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Albino Penis Envy mushrooms
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Albino Penis Envy mushrooms

Penis Envy Mushrooms: Murder & Conspiracy Behind the World’s Trippiest Shroom

Penis Envy mushrooms were encountered by ethnobotanist Terence McKenna in the Amazon...the story unfolds from there.

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Updated April 5, 2022

DoubleBlind Mag is devoted to fair, rigorous reporting by leading experts and journalists in the field of psychedelics. Read more about our editorial process and fact-checking here. Editorially reviewed by Madison Margolin.

In the mushroom cultivation community, the Penis Envy variety is notorious. Immediately one might assume this is due to its phallic shape, though many also consider it a variety that stands out for its potency. In cultivation forums, you’ll often read the phrase “a cube is a cube” referring to the fact that despite the many different Psilocybe cubensis varieties available, they’re mostly similar in terms of both growing requirements and potency. However many consider Penis Envy to be of particularly high potency, something that seems to be confirmed by the work of Oakland Hyphae and the Psilocybin Cup, leading to many shrooms aficionados to caveat the commonly uttered phrase “A cube is a cube… except for Penis Envy.”

Penis envy magic mushrooms
Penis Envy magic mushrooms are the most potent variety of Psilocybe cubensis mushroom

Penis Envy Mushroom History

The history of the Penis Envy mushroom is probably one of the most talked about, but often confused, origin stories of all of the varieties of Psilocybe cubensis. For many years, the go-to article for explaining how Penis Envy emerged was published in Vice in 2009, by journalist-turned-psychedelic-scientist Hamilton Morris. However, in a podcast published on Morris’ own Patreon in June 2021, he admits to having been deliberately misled by the infamous mycologist John Allen (aka Mushroom John, of Psilocybe allenii fame), along with much hearsay found on various fungal forums. 

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Morris’ close-to-the-truth story from 2009 is a blend of a range of cult figures and folklore from the mushroom community and roughly proceeds as follows: In the early 1970s, Terrence Mckenna found a huge wild patch of Psilocybe cubensis growing deep in the Columbian Amazon. Though magic mushrooms had recently been made illegal, the spores were not (as is the case in most US states today), so Terrence took several spore prints back to his home in Colorado. One of these prints found its way to Steven Pollock, the medical doctor turned psychedelic mushroom enthusiast, who spent several years isolating the mushrooms to produce the Penis Envy variety—before Pollock’s mysterious murder in 1981.

In more fanciful versions of the tale, Pollock was claimed to be found dead with a Penis Envy mushroom clutched in his hand. A single spore print from Pollock’s phallic experiments (labeled only “penis”) found their way to Rich Gee a Washington-based mycologist, who kept the variety alive, but was ultimately impossible for Morris to track down. And so the story ends, with Pollock receiving credit and Rich Gee merely the caretaker of the variety.

Yet the plot thickens.

This whole story was revised in 2021 on Morris’ podcast, in an interview with Rich Gee himself. Last interviewed in 1998, Rich Gee (whose real name is Richard Guitierrez) is a reclusive figure. He has no online presence and little desire to be recognized for his contributions to the field of mycology, despite publishing two incredibly rare books on magic mushroom cultivation. The first book, How to Identify and Grow Psilocybin Mushrooms, was written by Gee and his friend Jules Stevens, and published in 1977. His second sole-authored book, Cubensis Aquarium Gardening, was published in 1995, from which Morris and others verified the first recorded photograph of the then-unnamed Penis Envy mushroom.

In the 2021 interview, Gee discusses his background in genetics, cloning, and manipulating yeast cells at the University of Washington—along with the trying tale of his near-death experience after being shot in the jaw during a hunting accident in 1959, at age 10. Gee also developed grow kits for the now out-of-business Homestead Mushrooms in North Carolina, and according to him: The real Penis Envy story is a little different from that of legend.

Terence McKenna and Steven H. Pollock

Like the previous recountings, Gee claims the original spores that gave rise to Penis Envy came from Terrence McKenna’s Amazonian collection. Though Gee never met McKenna, he got hold of these spores from his friend and coauthor Jules Stevens, who was working as a hairdresser at the time. Jules obtained the Amazonian Psilocybe cubensis spores from a friend, who got them directly from McKenna.

