Just to look at, you might not connect “magic mushrooms” and Psilocybe cubensis. These little brown-and-white mushrooms don’t look especially magical, and might remind you more of having to eat your veggies than anything else. But even a single dose of P. cubensis can be life-changing.
Often called magic mushrooms, shrooms, cubes, golden halos, or gold caps, Psilocybe cubensis belongs to the fungus family Hymenogastraceae. First known as Stropharia cubensis but later renamed, Psilocybe cubensis is the best known psilocybin mushroom today, thanks mostly to its wide distribution and ease of cultivation.
If at some point in your torrid past you ate some random shrooms, not knowing what they were, chances are excellent they were some strain of Psilocybe cubensis. That’s because since the 1970s, Psilocybe cubensis or “cubes” have been widely understood to be the easiest magic mushroom to cultivate indoors, thanks to a few key books on hobby growing, including Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide by Terence and Dennis McKenna.
In fact, although there is a dearth of clinical data on how these strains differ in terms of how they treat mental health conditions, there are now over 60 different strains of P. cubensis due to decades of selective home breeding. Amazonian, B+, Golden Teachers, Pink Buffalo, and even Penis Envy Mushrooms can now all be yours—yet they’re all P. cubensis.
In fact, Psilocybe cubensis is one of more than 100 species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin and psilocin, the main active chemical compounds that produce psychoactive trippy symptoms such as hallucinations and euphoria. And despite ongoing stigma in the United States legal system and beyond, which keeps psilocybin mushrooms including Psilocybe cubensis part of the black market for drugs, a controlled substance, generations of religious and cultural heritage in Central America have relied upon these “magic mushrooms.”
Overview: Psilocybe Cubensis vs Other Psilocybin Mushrooms
Psilocybin mushrooms are also sometimes called shrooms, magic mushrooms, blue meanies, golden tops, mushies, liberty caps, liberties, philosopher’s stones, amani, and agaric. There are many species of fungi that contain psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound that can generate powerful effects such as hallucinations and mystical-feeling experiences.
Any one of these species might be called magic mushrooms or psilocybin mushrooms. In fact, psilocybin mushrooms are among the world’s most popular and frequently used psychedelics—and with over 180 species of mushrooms that naturally contain either psilocybin or psilocin, that’s no surprise.
The ancestor of what we know as psilocybin today was the compound muscarine. This existed approximately 10 to 20 million years ago, and gave rise to modern psilocybin. Today, psilocybin exists in hundreds of species to varying degrees on every continent except Antarctica.
In a 2000 review, updated in 2005, Gastón Guzmán et al detailed the global distribution of psilocybin mushrooms. This team found approximately 144 species of psilocybin mushrooms.
Typically, psilocybin-containing species are gilled, dark-spored mushrooms. They generally thrive in soil that is rich in plant debris and humus and can be found in tropical and subtropical woods and meadows. Most species occur in subtropical, humid forests.
Over 50 of these species occur in the world’s hotspot for psilocybin mushrooms: Latin America. In tropical areas, P. cubensis is the most common psilocybin mushroom, and synonymous with “magic mushrooms.” The most widely cultivated and well-known psilocybin mushroom—the default version, when you think of “shrooms,” this is probably it in a classic sense.
Psilocybe cubensis thrives throughout the southern United States and Mexico, and into Central and South America. P. cubensis also grows in Australia, India, Cuba, and Southeast Asia, and prefers to live on dung and well-manured land in nature.
Although in many regions of the world, many strains of P. cubensis can be found growing in the wild, typically the indoor-grown types are more potent. This is because indoor psilocybin mushrooms are grown in substrates selected to enhance potency and themselves bred for strength. This is among the reasons that the mushrooms purchased underground are typically more potent than those found in nature; the human hand does guide the final product.
The color of Psilocybe cubensis, like all Psilocybes, depends on its hydration level. P. cubensis can also turn a bluish color when exposed to oxygen by being handled; this is caused by psilocin oxidizing. Cubensis stands apart from other Psilocybe species in the way its cap widens as it matures and based on its relatively large size.
In fact, Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, the world-famous mushroom identification guide created by mycologist Paul Stamets, describes P. cubensis as “the most majestic of the Psilocybes” based on their golden color and recognizable size. Psilocybe cubensis is, overall, the most widely used and famous psychedelic mushroom.
Taxonomy and Naming of Psilocybe Cubensis
Franklin Sumner Earle, an American mycologist, was first to describe Psilocybe cubensis in 1906. At that time Earle was working in Cuba and called the mushroom Stropharia cubensis. Just the next year, Narcisse Théophile Patouillard, a French mycologist and pharmacist identified Psilocybe cubensis as Naematoloma caerulescens while working in Tonkin—what is today northern Vietnam.
