Psychedelic mushrooms 101

It’s Autumn. That means many Kiwis will be searching the bushes, banks, and gardens of Aotearoa in the hunt for psychedelic mushrooms, commonly called “Magic Mushrooms.”

Mushrooms are classified as a Class A drug. Possession of mushrooms containing psilocybin and psilocin (the compounds which causes their psychedelic effects) risks six months in prison. Cultivating or supplying them is risking a lifetime imprisonment.

Despite this, eight percent of New Zealanders have tried them. Most people know that mushrooms can be fun, but they can also be unpleasant and deadly.

If you do not know the exact species of a mushroom with 100% certainty,

DO NOT EAT IT.

Seriously, if you get the wrong mushroom, you’ll be lucky if you get off with a case of diarrhea and/or vomiting. Worst case scenario it will kill you stone dead, after several very unpleasant days.

We’d rather you didn’t die, so we’ve compiled a few bits and pieces to help you figure out which the fatal ones are and hopefully live a bit longer.

Psilocybes and your brain. Together at last.

Psychedelic mushrooms contain compounds called psilocybin and psilocin.

When consumed, psilocybin is broken down into psilocin within the body. Psilocin is the active molecule which causes ‘a trip’.

It is a structural analog of serotonin, and works by binding to, and activating the serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin affects your sleeping, eating, digestion, sexual function, mood, and more.

Therefore, taking psilocybin or psilocin can cause major changes in emotions. There can be a temporary decrease or increase in feelings of anxiety, shame, depression, guilt, fear, sadness, pride, joy, and sexual excitement.

It can cause visual and audio distortions, impair digestion, and cause vomiting.

Because of the variability in emotional reactions when taking a psychedelic like mushrooms, three important considerations must be made prior to deciding to take them:, these are set, setting and substance.

Set

Your set is who you are.

It’s your current emotional state, your mental and physical health. Your preparations and expectations going into a trip. It’s your preconceptions, understanding and world view. Think about whether you’re in a state right now where you can cope with what mushrooms might do.

Setting

The setting is the surroundings in which the trip occurs.

Your physical and social environment. Setting includes the sounds or music which you’re hearing, the sights you’re seeing and the smells you’re smelling.
It relates to the people you may be with and your relationships with them. It’s about the activities you plan to do while under the influence of psilocin. It relates to the time of day you are tripping, and the places you’re going to be at that time, and afterwards. Think about whether you feel comfortable and safe where you are and with the people around you.

Substance

The substance is the drug you’re taking.

Where the drug is sourced from. The amount you plan to consume for your desired effects. Research any interactions with your medications and ask your doctor. We strongly advise you not mix drugs due to the potential for harm caused by negative interactions. Combination with some antidepressants risks causing serotonin syndrome. Think about what you know about mushrooms and whether you can take them with minimal risk.

Don’t stop taking your medication to take mushrooms

It can lead to unintended negative effects. Do your homework, research how mushrooms interact with your meds if you want to take both.

Going off your meds can make the symptoms that made you go on the medication in the first place come back worse than ever.

If you want to take mushrooms, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or therapist about it first. Once you have an idea of what might happen on your trip you can prepare for it.

Have I bought the right mushrooms?

If you obtain mushrooms in the illicit market, you are trusting that every single mushroom you buy has been properly identified and safely handled and stored. That’s a lot of trust to put into someone you don’t know.

If you choose to do this, make sure you inspect them, ask questions about which species, and check their ID features. Avoid common street names – like ‘bath salts’, ‘blue meanies’ can mean different things to different people – and you need to know what species you have if you intend to stake your life on it.

Risks While Foraging

False friends

There are thousands of fungal species in New Zealand, many of which produce similar looking mushrooms to the ones you’re seeking.

Pictured below is a selection of the common ‘lookalike’ mushrooms in New Zealand. These mushrooms are not at all psychedelic nor desirable for consumption. When foraging, be aware of patches where both the psychoactive mushrooms and the toxic lookalike mushrooms grow side by side..

Consumption of these lookalikes can lead to serious health problems and hospitalisation. It can even kill. It is vital that you know the exact species which you have picked and inspect every single mushroom.

Take a photo of the mushrooms you are planning on taking beforehand, these can be a helpful reference if you accidentally consume a mushroom from the wrong species and poison yourself.

If there’s even the slightest bit of doubt in your mind about your mushroom’s ID, talk to someone who’s more experienced. BEFORE you take them. There are many online communities dedicated to mushroom identification and harm reduction.

