Mycology & mushroom history

Mycology – the science of mushrooms

Mushrooms as we know them are actually fruiting bodies of an underground organism made up of fine threads – the mycelium. The mycelium grows and spreads, collects nutrients and when the time is right and environmental conditions are suitable, sprouts mushrooms. If the climate is too harsh to for mushrooms to grow, the mycelium forms sklerotia instead.

Psilocybin mushrooms (also known as magic mushrooms) is a blanket term for 186 different species that contain the psychedelic (greek: psyche = soul, delos = to reveal) substances psilocybin and psilocin.

Human use of these mushrooms in a religious / spiritual and medicinal context dates back many thousands of years. Among the most ancient records of prehistoric mushroom use are rock paintings of “mushroomheaded” creatures also holding mushrooms, found in the sahara desert and created about 9000 BC.

mushroom stones, 500 – 1000BC.

These mushrooms stones, which originated in mayan culture also indicate that there was ritual and ceremonial use of mushrooms and in Nahuatl, the aztec language, Teonanácatl, the name for the mushroom, means “flesh of God”.

Muhsrooms in Europe

In europe on the other hand, there’s hardly any record of the use of psilocybin mushrooms. Much more common was the use of Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric, which contains the moderately psychoactive compound ibotenic acid. Upon drying, this compound converts to Muscimol, which is a psychotropic alcaloid.
The effect of this substance is only vaguely similar to that of psilocybe mushrooms and it’s extremely difficult to dose, as its concentration in the mushrooms oscillates wildly.

For millenia, the shamans of siberian peoples have been collecting Amanita muscaria and venerating them as “flesh of the Gods”, taken to create a connection to spiritual worlds.

They typically grow in conifer forests, because they live in a symbiotic relationship with either conifer trees, or birches. That’s also why it’s not (or at least not yet) possible to cultivate them, they must be picked in the wild.

Fly agarics in pop culture: collecting this mushroom will give the player an “extra life”

Though its use also dates back to prehistoric times and traces of that are still openly visible in everyday life; wether it’s childrens’ books or video games, as wall paintings in kindergardens or lucky charms, the white dotted red mushrooms pop up everywhere and in positive context, despite their classification as poisonous.
Eaten raw, however, they can cause extreme nausea and vomiting, paired with hallucinations, so for entheogenic purposes, the right preparation is crucial.

What are magic truffles?

Magic Truffles (also: Psilocybin truffles / Philosopher’s stones) are sclerotia, hardened mycelium that forms underground when the climate isn’t right for the mycelium to develop mushrooms. In hostile environmental conditions, instead of forming fruiting bodies, the mycelium forms these little underground bunkers, more fit for survival than the microscopic hyphae they usually form.

These sclerotia, or truffles, have an outstanding consistancy in the amount of active substances they contain. Unlike magic mushrooms, in which the concentration of psychoactive substances can oscillate quite a bit, magic truffles are quite constantly the same – ideal for Microdosing.

Are psilocybin mushrooms dangerous?

No, not by themselves. It’s virtually impossible to eat enough mushrooms to reach a lethal dosis, they’re among the safest substances for humans to consume, including tap water.

But the same rules go for mushrooms that go for everything else: Dosis matters.

The reputation of magic mushrooms to be particularly unpredictable or risky to consume is derived in parts from their great variance in potency, meaning the amount of psilocybin per mushroom can be hard to determine. Different species have different potency, but even within a species, it can vary quite a bit. Size isn’t usually an indicator of potency.

mushrooms of the same species, even grown from the same mycelium, often vary in potency

With truffles, it’s different, as there are less species whose potency is well-known and quite constant, so the effect can be anticipated.

In order to be able to make a statement on how dangerous psilocybe mushrooms really are, there has been a classification study in 2010 to estimate the danger potential for individual and environment of various psychoactive substances:

Mushrooms have been assigned the lowest score, which qualifies them as the safest among 20 substances.

Funny enough, the toxicity of psilocybin is so low that for example a person weighing 60kg would have to consume either 1,7kg of dried mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe cubensis, or 17kg of fresh mushrooms.

So, why the bad reputation?

Another reason for the reputation of psilocybe mushrooms as having unpredictable or even dangerous effects, is a stack of cases where mushrooms were falsely identified as the trigger of bizarre cases of crime or accidents.