Years later in 1941 William Alphonso Murrill found Psilocybe cubensis near Gainesville in Florida and called it Stropharia cyanescens. In 1949, Rolf Singer, a German-born mycologist, renamed the species Psilocybe cubensis, moving it out of the Strophariaceae family and into the genus Psilocybe. Singer also divided P. cubensis into three varieties: the brownish capped Psilocybe cubensis, the yellowish capped var caeurulascens of Asia, and the pale capped Murrill’s cyanescens of Florida.
The name Psilocybe means “bare head” based on the bald-headed look of the mushrooms. Derived from the Ancient Greek psilos (ψιλος) for “bare” and kubê (κυβη) for “head.” Cubensis refers to where Earle published the account, and means “coming from Cuba.” The various street names and other synonyms for the species Psilocybe cubensis such as “cubes” came later as psychedelics became more popular.
In Australia, Psilocybe cubensis is frequently called gold cap, golden top or gold top, and in the United States and Mexico, you’re more likely to hear it called Palenque or San Ysidro mushroom with the phrase “magic mushroom” being more of a catchall for hallucinogenic or psychedelic mushrooms in general.
In Tagalog, spoken in Thailand, you might hear “Hed keequai,” which basically references a mushroom that water buffalo poop out. Mushrooms from the order Agaricales such as Panaeolus fall into this category. While they have similar properties to P. cubensis, they are technically a separate type.
How to Identify Psilocybe Cubensis: Appearance and Description
Around the world in tropical regions, Psilocybe cubensis grows naturally in abundance. These classic-looking mushrooms are stubby-stemmed and umbrella-shaped. Their mostly light golden-brown caps are fatter before fruiting, getting flatter and wider at maturity.
The cap of the Psilocybe cubensis ranges in size from 1.6 to 8 centimeters or 0.6 to 3.1 inches in diameter. When the mushroom is younger, the cap features a central papilla and is conic to convex. As it ages, the cap becomes broadly convex to plane, retaining a slight raised area or umbo in the middle of the cap, sometimes with a ring-shaped depression around it.
The surface of the Psilocybe cubensis cap is sticky and smooth, with some specimens retaining attached white universal veil remnants. Younger caps are brown at the center and pale to nearly white toward the edges. With age, caps fade to more yellowish, golden-brown tones.
All parts of the Psilocybe cubensis stain blue when bruised. Its gills are grey and narrow, and may or may not be completely or partially attached, adnate to adnexed. The gills can become mottled with age and darken to purplish-black, though they tend to remain whitish at the edges.
The stipe is white and hollow, yellowing as it ages, and is about 4 to 15 centimeters or 2 to 6 inches high and 0.4 to 1.4 centimeters or 0.2 to 0.6 inches thick.
Range, Distribution, and Habitat of Psilocybe Cubensis
A pan-tropical species, Psilocybe cubensis occurs naturally in the wild in the southeastern US and Gulf Coast states and Hawaii; Mexico; Australia (including Tasmania), Fiji, and New Zealand; Central America including Costa Rica, Belize, and Guatemala; the Caribbean including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Martinique, Guadalupe, and Trinidad; South America including Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and French Guiana; and Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and possibly Nepal.
In the US, Psilocybe cubensis is occasionally spotted in the South growing wild, usually below the 35th parallel. Especially in fall and spring, P. cubensis can reliably be found within a few hundred miles of the Gulf Coast, all the way from Florida up north to Tennessee over to Texas.
There is an important relationship between Psilocybe cubensis and whatever type of cattle is locally prevalent, or their dung in particular. In the northern hemisphere, mushrooms appear in dung, rich pasture soil, or sugar cane mulch from February to December—and in the southern hemisphere, November to April.
In Asia, the Psilocybe cubensis spread with water buffalo. As cattle made their way from Kolkata, the Cape of Good Hope, and the American west coast to Australia, P. cubensis colonized the Australian mainland and Tasmania.
Psilocybe cubensis specimens have even been collected in the Wedza District of Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East province. There, the first known collection of a psilocybin mushroom in Zimbabwe, the sample was collected where both wildlife and cattle make their home, in the Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation nature reserve.
Humidity that remains above 85 and the presence of many grass-eating mammals is ideal for Psilocybe cubensis. Cubensis grows readily on these animals’ dung because they have very little or no stomach acid. When they consume mushroom spores, they are allowed to germinate in the warm, moist gut of the animal.
