psilocybe mushroom

How to Identify Magic Mushrooms: Step-by-Step

Most little brown mushrooms look almost exactly the same—so how do you distinguish the divine from the deadly?

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Updated July 27, 2022

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The word “mushrooms” is one of those evocative words, said with an excited tone or a serious one. People often talk about mushrooms with fond memories. Others speak about mushrooms as something to be cautious of and respect. There are plenty of good reasons for apprehension: Eating the wrong mushrooms can make you very sick or turn out to be deadly. Yet, there’s no need for mycophobia. Fungi are everywhere; they are crucial parts of all ecosystems. The more you are aware of mushrooms, the more you’ll realize that fungi are all around us. Learning how to identify magic mushrooms and understand your local fungi can help you feel more in touch with the environment and understand the ecology of your area.

In this article, our focus is on the identification of fungi from the genus Psilocybe. Although, it’s important to remember that no amount of text can substitute for real first-hand knowledge of fungi. Fungi are very sensory; their texture, smell, and the way the light falls on the various parts of the mushroom can give essential clues to identification. Still, it’s worth mentioning that many useful features can aid in identifying a genus and eventually an individual species—but we cannot cover all of those here. This guide is an introduction to identifying magic mushrooms for beginners. But, it should not replace the help and guidance of experienced local mycologists. Rather, it’s meant to pique curiosity and help you learn what to study.   

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Before diving into magic mushroom identification, it’s important to note that foraging wild fungi is not without risk. Magic mushrooms have some very poisonous, potentially deadly look-alikes. So, you must know what species you are looking for and how to identify magic mushrooms in your region before venturing into the field. There are also cultural aspects surrounding the foraging of fungi. The increased interest in psilocybin-containing mushrooms and their foraging may negatively impact some species populations. Additionally, possessing psilocybin mushrooms is also federally illegal in most places. There is an ethic and ethos to mushroom foraging, and it is essential to respect the fungi, the environment, each other, and the community.

Magic Mushroom Identification Basics

Magic mushrooms are diverse. They grow in an array of habitats and on a variety of substrates. Their features range from short, thick stems and broad caps to tall, thin stems and tiny caps: The array can be a little overwhelming. Most common magic mushrooms belong to the Psilocybe genus, which is why it takes precedent in this article. Yet, Psilocybe are far from the only psychoactive fungi out there. There are psychoactive mushrooms in several other genera—including the well-known Panaeolus—but also Gymnopilus, Inocybe, and Conocybe. But proceed with caution: The genera Inocybe and Conocybe both contain poisonous species, so it’s best to avoid these groups until you are familiar with the species in both genera.

The genera Inocybe and Conocybe both contain poisonous species, so it’s best to avoid these groups until you are familiar with the species in both genera.

The genus Psilocybe contains some 110 species found within a broad range of habitats—and new species are still being discovered. With the growing acceptance of psilocybin’s therapeutic potential, people are now researching the genus in more detail. Yet, despite all the media around the health benefits of psilocybin, harvesting Psilocybe spp. is a felony in most states and countries, enforced by local law enforcement agencies. Culturing psilocybin mushrooms is illegal in many countries and is considered “manufacture.”

Fungi from the genus Psilocybe grow on all continents except Antarctica. The Americas, in particular, are well represented. Psilocybe species grow in several climates, spanning tropical, subtropical, and temperate zones. Latin America represents a center of diversity, with an extensive range of species from different parts of the genus. It is important to note that our knowledge of many species may reflect the social interest in mycology and their levels of commitment to understanding their local ecology.

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Some species such as P. cubensis, P. semilanceata, and—to a lesser degree—Panaeolus cyanescens have become truly global, introduced to many continents through the farming of different varieties of cattle or other livestock. In some cases, species were first formally identified a long way from where they originated. The popular Psilocybe cubensis offers an excellent example. Cubensis is the most popular psychedelic mushroom amongst home cultivators. Although the cubensis holotype—the specimen used to describe the species—was first collected in a scientific context from Cuba, cubensis is not native to the Americas but an introduced species from either Africa or South East Asia. It typically grows on cattle dung but is also known to grow on horse dung and elephant dung. Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms are found all over the world. 

Read: Where Do Magic Mushrooms Grow?

psilocybe mushroom distribution map
Global distribution of over 100 psychoactive species of genus Psilocybe mushrooms | via Wikipedia

Many Psilocybe mushrooms, particularly the wood-loving species, can look like any other Little Brown Mushrooms (LBM’s), some of which are deadly. So, it’s essential to know the species you are looking for and the poisonous species (including look-alikes) in your region. You can find detailed information on common psilocybe look-alikes below. 

