Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as "magic mushrooms," are any variety of mushrooms that naturally produce the psychoactive tryptamine called psilocybin. They were used to induce altered states of consciousness in healing rituals and religious ceremonies by Mesoamericans for centuries, and more recent studies have shown that they can relieve symptoms of treatment-resistent depression and obsessive compulsive disorder and help ease fear and anxiety in people with terminal cancer. We wrote a wide-ranging article, Psilocybin Mushrooms and America's Great Psychedelic Awakening on the subject of their use history, cultivation methods, therapy, potential health benefits, safety, legal status, and future policy reform. While nearly 200 species of fungi contain the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin, recreational growers deal primarily with strains of the common and more easily cultivated Psilocybe cubensis. In this article we outlined common strains of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, including where to find them and how to identify them, their cultivation history, potency, and best growing methods. The following information is meant as an educational guide only. North Spore’s products shall be used only for lawful purposes and North Spore does not condone the use or manufacture of any illicit substance including psilocybin.
Where can I find Magic Mushrooms? Habitat & Identification
Psilocybin mushrooms are cosmopolitan, meaning they can be found worldwide (see map) in a variety of temperate and tropical habitats including grasslands, forests, and human-dominated landscapes. They are saprotrophic, meaning they feed on dead and decaying organic matter. In his book, Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, author and mycologist Paul Stamets targets 6 distinct habitat types commonly associated with psilocybin mushrooms including grasslands, dung deposits, riparian (riverside) zones, woodlands, mosslands, and burned lands. In fact, he notes that many species inhabit disturbed habitats and gardens created by people, as the amended soil, compost, and regular watering readily fosters mushroom growth.
Young Psilocybe cyanescens, a psilocybin mushroom, growing in the wild
The Psilocybe genus of mushrooms contain numerous hallucinogenic species found around the world including P. semilanceata ("Liberty Caps" from Europe), P. cyanescens ("Wavy Caps" from the Pacific Northwest), P. azurescens ("Flying Saucers"), P. mexicana, and P. cubensis, the most commonly cultivated species that is found throughout the subtropics. With a small fruiting body (Psilocybe cubensis is 2-6 inches tall) and nondescript appearance (see image), Psilocybin mushrooms resemble the classic "little brown mushroom." They are brown to yellow-brown overall with a cap that is hygrophanous (it changes color from dark brown to tan as it dries out) and often cone-shaped. The gills under the cap are usually brown to purple in color and produce a spore print ranging from lilac-brown to dark purple-brown in color. They typically have a blue-staining reaction when the fruiting body is bruised.
If interested in wild foraging psilocybin mushrooms, keep in mind that there are similar-looking species in the genus Amanita and Galerina that if ingested, can cause illness and even death. We highly encourage readers to use this information in conjunction with several good field guides to mushrooms, including the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary Lincoff, Mushrooms Demystified by David Aurora, and Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide by Paul Stamets. For those interested in purchasing psilocybin spores for microscopy purposes, websites including Eden Shrooms are great resources.
Common Methods for Growing Psilocybin Mushrooms at Home
Mushrooms fruiting from a monotub
Growing in Monotubs
The vast majority of recreational growers rely on monotubs for growing psilocybin mushrooms. Monotubs are made by drilling 1-2 inch holes around the circumference of any clear plastic storage tub. The holes are patched over with micropore filters or polyfil then sanitized with 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. The bottom few inches of the tub, just below where the holes are placed, is filled with a sterilized or pasteurized manure substrate, typically a mix of horse manure and a carbon-rich material that holds water efficiently, such as coco coir or vermiculite. Grain spawn, made either in jars or injection port bags, is used to inoculate the monotubs by sprinkling or layering it with the manure substrate. Tubs are then sealed and left to colonize over the course of two to three weeks. Once the substrate is fully colonized with mushroom mycelium they are cased with coco coir, exposed to oxygen using a fan or by removing the lid, and spritzed daily to maintain moisture content until fruiting occurs. We produced a full monotub walk-through video here.
