Magic mushrooms or shrooms can be divided into two groups: the psilocybin-bearing mushrooms, found primarily in the Psilocybe genus, and the muscimol-containing mushroom Amanita muscaria.
Psilocybe mushrooms contain psilocybin and/or psilocin and psychedelic tryptamines that are structurally similar to serotonin, a strong regulator of mood, state of mind, and consciousness. Several species of Psilocybe also contain the alkaloid baeocystin, which is a demethylated derivative of psilocybin. Other genera that contain psilocybin include Conocybe, Copelandia, Gymnopilus, Inocybe and Panaeolus.
Amanita muscaria, or Fly Agaric, contains many entheogenic elements, most notably muscimol, but also including muscazone, ibotenic acid and muscarine. It produces a much different experience compared to a Psilocybe mushroom. This mushroom is toxic in large doses, as ibotenic acid and muscazone can cause unpleasant side-effects such as nausea or even permanent damage, although there are very few fatalities caused by Amanita muscaria. Recreational users who wish to consume the Amanita muscaria often heat dry or cook the mushrooms, as the high temperature is believed to reduce negative effects by converting ibotenic acid into muscimol.
When eaten or drunk in a tea, they combine readily and hungrily with the brain to evoke a powerful psychedelic trip experience, shorter-lived but similar in tone and effect to LSD.
There are over 90 species of magic mushrooms world-wide. Common varieties include UK and Northern Europe’s ‘Liberty Caps’ (Psilocybe semilanceata) and North America’s Psilocybe cubensis.
The world’s most famous magic mushroom is the European Fly Agaric (amanita muscaria), the red-and-white spotted toadstool which often pops up in children’s literature. However, it contains ibotenic acid and muscimol not psilocybin and has very different effects.
Mushrooms are light to dark brown in colour and come in fresh, dried or powdered forms. All of them taste disgusting.
They smell distinctively ‘mushroomy’ and are impossible to confuse with any other powdered drug.
In the UK, mushrooms and psilocybin are class A drugs, alongside LSD, cocaine and heroin. In the US they are in schedule 1.