Psilocybe subcaerulipes has a bizarre and complex history, though is one of the few mushrooms that has been studied directly as a medical treatment or therapy. It is known as Hikageshibiretake in its native Japan, which translates to “shadow numbness mushroom”, alluding to the legends and stories surrounding the specie.
The chronicle of this mushroom begins with historic traditional applications in Japan, China and Thailand; it was used to assist in religious and shamanic rituals. An example from China is the ethnic group Yi, that includes the indigenous mushroom culture known as “ma-yu”. They refer to the species as the “numbing fungus”.
The nicknames of this species arise from historic times and 20th century reports of poisonings by this mushroom from Japan. In most cases, it was mistaken for edible mushrooms and added to soup; the meal resulted in euphoria, anxiety, panic, drowsiness and stupor for nearly all involved. In some cases, numbness or paralysis of the limbs was reported in some form.
At recreational doses, euphoria is the main experience, though the mushrooms themselves may have quite a bitter flavour. The potency is attributed to psilocybin and psilocin, causing P. subcaerulipes to bruise blue when handled or damaged. Research suggests that in some way, these chemicals may provide relief to those living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
A study completed within the last decade tested both dried P. subcaerulipes and psilocybin extract on OCD-related traits in mice. The particular mice they tested have a habit of obsessively burying marbles placed within their cages when they are stressed, a phenomenon known as “defensive burying”. The dried mushrooms and the pure, extracted psilocybin both reduced this burying behaviour in stressed mice.
While the pure extract reduced the locomotor activity of the animals, the dried P. subcaerulipes left the mice fully functional. Further, the dried fungus was more effective at preventing the stress response, even at lower doses. This led the researchers to conclude that P. subcaerulipes has the “potential to be efficient in clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder therapy”.
Both scientific studies and recreational anecdotes have dispelled any rumours of toxicity or dangerous paralysis. This species is still collected for spiritual and recreational purposes in its native range of Southeast Asia. It grows in groups or clusters on woody debris in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. It prefers the company of Japanese Sugi Pine (Cryptomeria japonica), Japanese Blue Oak (Quercus gluaca) and Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda).
With these trees nearby for indication, P. subcaerulipes can be identified by a few distinct features. It commonly has a well-defined umbo on the chestnut brown cap, though the overall shape can be somewhat variable. It ranges from conic, convex, to flat with age, anywhere from 2 to 5 centimetres; the edges can be wavy or curved inward on young mushrooms.
These edges may display traces of a white veil that is attached to the stipe in growing mushrooms. These remnants may also be found on the bottom two-thirds of the slender stem, similar to the cob-webby fibrils common to the genus Cortinarius. The long stipe, 6 to 7 centimetres, may also have root-like structures, or rhizomorphs, near the base. Both these structures and the stem itself can range from a whitish colour through to a reddish-brown.
While the mushroom itself is not particularly noteworthy among Psilocybe in appearance, the rich history is sure to intrigue many. The further medicinal capacity to treat psychological disorders, potentially through microdosing in humans, adds to its interest.
Guzmán, Gastón; Cortes-Perez, Alonso; Ramirez-Guillen, Florencia (2013). “The Japanese hallucinogenic mushrooms Psilocybe and a new synonym of P. subcaerulipes with three asiatic species belong to section Zapotecorum (Higher Basidiomycetes)”. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 15: 607–615
Koike Y, Wada K, Kusano G, Nozoe S (1981). “Isolation of psilocybin from Psilocybe argentipes and its determination in specimens of some mushrooms”. Journal of Natural Products. 44 (3): 362–65.
Matsushima Y, Shirota O, Kikura-Hanajiri R, Goda Y, Eguchi F (2009). “Effects of Psilocybe argentipes on marble-burying behavior in mice” (PDF). Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 73 (8): 1866–68.