“Magic mushrooms” (or just “shrooms”) is a slang term for types of psychedelic mushrooms that contain psilocybin, a powerful hallucinogen.
Psilocybin mushrooms can cause potent visual hallucinations, change your perception of reality, and alter your sense of self. That’s why they’re colloquially called magic mushrooms. They’ve been a popular recreational drug since the 1960s, and in the last few years, research has found that they may have therapeutic value for treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and more.
There are more than 200 species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin. Here’s a look at nine of the most common ones, as well as their defining characteristics.
What Are Psilocybin Mushroom Strains?
Psilocybin mushroom strains are species of fungi that contain psilocybin, a potent hallucinogen.
Psilocybin’s effects may include:
- Visual hallucinations
- Positive mood
- Introspective thinking
- Time distortion (feeling like time is moving slowly or standing still)
- Ego death (a sense of being one with the universe)
- Mystical experiences (a sense of encountering a god-like entity)
Psilocybin mushrooms are some of the most widely used psychedelics in the world. They grow in the wild on every continent except Antarctica, although they’re most common in humid subtropical areas.1
Types Of Psychedelic Mushrooms
There are more than 200 types of psychedelic mushrooms, most of which contain psilocybin.
Here’s a look at ten of the most common psychedelic mushroom strains.
This article is for informational purposes only. If you intend to forage for mushrooms, forage with an expert guide. Many mushroom varieties have lookalikes, and making a mistake is potentially deadly.
Psilocybe cubensis (Gold Caps)
Psilocybe cubensis, also called the Gold Cap mushroom, is the most widely available and consumed psychedelic mushroom. It’s easy to grow indoors and contains a lot of psilocybin, which makes it the general mushroom of choice for producers. If you’ve taken mushrooms before, there’s a good chance they were P. cubensis.
P. cubensis mushrooms have caramel-colored caps and off-white stems. They’re typically either tall and skinny or short and fat and their stems may have blue bruising, which is a sign of high psilocybin content. P. cubensis mushrooms are usually sold in dried form. They taste earthy and a little musty.
Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Caps)
Psilocybin semilanceata, also called the Liberty Cap mushroom, is the most common psychedelic mushroom to grow in the wild, although its sale is more rare. Liberty Caps are widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in wet grassland areas across North America and Europe.
P. semilanceata are golden brown all over, although they lighten in color as they age. They have tall, skinny stems, a notable conical cap with an umbo (a nipple-like protrusion) on the top, and vertical grooves running down the cap that become obvious after rainfall.
Anecdotally, people say Liberty Caps have a gentler, more introspective psychedelic effect than P. cubensis mushrooms do.
Liberty Caps look like several other mushrooms, some of which are toxic—most notably young Inocybe geophylla mushrooms, which can be fatal if you eat them.
Psilocybe baeocystis (Bottle Caps or Blue Bells)
Psilocybe baeocystis, also called the Bottle Cap mushroom or Blue Bell mushroom, is a psilocybin-containing mushroom that’s notable for its occasional deep blue color.
P. baeocystis is native to the Pacific Northwest in the United States, particularly Oregon and Washington. It’s occasionally sold, although it’s far less common than Psilocybe cubensis.
P. baeocystis is usually sold as a specialty mushroom and may command a high price, despite having lower psilocybin content than P. cubensis.2 People report that it offers a gentle and pleasant psychedelic experience.
Some P. baeocystis mushrooms are deep blue or green in color, while others are brown with off-white stems.
Psilocybe cyanescens (Wavy Caps)
Psilocybe cyanescens, somes called the Wavy Cap mushroom, is a psilocybin-containing mushroom that’s iconic for its flat-topped, wavy caps.
P. cyanescens grows in Noth America and Europe. The North American variety is generally recognized as the most potent psilocybin mushroom in the world, with psilocybin content 3-6 times higher than that of P. cubensis, the most commonly sold psychedelic mushroom.
As a result, Wavy Cap mushrooms are highly sought after for recreational use, especially in the Pacific Northwest and San Francisco Bay Area, where they grow naturally.
P. cyanescens has wavy, caramel brown caps with off-white stems and undercaps that bruise to a deep blue when disturbed, due to the presence of psilocin (the activated form of psilocybin).
Psilocybe mexicana is a species of psilocybin mushroom native to North and Central America.
There are records of the Aztecs and other native people consuming P. mexicana for spiritual purposes for over 2,000 years. It’s also the mushroom from which Albert Hoffmann, a Swiss chemist, first isolated psilocybin in 1959.
P. mexicana are tall and skinny with conical caps and a color that ranges from beige to golden brown, depending on the mushroom’s age. On the underside of the cap they have greyish-purple gills with white edges.
P. mexicana looks similar to several other mushrooms in the Psilocybe genus and they are often mistaken for one another. It’s rarely sold in the United States, although it grows abundantly in Mexico and Guatemala.
Psilocybe azurescens is one of the most potent psychedelic mushrooms in the world. It contains 2-5x more psilocybin than Psilocybe cubensis, the most commonly used psychedelic mushroom.3
P. azurescens is native to the West Coast of the United States, ranging from California to Oregon and Washington. It’s most common along the Columbia River Delta. It grows in decaying wood, as well as in coastal grasses.
P. azurescens has a caramel brown cap with white edges on the bottom, a pronounced umbo (nipple-like tip at the apex of the cap), and a silky white or grey stem that becomes hollow as the mushroom ages. It tastes extremely bitter and has either a flour-like smell or is odorless.
