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Occurrence and use of hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin alkaloids

image of Occurrence and use of hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin alkaloids

In some parts of the world mushrooms have had a central role in religious ritual ceremonies. Ethnomycological studies among the Indian tribes of Mexico - the Aztecs and the Chichimecas - revealed the mushrooms to be hallucinogenic. Chemists from a leading Pharmaceutical company took over, isolated and described the mushroom alkaloid psilocybin, that upon dephosphorylation after collection of the mushroom or in the human body, form psilocin that is the active hallucinogenic compound. For a long time psilocybin/psilocin was expected to become a constituent of psychedelic drugs useful for treatment of specific psychoses. As the effect of psilocybin/psilocin resembles that of LSD the isolated compound, as well as mushrooms containing the compound, became popular among recreational users of hallucinogenic drugs in Western America, and from there the habit of using these mushrooms have spread around the world. Psilocybin/psilocin is legally prohibited in many countries which usually treat the compound as a narcotic drug. Some countries also prohibit the use of some or all psilocybin-containing mushrooms. In this respect, the legal situation differs between Nordic countries. Although psilocybin-containing mushrooms are not what Nordic mushroom pickers are trying to find as food or food supplement, there is a risk, admittedly small, that these mushrooms accidentally will be collected. At the present situation, this may be a legal problem in some Nordic countries. This document aims at identifying when this might be the case without going into legal interpretations.

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Biosynthesis

Experimental evidence regarding the biosynthesis of psilocybin and psilocin is limited. The structural similarity between these compounds and tryptophan indicate they might be derived from that amino acid. In 1961 Brack and co-workers showed that labelled tryptophan was incorporated into psilocybin by cultured mycelium of Psilocybe semperviva. Subsequently, labelled tryptophan was found to be incorporated into psilocybin also in submerged cultures of Psilocybe cubensis (Agurell et al., 1966). Separate studies showed that addition of tryptophan to the culture medium had no influence on the biosynthesis of psilocybin in Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe baeocystis (Catalfomo and Tyler, 1964; Leung and Paul, 1969). It is not known to what extent the data obtained from studies on mycelial cultures are representative for the biosynthesis in fruit bodies grown in the wild.

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