Thursday, February 22, 2018

On 'Shrooms: How a Rare Mushroom from Florida became 'The Philosopher’s Stone'




 
Psilocybe Tampanensis is one of the rarest and most powerful psychedelic mushrooms on earth.

‘Hell Yes!’ or ‘Hell No!’ This is a mantra for mushroom hunters- it’s also a good idea in a lot of other parts of life of life. Hell yes, or no— when considering whether to make love with someone new, jump into an unknown body of water, or eat a wild mushroom, it should be either an absolute affirmative and enthusiastic ‘YES!’ or just ‘Nah!’ While most mushrooms won’t kill you, they can get you really sick- a lot of others won’t hurt you, but they don’t taste very good either, a few taste great, one or two will kill you, and a few will blast open your Fifth Eye so you can commune with the Machine Elves and the Panther Goddess. The policy for all of these, of course, is ‘Hell Yes!’ or ‘Hell No!’ Saying ‘Well… Maybe…’ is what gets people into trouble with mushrooms. I mean this as a quick disclaimer to this story- which concerns that last category of mushroom. It’s important, in all fungal adventures, to be sure of what you’re doing. There are plenty of good resources out there to help with identification of any mushroom you may come across, and as always, remember that it's 'Hell Yes!' or 'Hell No!'

Florida is home to a few different ‘magic’ varieties of mushroom. Most common are the Psilocybe Cubensis the classic ‘Shroom of counterculture lore. Slightly rarer, but still out there, are the Copelandia Cyanescens, locally known as ‘Blue Meanies’ (presumably for their blue-grey color and their meanness) Both can be found in cow pastures year-round, though most abundantly in early spring and late summer, and they generally spring up a few days after some heavy rain. Of course, I don’t recommend going onto private property without permission, or, you know, doing anything else illegal, but it’s fun to know that powerful psychedelics just grow out of the ground sometimes.

 
The usual sort of 'Magic Mushroom' (Psilocybe Cubensis) common in the cow pastures of Florida.

On September 3, 1977, the Second International Mycological conference was being held in Tampa. The legendary Mycologist Steven Hayden Pollock decided to skip what he described as a very boring conference that day to go hiking and mushroom hunting in outer Hillsborough county, somewhere near the suburb of Brandon. Pollock found a single mushroom that he didn’t recognize growing out of a sandy hillside. He collected it and took it back to his lab in San Antonio, Texas, where he discovered that the rare purple-brown mushroom was psychoactive. Pollock took tissue samples and was able to clone and cultivate the mushroom that he named Psilocybe Tampanensis. Unlike most psychoactive mushrooms, Tampanensis produces an underground sclerotia, or ‘truffle.’ Pollock found that this truffle was especially potent and took to calling it ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ – writing that “it transports the consumer to states of transcendence and jubilation beyond the realm of ordinary psychedelics.”

Pollock began selling ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ truffles and spores through the mail, and soon after that, his life spiraled out of control, culminating in a police raid on his laboratory and his (still unsolved) murder. The short version of the story is that Pollock, a medical doctor, wanted to study the possible medicinal applications of psychoactive mushrooms- then became a full-blown drug kingpin to fund his research (There’s a great Radiolab episode on this). Pollock's ideas are only now beginning to be accepted, as recent research has shown that psychedelic mushrooms could be helpful in treating PTSD and depression.

Since its discovery in rural Hillsborough County, Tampanensis has only been documented in the wild one other time (in Pearl County, Mississippi), making it one of the rarest mushrooms on earth, but the spores and clones derived from that single original Tampa specimen are still making the rounds among underground mushroom cultivators and, in some parts of the world, they are grown commercially and perfectly legally. While psychedelic mushrooms themselves are illegal in most European countries, the sclerotia ‘truffles’ produced by Tampanensis pass through a loophole, and last I heard, Philosophers Stones were still legal (and quite popular) in The Netherlands.

The real mystery, to me, is whether Psilocybe Tampanensis, The Philosopher’s Stone, the rarest and most powerful psychedelic mushroom in the world, still grows somewhere in the sandy hills of southern Hillsborough County. Is another one out there waiting to be found? Have you walked by one without even noticing? Or has it been driven into extinction- the habitat paved over by the ever-creeping sprawl of the suburbs?

2 comments:

  1. I've seen these.maybe as a child in Polk county.those skinny stems...

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  2. Locals in brandon, Fl where I grew up called then purple ringers and they are ever abundant in all cow pastures in Brandon Florida among other species.

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