Magic Mushrooms of Vancouver Island & British Columbia
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Magic Mushrooms in BC
There are a number of psychoactive, psilocybe-containing mushrooms in British Columbia and on Vancouver Island. Some of the most popular are:
Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata)
Wavy Caps (Psilocybe cyanescens)
Flying Saucers (Psilocybe azurescens)
Most magic mushrooms in British Columbia occur alongside human activity, by garden paths or flowerbeds. Paul Stamets proposes that wavy caps (Psilocybe cyanescens) were brought to North America from Europe with ornamental rose and rhododendron species.
Where to Find Magic Mushrooms On Vancouver Island
Hallucinogenic, psilocybe, or "magic" mushrooms tend to be saprophytic - meaning that they live off decaying plant matter. Most prefer marginal or disturbed areas, although a few can be found in pastures (like liberty caps), and more rarely, in forests. To find the common Psilocybe cyanescens, look along well-mulched garden paths in the late fall.
Liberty Caps in British Columbia & Vancouver Island
Liberty caps, or Psilocybe semilanceata, are one of the most well-known and popular magic mushroom varieties in the Pacific Northwest.
These small, slender, and unassuming mushrooms grow among well-established grasses on lawns or pastures. While fall is their peak season, they can appear from late summer to winter, and even in the spring in some areas.
Beginners are apt to see liberty caps wherever they see small, brown, bell-capped mushrooms, so pay attention to these characteristics (and consult an expert):
Key Identifying Features of Liberty Caps:
A thin membrane that can be peeled away from the cap
Faint bluing reaction around the margin of the cap and on the stem
Liberty caps show only slight bluing (unlike many other hallucinogenic mushrooms), usually along the cap margin and faintly on the stem.
Also, the colour and shape of their caps can vary with age, moisture, and the specific variety being observed. However, in general, the caps of Psilocybe semilanceata tend to be slightly transparent, nut-brown, curved in at the margin, sticky when wet, and have a little "bump" at their apex.
Liberty caps are one of the more potent varieties of magic mushroom. They average about 1% psilocybin content, with a very high 2.37% reported in some cases. By contrast, the less-stable psilocin is almost absent in liberty caps, accounting for their long shelf-life.
For more information on local mushrooms, get yourself a good guide book on mushroom identification.
About Magic Mushrooms
Magic mushrooms contain a number of psychoactive chemicals. They are: Psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, and norbaeoocystin.
Psilocin is responsible for most of the psychoactive effects of magic mushrooms, but is also highly unstable and breaks down easily.
Psilocybe cyanescens is one of the most commonly found magic mushrooms on Vancouver Island. They typically grow on wood mulch in gardens and landscaped areas, and fruit in late fall.
Right: This picture shows a group of small "wavy cap" mushrooms growing in a garden path, with a distinctive purple spore print on top.
Why Do Magic Mushrooms Stain or Bruise Blue?
In Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, Stamets notes that blue-staining, or "bluing", in magic mushrooms is not well understood. However, the process is thought to parallel the degradation of psilocyn - the primary active chemical in most magic mushrooms. Therefore, bluing should be avoided (through careful handling) because it probably reduces a mushroom's potency.
More recently, research has identified some of the chemicals and processes responsible for the bluing reaction in psychedelic mushrooms. These findings back up the theory that the bluing reaction is the result of active chemicals in the mushrooms degrading and oxidizing into other compounds. As such, the long-standing recommendation to avoid bruising magic mushrooms still holds.
Note: Blue-staining is not limited to hallucinogenic mushrooms, even though they are often associated. So don't use a blue-staining reaction as the sole indicator that you have a magic mushrooms species.
Above: A closeup of young wavy caps (Psilocybe cyanescens) showing slight bluing at the edge of the cap, and a white stipe.
How To Identify Magic Mushrooms
Look for a gilled mushroom that has purple-black spores and stains blue. Such a mushroom is probably "magic" (contains psilocybin) and is safe to use. However, although this is a simple and safe identification rule to follow, it will exclude some psychoactive mushrooms.
Identification of specific species, as with most mushrooms, will often require microscopic analysis.
Using a spore print to identify mushrooms
Here are some good tips for making identifications using spore prints:
Identifying mushroom spores sometimes requires fine colour distinctions
Make sure the person looking has good eye-sight and a good sense of colour differences
No wishful thinking! If you're uncertain about what you see, count that as a negative identifier
General identifying characteristics of magic mushrooms
Most magic mushrooms on Vancouver Island have:
A pellicle - a thin, transparent skin that can be peeled away from the mushroom's cap
A nut-brown colour, going light-beige at the center as they dry
Magic Mushrooms: Deadly or Poisonous Lookalikes
Magic mushrooms can grow within touching distance of their deadly lookalikes (see Stamets, pages 30-31). As such, magic mushrooms should be identified individually, and not by patch.
