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Psychedelic Ovoid - Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata

Good evening, friends, and Happy Earth Day!


What an Earth Day MM we have today. I concluded last week’s email by saying I had a feeling that we were on the precipice of some spring fungal finds and, truthfully, my mind was on morels. I went out twice this weekend, was rewarded with no morels, but did come back with a mushroom much more groovy. This week’s mushroom is Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata - but the kids call them “Ovoids”. This is a mushroom native to northeastern North America that contains the psychoactive compounds psilocybin and psilocin (among others). Time to expand our minds.


Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata

Fun Facts


There are over 200 species of psilocybin-containing mushrooms and 162 in the genus Psilocybe. That means there are mushrooms outside the genus Psilocybe that contain psilocybin, like Pluteus americanus. Now how did this Pluteus start to produce psilocybin?


The thinking is through a horizontal gene transfer (HGT) where the mycelium of a Pluteus encountered a Psilocybe and they shared genetic information. That method of sharing DNA is a bit mindblowing if you think about it. You probably thought you’d be reading about psychonauts and hallucinations - cool stuff - but instead I’ve lured you into a genetics class.


Psilocybin is the main psychoactive compound in Psilocybe mushrooms, although there is also psilocin, baeocystin, and norbaeocystin. When ingested, psilocybin is broken down to psilocin in the body. Psilocybin and psilocin have a very similar chemical structure to serotonin - a natural mood stabilizer - and attach to the brain through the serotonin receptors.


Notice the blueing on the stipe (stem).
Notice the blueing on the stipe (stem).

Cultural History


MesoAmerican civilizations like the Mayans and Aztecs used Psilocybe mushrooms (known to them as “teonanácatl”) for ritual ceremonies. Psilocybin gained popularity in American culture more recently when R. Gordon Wasson wrote the article Seeking the Magic Mushroom in a 1957 issue of Life Magazine. The article described how the author’s wife, Valentina Pavlovna, taught him how to forage edible mushrooms while they were on their honeymoon in the Catskills. As it goes with mushroom people; that first encounter spawned a passion that mushroomed into Gordon traveling to a small village in Mexico to receive a healing mushroom ceremony from the highly revered Curandera (medicine women) Maria Sabina.


Psychedelics steadily grew in popularity throughout the 50s and 60s- both culturally and scientifically - until the beginning of the 70s where tighter pharmaceutical regulations, the “War on Drugs”, and a lack of interest from the pharmaceutical industry to fund trials made way for the dark ages of psychedelic science.


Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata

The dark ages stretched until the mid-2000s when the potential for therapeutic applications gave way to a psychedelic renaissance, thanks in part to work from researchers like the late Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins. Psychedelic science is now more widely accepted and there are psychedelic research centers at universities around the world like NYU, UC Berkeley, Imperial College London. The hope is that psilocybin can help treat neurological afflictions like addiction, PTSD, and depression.


The research is promising, although it’ unclear how psilocybin is actually able to help alleviate the symptoms from these afflictions. When the psychoactive compounds in the mushroom attach to the serotonin receptors in your brain, they dim your Default Mode Network (DMN) - basically parts of the brain that filter out external stimuli to allow you to focus or automate processes that you shouldn’t have to spend energy thinking about. It’s how you’re able to brush your teeth without actively thinking about it or how you can hold a conversation at dinner while other conversations and movements are happening all around you.


Psilocybin dampens this DMN to allow a whole influx of stimuli, and this allows different parts of the brain to interact that normally wouldn’t. New neural connections can form and old connections can be overwritten.


Think of sledding on a snow day. If you go sledding on a fresh hill the first run is a bit slower because you’re packing down entirely fresh snow. If you sled down the track you just plowed you’ll be quicker and the sledding will be easier. That’s how neural connections are made and reinforced - usually for good but sometimes for bad. The way psilocybin impacts your brain is how a fresh coat of snow covers the hill. New neural connections and sledding routes can be formed.


This is all a very basic overview of psychedelic mushroom culture and science. I don’t really know anything. If you want more information on current psychedelic initiatives, some resources are the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, Decriminalize Nature, and the newsletter The Microdose.


My friend John was with me and snapped this picture. He has a Samsung and from my personal understanding they seem to take better photos than iPhones.
My friend John was with me and snapped this picture. He has a Samsung and from my personal understanding they seem to take better photos than iPhones.

Ecology


Ovoids are saprobic and get their nutrition from digesting organic matter - you can find them growing out of the soil or wood chips. These were growing out of the soil in a planting of old apple trees that was overrun by the invasive (and medicinal) herbaceous plant mugwort (Artemesia). Their range is noteworthy too, as this fungus is originally known from the Ohio River Valley and the iNaturalist map indicates as such with the most observations there. Also notice how they seem to grow on either side of - but not in - the Appalachian Mountain range in the mid-Atlantic.


Map

They were brought to the west coast by humans and were introduced to wood chip patches where they now grow spontaneously up and down the coast. Allegedly they are now even found in Europe as psychedelic enthusiasts trade spores and introduce them to their local regions. Ecologically, these introductions are imprudent. The mushrooms grow in their native Ohio Valley range in the spring, late April through early June, and seldomly pop up in the summer and fall.


Identifying these mushrooms definitely requires a more advanced eye since they’re considered LBMs (little brown mushrooms). The lethally toxic Funeral bells (Galerina marginata) are also LBMs, but they’re also predominantly a fall mushroom. Some helpful tips for identifying Psilocybe are that they bruise blue when handled (that’s the psilocybin oxidizing to psilocin) and they have a penchant for growing in disturbed areas - wood chip piles, roadsides, and flood plains. P. ovoideocystidiata has ovoid-shaped cystidia which a better microscoper than myself would point out to you. While I’ll keep looking for those cystidia, the spores did check out.


Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata spores

Earth Day today and a full moon tomorrow. Who’s got it better than us?

-Aubrey


References:

  1. James J Gattuso, Daniel Perkins, Simon Ruffell, Andrew J Lawrence, Daniel Hoyer, Laura H Jacobson, Christopher Timmermann, David Castle, Susan L Rossell, Luke A Downey, Broc A Pagni, Nicole L Galvão-Coelho, David Nutt, Jerome Sarris, Default Mode Network Modulation by Psychedelics: A Systematic Review, International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, Volume 26, Issue 3, March 2023, Pages 155–188, https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyac074

  2. https://fantasticfungi.com/the-r-gordon-wasson-trip-that-changed-everything/

  3. Hall W. Why was early therapeutic research on psychedelic drugs abandoned? Psychol Med. 2022 Jan;52(1):26-31. doi: 10.1017/S0033291721004207. Epub 2021 Oct 21. PMID: 34670633.

  4. https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/ethnobotany/Mind_and_Spirit/teonanacatl.shtml

  5. https://doubleblindmag.com/psilocybe-ovoideocystidiata/

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