Growing in Indoor Greenhouses or Grow Chambers
Alternatively, growers can utilize a plastic storage tent or indoor greenhouse as a humid grow chamber to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms. Rather than place the tent in a sunny window for plants, growers place them in a closet, garage, or basement. The tent is filled with colonized mushroom substrate blocks or shallow trays and allowed to colonize. An advantage of this system is that these tents can be outfitted with an ultrasonic humidifier that is either ducted in from an external source, or placed on the top or bottom rack of the tent. A hole is cut into the plastic and an exhaust fan pulls air out of the tent, negatively pressurizing the growing chamber. A duct is attached to the other end of the fan and is usually vented out of a window or filtered to keep spores from entering whatever space the tent is located in. Humidity and CO2 sensors communicating with a cycle timer allow growers to fine-tune growing parameters in ways that are difficult with standard monotubs. You can watch a walk-through video of an indoor grow chamber here.
Colonized mushroom blocks fruiting in an indoor grow chamber
Colonized mushroom blocks fruiting in an indoor grow chamber
Growing in Indoor Greenhouses or Grow Chambers
Alternatively, growers can utilize a plastic storage tent or indoor greenhouse as a humid grow chamber to cultivate Psilocybin mushrooms. Rather than place the tent in a sunny window for plants, growers place them in a closet, garage, or basement. The tent is filled with colonized mushroom substrate blocks or shallow trays and allowed to colonize. An advantage of this system is that these tents can be outfitted with an ultrasonic humidifier that is either ducted in from an external source, or placed on the top or bottom rack of the tent. A hole is cut into the plastic and an exhaust fan pulls air out of the tent, negatively pressurizing the growing chamber. A duct is attached to the other end of the fan and is usually vented out of a window or filtered to keep spores from entering whatever space the tent is located in. Humidity and CO2 sensors communicating with a cycle timer allow growers to fine-tune growing parameters in ways that are difficult with standard monotubs. You can watch a walk-through video of an indoor grow chamber here.
Common Psilocybin Strains
As stated earlier, growers are primarily dealing with a small subset of the many psilocybin-containing mushrooms found worldwide, the most popular being the Psilocybe cubensis species. While known to indigenous people for centuries, they were only recently rediscovered by Western cultures in the late 1950s (read a brief history here). Once word got out, curious people began searching for them and experimenting with different propagation methods, and cultivation guides were published in the late 1970s and early 80s. Growing techniques and identification of wild psilocybin mushrooms advanced, and new species were discovered while old favorites were cross-bred to amplify desired traits such as yield, potency, contamination resistance, and appearance which resulted in the hundreds if not thousands of unique psilocybin mushroom strains we have today. For many experienced psilocybin mushroom growers, the general consensus is that “a cube is a cube,” referring to the notion that the majority of P. cubensis varieties are more or less very similar. While this is technically true, there have been many advancements made by mycologists over the years that have helped to bring forward the many unique varietals we see today, which exhibit actual qualitative differences. Regardless, anytime a new culture is started from spores, there can be a wide range of genetic diversity that ensues, as there are millions of genetic possibilities even within a single drop of spore solution. While some have ranked strains based on their potency, we have gathered together 5 common strains below to help illustrate their often murky history and the various traits growers focus on as they cultivate new strains of psilocybin mushrooms. All strains can be grown up on grain spawn then allowed to colonize in a monotub or fruiting chamber using a pasteurized, manure-based substrate.
The B+ strain of Psilocybe cubensis is one of the most common magic mushroom strains. Some say it originated in Florida, others say Southeast Asia while others claim it originated in a grow kit from the Netherlands. This strain is great for beginners and experienced users alike as it produces heavy flushes of large mushrooms as well as lots of spores. It is a light-colored, medium to large mushroom with rounded caps up to 4 inches in diameter. There are reports of some specimens reaching up to 16 inches tall! It is one of the most resilient strains, adjusting to various temperatures, conditions and substrates including grains, manure, compost and straw with reports of folks even growing it in their gardens. Its rapid colonization speed makes B+ an especially forgiving and user-friendly variety for beginners, as its speed allows it to outpace most common bacterial and mold contaminants.
