Mushrooms and Cannabis: How They Compare and Interact
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During the 2020 U.S. general election, as votes for president were still being tallied, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) declared cannabis (aka weed or marijuana) the overall winner.
Why? South Dakota, Mississippi, Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey all approved some degree of cannabis legislation.
Meanwhile, Oregon made history by voting in favor of Measure 109, which approves the use of psilocybin-producing mushrooms (sometimes called shrooms or magic mushrooms) in therapeutic settings.
With both cannabis and mushrooms becoming increasingly accessible, it’s more important than ever to understand their effects, both on their own and when used together.
Healthline does not endorse the illegal use of substances. However, we believe in providing accessible and accurate information to reduce the harm that can occur when using.
Before decriminalization and legalization measures swept the nation, cannabis and mushrooms each featured prominently in counterculture, showing up in psychedelic art, music, and movies.
While the two substances share some similarities, using either one is a distinctly different experience.
The effects of cannabis can vary widely depending on several factors, including:
- the dose, strain, and potency
- your method of consumption
- how often you use cannabis
When smoked or vaporized, the effects rapidly kick in within minutes of use. The experience peaks at around 1 hour and dissipates within 2 hours, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Edibles take longer to kick in, usually 30 to 60 minutes .
Some people feel more focused and productive after consuming cannabis, while others feel more relaxed.
Other potential effects include:
- dry mouth
- rapid heart rate
- openness to new ideas
- anxiety and paranoia
- more intense sensory perceptions of colors, sound, flavors, and touch
- increased appetite
While there are many types of hallucinogenic mushrooms, most are a variety of the species Psilocybe cubensis, which contains the psychedelic component psilocybin.
As with cannabis, mushrooms alter sensory perception. However, the effect is more striking.
Mushrooms are usually dried and then eaten, steeped as a tea, or ground into powder that’s cooked into chocolates or placed in capsules. They can take 1 hour or more to kick in. The whole experience typically lasts 4 to 6 hours.
While people often think of mushrooms as opening up the mind, their effects are actually the result of the opposite process.
A 2012 study suggests that psilocybin decreases activity in areas of the brain responsible for constraining your experience of the world and keeping it orderly.
When this process slows down or deactivates, your perception of the world around you dramatically shifts.
- Stationary objects might appear to move or melt.
- Humans might appear deeply distorted.
- Your perception of time and yourself changes.
For some, these effects can lead to spiritual epiphanies and philosophical breakthroughs. For others, they can cause discomfort or fear.
Other potential effects include:
- fluctuating body temperature
- increased heart rate
- muscle twitching
- numbness, especially in the face
Some people experience nausea (and sometimes vomiting) 30 to 60 minutes after consuming mushrooms, but this usually subsides after an hour or so.
Comparing the two
Cannabis and mushrooms can both affect your perception of the world, but to different degrees. That said, the specific strain of cannabis or type of mushrooms you use can affect the experience.
Same goes for dose. Consuming high quantities of cannabis edibles or potent, high-THC strains can produce effects that more closely mirror those of mushrooms.
Likewise, taking a low dose of mushrooms might feel similar to ingesting a small amount of cannabis.
So, what happens if you use cannabis and mushrooms together? It depends on the type of cannabis and timing.
CBD vs. THC
According to online anecdotal reports, combining mushrooms with CBD-rich cannabis strains can reduce the feelings of nausea and anxiety that mushrooms cause for some people.
Meanwhile, combining mushrooms with THC-rich strains can increase the intensity of the trip. It may cause more interesting and intense visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as more intriguing thought patterns.
But the intensity may also be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t have much experience with mushrooms.
Cannabis before a mushroom trip
If you find that cannabis helps with nausea or anxiety, using it before consuming mushrooms may help ready your body for the trip.
But if you’re new to mushrooms, it’s best to avoid using cannabis first so you can get an accurate read on how mushrooms affect you.
Cannabis during a mushroom trip
When used around the time the mushroom’s effects are peaking (around 2 hours after initial consumption), cannabis can add to the overall intensity of the experience.
When used 3 to 4 hours in (when the effects of mushrooms begin to fade), cannabis can slightly prolong the experience and help you contextualize the experience as a whole, according to anecdotal reports.
