Psilocybin: Fact or fiction

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 3:04 pm

Some Psilocybe mushroom eaters, in an effort to avoid LSD and PCP tainted varieties sold on the street, try to pick their own mushrooms. In theory, this should be easy to do. Psilocybe (species containing psilocybin) mushrooms grow naturally around the world and in the United States particularly in the Pacific Northwest and southeastern states. Mushroom hunters often seek out cow pastures, riverbanks, pine forests, and wood chips in search of over 90 known species of Psilocybe mushrooms. The problem, though, is that it is very difficult to tell the difference between Psilocybe and other poisonous mushrooms. Psilocybe and poisonous look-alikes can grow side by side.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Food-borne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook, “Mushroom poisonings are almost always caused by ingestion of wild mushrooms that have been collected by non-specialists (although specialists have also been poisoned).” That parenthetical quote should alert all would-be collectors that properly identifying mushrooms is a difficult task.
Many poisonous species can be nearly indistinguishable from edible species, especially during particular stages of development. Positive mushroom identification is so difficult that professionals collect several types of data before making a determination. While collecting, different species are kept separate, often with wax paper. A written notation is made of the names of nearby trees; whether the mushroom was growing as a cluster or singly; the color of the cap, spores, gills, and stalk as this may change after picking; any peculiar taste, odor, or reaction to bruising. Experts also try to collect the mushrooms at all stages of growth. Once at the lab, the spores are examined under a microscope for size, shape, and color. The cap, stem, and gills are then measured and the color is noted. Even then, experts can not always make a positive identification.


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