Psilocybe Weraroa, Clavogaster Virescens (toxic), and Rossbeevera Pachydermis (toxic)

All three fungi can look quite similar to an untrained eye as they are fully enclosed and typically pale/blue in colour.

Image, Clavogaster Virescens with cross-section of gleba (spore mass)
Clavogaster Virescens with cross-section of gleba (spore mass)

A cross section cutting may be required to correctly identify.

All 3 can have a reasonably similar colour on the inside but Clavogaster Virescens and Rossbeevera Pachydermis will not have gills. Rossbeevera Pachydermis has a spongy, spherical gleba (spore mass) instead of a cap at the top of the stalk. Clavogaster Virescens also has a gleba which can look slightly spongy.

Image, Rossbeevera Pachydermis with cross section of gleba (spore mass)
Rossbeevera Pachydermis with cross section of gleba (spore mass)

It is possible to encounter these species in close proximity as they thrive in the same environments. If you are hunting for Psilocybe Weraroa, take reference images of all three, with proper identifying features.

Psilocybe Subaeruginosa, Galerina sp. (highly toxic), Hypholoma species(highly toxic), and Leratiomyces Ceres (highly toxic)

The amatoxins found in some Galerina, Hypholoma, and Leratiomyces species can make you sick, cause liver failure, or even kill you. Amatoxins are a very specific type of toxin found only in fungi.

Image, underside of gallerina mushroom showing rusty brown gills
Gallerina species have rusty brown gills
Image of gallerina mushroom stalk with brown bruising
Gallerina species will bruise with a brown colour

Go immediately to A&E if you or someone you’re tripsitting

  • have severe abdominal pain,
  • are vomiting,
  • have diarrhea and dehydration
  • have convulsions
  • become delirious
  • lose consciousness
Image of hypholoma cluster
Hypholoma species grow in very close clusters

These mushrooms can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding, coma and death.

If you think you have ingested any of these, go to A&E immediately, even if the mushrooms have been vomited back up. You will require liver tests.

Bring in photos of the mushrooms you have consumed.

Image showing the reddish cap of Leratiomyces Ceres
Leratiomyces Ceres has a rust-coloured cap that’s closer to red than brown.

Beware the blue spray

Some councils and property owners use deep-blue copper-based fungicides and weed sprays. This can be mistaken for blue bruising, leading to you consuming a poison mushroom stained with poisonous spray.

If you trip and forage, you’re a bloody idiot

Tripping while foraging is a straight up stupid idea. It can leave you in a vulnerable position in an unfamiliar location. It distorts the way you see things, making it impossible to ID a mushroom with 100% certainty.

When your fungus isn’t so fun

You can’t accurately measure the amount of psilocybin in a mushroom, so be careful with your dosing. The variability in potency between different patches of mushrooms, and even individual mushrooms means that you should always prepare for an intense, powerful trip, even if you only take a smaller dose.

Woodlovers Paralysis

Woodlover’s paralysis mainly occurs to people consuming mushrooms in New Zealand and Australia. It appears to be caused solely by psychedelic mushroom species which grow on wood., and It can lead to complete loss of bodily control, leaving you paralysed for several hours.

Reported onset times and durations vary, but weakness tends to first be felt in your face muscles, hands and feet, before spreading through the body, leaving you vulnerable and unable to move for hours.

While there have been limited reports of breathing difficulties, this does not seem to be common. A risk while experiencing woodlovers paralysis is vomiting while paralysed and choking on your vomit. This is why a sober trip sitter is important.

Basically, if you’re going to take mushrooms this autumn, make sure you’re absolutely, 110% sure that what you’ve got isn’t going to kill you. All mushrooms are edible, but some of them you can only eat once.

References

The Pharmacology of Psilocybin and Psilocin – Psychedelic Science Review
Serotonin: Functions, Normal Range, Side Effects, and More – Healthline
Serotonin in Neurological Diseases – IntechOpen
Set & Setting Best Practices for Psychedelic Experiences – Third Wave
What is wood lovers paralysis? – High Alert

VIRTUAL MYCOTA: New Zealand Fungi Identification – Home – An electronic compilation of the fungi of NZ.
Fungal Network of New Zealand | New Zealand mycological society
Entheos Foundation New Zealand – Etheos Foundation – Research and education around psychedelic use
Psilverlinings Harm reduction, ID and Education Group NZ.
Human Hallucinogen Research: Guidelines for Safety Human Hallucinogen Research: Guidelines for safety
Shrooms: What You Need to Know Safety and therapeutic use of mushrooms

Special thanks to our contributors Lachlan Akers and Jeffery Hodgson

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: