Written by: Caleb Kouns
Mushrooms – they’re everywhere. Mushrooms can be found growing on every continent, even Antarctica. These amazing lifeforms have a wide array of uses too. They’re delicious to eat (we’re looking at you, Maitake), can be used as medicine to combat cancer and dementia, they occupy a crucial place in the global food chain as decomposers, and a few of them can even induce mystical experiences when consumed. They truly are a marvel of nature.
Of the huge number of mushrooms out there, a scant few possess the ability to elicit mystical experiences. There are a number of compounds that these entheogenic mushrooms contain that make this possible, and the most common and well-known compound is psilocybin. There are quite a few genera and species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin, but by far the most common and available are psilocybe cubensis (pronounced sil-OS-oh-BEE cue-BEN-sis). This is the variety of mushrooms whose entheogenic properties were discovered by the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico, and the one that is most commonly used in journey work. To be honest, you’d have to really go out of your way to find anything else, probably by foraging them yourself.
A big part of the reason that psilocybe cubensis have become the mushroom of choice for cultivation is that they’re super hearty. They check off all the boxes you want to see in a mushroom you’re going to farm – they’re typically high yielders, they can grow in a pretty wide range of temperatures and conditions which makes them a very forgiving mushroom to cultivate, and they’re quite resistant to contamination, which is a constant battle in mushroom farming. In other words, they’re some of the easiest, safest entheogenic mushrooms to grow, and have become the darling of entheogenic mushroom farmers far and wide.
Because Psilocybe cubensis grows in so many places, there are many different distinct strains that have been discovered growing naturally, often named after the place they were found – thai, Hawaiian, Cambodian, and so on. Think wine grape varietals or heirloom crops. They grow in a specific microclimate and are going to be a little different than another strain that grows at a different elevation or in a different type of soil. So you’ve got a lot of variety happening naturally, and then if you add to that all the growers out there cross-breeding and experimenting, you’ve got an ever-growing list of strains. Some folks think there isn’t any difference between strains, and others swear by a particular kind. They say variety is the spice of life, so get out there and try a few strains and see what you think.
By far the most well-known cubensis strain is the Golden Teacher. Considered to be a “middle-of-the-road” strain, it grows easily and provides a reliable, fairly gentle experience. Named for its golden caps, this is an entry-level strain with a little bit of everything – mild visuals, a modest body load, and heart-centered euphoria. A warm and loving strain, Golden Teachers do a great job at striking a balance between consciousness expansion and euphoric enjoyment.
Another strain with a lot of name recognition is Albino A+. From the name, you’d expect these mushrooms to be totally white, but they’re not true albinos, with some light pigmentation. Known for its strong taste, this strain is more on the advanced end of the spectrum. They tend to be fairly strong, with a quick come-up that can feel somewhat turbulent, and there is a noticeable body load. Once you’re at altitude, these mushrooms have a strong spiritual, introspective aspect. Albino A+ tends to begin in a grounded, body-focused place filled with gratitude and joy, which will slowly work its way up toward the head and mind, becoming increasingly expansive and boundary-dissolving, inspiring a feeling of universal connectivity.
Unlike a lot of strains today, Thai Lipa Yai is a landrace strain, meaning it was found growing naturally rather than being created through breeding. Named for the place it was discovered, this strain is known to be a high yielder providing a medium-strong experience. These mushrooms tend to have a significant body load and are lighter on visuals, manifesting a little more in the mind with strong perspective-shifting energy. There is a definite equatorial, earthy, jungle-y vibe to this strain, with vibrant, pulsing energy.
A strain that has gained fame of late is called Penis Envy. Don’t be fooled by the name, they don’t really look any more like their namesake than any other mushroom does. These mushrooms have become so well-known because of their high psilocybin content – some say they are almost twice as strong as any other cubensis strain. Penis Envy is definitely a strain for “advanced” journeyers. It is known for its strong visuals and heavy body load and boasts a real kinetic element. In other words, you’ll really feel like you went somewhere. Like with many stronger strains, the more you’re able to let go and enjoy the ride, the more you will likely glean from the experience.
And the list of strains goes on and on. Whether you believe there is a difference between strains or not, there will always be variation from source to source, just like with any plant. In other words, Golden Teachers you get from one place might be super different than what you get from another grower. The best bet when experimenting with entheogenic mushrooms to use in therapeutic work is to try different kinds until you find one that speaks to you, one that you feel you “understand”. When you feel like you’ve found your strain, keep getting that same kind from the same place. This is the best way to dial in dosing accuracy and consistency of experience. Not that there’s anything wrong with using all different strains, but if you want to be able to count on consistency, find a favorite strain from a source you like and make it your own!