As mushroom strains proliferate, keeping track of all the new varieties is hard. Some are distinct in their appearance and effects, while others stand out more due to their history and meaning. McKennaii mushrooms—a strain of Psilocybe cubensis named after ethnobotanist Terence McKenna—are part of the latter category. While they are similar to other cubensis mushrooms, particularly Golden Teachers, many are intrigued by their ambiguous origins and potentially strong effects.
“I believe that this is an amazing strain that deserves more attention,” says Alexander Romer, mycologist and founder of Luminaire Mushroom Company. “The mystery surrounding it is fascinating, and while I wouldn’t say it is one of the easiest strains to grow, I certainly refer to it as one of my favorite mushrooms to cultivate for a reason. It truly harnesses what one might call a spiritual component, so for those seeking to explore that part of their life, this mushroom may be very fitting.”
McKennaii Mushrooms: History, Origin and Popularity
McKennaii mushrooms take their name from ethnomycologist and philosopher Terence McKenna—“a truly historical figure who set the groundwork for many mycologists today,” says Romer. “McKenna believed that psychoactive plants harnessed the ability to help heal the world and reveal truth and understanding of the sacred,” Romer explains. He also authored the first mainstream mushroom-growing guidebook, Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide.
There are rumors about McKennaii mushrooms came to be, but it’s unclear which are true. One rumor is that they were first developed from a spore print found in McKenna’s collection after his death in 2000. “The other version of the origin story is that the strain was developed by a cultivator in the Netherlands and named in honor (or just for marketing) of the famous philosopher,” says mycologist Caine Barlow. Genomic sequencing of McKennaii mushrooms supports the latter theory, says Barlow, and also suggests that McKennaii mushrooms are “essentially just Golden Teacher with a marketing name.”
Characteristics and Features
Since McKennaii mushrooms are genetically almost identical to Golden Teachers, it is not surprising that they resemble them, says Barlow. They are medium to large in size and can be identified by their light to dark brown caps, thick stems, and dark, almost purplish spores, according to Romer.
McKennaii Mushroom Effects
The effects of McKennaii mushrooms tend to be similar to those of other Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, such as positive mood and mild visuals, says Barlow. In general, psilocybin acts on the serotonin system, particularly serotonin type 2 receptors, which are involved in visual processing, integration of perception, memory, and emotion, and control of the “default network”—the brain activity that occurs during rest or passive mind-wandering, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center.
Growing McKennaii Mushrooms
“There are often mixed reports about this strain,” says Barlow. “Some find it easy, others difficult. It makes me wonder if this is not a stable strain at all and still has fairly mixed genetics.” Overall, however, Barlow considers McKennaii mushrooms to be an intermediate strain that’s still beginner-friendly, as it colonizes substrates relatively easily, fruits well, and produces good yields.
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“These mushrooms are typically easier to grow than other cubensis varieties, which is probably due to the fact that they have been bred artificially for quite some time,” says Romer. You can grow McKennaii mushrooms in rye, millet, bird seed, and popcorn, he adds. “These mushrooms are grown on a range of mediums, but due to the nature of dung-loving mushrooms, they like those conditions to be met. Often, growers like to mimic their natural environment using a blend of coco-coir, vermiculite, and gypsum, but also experiment with hay, sawdust, and coffee grounds.”
McKennaii Mushroom Spores
“From my understanding, these mushrooms do not actually grow in the wild, but their spores are available online throughout the world,” says Romer. Because spores themselves don’t contain psilocybin, they are legal to possess in most of the U.S. as long as they are used for research and education, says C.L. Mike Schmidt, a lawyer at Schmidt & Clark LLP. However, California, Georgia, and Idaho ban spores since they can be used to grow mushrooms.
McKennaii Mushroom Pins
McKennaii mushroom pins often appear within just around two weeks, says Romer. They then continue to grow rapidly; you may see the first flush within just a month. Their rapid growth helps them fight off contaminants and makes it fairly easy for growers to get two to three heavy flushes.
McKennaii Mushroom Legality
Like other psilocybin mushrooms, McKennaii mushrooms are illegal throughout most of the U.S. However, Oregon and Colorado have recently decriminalized magic mushrooms. Cultivation is still illegal in Oregon, with the exception of state-licensed manufacturers. A number of cities have also decriminalized mushrooms, including Oakland and Santa Cruz, CA; Somerville, Cambridge, and Northampton, MA; and Washington, D.C.
