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Which Psychedelic Mushroom Is the Strongest?

It seems like a simple question, but it's surprisingly thorny.

DoubleBlind Mag

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DoubleBlind // Psychedelic Guides

Psilonauts often nominate all sorts of varieties of psychedelic mushrooms as the most potent of the rapidly expanding psilocybin mushroom pharmacopeia—and there are plenty to choose from, with some 200 natural world species and a whole heap of lab-born hybrid strains. But these claims, that some grower or another has identified the strongest psychedelic mushroom, is a surprisingly difficult thing to verify or replicate.

Unlike mushroom species, a biological category that’s more universally understood and agreed upon by mycologists, there’s no genetic test for a strain, meaning that strain claims can often be dubious, which adds extra variability in potency terms on top of the natural variation found within the array of species. No single mushroom is ever the same, and there is a stunning diversity of psychedelic fungi, from chubby toadstools, ones with rotund brown caps and thick stems, and a mutant variety that fruits not mushrooms but a peculiar mycelial growth.

Mushroom held in hand
Psilocybe cubensis. Image Courtesy of Dino (Dinotrips) via Mushroom Observer

The potency contest takes place at the highest level between several principal taxonomic mushroom fields (or genera), which comprise species. The Psilocybe genus is the most well known, including species like P. cubensis, P. mexicana, P. natalensis, and P. zapotecorum. The Panaeolus genus, meanwhile, comprises such species as P. cyanescens, P. cinctulus, and P. olivaceus.

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Why It’s Hard to Know Which Psychedelic Mushroom Is the Strongest

Before anyone hands out the medals for the most psychedelic (the more potent, the more psychedelic), it’s worth remembering that assessing the strength of visionary fungi is not simple. Like the psychedelic experience itself, there are nebulous factors and complications which make it difficult to provide definitives.

Any one indoor-cultivated mushroom could be quadruple the strength of its bedfellows, with whom it sprouted side-by-side. Those grown in the wild can vary in potency up to a factor of 10. Some deliver more visual effects, while others invite greater contemplation. Some make you puke, some don’t. It probably depends on what you ate that day, after all. Set and setting is crucial, and it is difficult to define baseline experiences when external and mindset factors play a huge role.

Mushroom in grass
Psilocybe cubensis. Image Courtesy of Scott Ostuni via Mushroom Observer

“I personally feel that all mushrooms, just like all humans, have their own genetic signature, and that you as the individual are the only true reference to a mushroom’s potency and the experience,” ethnomycology educator Darren LeBaron told DoubleBlind. “Each individual mushroom is unique from the other.”

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Improved potency testing capabilities, however, and a growing number of magic mushroom competitions — a la cannabis cups — are creating winners and losers even within a mycophile space characterized by equality, equanimity, and camaraderie. It seems that the Panaeolus genus includes the strongest types of mushroom, the number one being the slim, tall-stemmed TTBVIs (which stands for Tamarind Tree British Virgin Islands, its original source location).

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TTBVI Is a Strong Contender, But It’s Far From Settled

At the winter 2022 Magic Myco cultivar cup, the then little known TTBVI fungi overwhelmingly prevailed. A sample was measured as containing 4.58% alkaloids in a preliminary tryptamine potency breakdown. The runner-up, a P. cubensis strain, had less than 3% alkaloids. They were grown by a mycologist who goes by the alias GordoTek, who had sourced the spores from an anonymous BVI resident who grew them under their home’s tamarind tree using cow dung collected from a local field.

“As far as I know (please correct me if you can point to any source proving otherwise), TTBVI remains the most potent known cultivar in the world so far, so that has not changed,” GordoTek wrote on Patreon. Needless to say, the mushrooms submitted to competitions — like the pumpkins at giant veg shows — are cherrypicked for potency, giving perhaps a false impression of strength across the board. Of the 19 samples of TTBVI and BVI mushrooms which competed at Magic Myco, the average potency was around 2.7% psilocybin and 0.5% psilocin, which is more in line with academic research on P. cyanescens.

Still, GordoTek was mindful that there have been growing pains in the fungi examination world. “Everyone is still kind of scrambling to perfect the art and science of mushroom testing, it’s an industry that never quite fully matured mostly due to the … restrictive scheduling of psilocybin.”

Mushrooms in dirt
Psilocybe cubensis. Image Courtesy of Scott Ostuni via Mushroom Observer

The mushroom grower did not submit his samples to the more above-ground Oakland Hyphae cup, which in December announced that the most potent mushroom it tested was an Albino Penis Envy (APE) hybrid, a P. cubensis strain called Hand of God. The competition measured the shrooms by psilocybin and psilocin content, and the strain came in at just over 3% for both alkaloids. 

