How To Identify Magic Mushrooms and Stay Safe | Ascendant New York (2024)

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How Can You Identify Magic Mushrooms?

As the saying goes, “There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”

It’s important to exercise caution and restraint when attempting to identify psilocybin (aka “magic”) mushrooms. Ingesting a wild mushroom without a mycologist’s opinion could be deadly and produce adverse health consequences. While only 3% of known mushrooms are poisonous, looks can be deceiving.

Psilocybin mushrooms are relatively rare, urban-proximate mushrooms that have psychedelic properties when ingested. There are certain tell-tale characteristics of magic mushrooms: Forager discretion is advised.

History of Using Psilocybin Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms were being used by the indigenous population of the Americas before the arrival of Europeans.

The Aztecs of South America called psilocybin mushrooms by the name “teonanacatl,” meaning “god’s flesh.”[1] Mixed with mescal (a fermented drink like wine) or chocolate, these mushrooms were included in religious and healing rituals.[2]

The 17th-century naturalist Francisco Hernández de Toledo, physician to the Spanish throne, recorded for royal posterity how teonanacatl caused a “madness” in native users, which revealed, “before the eyes all kinds of things, such as wars and the likeness of demons.”[3]

Starting in the 1950s with the first English-language report on LSD, magic mushrooms enjoyed a brief window of popularity within the psychiatry medical research field.[4] Psilocybin was a legal prescription medication during this time.[5]

Starting in the mid-1960s with restrictive legislation and culminating in 1970 with the Controlled Substances Act, the substance psilocybin was classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.

This means there are no currently accepted medical uses, it is illegal to possess under any circ*mstances, and it has a high potential for abuse. Psilocybin has remained there to this day.

Psilocybin Mechanism of Action

Magic mushrooms are consumed orally, either eaten whole or brewed as part of a tea.

Upon ingestion, “psilocybin” is metabolized into the active ingredient “psilocin.” The metabolite psilocin primarily affects serotonin receptors.[6] The effects of the substance are dose-dependent and may include perceptual, cognitive, and emotional changes.

Serotonin is most responsible for regulating your mood. If you have enough serotonin, you’ll feel happy and cheerful. If you don’t have enough, you might be moody or even depressed.

One small study of psilocybin users reported an “instant improvement” in their moods. In another small study, 110 healthy adults in a controlled setting were administered psilocybin, and most called the experience “pleasurable, enriching and non-threatening.”[7]

At this time, there is still no approved medical use for these hallucinogenic mushrooms, and they should not be foraged or consumed without consulting a professional or a medical doctor.

Appearance of Magic Mushrooms

Warning: This is not an exhaustive guide. Ascendant NY seeks to educate, not advise. Forage safely and responsibly, and do not eat anything you find without getting a mycologist’s opinion.

Magic mushrooms in the US are represented primarily by three varieties.[8] While they all look very similar, there are some slight tell-tale marks.

Psilocybe allenii

“P. allenii” looks very much like your classic mushroom. The fruiting body stands no more than 2-3 inches tall, with a slender white stem, brown cap, and purple spores. The cap is dome-shaped with straight edges, and the gills attach directly to the stem.

Psilocybe cyanescens

“P. cyanescens” looks very similar to its cousin “P. allenii.” The fruiting body stands no more than 2-3 inches tall, with a slender white stem, brown cap, and purple spores. Unlike its cousin “P. allenii,” the mushroom varietal “P. cyanescens” has a dome-shaped cap with WAVY edges. The gills attach directly to the stem.

Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata

“P. ovoideocystidiata” stands a little taller than “P. allenii” and “P. cyanescens.” The fruiting body stands 3-4 inches tall, with a thicker white stem, brown cap, and purple spores. The cap is rounded but mostly flat, and the gills attach directly to the stem.

Native Climate of Psilocybin Mushrooms

Psilocybin mushrooms have spread worldwide thanks to spores carried on the wind and persistent human mushroom foragers. It only takes a little bit of the stem and mycelium to start a new fruiting body, and it can grow in a variety of soils.[9] They prefer excess carbon, which doesn’t often accumulate in nature.

‌Psilocybin-containing mushrooms are believed to have originated in either the Pacific Northwest or Australia, but they have since spread all around the world. They can be found in any climate, but especially subtropical ones where the humidity is spread evenly throughout the year.

The growing patterns worldwide suggest that ‌psychedelic mushrooms have co-evolved with humans over the centuries.

Where Do Magic Mushrooms Grow?