For those interested in the Genus Psilocybe, Mycologist Gastón Guzmán published “The Genus Psilocybe“—the monograph on psilocybin mushrooms—in 1983. For those curious about the Psilocybe genus, Paul Stamet’s book Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World and Jochen Garz’s Magic Mushrooms Around the World are good beginner resources. The Field Guide to Mushrooms is an excellent general mushroom resource from Gary Lincoff and the National Audobon Society. David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified and Roger Phillip’s Mushrooms are also valuable reading. 

Identifying Magic Mushrooms In Your Region

Learning how to identify magic mushrooms involves developing a relationship with your local environment. What grows in your particular climate? Where does one habitat meet another? Psilocybe mushrooms grow worldwide, but not all species thrive in the same conditions. Every Psilocybe species has a preferred climate and habitat. Some mushrooms, like P. semilanceata—more commonly known as the Liberty Cap—prefer oceanside grasslands. Others prefer garden woodchips or forest loam. The native species you are likely to find depends on the climate and habitats in your local area. 

Magic Mushroom Climates

Understanding your local climate will help you identify magic mushrooms near you. Many Psilocybe species grow in specific climate zones, while some can tolerate a variety of climates. Where and when mushrooms grow in your region depends on whether or not your local climate is tropical, temperate, oceanic, et cetera. 

Some countries may span several different climates. The eastern half of the United States, for example, consists of two broad climatic regions, humid continental and humid subtropical. In the United States, P. cubensis fruits virtually year-round on “cow pies” from Florida and along the Gulf Coast, the humid subtropical southeast part of North America. In contrast, P. ovoideocystidiata grows well in humid continental

map
World Climate Map | Wikimedia Commons | Note: Marine West Coast is considered Oceanic throughout this article.

There are a variety of ways to learn how to identify magic mushrooms in the area you live in, like regional ID guides or local knowledge through mycology groups or Facebook groups. You can access a list from the Shroomery. The following species are generally found in these corresponding climate zones: 

Humid Continental (NE USA)

  • Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata: along rivers and streams, woody debris, wood chip mulch
  • Psilocybe caerulipes: forest, woody debris, wood chip mulch

Humid Subtropical/Tropical (SE USA, NE Australia, Central America)

  • Psilocybe cubensis: open grasslands, coprophilous; on dung
  • Panaeolus cyanescens: open grasslands, coprophilous; on dung
  • Psilocybe tampanensis: meadows with sandy soil 

Tropical wet and dry (Mexica, Central America into South America)

  • Psilocybe cubensis: open grasslands, coprophilous; on dung
  • Panaeolus cyanescens: open grasslands, coprophilous; on dung
  • Psilocybe caerulescens: disturbed soil, muddy brown soils with woody debris
  • Psilocybe mexicana: moss beside roads & trails, meadows bordering deciduous forests
  • Psilocybe zapotecorum: soil & humous, near rivers and creeks, forests, cloud forests. 

Mediterranean

  • Psilocybe cyanescens: forest, open grassy woodland, wood chip mulch
  • Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata: edge of rivers and streams, woody debris, wood chip mulch
  • Psilocybe allenii: woody debris, wood chip mulch
  • Psilocybe stuntzii (USA/Canada): soils rich in woody debris, wood chip mulch
  • Psilocybe serbica (Europe): edge of rivers and paths, well decayed wood

Temperate – Oceanic climates (NW USA – PNW, SE Australia, UK)

  • Psilocybe Section “Cyanescens”: forest, open grassy woodland, wood chip mulch
    • Psilocybe azurescens  (USA)
    • Psilocybe allenii (USA)
    • Psilocybe cyanescens (USA, Europe)
    • Psilocybe subaeruginosa (Australia)
    • Psilocybe weraroa, Psilocybe weraroa var. subsecotioides (New Zealand)
  • Psilocybe semilanceata: open grasslands, decomposing grass
  • Psilocybe pelliculosa (USA/Canada): moss, humus, and forest debris
  • Psilocybe stuntzii (USA/Canada): soils rich in woody debris, wood mulch
  • Psilocybe baeocystis (USA/Canada): peat moss, decaying wood mulch, wood chips
  • Psilocybe serbica (Europe): edge of rivers and paths, well-decayed wood
Psilocybe pelliculosa
Psilocybe pelliculosa | Photo by Alan Rockefeller via Mushroom Observer

Magic Mushroom Habitats

After climate, familiarity with your local habitats is an essential next step toward proper Psilocybe identification. You will need to know which mushrooms grow in the habitat you have chosen to forage. Some lucky foragers can access various habitats in their local areas: forests, meadows, grasslands, et cetera. You may be surprised to find unique Psilocybe species in each of these habitats. Each habitat features not only different environmental conditions but also different foods and growth substrates. 