“However, it’s important to note that while these areas have decriminalized psilocybin, it does not mean it is legal to buy, sell, or use it recreationally,” says Schmidt. “Decriminalization often means that penalties for possession are reduced or removed, but it does not necessarily legalize commercial sale or recreational use.”
McKennaii Mushroom Strength and Potency
Though we reached out to several testing agencies, none of them know the exact potency of McKennaii mushroom—but it is thought to be intermediate to high, with an estimated 1-1.5 percent total tryptamines, says Barlow, adding that potency varies based on growing conditions and the nutrients in the substrate.
“These mushrooms are known for being a very strong, potent cubensis strain,” says Romer. “I heard a rumor once that McKenna himself stated that these were the strongest psilocybin species available, but I have looked for confirmation of this for years and have never been able to find any mention of this in scholarly texts.”
The effects of McKenna mushrooms can come on gradually at first and then increase all of a sudden. “When taken, the onset takes place in a mild fashion, before seeming to explode the user into the realm of exploration without notice, which is something to be aware of,” says Romer. “They definitely create an experience of euphoria and wonder, safety, [and] spiritual understanding—and are a mushroom definitely intended for self-reflection and connection with one’s environment.”
Both fresh and dried preparations of these mushrooms tend to have high concentrations of bioavailable psilocybin, allowing it to reach both the bloodstream and the brain, says Giordano. “So, the general recommendation is that McKennaiis can be dosed at lower levels and still provide a robust trip effect.”
Safe(r) Tripping McKennaii Mushrooms
As with any psychedelic substance, working with McKennaii mushrooms depends largely on “set and setting” — that is, your mindset and environment. In order to have a better trip, you can put on calming music and meditate as you begin, says psychedelic-assisted psychotherapist Dr. Cat Meyer.
“Use slower deep breathing if, during the experience, one becomes dysregulated, as a way to self-soothe,” she advises. “Having totems or symbols that inspire soothing and safety can be used to evoke a sense of calm, safety, love, and soothing in the body when experiences become challenging.”
In addition, it’s helpful to be with a positive, supportive person—or at least have someone available to call, says Meyer. If you don’t have a friend or professional guide with you, you can call a hotline such as the Fireside Project (62-FIRESIDE), the Psychedelic Peer Support System (1-623-473-7433), or Never Use Alone (1-800-484-3731).
Romer thinks of it this way: “Before embarking on a mushroom journey, I think it can be helpful to resort back to the basics learned as a first and second grader when writing book reports and ask yourself these questions: who, what, when, where, and why?” In other words, be thoughtful about who you will be with, what experience you’re seeking, what time and place you feel safe with, and what intentions you hold for the journey.
“Knowing your intention is, in my opinion, one of the most important things that one can do before taking psilocybin, as everything you witness, feel, and see is a reflection of what is going on in your mind and around you,” he says. “I believe that there are truths to be discovered within us and that by finding these truths, we are able to heal and connect with the things that matter most in our lives.”
Psychological and Spiritual Considerations
The use of psilocybin mushrooms is deeply intertwined with shamanism, an ancient form of spirituality practiced by indigenous people and others, says James Hin, founder of PSILO Temple. “It’s not about religion, but a spiritual way of life, deeply connected to nature, our communities, the universe, and the spirit of our ancestors,” he says. “There is a lot of wisdom in the traditions, and we should be consuming and passing on that wisdom; that’s how we have made it this long.”
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While some people have great experiences tripping casually with friends or with guides who aren’t shamans, it is important to have respect for the mushrooms and the traditions behind them. Hin recommends going into a mushroom experience with the mantra, “Let me accept what the mushrooms give me.” He also suggests stepping up your self-care around the time of a mushroom trip and working with an integration coach or group afterward.
“I’ve seen with my clients, those who … create an integration plan by far have better outcomes,” says Hin. “Group integration is great as well…having a place for fellowship and like-minded support.”
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This article is intended for educational purposes and should not be used in place of medical advice. DoubleBlind does not advocate participating in illicit activities. Always consult your local drug laws before engaging with any illicit substance. Psilocybin mushroom cultivation is illegal in many places, and violating the law can have serious consequences.
In the event of an emergency, please dial local emergency services. For mental health services related to substance abuse in the U.S., please dial the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at +1 (800) 662-4357.