Remember, though, the idea that you should search under cow pies for shrooms—or anything else—let alone consume what you find is urban legend and a bad idea. Along these lines, only experts identifying wild flora should hunt for wild mushrooms of any kind. The worst case scenario, otherwise, is literally fatal.
Wild mushrooms may be poisonous. Notably, species which appear similar to Psilocybe cubensis yet are all potentially deadly include the Pholiotina rugosa, Chlorophyllum molybdites, and mushrooms of the genus Galerina. All of these prefer the habitat P. cubensis thrives in.
Psychedelic Effects and Ethnogenic Benefits of Psilocybe Cubensis
The psychoactive properties of Psilocybe cubensis have been well-understood for some time, at least since Singer noted them in 1949. But as the use of psychedelic mushrooms generally became more popular in the 1960s and 1970s, users slowly began to describe the effects of Psilocybe cubensis in the research as well as popular literature.
Probably the most famous of all psilocybin-containing mushrooms, P. cubensis is frequently ingested to trigger psychedelic experiences. The major psychoactive compounds in Psilocybe cubensis are:
- Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine)
- Psilocin (4-hydroxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine)
- Baeocystin (4-phosphoryloxy-N-methyltryptamine)
- Norbaeocystin (4-phosphoryloxytryptamine)
In the whole mushroom, liquid chromatography determines that psilocin and psilocybin concentrations range from 0.14 to 0.42 percent and 0.37 to 1.30 percent, respectively. Similarly, in the cap psilocin and psilocybin concentrations range from 0.17 to 0.78 percent and 0.44 to 1.35 percent, respectively.
When determining appropriate doses, individual psychological predisposition and brain chemistry play a significant role. 0.25 to 1 gram of dried Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms ingested orally is usually right for a mild psychedelic effect, with 1 to 2.5 grams typically producing moderate effects, and over 2.5 grams generally delivering powerful effects.
3.5 dried grams or 1/8 of an ounce would be an intensely high dose for most people, although it can be a standard recreational dose among more experienced users. But doses above three grams may be overwhelming for many, so beware. However, there is no evidence of toxicity, even at very high doses.
Occasionally, for the very lucky, full-blown effects like those you get from high, potent doses can come from smaller doses like 0.25 gram—amounts that produce virtually no effects in most people. But if this is you, you’re one of a lucky few.
The psilocybin content and quality of a given sample of Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms will vary due to storage method, age and other factors. Typically, users begin to feel effects after about 20 to 60 minutes depending on stomach contents and method of ingestion.
Depending on the dosage of Psilocybe cubensis, users may experience the animation of organic shapes, a vivid enhancement of colors, walls that seem to breathe, and other visual changes and distortions that may last from four to ten hours. Very high doses of Psilocybe cubensis, depending on grow method, phenotype, and the individual using it, can be overwhelming.
Avoid taking MAOIs with anything containing psilocybin, including Psilocybe cubensis, because the enzyme monoamine oxidase metabolizes psilocybin and psilocin. MAOIs therefore reduce the ability of the body to handle the mushrooms, which has the effect of making them feel more potent. This can in turn produce dangerously strong, prolonged, or unpleasant experiences.
Legality of Psilocybe Cubensis
Psilocybin mushrooms have a rich tradition of use in Mesoamerican religious and spiritual rituals, and today that type of use extends to other parts of the world and beyond use as a sacrament and mind-altering drug.
According to the UN’s Convention on Psychotropic Substances, since 1971, the US has listed psilocybin as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is illegal within our borders for all uses and is considered to have high potential for drug abuse—with a few exceptions. Because the UN convention itself omitted psilocybin mushrooms, all signatory countries such as the US can regulate psilocybin mushrooms as they choose since the convention is basically a treaty.
For example, in some regions, such as the Netherlands, the British Virgin Islands, Brazil, and Jamaica, psilocybin in some form falls into a legal grey area or even a loophole. In Brazil, Psilocybe cubensis are legal, but it remains illegal to extract psilocybin and psilocin from the mushroom. However, psilocybin mushrooms including Psilocybe cubensis are illegal in most countries today.
It is illegal to grow or possess Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms in the United States, with a few exceptions, although it is legal to buy and possess their spores for purposes of microscopy—just don’t grow anything with them. In November 2020, Oregon decriminalized the use or possession of psilocybin mushrooms for medical reasons and legalized psilocybin for people aged 21 and older. Psilocybin is also decriminalized for personal possession and use for adults aged 21 and older in Santa Cruz and Oakland, California; Denver, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Somerville, Massachusetts; and Washington, DC.
What is Psilocybin and How Does it Work in Psilocybe Cubensis (Magic Mushrooms)?