There are three broad categories of magic mushrooms: 

  • Lignicolous: those that grow on wood or plant-based materials 
  • Coprophilous: poo lovers that grow on animal dung (these are a type of 
  • And those that grow on well-decomposed plant matter that is almost soil (humous)

To clarify a note about the poo lovers: herbivore feces, such as cow pats, contain grass and other plant matter, which has already gone through a long digestive process, leaving a substrate of very simple cellulose, which many mushrooms love.  

Fungi evolve in response to different environments and substrates. Excellent places to start foraging include cattle pastures on hot, humid summer days after a good rain. Other areas include tropical cloud forests, fields, and grasslands on cool, moist fall mornings or amongst woody debris on the edges of forests.

When Is Shroom Season?

Autumn is generally considered the best time to forage magic mushrooms—unless you live in a tropical or subtropical climate. Psilocybes generally grow seasonally, depending on climate and habitat. Fungi can grow all year in hot, humid tropical or subtropical regions, as long as there is abundant substrate and nutrients. Most fungi grow in autumn and winter in temperate areas, with some reappearing in early spring.  

Keep in mind that no clear-cut lines separate environmental zones: Climates and habitats can fade into each other. There are also changes in climate with changes in altitude: temperature drops with rising altitude. Microclimates are also possible, with some cold-loving species growing in unexpected places at odd times of the year.

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The autumn season begins with drops in temperature, cool mornings with dew, and leaves falling from trees. As the season progresses, dew gets heavier, and temperatures can drop suddenly. Some species—such as P. cyanescens and P. azurescens—need these drops in temperature to initiate pinning. “Pinning” is the term for baby mushrooms first emerging from their substrate. 

Subtropical regions tend to have a wet and dry period, with mushrooms growing during the wet period. In tropical areas, depending on climate and altitude, the humidity can mean some mushrooms grow all year round.

Read: Types of Magic Mushrooms 

magic mushrooms
P. subaeruginosa caps | Photos via Mushroom Observer by: Lord Mayonnaise (top left & bottom left), Aesthete (top middle and bottom middle). Remaining photos by Caine Barlow (top right), and Caine Barlow (bottom right)

How To Identify Magic Mushrooms

Fungi exist in a variety of shapes, forms, and colors. Over time, they have evolved various strategies to distribute their spores and fill ecological niches. Some fungi have gills, others sponge-like pores; the odd few look like aliens from another world—and maybe they are. It’s impossible to provide extensive detail on all possible variations in such a brief article. Yet, we can still touch on key characteristics of Psilocybes

Basic magic mushroom identification begins with familiarizing yourself with a mushroom’s macroscopic features. Macroscopic features are physical characteristics that you can see without a microscope: the cap, gills, stem, their appearance at various life stages, and how they change over time. It’s essential to match these physical features with environmental context: To correctly identify a Psilocybe, a mushroom must be found in the anticipated environment and feature the expected physical characteristics. Here are a few vital Psilocybe features to recognize:

Growth Patterns

For the most part, Psilocybe spp. are solitary to gregarious (growing in groups). They rarely grow in clusters. The exceptions are wood-loving species such as cyanescens or subaeruginosa, which can grow in dense clusters and feature multiple caps and stems originating from the same clump of mycelium.

Blue Bruising

Blue bruising is a distinctive feature of Psilocybe. Most Psilocybe species show some form of blue bruising on some part of the mushroom: the cap, stem, or gills. Blue bruising happens when enzymes in the mushroom oxidize the psychoactive psilocin, one of the primary intoxicating components in psilocybin mushrooms. All Psilocybe bruise blue, but bruising may take a while to appear. On some species, it can also be quite faint.
 
Many old field guides—and some more modern guides—contain non-bruising Psilocybe sp. All of these species are now moved to other genera, typically Deconica spp, but some are classified into different groups. If you don’t recognize a Psilocybe in your guide, quickly Google the species to see if the species was reclassified into another genus.