Magic mushrooms can be most easily found in proximity to human habitation near damp wood chips. They aren’t found on fresh fallen wood and prefer to let other fungi colonize the area first.

While the mushroom-picking season of the Pacific Northwest extends from late spring until late autumn, the peak growing season for psilocybe mushrooms is in October-November. The mycelium networks have had all summer to grow their roots, so once the wet autumn rains come, they will fruit quickly.

In the Wild

Psilocybin mushrooms can still be found in the wild. In relatively humid areas of North America like Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, they can be found growing in coastal dune grasses and along creeks.[10]

They are relatively scarce in the wild, and animals enjoy forage on them as well. Interestingly, the deep wilderness is not the most likely place to find psilocybin mushrooms. They actually appear less frequently in the backcountry or front-country wilderness than near urban spaces.

Coincidentally, the nearer you live to a city with a subtropical climate, the easier it is to find them.

In the City

Foraging for wild psilocybin mushrooms is the most dependable way to find them. But, as anyone with wilderness experience will tell you, not everything you find is safe to eat.

Garden beds with wood chip mulch are a fertile environment for germination. Office parks or even apartment complexes have yielded many psilocybin mushrooms for urban foragers.[11]


Currently, there are few places in the United States where psilocybin mushrooms can be legally bought or sold. Oregon state law does stipulate that psilocybin can be consumed at a “state-approved psilocybin service center” under the supervision of a state-licensed facilitator.

While psilocybin was decriminalized in Oregon in 2020, the first service center wasn’t authorized until 2023 (an example of how bureaucracies tend to make progress in fits and starts, but rarely all at once).

Street Names for Psilocybin

There are many street names for magic mushrooms.[12] Some include:

  • Boomers
  • Flower flipping
  • God’s flesh
  • Hippieflip
  • Hombrecitos
  • Wavy caps
  • Las mujercitas
  • Liberty caps (Psilocybe semilanceata species)
  • Little smoke
  • Mexican mushrooms
  • Silly putty
  • Silly simon
  • Shrooms

Is It Safe to Consume Magic Mushrooms?

How To Identify Magic Mushrooms and Stay Safe | Ascendant New York (1)

Eating psilocybin mushrooms, commonly referred to as magic mushrooms, is not considered safe for several reasons:

  1. Potential for Poisoning: It’s difficult to differentiate psilocybe species from poisonous mushroom varieties. Misidentification and consuming look-alike varieties can lead to serious poisoning.
  2. Psychological Effects: Psilocybin can cause intense psychological effects, including hallucinations, anxiety, and confusion, which can be distressing or potentially life-threatening, especially in individuals with underlying mental health conditions.
  3. Physical Side Effects: Physical side effects include nausea, vomiting, fast heart rate, blood pressure changes, and coordination issues.
  4. Lack of Medical Supervision: Without medical supervision, the use of psychotropic mushrooms can be particularly dangerous both physically and psychologically.
  5. Potential for Abuse: There is a risk of misuse and the development of psychological dependence.
  6. Unpredictable Reactions: Individual reactions to psilocybin can vary greatly, making it difficult to predict how one might respond.

For these reasons, it is advised not to consume the psilocybin mushrooms of the world without consulting a professional or a medical doctor, especially given their health risks.

Are Magic Mushrooms Illegal?

Yes. In 1970, the US government declared psilocybin a Schedule I controlled substance, where it remains to this day.[13]

However, in 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” drug. This cleared a legal hurdle to begin developing and reviewing the substance as a possible treatment for a clinical diagnosis.

In 2023, the FDA issued a guidance document that included “general considerations” for sponsors who wanted to clinically investigate psilocybin for use as a treatment for clinical conditions (e.g., psychiatric disorders).[14]

Current Status

However, because the FDA has yet to issue a final determination, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has not endorsed psilocybin for treatment. As of August 2023, psilocybin is still illegal to cultivate and distribute in the United States at a federal level.

Oregon decriminalized psilocybin in 2020, and Colorado decriminalized it in 2023. Certain locations in Washington state, California, Michigan, and Massachusetts have decriminalized it.[15]

When The “Magic” Wears Off

Addiction can have serious long-term personal, relational, professional, and social consequences, resulting in pain, sadness, and lost time.

If you or someone you know are addicted to magic mushrooms, seek treatment immediately. There are detox treatment centers with licensed professionals who are ready and willing to get you back on the road to recovery.

Your life is precious. Your journey has only just begun. You are stronger than you can possibly know. No substance should have control over your life. You should be your own greatest influence.

How To Identify Magic Mushrooms and Stay Safe | Ascendant New York (2024)
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