Toxic Fungi of Western North America

by Thomas J. Duffy, MD

Taxonomic and legal problems

Western gilled mushrooms containing hallucinogenic indoles are primarily found in the dark spored genera of Psilocybe, Stropharia and Panaeolus. The last genus has black spores that do not fade in concentrated sulfuric acid. Mycelia at the base of the stipe in Panaeolus may bruise blue, but not the flesh. Dr. Guzman, the definitive authority on these fungi, places all of these segregates from Panaeolus as subgenera under that genus. (165)

The federal drug enforcement act lists mushrooms containing psilocybin and psilocin as controlled substances under Schedule I (no medical use). The original listing of psilocin in the 1970 “Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act” was misspelled as “psylocin”. Hallucinogenic indole-containing fungi are on Schedule I, primarily because such mushrooms are often used for “recreation”. Schedule I lists substances that cannot be prescribed by a physician even on a “triplicate” (legal narcotic form). Mere possession of psilocin in any amount is technically illegal. However, collectors of LBM’s (little brown mushrooms) without these indoles have been cited occasionally. That section of the 1970 law is further flawed in that most encounters between man and possibly hallucinogenic fungi are quite innocent. Most mycologists collect for identification, photography, mushroom fairs and university herbaria. Psilocybes and related genera (if non-bluing) are difficult to identify and may or may not contain hallucinogens. Some species are only “latently” indole-hallucinogenic.

"Latently indole-hallucinogenic" is a vague term. Use of the word “latent” or its forms covers a good number of interpretations: 1. The mushroom in question may have these alkaloids, but only at a given phase of its growth. 2. The compounds are present, but only in minute amounts and may be toxic only to susceptible persons or children. 3. The compounds are present only in specimens from one site or habitat, but not from another. 4. Alkaloids are present, but require specific growth requirements or handling to be biologically available. 5. The “latently indole-hallucinogenic” compounds are only detected after certain laboratory manipulations.

Collecting these “magic mushrooms” for recreational use, however, is quite hazardous unless careful rules are used to gather only the bluing species. Additionally, dried “street” specimens have been laced with LSD or worse. See below for what is almost certainly a death from Psilocybe cyanescens, a bluing species, in a six-year-old child.