Read: Blue Bruising Mushrooms: What Causes The Color?

blue bruising mushrooms
Blue bruising | Photos courtesy of Caine Barlow

Physical Characteristics

To identify Psilocybe, let’s begin with some overall features: All Psilocybe share several common characteristics but note these are not inclusive. Some species can be incredibly variable—P. Subaeruginosa mushrooms, for example, can vary widely in appearance. Some Subaeruginosa varieties may have wavy caps; others are convex. Some have short and thick stems; others long. The umbo may be either pronounced or absent.  Magic mushrooms are typically all “little brown mushrooms.” They have brown caps (varying shades), they all have stems, and importantly they all have gills. The Weraroa (Psilocybe weraroa)—one of the more intriguing Psilocybes—looks like a truffle. But, this funky fungus has a stem, and inside its truffle-like cap, its gills are still very much present. Here are some common features to look for when identifying Psilocybe mushrooms:

  • Mycelium: The bulk of the mushroom lives underground as mycelium, the mushroom’s largest organ. Mycelium forms spider-like webs underground and helps the fungi colonize their environment and eat food. Fungi primarily eat inside out; they digest things around them by excreting enzymes—they slobber over everything—into their environment via mycelial threads called hyphae. Psilocybe mycelium is white and can form thick rhizomorphic strands that extend through dung, soil, or wood chips
psilocybe mycelium
Psilocybe mycelium | Photo courtesy of Caine Barlow
  • Cap (Pileus):  The cap (pileus) is the part of the mushroom that supports the spore-bearing structures. Psilocybe is a type of Agaric. The spore-bearing structures of all agarics are gills (lamellae). All Psilocybe have a smooth cap that’s often sticky. Psilocybe caps are hygrophanous, which means that the cap features a moist gelatinous outer layer that changes color as it dries. Some start out dark brown, a dark olive-brown, or caramel brown, which in time becomes pale yellow, buff, or in some cases almost white. Psilocybe means “bare-headed,” referring to the separable pellicle, a gelatinous layer covering the cap you can peel off.
separable pellicle on  magic mushroom
Separable pellicle on mushroom | Photo courtesy of Caine Barlow

  • Stem (Stipe): The stem is the part of the mushroom that supports the cap. The stem’s benefit is lifting the cap high enough to increase spore dispersal. An elevated mushroom will more easily release its spores into wind currents or onto passing animals. The texture of the stem can be important, whether their fibrous, brittle, chalky, leathery, firm, et cetera. Psilocybe stems tend to be tough and fibrous. You should be able to wrap the stem of a smaller Psilocybe around your little finger without snapping. 

  • Gills (Lamellae):  Gills are paper-thin structures attached to the underside of the cap, radiating outwards from the stem. The way the gills connect to the stem is classified based on the degree to which they are attached. Psilocybe feature gills attached to the stem: adnate to adnexed. The color, crowding, and shape of the gills are also important. Gills can have distinctive microscopic or macroscopic features that are important for identification. A quick tip: use a mirror to see what color the gills of your mushroom are before picking.

  • Spores:  All Psilocybe spp. have purple-black spore prints, although this may be more lilac-brown for some species. Spore prints are very helpful in identifying; poisonous look-alikes such as Galerina spp. or Cortinarius spp. have rust-brown spores, but Hypholoma spp. or Leratiomyces spp. have black spores. Creating spore prints to observe their color is easy and worth doing for safer identification. 
magic mushroom spore prints
Two images of the same Psilocybe subaeruginosa spore print. With the change in angle, the purple of the spore print becomes more apparent. | Photo by Jonathan Carmichael for Etheogenesis.org
  • Partial veil/Cortina/Annulus:  The partial veil can extend from the stem and covers the cap. As the cap expands, the partial veil (Cortina) peels away and, in time, disintegrates (e.g. P. cyanescens or P. azurescens). A disintegrated veil can occasionally produce a faint ring on the stem, creating a white ring around the cap edge. Spores sometimes stick to it, creating a zone (dark, faint, or speckled) showing the color of the spores. In some cases, a thick veil extends from the stem to the edge of the cap. When the cap extends, it tears, leaving a structure called an annulus (e.g., P. cubensis). Its role is to protect the gills while the mushroom is developing. 
partial veil on mushroom
Partial veil (Cortina) | Photo courtesy of Caine Barlow

Describing and identifying fungi can be an individualized process, and everyone has a different approach. Some people are visual and good at pattern recognition, while others need a little time to look over the features. Identification can also involve multiple senses, smell, touch, sight, and—for the more adventurous—taste, depending on how fastidious you want to be. Regardless, it is always best to be familiar with the overall features of a species before shroom hunting.