“TTBVIs wipe the floor with APEs,” says Sam Gandy, a psychedelics researcher, ecologist, and DoubleBlind contributor. “They blow them out of the water potency wise.” Likewise, as noted, P. cyanescens are far more potent than P. cubensis, though they are generally more challenging to grow, with TTBVIs specifically requiring a high humidity tropical climate with plenty of fresh air to thrive.

Some mushroom enthusiasts insist that “A cube is a cube,” meaning that there are few differences between the trips experienced with various P. cubensis strains, but some experts note that the distinct effects between Psilocybe and Panaeolus mushrooms are significant. Generally, consumers of mushrooms from the Panaeolus genus are “less likely to report feelings of nausea and tend to enjoy a much smoother coming up period,” says Gandy, who is conducting a study on the effects attributed to different mushroom species. “While subjective, testimonials suggest they tend to have a friendlier emotional tone and are less inclined to what some have termed the ‘dark clown energy’ that you can get with P. cubensis mushrooms. However, their much greater potency warrants care when dosing.”

Factors Beyond Psilocybin and Psilocin

Of course, it’s not only psilocybin and psilocin potency that influence the character of any psychedelic experience with mushrooms. The fungi include a number of other alkaloids, such as baeocystin, which has a similar chemical structure to psilocybin but is present in lower concentrations and is rumored to have anxiety reducing qualities, though the research is sparse. Aeruginascin and norpsilocin are among the other alklaoids, but even less is known about them. They nonetheless help form the basis of the entourage effect theory, which posits that natural psychedelic mushrooms are more therapeutically efficacious than synthetic psilocybin. A study released earlier this year suggested that “use of full-spectrum psychedelic mushroom extract has a more powerful effect than chemically synthesized psilocybin alone” after mice were injected with either of the two.

With ever greater potency, however, comes ever greater risk. “Nobody’s even been paying attention to how much psilocybin they’re consuming up until now,” says Dave Hodges, the founder of the Church of Ambrosia, a 100,000-member mushroom church in California. He has devised a breakthrough dose calculator for a number of strains, from Hillbilly to Loving Teacher, based on the weight of the consumer to help people be more precise with their doses. The initiative was born after Hodges effectively served a member of his church three times as much psilocybin (from mushrooms which she had provided) as intended after the batch was found to be unexpectedly potent. She had an extremely challenging trip, but the new mushroom varieties being produced are even stronger. “If less than half a gram of some mushrooms is the breakthrough dose, a few little specks of mushroom dust can make a significant difference,” he adds.

As Testing Improves, Will Mushroom Potency Increase?

The emergence of potency testing itself is driving cultivators to push for higher potency to win awards, similar to what happened with THC and cannabis. “By virtue of having access to analysis, we are going to be creating new things for analysis,” Hamilton Morris, a psychedelic chemist and host of the show Hamilton’s Pharmacopoeia, told the Hyphae Leaks podcast. “So I imagine that the analysis itself has resulted in increased potency strains being developed.” 

Ian Bollinger, from the Center for Mycological Analytics, confirmed that likelihood was being borne out into reality. “It has less to do with the strain itself,” he told the podcast. The three major factors which create a potent mushroom, he added, are how it is cultivated (different mushrooms prefer particular levels of air exchange, temperature, and light), genetics, and treatment post harvest, such as air-drying or freeze-drying.

“Three and a half grams, when I was growing up, was considered what you needed to trip,” Reggie Harris, founder of Hyphae Labs, a potency testing laboratory, said on the podcast. “Now, 0.7 g is a full trip. Imagine, if I’m running around here thinking that three and a half grams of Panaeolus bisporus is a full trip. You’re gonna see God.”

Trip reports from experiences with the TTBVI mushroom posted online demonstrate that no more than a gram of the dried fungus represents a breakthrough dose that could effectively be equivalent to 10 g, or more, of average-strength mushrooms. “I tried 0.8 g of TTBVI and it turned out to be the trip of my life,” one said in an account posted by GordoTek. “My house shone everywhere. Where there were reflections, there were rainbows, everything was beautiful. I felt a true sense of well-being and even joy. Outside, each plant, each tree seemed to have its own entity. I almost felt as if they had identities and I could communicate with them.”

Another wrote that their entire body became numb after taking 1 g. “I was being held in the most comforting embrace looking down at the outline of my physical form,” they said. “Something powerful and positive was holding me and singing in my ear but it was speaking to me. The full story is way too much, but I do know TTBVI are in some different class.”

If such super-strong shrooms are blended into unassuming-looking mushroom chocolate bars that do not include dosing instructions, there could be public health dangers, warns Hodges. For someone who weighs as little as 100 lbs, just 0.2 g of the most potent fungi could be sufficient for an intense, transcendent experience. “You don’t want to eat a gram of mushrooms,” he says, “and go so far past your intended zone that you reach an overdose and do something crazy.”

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