There are over 180 psilocybin- or psilocin-containing species of mushrooms found in Mexico, South America, and parts of the United States. Psilocybin and psilocin are the chemical compounds that work as active ingredients, giving these mushrooms their unique hallucinogenic qualities.
Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a tryptamine, or an indole-alkylamine. Psilocin (also referred to as psilocine, psilocyn, psilotsin, 4-hydroxy DMT, or 4-HO-DMT) is a substituted tryptamine alkaloid and a serotonergic psychedelic substance.
Structurally, these compounds are similar to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and they probably produce the “trip” of hallucinogenic, psychedelic, and euphoric effects in a similar way, via their action on central nervous system serotonin (5-HT) receptors. Like peyote or mescaline, hallucinogenic mushrooms such as Psilocybe cubensis, have been used in religious rites for centuries.
Interestingly, like some other hallucinogenic drugs, both psilocybin and psilocin can now be synthetically created in a lab. In fact, certain forms of street “psilocybin” or “shrooms” are in fact non-psychedelic mushrooms laced with LSD or synthetics.
And although psilocybin might get a lot of weird press and “bad trip” portrayals in the movies, it is actually about 10 times less potent than mescaline and about 100 times less potent than LSD.
The human body metabolizes psilocybin into psilocin, and both produce these psychedelic effects that mushrooms are famous for. In the brain, psilocybin and psilocin interact primarily with serotonin receptors.
In research on rodents, psilocybin interacts strongly with receptors in brain hub regions responsible for integrating sensory experiences. This may be why people report altered sensory experiences and effects such as synesthesia—the experience of tasting sounds, hearing colors, or other mixed sensory modalities—while using mushrooms.
Psilocybe Cubensis Strains
There’s a reason why Psilocybe cubensis is now the most frequently used strain of magic mushrooms in the world.
Even as many strains of mushroom species can’t grow at all unless home growers painstakingly recreate natural settings accurately, P. cubensis positively thrives even under the suboptimal conditions so common to amateur grows. And while more sensitive strains might be damaged or killed as the environment fluctuates slightly, Psilocybe cubensis remains robust in the face of changing conditions.
In fact, experts in mycology now recognize over 60 different strains of P. cubensis psychoactive mushrooms due to decades of selective home breeding including Amazonian, B+, Burma, Chitwan, Columbian Rust, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Golden Teachers, Huautla, Malabar Coast, Mazatapec, Nepal, Penis Envy Mushrooms, PES, PF, and Pink Buffalo.
The Amazonian and B+ and Psilocybe cubensis strains are great choices for novice growers. However, our favorite for noobs is the Golden Teacher strain, which is not only easy to grow, but also wonderful to use—a deservedly popular Psilocybe cubensis strain.
A grower favorite, Golden Teacher mushrooms are relatively easy to cultivate and maintain. With wide caps, long, winding stems, and yellowish color, these magic mushrooms have a distinct appearance.
Golden Teacher Psilocybe cubensis are known for mild to moderate potency and a range of effects such as enhanced colors, euphoria, giddiness, powerful emotions, and visual distortions. Users also report feeling perceptive and spiritually in-tune when taking Golden Teacher Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, which are known for imparting insightful revelations to users.
How to Grow Psilocybe Cubensis
Whether you’re hoping to raise Golden Teacher, Amazonian, Penis Envy, B+, or another strain, you should have great success with a little care and planning. It is possible to grow P. cubensis within two months, typically, as it is among the easiest species to cultivate.
To grow Psilocybe cubensis, use a mushroom growing kit or gather materials ad hoc. In the most basic sense, all that is necessary to grow mushrooms is a hospitable environment for mycelium and a mycelium substrate—something the spores can live and grow on. Cubensis mycelium is the fungus that eventually grows into the edible Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms.
Mushroom growing kits include basically everything you need right in the box, so the mycelium substrate already has what it needs to grow the mushrooms, and you don’t even need spores. However, growing kits also carry potential contamination risks, not to mention inconsistent products and results, and sometimes even products that are totally fake.
You can also grow Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms from scratch using the PF Tek method. This way you inject P. cubensis spores into jars that contain substrate of brown rice flour and vermiculite to cultivate your mycelium. The spores will colonize the substrate and grow into mycelium in about one month. From there, those mycelium cakes can be moved into grow chambers to develop and fruit.
They are ready for harvest after about two weeks. It is necessary to dry Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms before using them, ideally using a dehydrator.
Final Thoughts on Psilocybe Cubensis Mushrooms
As interest in hallucinogens and mushroom use in everything from psychiatry to sex therapy continues to grow, we expect P. cubensis to remain the world’s most popular magic mushroom. Ready to grow your own?