B+ has a murky history
The Penis Envy strain exhibits shortened, fat stems and caps
Penis Envy may have a silly name, but this famed strain of Psilocybe cubensis may be the most potent. Legend has it that it's descended from a wild specimen collected in the Amazon rainforest in the early 1970s by enthnobotanist and writer Terence McKenna. Various colleagues selectively bred the strain for potency, resulting in a thick, phallic-looking mushroom with a cap that barely opens. Female friends of one grower remarked that the mushrooms resembled “donkey dongs" resulting in the grower asking if they had penis envy, and the name stuck. Over the years, this variety has also been dubbed as Melmac and Homestead PE by various vendors. Users report that penis envy mushrooms offer a more intense, visual, and euphoric experience than other varieties. While this is still a cubensis variety, it is one that is usually recommended for more advanced growers as it is more susceptible to contamination due to its slow colonization speed. It also is known to produce a unique phenomena known as “blobbing”, which can be mitigated using advanced casing techniques in order to produce a more typical mushroom flush. Numerous strains of Penis Envy exist, including Albino Penis Envy and Penis Envy Uncut, building on the parent strains' potency.
The Tidal Wave strain is a recently-created hybrid produced by crossing the B+ and Penis Envy strains of Psilocybe cubensis in an attempt to produce a strain that combines the potency of the Penis Envy and the vigor of the B+. This variety exhibits traits of both its parents; their color, size, and wavey caps comes from B+ while their thick white bodies with tightly packed gills resemble Penis Envy. Obviously, their potency comes from the Penis Envy strain, which, according to Tripsitter.com, has resulted in the strongest strain on the underground market today. While flush sizes are smaller overall, and colonization and fruiting time is fairly average, the classic psychedelic qualities including auditory distortion, color enhancement, euphoria, introspection, and synesthesia are greatly intensified with this strain.
Tidal Wave exhibits traits of both B+ and Penis Envy, including a wavey cap and high potency
One of the more sought-after strains of Psilocybe cubensis is Golden Teacher. Possibly originating in Florida in the 1980s, this strain is also known as "Gold Caps" and "Golden Halos" and is known as a good introductory strain for beginners. It is relatively easy to grow, grows fast, and tolerates a range of growing environments. It is also relatively potent compared to other strains. It is said to boost creativity and a sense of self-awareness, with the the ‘teacher’ aspect of its name derived from the uniquely educational experience often reported during its use. Whether or not the strain is in fact more educational than other strains remains unproven, as the quality of every psychedelic experience is dependent on the mindset and physical setting of the experience, aka its "set and setting." From this famed strain, mycologists have recently begun to develop novel varieties such as True Albino Teacher (TAT), Ghost, MVP (TAT x PE), and Albino MVP (AMVP).
Natal Super Strength, Psilocybe natalensis
First collected in 1994, this unique psilocybin mushroom species from South Africa is relatively new to the scene. Originally thought to be just another variety of P. cubensis, recent genetic testing has proven it to be an entirely new species of its own, P. natalensis. A native of subtropical grassland and enriched soils, it exhibits vigorous rhizomorphic growth which lends to it being more resistant to bacteria and mold than most other psilocybin mushrooms. While it can be grown in the same way as other strains, it is more potent, with folks who have worked with the strain describing the experience as cleaner and smoother without the “body load” that is typical of other psilocybin mushrooms. Effects are "friendlier" and "uplifting" and include superior visuals.
Natal Super Strength, Psilocybe natalensis, from South Africa
Psilocybin mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for religious purposes and more recently have shown great promise in the treatment of a broad range of mental health issues including substance use disorder, treatment-resistent depression and end of life anxiety. Since the 1970s, a growing public has sought these substances for recreational purposes which has helped spur an underground market for safe mushroom cultivation. Growing methods will continue to be improved upon, and mushroom strains will continue to be developed and refined for a variety of traits including potency. While North Spore does not condone the use or manufacture of any illicit substance including psilocybin, we support open access to information that helps the public make informed decisions about fungi and fungi-derived products. We look forward to exploring more about these topics in future articles!