Combining cannabis and mushrooms doesn’t appear to pose any serious health risks. Their interactions haven’t been studied much, though.
The biggest concern is around having an uncomfortable time, especially if you don’t have much experience with either substance.
That’s why it’s best to stick with one or the other, at least until you know how your mind and body react to each substance on its own.
The best way to ensure a safe psychedelic experience is to be mindful of your set and setting:
- Set refers to the state of mind you’re in before consuming the substance(s).
- Setting refers to both the environment you’re in and the people who are there with you.
For example, if you’re already feeling sad and you take psychedelics in an unfamiliar place or with people you don’t trust, you might have a negative experience.
Make sure you’re physically and psychologically comfortable before you begin. Consider enlisting a trusted friend to remain sober and sit with you in case things take a turn.
Here are a few other pointers to keep things safe and comfortable:
- Don’t drive until the effects have completely subsided (at least 12 hours).
- Avoid bringing any other substances, including alcohol, into the mix.
- Take a slow and steady approach, starting with a low dose of each substance. Give each one plenty of time to kick in before taking more.
If you have a history of mental health conditions, proceed with caution.
While the use of psychedelics for managing mental health symptoms is gaining popularity, there’s a lot we still don’t know. For some, cannabis and mushrooms can make symptoms worse.
Often, a bad reaction simply involves anxiety and paranoia, which hallucinations may make worse. Most of the time, the presence of a sober friend or “trip-sitter” is enough to manage these effects.
A trip-sitter can provide gentle reassurance that the reaction is due to the substances you took and that it will pass. They can also change the setting by guiding the person having a response into a quiet space with soothing colors, music, and aromas.
Removing mirrors from the space sometimes reduces the likelihood of having alarming hallucinations.
If the person having an adverse response is able to eat and drink, offering a small amount of food and water can reduce the effects’ intensity.
When to call for help
It’s time to call for emergency help when someone:
- vomits continually
- has a fever
- is unable to maintain consciousness
- displays behavior that poses a threat to themselves or others
If you’re concerned about law enforcement getting involved when calling for help, you don’t need to mention the substances used over the phone. Just be sure to tell them about specific symptoms so they can send the appropriate response.
If you’re caring for someone else, get them to lie slightly on their side while you wait. Have them bend their top knee inward if they can for added support. This position will keep their airways open in case they begin to vomit.
Used separately and together, mushrooms and cannabis can spark creativity and new perspectives. But this combo can also be uncomfortably intense for some and worsen mental health symptoms for others.
As the call for decriminalization and legalization spreads from cannabis to psychedelics, the opportunities to practice responsible adult use are increasing.
Educate yourself about the benefits and risks of using these substances, keeping in mind that people can have very different experiences with them.
It’s also wise to remain aware of the degree in which your use enriches your life rather than impairs your life.
Physical addiction to cannabis and mushrooms is extremely rare, but psychological addiction is more common.
If you ever feel like your substance use has crossed the line to addiction, a comprehensive list of resources is available online here.
Kelli Lynn Grey is a professional copywriter and curriculum designer who also writes essays and poems about health equity, education, relationships, and the dynamically changing landscape of drug culture. Her work appears in Inside the Jar, Mashable, and throughout Medium.com. A mother of two and defender of civil and human rights, she shares monthly updates on all projects via her free newsletter, The Grey Way.
Last medically reviewed on November 29, 2020
What’s the difference between weed and shrooms? Is one safer than the other? What about combining them? We’ve got the A’s to all your Q’s.
There are over 200 species of Psilocybe mushrooms, each possessing visually unique characteristics along with varying levels and ratios of three psychotropic compounds — psilocybin, psilocin, and baeocystin. A few of the most prevalent species are P. azurescens, P. cyanescens, P. semilanceata, and P. cubensis (which is the most widely known and easily cultivated).
There are also hundreds of “strains” or “subspecies” which have been genetically isolated and classified by both professional mycologists and recreational enthusiasts. While taxonomically these strains are all considered members of their respective species (and most are P. cubensis), they too can differ drastically in appearance, conditions required for cultivation, and potency.