With his laboratory experience, Gee was easily able to purify the spores, resulting in a clean culture that was used to grow mushrooms in the aquarium system Gee had developed. From this culture, Gee observed three strains emerge, with one, in particular, showing a mutation where the cap wouldn’t stand up and had lots of immature mushrooms that failed to grow to full size (known as aborts in cultivation terminology).

Gee took this mutant strain and continued to clone it until a relatively normal-looking mushroom emerged, which was subsequently cloned again. This time Gee was specifically choosing large mushrooms to clone that showed a strong blue coloration when damaged, which we know today is a good indicator of potency. The size of these mushrooms was also improved by the high-quality cow manure compost recipe Gee developed. Gee also claims the phallic shape was merely incidental, and not specifically a characteristic that was selected for.

Although Gee claims to have met Steven Pollock and seen his grow set up in San Antonio, the two never talked about any Psilocybe cubensis varieties, as it seems Pollock was more focussed on sclerotia producing species (such as the variety of Psilocybe tampanensis he discovered with Gary Lincoff in 1977). When questioned about receiving a mysterious postal “penis” print from Pollock shortly after his mysterious murder in 1981, Gee claims the whole story is was “baloney from the very beginning” and that Pollock never even knew where he lived. 

Read: How To Take Shrooms

As for the name, Gee credits this to a chance meeting with some strippers in 1977, to whom he reluctantly showed a big bag of his mushrooms, which was then going by the name “Amazons.” When the strippers saw them they laughed and claimed they looked like “donkey dongs,” to which Gee replied, “Do you have Penis Envy?” From there, the name stuck. 

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So is this new story true? Although it’s hard to verify, Gee appears to be one of the few still living people with a direct connection to the Penis Envy variety. In addition, the wealth of photographs he appears to have shown Morris—along with his botanical and genetic background—appear to present a convincing account. Gee claims he doesn’t care about credit and that the only reason he reached out to Morris is that the story had “got to the point of ridiculousness that it needed to be straightened out.” When asked was he proud of his achievement in creating this notorious variety he simply replies, “to me, it’s just comedy.”

Penis Envy Mushrooms Effects and Characteristics

As with all psilocybin-containing mushrooms, the effects of Penis Envy can be broadly considered similar to any other magic mushroom. Despite users anecdotally reporting different subjective effects of different varieties, there’s not yet enough data to link subjective psychedelic experiences to different varieties, especially with factors such as set and setting also playing a crucial role.

However, one factor that does seem to be justified by evidence is Penis Envy’s increased potency. When looking at data gathered by Oakland Hyphae in their Psilocybin Cup, the average potency of Penis Envy varieties may be around 50 to 100 percent stronger than your average Psilocybe cubensis variety. Yet, as with other cultivated magic mushrooms, this potency can vary considerably—likely due to factors such as growing conditions and post-harvest storage methods. 

Penis Envy Anatomical Difference courtesy of penisenvymushroom.com

Penis Envy shows clear indications that this mushroom has been selectively grown, developing characteristics that are unlikely to exist in nature. The caps on these mushrooms (responsible for distributing the spores) barely open, remaining close to the stem. Many of the mushrooms also produce few or no spores, a characteristic that would quickly cause them to die out in the wild.

Penis Envy Shrooms Variations and Hybrids

When searching online, it’s clear that Penis Envy is one of the best-selling varieties in many spore vendors’ catalogs, with many dedicated cultivators creating many sub-varieties and hybrids in recent years. Here’s a quick rundown of three of the more popular descendants:

Albino Penis Envy

The Albino Penis Envy or APE for short is a hybrid of Penis Envy and PF Albino varieties of Psilocybe cubensis. Lacking the golden-colored caps commonly observed in other strains, the caps of APE are white with bluish tones, which turn to a beautiful silver blue when dried. When it comes to growing APE don’t expect huge yields, as this strain is a little temperamental to grow consistently. Though some claim this mushroom to be stronger than the original Penis Envy, there’s currently little data to back this up.

Albino Penis Envy and Penis Envy Uncut varieties
Penis Envy mushroom varieties: Albino Penis Envy (left) and Penis Envy Uncut (right)

Melmac, also known as Homestead

Melmac is reported to be the original variety isolated by Rich Gee while he was working for Homestead Mushrooms. These mushrooms were often sold with their grow kits before the company went out of business. It’s not clear who switched the name to Melmac, but it’s likely a reference to the home planet of ALF – the Alien Life Form from the 1980’s sci-fi sitcom of the same name. 

