Psilocybe Mushrooms - Strains VS Species
There are over 200 species of Psilocybe mushrooms that produce visually unique characteristics and contain varying levels of psychotropic compounds. A few of the most prevalent species are Azurescens, Cyanescens, Semilanceata, and Cubensis (which is by far the most widely known and easily cultivated). Semilanceata's (AKA liberty caps) are also recognizable to a fair portion of the population. There are many thriving online communities discussing the topic of Psilocybes, similar to cannabis enthusiasts they have isolated and classified hundreds of cubensis "strains" or "subspecies". While genealogically these strains are all considered the same species (cubensis), they can differ drastically in appearance, conditions required for cultivation, and potency.
*Psilocybe Cyanescens *Psilocybe Cubensis *Psilocybe Semilanceata
This introduction to strains vs species may seem contradictory or confusing, however a useful analogy to aid in understanding the difference can be drawn between Cannabis and Psilocybe mushrooms. The separation of cannabis species into Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis corresponds to the separation of Psilocybe species into Azurescens, Semilanceata, Cubensis, etc. While the separation of cannabis strains like Northern Lights, Purple Kush, and Jack Haze corresponds to mushroom strains like Penis Envy, Golden Teacher, and Huaulta. Strains often begin as a desirable mutation, such as an albino or an especially large mushroom. These random mutations are artificially selected by the cultivator and cloned to create a new strain.
*Huaulta Cubensis *Penis Envy Cubensis *Golden Teacher Cubensis
The effects of different species AND strains (along with many other variables) can subjectively differ, however all members of the genus Psilocybe share a few key identifying factors that can aid in their identification.
They all bruise an azure-bluish color when handled or damaged, due to oxidization of the compound psilocin at the site of impact
They all have a thin gelatinous veil, known in mycological terms as a pellicle, that separates the cap (or pileus) from the stem (or stipe). In maturity this veil often disintegrates leaving a darkened section (annular zone) on the stem.
They all have dense gills on the underside of the cap (or pileus) and a shiny or silky film on the outside of the cap (or pileus)
They all have a hygrophanous nature (meaning their coloration can change with the state of hydration)
There are over 700 officially recognized cannabis strains, and around 100 cataloged Psilocybe cubensis strains, classified by the individuals who cultivate them and commonly known websites/apps such as Leafly (for cannabis), which offers pictures, strain characteristics, reviews, and a marketplace for many cannabis strains. This niche for strain categorization/review is being explored by 2 websites in the psilocybin mushroom sector, Psilopedia.ca and Psillow.com.
Psilopedia takes a science focused approach offering comprehensive information on many aspects of psilocybin like its metabolic process, pharmacodynamics, areas of study, and mushroom identification. They have classified with pictures, characteristics and reviews over 70 cubensis strains, and have full report-style overviews of the 4 primary psilocybe species which include history, identification, visual representations, and natural geographic range.
Psillow aims to de-mystify psilocybin, offering a consistently updated blog with a wide variety of articles concerning many aspects of psilocybin (like its interaction with cannabis, how long it stays in the body, and psilocybin "travel guides"). They have also dedicated a section of the site to the legal "landscape" of the substance, and cataloged many Psilocybe species (more than Psilopedia) however have less information on Cubensis strains.
The fact that different strains produce different effects is thought to be a combined function of varied levels and ratios of the 4 psychoactive compounds produced by the mushrooms (psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, and norbaeocystin) and the set, setting and intention of the user. Differing levels of these compounds can change the intensity, onset, and duration of the experience, and also whether it is felt more in the mind or body. The users set, setting and intention conversely play a larger role in determining whether the experience is spiritual, philosophical, or therapeutically healing.
It is also important to note that many cultivators hypothesize that growing conditions, such as the composition of the substrate, humidity and temperature, and when in the life cycle the mushrooms are harvested (either before or after sporation) also has significant effect on the concentration and ratio of the 4 psychotropic compounds and therefore potency. The highest potency (for psilocybe cubensis) is achieved with a nutrient-rich fruiting substrate, constant temperature and humidity, and harvesting the mushrooms just before the "veil" between the stem and cap breaks.