*Psilocybe cyanescens *Psilocybe cubensis *Psilocybe semilanceata
*Huaulta cubensis *Penis Envy cubensis *Golden Teacher cubensis
This introduction to mushroom strains and species may seem contradictory or confusing. That said, a useful analogy for understanding the differences 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. Meanwhile, the separation of cannabis strains like Northern Lights, Purple Kush, and Jack Haze corresponds to mushroom strains like Penis Envy, Golden Teacher, and Huaulta.
Unlike cannabis, where the crossing of genetics combines plant traits to create a new weed strain, mushroom strains often start with a desirable mutation, such as being albino or growing especially large mushrooms. These random mutations can be selected and cloned for several generations from the largest, healthiest mushrooms of each life cycle, to create a new strain in a process known as “isolation.”
The effects, duration, and onset of the psychoactive experience provided by different species and strains (along with many other variables) can differ quite drastically among shrooms. 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 oxidation 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
- They all have a hygrophanous nature (meaning coloration changes with the state of hydration)
Psilocybin-Containing Shroom Species
The differing Psilocybe species have a much longer and more intensive taxonomical history than the relatively recent distinctions among strains. The first reliable documented case of Psilocybe intoxication occurred in 1799, when a man picked several semilanceata from the shores of the Thames River in London, and cooked a meal for his family with them. This surprise trip spurred the classification of a new species of mushroom, which was placed in the genus Agaricus, then moved to Psilocybe in 1871. For the purpose of remaining succinct, this article focuses on the four species most commonly found in North America.
P. semilanceatas, often referred to as “Liberty Caps,” are one of the most widespread, potent, and commonly-recognized members of the Psilocybe genus. They are easily distinguishable by their conical-bell-shaped cap which holds its shape throughout the life cycle, dissimilar to most other Psilocybe shrooms whose caps flatten in maturity. They are also, on average, smaller than other species, often with a thin, elongated, somewhat fragile-looking stem, and a spear-shaped cap from which the name “semilanceata” (meaning “spear-shaped” in Latin) comes from.
Testing done by mycologists Paul Stamets and Jochen Gartz placed Liberty Caps as the third most potent Psilocybe species, with an exceptionally high concentration of psilocybin, low concentration of psilocin, and moderate levels of baeocystin. The high concentration of psilocybin often leads to semilanceata mushrooms eliciting a very visual experience that also lasts longer than those of other species, due to the body having to break down this psilocybin into psilocin before the effects are felt.
P. cyanenscens are another prolific species of mushroom that can be found worldwide, but are thought to have originated in North America. They are distinctly more mycorrhizal than other species, meaning they require decaying wood in order to grow. This makes them more difficult to cultivate indoors, though that has not hindered their spread into every habitable continent.
Unlike many other organisms whose habitats have been encroached on by humans, these mushrooms are thought to share a symbiotic relationship with urbanization. They are commonly found on piles of ligneous debris or in mulched garden beds, and sometimes in enormous quantities exceeding 100,000 mushrooms in a single patch.
They can be identified by the undulating edges of their caps, and aside from this wavy cap, possess visual characteristics quite similar to P. cubensis — thick stems and caps that begin rounded or bell-shaped and flatten (sometimes even becoming convex) in maturity. Despite their visual similarity to P. cubensis, they are significantly more potent than their more common brethren, on average containing 30 to 60 percent more psilocybin, similar concentrations of baeocystin, and slightly less psilocin. The experience occasioned by taking P. cyanescens is mostly analogous to that of P. cubensis, though with notably intensified visuals (a result of higher psilocybin concentration).
P. azurescens are the rarest, most potent, and most recently-discovered Psilocybe species. Similar to many other mushrooms, they were discovered by recreational mycology enthusiasts (a group of Boy Scouts, ironically enough). This potential to find an entirely new species is undoubtedly one of the attractive properties of mycology (the study of mushrooms) and exists whenever one embarks on a mushroom-hunting adventure.