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Read: The Definitive History of Psilocybin and Magic Mushrooms

Magic Mushroom Identification: Step-by-Step

Identifying magic mushrooms is never simple; Psilocybe mushrooms can be easily mistaken for many other little brown mushrooms. As such, following the adage “if in doubt, throw it out” is essential for every forager. It’s important to defer to the guidance of local mycologists and identification communities for safe and ethical foraging in your local area. While in the field, a few basic identification skills go a long way. Here’s how to identify magic mushrooms, step-by-step:

Step 1: Make Observations

Observe the mushroom’s growing conditions. Is it growing on dung, grass, or wood? If you guess about the species, does it match its expected habitat—pasture, field, forest? 

Next, take note of the color of the cap—is it brown, yellow, or cream? Take note of the gills. Are they white, brown, or mottled? 

Then take note of the texture of the stem—does it feel fibrous or brittle? Is the cap slightly sticky? Is there an annulus or remnants of a partial veil? Is there apparent blue bruising on the stem, cap, or gills?

If you have a field guide, compare the mushroom with the species you are looking for, do the features match? Does it also match anything else?

Step 2: Shroom Picking

If you are reasonably sure that the mushroom is the one you are thinking of, go ahead and pick it. Remove it gently from its substrate, and try to pick the whole mushroom, the base, and some mycelium. If the cap is still moist, is it sticky? Psilocybe tends to have a sticky cap. Does breaking the cap reveal a thin gelatinous layer? Breaking the cap will also help to observe the gill attachment. Are the gills attached to the stem? For many Psilocybe, the gills are adnate to adnexed, meaning they are attached to the stem—but check your ID guide.

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Next, squeeze, and twist the stem. Is the stem tough and fibrous? Can you twist the stem around your little finger? Does the base of the stem bulge slightly, and are thick strands of mycelium attached? At this point, has any noticeable blue bruising on the stem, cap, or gills appeared?

If you feel comfortable posting on social media, post a photo to a local magic mushroom identification or general foraging group, keeping in mind some groups don’t appreciate Psilocybe requests. See if you get a few responses. A few responses are best. An ID from a trusted identifier is particularly valuable. Post to iNaturalist; you may not get an immediate response, but it is an excellent way to learn and contribute to citizen science.

Step 3: Make Spore Prints

If you are still uncertain, the last step is to make a spore print of the mushroom. If you have posted a photo to a magic mushroom identification group, they may also request a spore print. Making a spore print of your mushrooms is beneficial when learning how to identify magic mushrooms. Prints from different mushrooms can be a variety of colors, from white or black, to pink or brown.

  1. Lay flat a piece of paper cut to size (or foil, or even a glass slide)
  2. Remove the cap from the mushroom by cutting it with a clean blade as close to the cap as possible
  3. Place the cap on the paper gills facing down
  4. Cover the cap with a cup or a bowl 
  5. Let sit for 6 to 12 hours for a dark print
  6. Lift cup/bowl and carefully remove the mushroom cap
  7. Observe what the color is. In the majority of cases, Psilocybe spore prints are purple-black

If the print is brown, pink, or white, it is the wrong mushroom.

Common Magic Mushroom Look-alikes

Perhaps most difficult when learning how to identify magic mushrooms is learning how to tell the difference between a Psilocybe and a potentially poisonous look-alike. Misidentification and accidental poisoning are two of the biggest risks of consuming wild-foraged mushrooms. Many fungi have poisonous, even deadly, look-alikes—Psilocybe included. It is essential to know the look-alike species, which may be confused with your target species. To play it safe, foragers follow the adage: “If in doubt, throw it out.” 

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If you think you’ve been poisoned, call your local emergency hotline. Your local poison hotline can provide more information about poisoning. Some questions that help distinguish Psilocybe from potential look-alikes include:

  • Does it bruise blue?
  • What color are the spores?
  • What was the mushroom growing on?
  • Is it growing singularly? Gregariously? In clusters? 

As mentioned above, all Psilocybe bruise blue, but not all bruise blue at the same rate—some may take a little time to bruise; some species barely bruise; others, like P. cyanescens, bruise easily. Psilocybe spores should be purple-black. Making a spore print can help identify the species. Look for other features, the separable pellicle—the outer layer on the cap—and tough fibrous stems. Post photos to Shroomery for local Facebook Psilocybe groups for magic mushroom identification help.

Look-alikes for Wood-loving Psilocybe Species

Species: P. cyanescens, P. azurescens, P. allenii, P. subaeruginosa.


The Psilocybe spp. that grow in or around forested environments are generally the more likely to grow near poisonous look-alikes—they share the same habitats, after all. Take care when foraging for wood-loving Psilocybe; many species look similar, and many look-alikes are poisonous. Species from the Galerina genus are the most likely to cause concern: They contain potentially dangerous amatoxins. 

