.g., Wood Lover Paralysis arising from certain species of psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

Potentially, particular psilocybin derivatives could be used for treating people without intoxicating them.  For example, some assert that norbaeocystin is non-psychedelic.  But, the scientific community has yet to study whether it provides any of the benefits attributed to psilocybin.

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