Some common deadly poisonous lookalikes of magic mushrooms are:
Galerina species, like autumnalis, marginata, and venenata
To avoid ingesting these poisonous mushrooms, here's a list of guidelines to follow:
Stamets' guide to picking magic mushrooms safely
Match ALL identifying characteristics of the target species, including spore-print and bruising
Identify each mushroom individually
Keep specimens separate and labelled
Pick the entire mushroom and take note of the habitat (plants and substrate)
How To Prepare Magic Mushrooms
Apart from simply ingesting them, there are two other popular methods for preparing magic mushrooms involving tea and alcohol.
Magic Mushroom Tea
On page 50 of Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, Stamets gives a recipe for his preferred method of taking mushrooms: tea. Although the instructions are a bit ambiguous, the process is essentially:
Make tea (Stamets recommends a blend including cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg)
Strain out the tea bits (if loose leaf)
Add chopped mushrooms to the tea (usually 1 gram of dried mushrooms per cup)
Stir the mixture over a low heat
Drink the lot - mushroom bits and all
The directions are a bit ambiguous about whether the mushrooms should be steeped for 1 hour, or 10-20 minutes.
Magic Mushrooms With Alcohol: The "Magic Brew" or "Blue Elixir"
Stamets documents another popular technique for preparing magic mushrooms - soaking them in alcohol. The resulting brew apparently has a clear blue colour, and keeps for much longer than tea.
Soak diced mushrooms in 75% ethanol
5 grams of dried mushrooms to 25-50ml of ethanol
Filter after 2-3 days and consume
Storing Magic Mushrooms
As with most mushrooms, psilocybe mushrooms can be stored for longer periods of time by drying, sealing, and freezing them.
Directions for dry-storing mushrooms:
Leave mushrooms intact and handle carefully (avoid bruising)
Dry, freeze, and seal in a bag
Store in a cool, dry location, out of direct light
Mushrooms that are higher in psilocybin (as opposed to psilocin) tend to store better for longer. This is because psilocybin is relatively stable.
For more information see page 51 of Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World.
Magic Mushrooms: Dosage and Potency
Liberty Cap mushrooms can contain up to 1.36% of their dry mass in psychoactive chemicals. At this concentration, 2-3 grams of dried liberty caps will provide a light to moderate dose. Liberty caps are considered "moderate to strongly" potent compared to other hallucinogenic mushrooms.
However, individual mushrooms, and different mushroom patches, can vary in their potency depending on growing conditions, age, storage and so on. For example, mushrooms which grow in substrates enriched with tryptamine tend to be stronger, while those with access to an abundance of sugars are less potent.
Also, how a person experiences the dose is also highly individual, depending on metabolic and psychological factors.
Here are some simple benchmarks for Liberty Cap dosages:
2 grams - First low-level effects
3 grams - Visual waves
4 grams - Intense, 4-5 hour experience
5 grams - Intense, up to 6 hours
Stamets cautions that higher doses may be too intense for most, even causing some to experience temporary paralysis.
Which Psilocybe Mushroom is the Most Potent?
The strongest hallucinogenic mushroom species is Psilocybe azurescens, also known by the common name "flying saucers". These mushrooms are native to the Astoria region of Oregon, growing among dune grasses and in riparian zones, but have since spread to the wider region.
Psilocybe azurescens are roughly twice as strong as the commonly cultivated and popular Psilocybe cubensis. (Stamets 1996: 25-26)
Potency rankings of moderate to strongly-active magic mushroom species:
Psilocybe bohemica (now known as Psilocybe serbica and synonymous with Psilocybe arcana and Psilocybe moravica)
Psilocybe semilanceata AKA "liberty cap"
Psilocybe cubensis AKA "golden tops" or "yellow teachers"
Psilocybe cyanescens AKA "wavy caps"
(Calculated as total proportion of dry mass consisting of active chemicals. From Stamets 1996)
"Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World" by Paul Stamets
Paul Stamets is a well-known mushroom expert and outspoken advocate of psilocybin-containing mushrooms AKA "magic mushrooms". Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World (1996) is Stamets' third book, and a good reference guide for identifying magic mushrooms.
Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World describes itself as "An Identification Guide". This is probably the book's greatest value - as a reference source for identifying hallucinogenic mushrooms.
However, it also contains a lot of other interesting information for those who want to learn about hallucinogenic, or "magic", mushrooms, as well as their poisonous lookalikes.
In addition to the index of known and suspected psychoactive mushrooms, Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World also contains Stamets' reflections on the cultural, and even spiritual, significance of magic mushrooms. He also provides some context about their use by ancient peoples (particularly in Mexico), and their "rediscovery" in 1957 with the publication of "Seeking the Magic Mushroom" in Life magazine.
Stamets also provides excellent instructions on the collection, storage, preparation, and use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
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Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World should be a staple for people who are learning about magic mushrooms. However, as the information starts to age, and new information becomes available, more recent books and sources might become more relevant.
The most useful aspects of the book are the detailed descriptions and photos, and dosage information. The books suffers from some ambiguous language, and brief interlude of baseless speculation.
Stamets is an engaging writer, providing some compelling descriptions of magic mushroom trips.