Take care when foraging for wood-loving Psilocybe; many species look similar, and many look-alikes are poisonous.

People often feel ill within a couple of hours after ingesting amatoxins, followed by what seems like recovery after a few hours; others may experience no symptoms at all. The amatoxins can wreak havoc during this lull, damaging the liver and kidneys. Without treatment, individuals may feel weak and then very ill, starting approximately two days after initial poisoning. Organ failure follows soon after.

Galerina spp. have a caramel-brown cap, resembling young specimens of P. cyanescens. Galerina have a brown stem with an annulus—distinguishing features for this genus—and a rust-brown spore print. These characteristics can help identify Galerina spp. The amatoxins in Galerina are poisonous and potentially deadly; the infamous Death Caps (Amanita phalloides) produce the same toxins.

mushrooms
Galerina marginata (left) is a common look-a-like to Psilocybe cyanescens (right) | Photos via Mushroom Observer by Dave W (left) and TualatinShroomer (right)

Also of note are Hypholoma spp., which are less poisonous than other look-alikes but can still be mistaken for Psilocybe spp. Hypholoma spp. grow in dense clusters; uncharacteristic of Psilocybe. Hypholoma feature brown caps with white stems and a purple-black spore print—and some Hypholoma can be poisonous. The Woodchip Cherry (Leratiomyces ceres) is another toxic look-alike. This species has an orange-red cap. They retain their veil remnants at the margin and on the surface. They have grayish gills, and their stem is orange-red or pale yellow. They have a purple-black spore print like Psilocybe.

mushrooms
Leratiomyces ceres (left), Cortinarius corrugatus (center), Hypholoma fasciculare (right) | Photos via Mushrooms Observer by: Debbie Viess (left), Jimmie Veitch (center), Drew Henderson (right)

Other species considered look-alikes are from the genera Cortinarius, Hypholoma, and Leratiomyces. Some Cortinarius spp. have blue coloring that fades over time, resembling blue bruising. Some also have brown caps that resemble Psilocybe spp. Spore prints can help distinguish one species from another: Cortinarius spp. have rust-brown spores while Psilocybe mushrooms are purple-black. Some Cortinarius spp. can be very poisonous, causing liver and kidney damage.

Look-alikes for Oceanic Psilocybes

Species: P. semilanceata

mushrooms
 Psilocybe semilanceata (left) and look-a-like Protostropharia semiglobata (right) | Photos via Mushrooms Observer by: Richard Kneal (left) and Rory (right)

The most common look-alike species of P. semilanceata (Liberty Caps) is Protostropharia semiglobata, various Panaeolus spp, Conocybe spp, and possibly Deconica spp. It’s also easy to mistake poisonous Psathyrella species for liberty caps. Given the worldwide distribution of this species, there will be different look-alike species on each respective continent and region. For example, in Europe, Cortinarius rubellus is a poisonous species that has been confused for P. semilanceata; the consumption of the former can cause kidney failure.

Look-alikes for Grassland and Cow Manure Mushrooms 

Species: Psilocybe cubensis

mushrooms
Stropharia coronilla (top left), Candolleomyces candolleanus (top right), Bolbitius titubans (bottom left), Agrocybe (bottom left) | Photos via Mushroom Observer by: Erin Page Blanchard (top left), Chuck.HTNR (top right), Chris Mckenna (bottom left), and Rocky Houghtby (bottom right)

Look-alike species for Psilocybe cubensis include Stropharia spp. (e.g., S. coronilla) the original genus of Psilocybe cubensis. Other look-alikes include Agrocybe spp. (e.g., A. pediades), Candolleomyces candolleanus, and Bolbitius titubans. Some species may look like immature Psilocybe cubensis, such as Protostropharia semiglobata, and Deconica spp.

Look-alikes for Panaeolus spp. include other members of the genus Panaeolus, Protostropharia semiglobata, and Deconica spp.

Magic Mushroom Foraging Ethics & Sustainability

Mushroom foraging is a beautiful way to build a relationship with your local environment. Part of that relationship is responsible environmental stewardship. Ecosystems are delicate, intricate webs of interaction and fungi play a fundamental role—as decomposers, food, and as habitats. But, they also interact with other organisms on multiple levels we are only just beginning to understand. The gradual loss of habitat through man-made disturbance and climate change has placed many pressures on a variety of species. An increased interest in psychedelics has led to an increased interest in foraging, which could put pressure on some fungi populations, especially where there may be habitat damage.

