Psilocybe cubensis

Psilocybe cubensis
  • Common, easy to cultivate, moderately potent
  • Primarily tropical, found nearly worldwide
  • Historical usage, popularized by Terence McKenna
  • “Cubes”, “Gold Caps”, variable size, mild flavour and scent

Psilocybe cubensis is the most commonly cultivated and consumed fungus of the Psilocybe genus. This is primarily due to its ease of growth and mid-range quantities of active ingredients. While being nurtured by mycologists worldwide, it now has a rather limited natural range to the tropics and subtropics; the species was originally found in, and named after, Cuba.

P. cubensis was originally popularized as a recreational, or “magic”, mushroom by Terence McKenna and his brother in the book Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. He and others suggested that this particular species was used historically by certain societies for ritual and spiritual purposes. The Egyptians may have referred to it as the “Eye of Horus”; early Vedic cultures used a drink called “soma” that may have contained this mushroom.

Along with psilocin and psilocybin, the major active compounds, baeocystin and norbaeocystin also contribute. The presence of all these result in the bluing reaction to damage that is common among Psilocybe fungi. This may make dried or aged samples of the mushrooms look blue, green or almost black.

They can be found naturally outside of the tropics, but are most popularly found in their dried form or available as spores. They have few distinct characteristics separating them from other common species, other than their larger size. Smaller mushrooms contain more active compounds that larger, older ones. While being of a similar size, young P. cubensis may be more potent than older fruiting bodies of other species. Because of this, it is best to weigh samples of P. cubensis for consumption, as opposed to simply counting the mushrooms.

They have a few aliases or nicknames: golden tops, cubes and gold caps, among others. Regarding consumption, they have a mild and starchy flavour and scent, either fresh or dried. Like most Psilocybe species, the caps contain more active compounds than the stem, however the concentration is variable. P. cubensis is generally considered to have a potency in the mid-range of common species. As with most other members of the Psilocybe genus, toxicity is rarely an issue outside of those taking MAOIs for any reason.

Cultivation is among the easiest of psychoactive fungi, with standard “cake” growth an efficient and effective method. Research by Bigwood & Beug with P. cubensis demonstrated that while psilocybin concentration is highly variable (up to a factor of four within the same culture, a factor of 10 between cultures), it does not increase or decrease with subsequent harvests or “flushes”. Psilocin concentrations however, are nearly non-existent on the first “flush”, peaking at and after the fourth.

Regardless, psilocin accounts for a minimal portion of active compounds, usually much less than half the concentration of psilocybin. This may lead to a “slower release” and milder, prolonged experience compared to other species with higher psilocin or total active compounds. Effects generally begin 20-60 minutes after consumption, with the total experience lasting 4-10 hours.

Along with the dosage, the effects and timing can be extremely variable. Further, P. cubensis may also be commonly found in another form: mycelium. Mycelium is easier to cultivate than the mushrooms themselves. It must be grown in a media that allows its extraction, but it frequently has a higher potency than fruiting bodies of a comparable weight. Through a method known as “submerged culture”, P. cubensis mycelium with nearly 2% active compounds by dry weight was produced.

Along with many other species, forms of P. cubensis such as spores or mycelium may be legally available locally or through online services. Their relative ease, growing happily in breakfast cereal, makes their farming as enjoyable as it is beneficial. In all its forms, it is considered an “entry-level” species for both cultivation and consumption. For over 3500 years, these “golden caps” have been a golden choice for spiritual or recreational journeys.