Psilocybe zapotecorum is a psilocybin-containing mushroom named after the Zapotecs, an Indigenous people who live in the Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico and use the mushroom for ceremonial purposes.
P. zapotecorum is native to southern Mexico (particularly the Sierra Madre mountains) and much of South America, including Brazil, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. It usually grows in large bunches, sometimes in groupings of more than 100 mushrooms, and is common along streams and other freshwater bodies.
P. zapotecorum is rarely sold in the United States. It has a medium brown convex cap and a thicker, off-white stem with a hollow center. It’s often confused with other Psilocybe mushroom species.
Panaeoulus cyanescens is a psilocybin-containing mushroom native to Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, and South America. It’s one of the most common psychedelic mushrooms in the Eastern Hemisphere and has one of the widest distribution ranges of any psychedelic mushroom.
Panaeolus cyanescens is light to medium gray in color with tall, thin stems. It has gills that turn black with age, often develops cracks in its cap in dry weather, and stains blue when disturbed. It’s rarely sold in the United States, but is commonly sold in many Southeast Asian countries.
Amanita muscaria (also called the fly agaric) is perhaps the most iconic mushroom on this list. It’s a toadstool with a red dome and white spots and has been made famous by pop culture.
The super mushroom in the Super Mario Bros. video game franchise is based on A. muscaria; consuming it makes Mario grow into a giant. A. muscaria also allegedly influenced Alice’s famous shrinking scene fromAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
In both cases, the effects are based in reality—one of A. muscaria’s psychedelic effects is to make you feel like you’re either growing or shrinking relative to the world around you.
Amanita muscaria is the only psychedelic mushroom on this list that doesn’t contain psilocybin. Instead it’s rich in muscimol and ibotenic acid, two other psychedelic compounds. A. muscaria grows in the wild in North America, Central America, Northern Asia, and the Mediterranean.
It’s rare that people use Amanita muscaria for its psychedelic properties because it contains several poisonous compounds in addition to its psychoactive ones. Boiling the mushroom destroys the poisons, but it also removes the psychedelic compounds. Boiled A. muscaria is used as food in many parts of the world, as it becomes a normal, non-psychoactive mushroom once you detoxify it.
Be cautious about picking A. muscaria
Risks of Obtaining the Wrong Type of Psychedelic Mushrooms
There are more than 10,000 known species of mushroom in the world. While only about 80 species are consistently fatal to humans, many others can cause moderate to severe illness if you consume them.
Mushrooms are notoriously difficult to identify correctly. Many species look quite similar to one another and are only distinguishable through minor differences (the color of the gills or shape of the spores the mushroom releases, for example).
Unless you’re trained in mushroom identification, you’re better off not picking or consuming mushrooms you find in the wild. Keep in mind that harvesting or possessing psychedelic mushrooms is also a federal crime in the United States.
Psychedelic Mushroom Frequently Asked Questions
Are all types of psychedelic mushrooms available for purchase?
Almost all psychedelic mushrooms are illegal in the United States. However, magic mushrooms are a commonly sold illegal drug. The most widespread mushroom for sale is Psilocybe cubensis (sometimes called “cubes”), which has golden brown caps and skinny, off-white stems, sometimes with bluish bruising.
What are the most popular types of psychedelic mushrooms?
The most popular types of psychedelic mushrooms are Psilocybe cubensis (sometimes called “cubes”) and Psilocybe semilanceata (also known as “Liberty Cap mushrooms”). P. cubensis is the most common mushroom sold, largely because it’s easy to grow indoors and contains a large amount of psilocybin, a potent hallucinogen.
Are all types of psychedelic mushrooms safe?
Most species of psychedelic mushroom belong to the genus Psilocybe and are not lethal. However, there are several poisonous psychedelic mushrooms. The most notable one is Amanita muscaria, which is bright red with white dots and a white stem, and is poisonous unless boiled in water.
Are any types of psychedelic mushrooms legal in the U.S.?
All psilocybin-containing mushrooms are federally illegal in the United States. Possessing or consuming psilocybin mushrooms is a felony. One legal psychedelic mushroom is Amanita muscaria, also called fly agaric. A. muscaria contains a different hallucinogen, muscimol, and is legal in most states, although it’s poisonous in its raw form.
There are more than 200 different types of psilocybin mushrooms in the world. Most of them contain varying amounts of psilocybin, a potent psychedelic. Cultures across the world have used psychedelic mushrooms for most of human history for spiritual or recreational purposes.
If you’re going to familiarize yourself with a single psychedelic mushroom, consider studying Psilocybe cubensis. It’s the most commonly sold psilocybin mushroom, and if you’re planning to take mushrooms, it may be worth your time to know how it looks.
1. Guzmán G, Allen JW, Gartz J. A Worldwide geographical distribution of the Neurotropic Fungi, an analysis and discussion. Published online January 1, 1998.
2. Beug MW, Bigwood J. Quantitative analysis of psilocybin and psilocin and psilocybe baecystis (singer and smith) by high-performance liquid chromatography and by thin-layer chromatography. Journal of Chromatography A. 1981;207(3):379-385. doi:10.1016/S0021-9673(00)88741-5
3. Tsujikawa K, Kanamori T, Iwata Y, et al. Morphological and chemical analysis of magic mushrooms in Japan. Forensic Sci Int. 2003;138(1-3):85-90. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2003.08.009