As foragers, we are responsible for being respectful and behaving ethically towards the fungi we seek, their habitat, and other mushroom foragers. It is also essential to respect local laws and local practices. Through conservation mycology, we are starting to appreciate that fungi need protection the same way as other organisms.

Respect for the Fungi

Before you go forage magic mushrooms—or any mushrooms for that matter—familiarize yourself with the fungi that you are seeking to find and those that may pose a risk: The look-alikes. Where possible, identify the mushrooms before you pick them, carry an ID guide, a fungi flip, or have iNaturalist installed on your phone.  

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Some fungi may be considered common, but overharvesting can impact a population. Pick the mature specimens when the caps are mostly or fully open. Please don’t pick the pins, baby mushrooms whose gills are not fully exposed. Don’t over-harvest—pick an amount you know will you will use. Many fungi fruit multiple times over a season, so it is possible to return later to gather more. On each occasion, leave mushrooms for others. Decide on an amount you will pick and what you will leave—perhaps picking 50, 60, or 70 percent and leaving the remainder.

Other options are to consider taking spore prints or tissue culture to facilitate the creation of new patches in other locations. It is crucial, of course, to be careful to only introduce new spores in already disturbed or artificial environments, not a natural environment where introducing a new species may cause a disturbance. Only introduce spores where a species is endemic, don’t introduce species from other parts of the country or overseas.

Whether to cut a mushroom or gently remove the whole mushroom tends to be a point of discussion. From a practical perspective, for the fungi, there seems to be little difference between cutting and pulling. In some regions—like France—you are expected to use a knife to slice through the mushroom’s stem. It’s left to your discretion in the other areas: The rule is to be gentle with minimal disturbance.

Respect for the Environment

Where possible, practice slow mushrooming. Go slowly, peacefully. Tread softly. Be gentle. Be deliberate. People go mushroom foraging not just to find mushrooms but also for peace, relaxation, and a sense of escape from the humdrum daily toil. Foraging can become a transformative space, entering the sacred and a sense of communion with the forest, an inner peace. The forest, the field, and the grassy dunes by the river can all become an ecodelic space.

Respect for Each Other

With this in mind, out of respect to others who frequent the same locales, be mindful of how you use the space. Minimize noise and waste. Where possible, try to leave no trace. Step gently, minimize damage to paths and—importantly—to the mushroom patches themselves. Take home what you take with you, including food waste, reduce the use of easily broken glass, and take an empty bag or two to collect rubbish of those who may have absent-mindedly neglected to take home their rubbish.

Psilocybe weraroa
Psilocybe weraroa | Photo by Inski via Wikimedia Commons

There is also a common etiquette regarding asking for information on identifying magic mushrooms on some websites and Facebook groups. These rules often include not asking others for locations, partly because of the traditional secrecy around mushroom foraging. Many mushroom foragers—and their families—have their unique picking spots. Some forums may not allow people to ask to be shown sites. It is a good idea to look for “pinned posts” that may offer rules and other resources such as a species list and species descriptions. Always respect the guidelines put forth by shroom hunting communities. As foragers, we are part of a community—whether we realize it or not.

Respect for Landowners and Land Use

It is a universal rule not to trespass on private lands. Always seek the landowner’s permission; the gift of a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine can go a long way and may provide extra advice. Do not remove plants or fungi from private property without the owner’s permission.  

In the UK, there are the “commons,” which is common land owned by local councils, privately, or by the National Trust. You typically have the right to roam on these properties, which means you can use them for specific activities like walking, climbing, or foraging for personal use.

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In the US, the park superintendent defines the rules for foraging in national parks. They’ll decide the type of plants or fungi, the methods, the quantity, and the locations where foraging can occur. Some areas may be out of bounds. The rules in state and national parks will are printed and visible. State and local governments have their own rules. Many states prohibit foraging on state-owned land, but some allow the practice. 

In Australia, removing any plants or fungi from public land is illegal without a permit. Keep in mind that being found in possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms is illegal in most parts of the world, apart from the few regions that have already legalized or decriminalized the psychedelic fungi. You may face legal repercussions and fines from park rangers and other authorities.

Risks of Picking Magic Mushrooms

One of the most significant risks when foraging magic mushrooms is collecting the wrong mushrooms. The risk of accidental poisoning inspires mycophobia, the fear of mushrooms. These fears certainly have a basis in reality; as mentioned above, some mushrooms are deadly or can cause significant damage to organs.