Penis Envy Uncut

Penis Envy Uncut magic mushrooms have a distinct physical feature which is that their caps do not open at all, even late in the mushroom’s maturity. Additionally, caps are distinctly darker than “regular” Penis Envy. They are also said to be the most potent of all of the Penis Envy varieties. 

How To Grow Penis Envy Mushrooms

One downside—and perhaps the only downside—to Penis Envy mushrooms is that they are one of the most difficult cubensis varieties to cultivate. This is because of their physical characteristics, like the lack of a velum to hold in spores until the mushroom is mature, which results in ineffective sporulation—therefore a cultivator would need quite a few Penis Envy mushrooms in order to collect enough spores to produce a viable spore syringe

Furthermore, due to the fact that this genetic line has been artificially selected, and would not have survived in nature, Penis Envy mushrooms are also less resistant to contamination. They also take about 25 percent longer to colonize, have a pin rate that is about half that of other Psilocybe cubensis varieties, and need specialized conditions for the incubation stage (the addition of a casing layer and a substrate with higher moisture content).

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Apart from these characteristics—and any other Psilocybe cubensis variety—Penis Envy is not particularly fussy and will happily grow on a variety of bulk substrates such as coir and manure, as well as grains such as rye, popcorn, and millet. Penis Envy will also grow in PF Tek jars or Uncle Ben’s rice bags.

An additional word of caution: It’s important to consider that Penis Envy cultivation is illegal in many areas. Cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms may result in criminal penalties for those who live outside of decriminalized regions. Always familiarize yourself with laws in your region before cultivating and engaging with psilocybin mushrooms.

Penis Envy Cultivation Terminology

As with any hobby or field of study, mushroom cultivation has its own vernacular. The majority of this vernacular is the same across most mushroom species—although different species feature distinct anatomical differences. The following terms and phrases are useful to know when cultivating mushrooms:  

Penis Envy Pins

To start, there’s nothing special to say about Penis Envy pins. The term “pins” is not unique to Penis Envy mushrooms—it’s an abbreviation of the term “pinhead,” which cultivators use to describe the small and earliest visible mushroom formations. 

Penis Envy Blobs

One particular quirk of Penis Envy is its tendency to grow “blobs” instead of pins as the mushrooms first begin to appear. Blobs are malformed bits of mushroom tissue. Blobbing tends to happen more commonly in early flushes. Many growers have had success with using a casing layer to prevent blobs from emerging. However, the blobs themselves are not harmful and can actually be quite potent, so fret not: They’re more of an aesthetic problem than a grow-stopper.  

Penis Envy Spores

Penis Envy is unique as each mature mushroom cap produces very few spores. Although prints can be made, these tend to be very faint resulting in weak spore syringes. Growers can also use swabs to transfer spores directly from the mushrooms to sterile agar plates, then start their grow project from there. Penis Envy spores are currently legal to purchase for microscope purposes in many regions. But, as mentioned above, cultivation is only decriminalized in select locations.

Read: How to Make Shroom Tea – The Ultimate Mushroom Tea Guide

When To Harvest Penis Envy

Like all Psilocybe cubensis varieties, the best time to harvest Penis Envy is as the veil breaks. Though this is traditionally done to prevent the mushroom caps from dropping spores all over your growing area, this may be less of a problem with Penis Envy which produces fewer spores than other varieties. As Penis Envy also has a much smaller gill area than other Psilocybe cubensis so spotting when the veil is about to break might take a keen eye.

Penis Envy Mushroom Summary

Penis Envy mushrooms have a long and confused history, and there’s undoubtedly more to learn about this human-cultivated mutant mushroom. With its unique characteristics and popularity in mushroom growing communities, it’s definitely a mushroom that’s worth adding to your grow list. If you are located in a decriminalized region and decide to consume these mushrooms, it’s important to remember they may be more quite potent. So, starting with a low dose and remaining mindful of set and setting can go a long way. 

*This article contains contributions from Jeff Lebowe. The information in this article is intended for educational and harm reduction purposes and is not intended to promote illicit activity.

If you’re looking for peer support during or after a psychedelic experience, contact Fireside Project by calling or texting 6-2FIRESIDE. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for support.
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