The liberty cap, or P. semilanceata, is a common magic mushroom found in many places around the world.

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Types of Magic Mushrooms

Foraging for wild mushrooms is dicey. There are thousan­ds of species, many with very similar features. Some toxic mushrooms can simply cause stomach problems, but others can cause organ failure and death. Hunting for any type of edible mushroom is generally best left to people who are very knowledgeable about mushroom identification. Even people who have been hunting mushrooms for decades have made mistakes. One part of the identification process is the creation of a spore print, which involves pressing the cap gill-side down onto a sheet of paper (usually both dark and white to see contrast) so that its spores are released. (We'll talk more about the uses for spore prints later.)

There are dozens of species of mushroom within the genus Psilocybe. Most of them are on the small side -- the average size is a 3-inch stalk and a 1-inch cap. When fresh, they usually have light grayish, yellowish or brownish stems with brown or brown-and-white caps and dark gills. We'll look at just a few of the most well-known varieties.

  • Psilocybe cubensis is on the larger side as far as magic mushrooms go. It's also one of the most common. Called the common large Psilocybe, golden cap or Mexican mushroom, it has many different types. The cap is usually reddish brown, with a white or yellowish stem. When bruised or crushed, its sticky flesh often turns bluish. Some people consider this a definitive sign of finding a magic mushroom, but some toxic types of mushrooms bruise as well. It's usually found in moist, humid climates and grows on the dung of grazing animals like cattle.
  • Psilocybe semilanceata or liberty cap is a common psilocybin mushroom. In general, P. semilanceata is found in damp, grassy fields usually populated by cattle or sheep but unlike P. cubensis, it doesn't grow directly on the dung. It's a small mushroom, either light yellow or brown, with a very pointed cap. Another psilocybe mushroom, Psilocybe pelliculosa, is often mistaken for P. semilanceata, but its psychotropic properties are weaker.
  • Psilocybe baeocystis has a dark brown cap and brownish or yellowish stem when fresh. It can be found in fields in addition to growing on rotting logs, peat or mulch. Nicknames include potent Psilocybe, blue bell and bottle cap.

So do people who take magic mushrooms just pop a few into their mouths? Next, let's learn about what's considered a "dose" and the ways in which people consume magic mushrooms.