For example, the Netherlands, which up to the year 2008 were a country in which fresh mushrooms were freely produced, traded and consumed.

But in 2007, the dutch press published the case of the man who skinned his dog in which a french truckdriver in Amsterdam was detained after being caught mutilating his pet dog. Indeed, a few days after this horrid event hit the headlines as a case of “mushroom induced madness”, it turned out the man hadn’t eaten mushrooms, but was simply psychotic.

Another case that had attracted plenty of attention in March 2007 was the suicide of a 17-year old french girl with manic depression and a history of psychological problems.

Now, the problem about this case is that no matter how many hours we spent rummaging through articles, we couldn’t find the proper source – all english and dutch articles we found spoke about the event as if any reliable source or even details

Apparently, she had consumed mushrooms shortly before jumping to her death from a high building – this was what her classmates told the police. Wether other drugs were involved wasn’t mentioned in the media. Nor could we find if there was an autopsy and so we don’t know wether she really had taken mushrooms, when, how many, or what else she might have taken.

Should you be able to provide any information on the matter, please contact TNMS here!

The girl’s parents insisted she had not been suicidal and demanded the dutch state take responsibility. Meile Schot, the owner of the shop from which allegedly the mushrooms came, stated:

I think it’s terrible what happened. But we certainly didn’t sell the mushrooms to her. Some older members of the group she came to Amsterdam with must have bought it for her, that’s what the police concluded as well. We always check our customers’ age.

from an interview with “de Vokskrant” on the 28th of March 2007

The event hit the fan as a drug scandal and led to the dutch government tasking the CAM (Coordination point Assessment
and Monitoring new drugs) with estimating the risks that psilocybin mushrooms pose.

CAM’s risk assessment on paddo’s (mushrooms) compared to other substances.
Risk for individual health: none,
risk for public health: low,
public order: low,
potential criminality: low.
Recommendation: Quality control

CAM made their findings public in october 2007, stating that mushrooms didn’t cause dependence, posed no or an extremely slight risk to society and the individual, except for a few recorded cases of flashbacks and bad experiences, which all involved alcohol. They also emphasized in the summary, that criminalizing the mushrooms would most likely lead to them being replaced with other, much more dangerous substances. Their recommendation was better control of trade and handling and easier access to information on how to use mushrooms; mainly for tourists that, according to CAM, were the ones who got into trouble in the first place by taking mushrooms in public places and unsafe situations, or mixing them with alcohol or other drugs.

Unfazed by this review, the Netherlands declared mushrooms illegal in November 2008 and forbade their sale, starting on the the 1st of December. This was, as Ab Klink, the minister of public health stated, “because cases like the man who skinned his dog had to be avoided at all costs in the future.” He knew at the time that this incident had had nothing to do with mushrooms, as he later admitted to the newspaper “Vrij Nederland” – he deemed them dangerous and wanted them outlawed, no matter how.

Real danger

Galerina autumnalis – a Little Brown Mushroom that, if eaten, can kill you.

Real danger is involved when people, unaware of legal ways to buy magic truffles and interested in either Microdosing or higher doses, take to foraging for psilocybe mushrooms in the wild. For amateurs, confusing psilocybe mushrooms with a different type of Little Brown Mushroom (LBM) is easy and not unlikely, but can have grave consequences. Some of the Little Brown Mushrooms, mushrooms from various species that have little more in common than their appearance, are actually deadly poisonous, like Galerina autumnalis.

Psilocybe allenii – Little, Brown and psilocybincontaining.

Foraging is an attractive option, as it’s free and psilocybin mushrooms grow in many places, in Iceland it’s even legal to pick wild mushrooms, but not to buy cultivated mushrooms. Without question, their occurrence in nature is something that’s gained mushrooms their quite exceptional legal status, even though psilocybin was prohibited in 1971, mushrooms were not. How could anyone outlaw a whole life form that’s brought forth by the earth, anyways? It’s like forbidding birds or dandylions, not your fault if they appear in your garden.

But without the proper training and bullet-proof knowledge of which mushroom is which, they also come with a side of mortal danger. That’s why TNMS supports accessible, legal trade of psilocybe truffles, because as wonderful as the effects of mushrooms can be, they’re hardly worth dying for.