When foraging, make sure to take a local field guide. It’s also helpful to have forums handy on your phone. Shroomery has a “mushrooms hunting and identification” subforum. There are countless Facebook groups: Join one local to the area you are foraging; members will be aware of local look-alikes. The iNaturalist app can provide identification when you upload mushroom photos. Check all the mushrooms while collecting them; try to avoid picking those that don’t fit the description. Other risks include legal and personal risks:

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Is It Legal to Pick Magic Mushrooms? 

Picking magic mushrooms is illegal in most places. Harvesting Psilocybe spp. is a potential felony that local law enforcement agencies enforce. Do not compound the risk by trespassing or foraging where signage explicitly says otherwise. Avoid common foraging spots, and try not to be obvious. In some cases, the local law enforcement may know precisely what you are up to and either choose to ignore you or decide to make an example of you.

Recently decriminalized regions are the legal exception: Recent waves of policy reform make psilocybin possession among law enforcement’s lowest priorities. At the time of writing, 13 cities in the United States have decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms. Still, magic mushrooms remain federally illegal. It is always wise to check the laws in your area before foraging magic mushrooms. 

psilocybe mushrooms
Psilocybe | Photo via Mushroom Observer by Alan Rockefeller

Foraging Safety Risks

Let others know where you’ll be foraging if you are picking on your own. If you are foraging as a group, look out for each other—especially in the forest. It is all too easy to get lost, and it is not unheard of for mushroom pickers to spend a night in the woods after taking some wrong turns.

In temperate climates, foraging is like going for a hike. So, it is important to carry all the appropriate gear, water and food, jumpers, raincoats, and good shoes. Carry a first aid kit: Accidents happen, and it is easy to twist an ankle when you least expect it.

Seek permission to use private land. By seeking permission, the owner may let you know of any hazards present on the property—like the paddock where they keep their bull, or even save you time and let you know where the mushrooms grow.

Wood Lover Paralysis

“Woodchip paralysis” or “Wood lover paralysis” (WLP) is a risk restricted to species of Psilocybe that grow from wood. People experience a temporary loss of muscle strength and motor control that can persist into the following day. The effect usually wears off after 24 to 48 hours. But, for the unsuspecting, it can be a frightful experience. This temporary paralysis should not be confused with the overwhelming effects of a strong dose. WLP can occur at relatively low levels of psychedelic intensity; it is a distinct physiological effect. 

Forums are places of lively discussion on WLP. There are regular discussions on the syndrome in forums like The Shroomery and on Facebook groups dedicated to Psilocybe identification. The main species that cause WLP belong to Psilocybe Section Cyanescens, which includes P. azurescens, P. cyanescens, P. subaeruginosa, and P. weraroa. However, WLP may not be limited to this group of species. A Japanese report from 1973 describes a case of poisoning with P. subcaerulipes that contains descriptions that match the syndrome. 

The Australian Psychedelic Society (APS) conducted a survey on WLP in 2020. The results were shown in a webcast by Entheogenesis Australis in July 2021. The survey covered both environmental and individual factors that may contribute to the syndrome. It also asked individuals about their WLP experiences. The survey found that the habitats and substrates involved were relatively equally represented, as were preparation methods for the mushrooms that cause WLP. 

There is currently no satisfactory explanation for WLP, and a few theories abound. Still, some common mushroom compounds are touted as possible culprits: aeruginascin or a related trimethylammonium compound. As Dr. Simon Beck, who led the project, explains: “If we understand this uncommon syndrome and the associated risks, we can take steps towards minimizing the potential for harm and provide appropriate care to those experiencing it. Such harm reduction measures become even more important in the context of ever-increasing interest in these mushrooms.”

Magic Mushroom Identification Resources

A good field guide goes a long way when learning how to identify magic mushrooms—and any other wild mushroom, for that matter. The following resources are excellent printed field guides worth taking on your next foraging excursion: 

  • US: “Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms” by Gary Lincoff
  • US: “Mushrooms Demystified” by David Arora
  • US: “All that the rain promises and more” by David Arora
  • UK: “Mushrooms” by Roger Phillips
  • UK: “Collins Fungi Guide” by Buczacki, Shields, & Ovenden
  • Chilé: “Hongos de Chilé” by Giuliana Furci, Fundacion Fungi
  • AU: “A Field Guide to Australian Fungi” by Bruce Fuhrer
  • AU: “Wild Mushrooming” by Alison Pouliot and Tom May

For those in Australia, there are the Entheogenesis Australis resources on the YouTube EntheoTV channel.

This article is intended for educational and harm reduction purposes. It is not intended to promote illicit activity. Always follow the laws in your region regarding psychoactive mushrooms.

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