COMMON NAMES: Ink Caps, Hoop-Petticoat, Petticoat Mottlegill, Warai-take (Japanese, ‘laughing mushroom’), Hsiao Ch’un (Chinese, ‘laughing mushroom’)
Panaeolus sphinctrinus features a cap of 1-5 cm across that is conical or bell shaped. It is dark grey to nearly black when moist, and pale grey with a dark ochre center when dry. The stem is 60-120 mm x 2-3 mm and is gray, growing paler at the top. White partial veil fragments may be seen below the margin when the plant is young. The flesh is very thin. The spore print is black and the spores are elliptical and smooth (rogersmushrooms.com 2010).
Panaeolus sphinctrinus is found all over the world, including America, Mexico, Central Europe, Japan and China. It grows primarily in pastures and meadows that are rich with dung deposits, as well as directly on dung, from late spring to autumn (Ratsch 1998, 659).
This particular species of Panaeolus mushroom is so variable that it was once divided into a number of different species: Panaeolus papilionaceus, Agaricus callosus, Agaricus (Panaeolus) sphinctrinus, Panaeolus campanulatus, Panaeolus retirugis, and Panaeolus sphinctrinus. However, all these species are now considered to be synonymous. Psilocybin has been detected in some races of Panaeolus sphinctrinus, but not in others. The neurotransmitter serotonin is found in all races of the mushroom (Gartz 1985 cited in Ratsch 1998, 659). Since only certain races of Panaeolus sphinctrinus contain psilocybin, it is very difficult to determine whether one particular mushroom will have psychedelic effects, and so this species is not very popular amongst individuals searching for psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
TRADITIONAL USES: While studying Mexican magic mushrooms, Richard Evans Schulte identified Panaeolus sphinctrinus as teonanacatl, (meaning ‘flesh of the gods’ in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs), along with Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe caerulescens. The Aztecs used teonanacatl to attain contact with the gods, to reveal the nature of the inner soul and to generate sacred visions (Schultes 1939). However, the authenticity of the use of this species as such has been questioned, due to conflicting reports regarding its psilocybin content. It is important to point out, however, that psilocybin content might not have been the only criteria used by the Aztecs to determine whether a mushroom was sacred.
Robert Graves states that, along with Amanita muscaria, Panaeolus sphinctrinus is a candidate for being the ‘divine ambrosia and nectar’ of the ancient Greeks. He also mentions that it is ‘still used by Portuguese witches’. He uses a number of examples of mushrooms in ancient art to support his theory. Psilocybin-containing mushrooms seem to have been a key sacrament in the Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries, and mushrooms are often referred to as the ‘food of the gods’ in Greek mythology (Graves 1966 cited in Ratsch 1998, 659).
40-250 specimens of Panaeolus sphinctrinus have been consumed in an attempt to attain psychoactive effects. According to the literature, the mushroom has a long history of causing intoxication in America and Europe, but some think that species identification was in error here. It is necessary to use microscopic analysis, not just visual signs, to determine the actual species of a mushroom. Even farmers in New England, trying to become intoxicated for free, are known to consume this mushroom (Voogelbreinder 2009, 255).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: No particular information concerning the preparation and consumption of this particular species of mushroom can be found, but psilocybin containing mushrooms are traditionally consumed either fresh or dried. The ancient Mesoamericans consumed mushrooms along with chocolate or honey.
There are also accounts of Panaeolus sphinctrinus being sold dried for consumption in specialty shops in Japan up until they were outlawed in 2002. There, the mushrooms are called waraitake, or laughing mushroom. The fungi is generally labeled as poisonous in Japan now, but one can nevertheless purchase books such as “Raising Dangerous Plants”, which tells the reader how to enjoy growing “Drug Plants”, such as “Cannabis, Opium Poppies, Cocoa Leaves, Laughing Mushrooms, and others” in one’s own home garden. The book was published in 2009, indicating that, at least in Japan, this particular mushroom is still sought after as a psychoactive substance.
MEDICINAL USES: No information regarding the medicinal use of this mushroom. However, numerous recent research studies have explored the possible benefits of psilocybin-containing mushrooms like this one in treating disorders ranging from anxiety and OCD to severe cluster headaches. If you have any information on traditional or modern medicinal uses of Panaeolus sphinctrinus, please do contact us.
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: In Japan, Panaeolus sphinctrinus, and other members of the Panaeolus genus, are known as warai-take, or ‘laughing mushroom’. In China they are called hsiao-ch’un, which means the same thing. There is a long recorded history of consumption of these mushrooms in both countries for recreational purposes, and they are said to cause ‘excessive laughter’, as well as ‘strong, colorful hallucinations lasting for one and a half hours. They cause one to take one’s clothing off and dance, along with other deviant behaviors’ (Li 1975).
Panaeolus sphinctrinus are generally considered to have little to no psilocybin content by Western mushroom enthusiasts. However, the information that can be found from Asian sources suggest that these mushrooms do indeed have a fairly significant psychedelic effect and that they are sought after to the point that an individual would consider cultivating them in a home garden. One possible explanation for this may be the variation in psilocybin levels in different races of the mushroom – the race found in Texas or middle America may indeed have negligible levels of psychoactive compounds, while the race found in Japan may have quantities sufficient to allow for powerful hallucinations and to cause ‘deviant behavior’.
Many specimens of Panaeolus sphinctrinus have been found to contain 5-HT, 5-HTP, 5-OH-indoleacetic acid, and urea. Some strains from Japan and Italy have been found to contain psilocin and psilocybin, as high as 0.11%. One individual reported ingesting two grams of the substance, which lead to ‘noticeable intoxication, but no hallucinosis’. Another ate six dry mushrooms and experienced no effects whatsoever (Voogelbreinder 2009, 255).
Li, H. “Hallucinogenic Plants in Chinese Herbals.” Botanical Museum Leaflets 25, no. 6 (1975): 161–181.
“Panaeolus Sphinctrinus Mushroom.” Rogers Mushrooms, n.d. http://www.rogersmushrooms.com/gallery/DisplayBlock~bid~6565.asp.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Schultes, R.E. “Plantae Mexicanae II: The Identification of Teonanacatl, a Narcotic Basidiomycte of the Aztecs.” Botanical Museum Leaflets 7, no. 3 (1939): 37–54.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.