To date, over 120,000 species of fungi have been discovered, and this number is constantly growing. Unlike other Psilocybe species, P. azurescens are only found in the Pacific Northwest region of North America and carry the highest concentration of psilocybin out of all members of the genus. Due to extremely high psilocybin levels, they produce vivid hallucinations, intense amplification of emotions, and sometimes even temporary paralysis.
Generally when someone speaks about “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms,” they are referring to P. cubensis. The natural geographic range of this species is limited to tropical and sub-tropical regions, but they can be (relatively) easily cultivated indoors, making them the most popular and most easily accessible “magic mushrooms.” Many websites even offer mushroom grow kits, which are legal in many countries, as mushroom spores do not contain psilocybin. Other websites go even beyond the law to offer dried mushrooms and microdose capsules.
P. cubensis mushrooms often have thick, dense stems and large, broad caps. They also grow larger than most other species, although this is likely due to generations of genetic isolation. This species provides the classic psychoactive mushroom effects of euphoria, feelings of love and unity, introspection, philosophical ideation, synesthesia, visual augmentation, and a less ego-influenced perspective.
Results in this graph are taken from testing done by Stamets and Gartz
Due to the comparative ease of cultivation (at least, those not requiring decomposing wood or dung to grow), the vast majority of recognized strains all fall under the umbrella of the P. cubensis species. Although the exact number is difficult to determine, and new strains are consistently being created, mycologists estimate that there are around 150 distinctly identifiable P. cubensis strains. This article cannot possibly cover them all, so we will focus on three of the most prominent strains. If you are interested in delving further into the differences among strains, check out Psilopedia.ca which offers the widest catalog of P. cubensis strains online.
This strain was first classified in the late ‘80s, and since then, the name Golden Teacher has become almost ubiquitous with psilocybin mushrooms. Golden Teacher mushrooms are medium to large in size and often feature a distinct triangular bump in the center of their golden caramel-colored caps. It is a moderately potent strain ideal for beginning shroom psychonauts, one that offers a subtly more spiritual, introspective undertone to the experience, along with feelings of euphoria and uncontrollable laughter. This makes Great Teacher well suited for both social recreational use and therapeutic or medicinal applications.
Penis Envy P. cubensis has an interesting history. It is theorized the strain was isolated from Amazonian P. cubensis (another popular strain) by legendary ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna. Since Mckenna’s original isolation, many variations of Penis Envy have subsequently been created, such as Albino Penis Envy and Uncut Penis Envy. All of these variations have characteristics which are clearly distinct from other P. cubensis strains, consisting of substantially higher potency (30 to 50 percent); extremely thick, dense stems; and pale, underdeveloped caps — making them somewhat resemblant of the organ for which they were named. They are known to generate an experience filled with deep philosophical ideations and intense feelings of euphoria.
This strain was one of the first to be classified, and is thought to be the mushroom referred to by R. Gordon Wasson in the famous LIFE Magazine article “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” which popularized psilocybin mushrooms throughout Western cultures. Its name comes from the village of Huautla De Jiménez in Oaxaca, Mexico where Wasson’s experience took place. Huautla are typically medium-sized mushrooms of moderate potency that sporate very heavily, often turning the caps purple-black with spores. They are known to reliably elicit spiritually meaningful experiences permeated with intense feelings of love and unity, along with a sense of connection with nature and the universe as a whole.
The niche of strain categorization and review, inspired by sites such as the cannabis strain aggregator Leafly, is being explored by numerous organizations in the psilocybin mushroom space, too. Psilopedia.ca and Psillow.com, in particular, are recognized as two of the most comprehensive and accurate ones.
Psilopedia takes a science focused approach to offering in-depth information on many aspects of psilocybin, like its metabolic processes, pharmacodynamics, effects at macro- and microdosages, areas of study, and mushroom identification. They also have aggregated contact information for numerous psychedelic integration practitioners — therapists and psychologists who help integrate the insights realized during psychedelic-assisted therapy into one’s life. Additionally, the site has classified shrooms with pictures, detailed characteristics, and reviews over 70 P. cubensis strains, with full report-style overviews of the four primary Psilocybe species.
Psillow, on the other hand, is markedly more culturally focused, offering a consistently updated blog with informational and entertaining articles. They also have useful resources like a “Trip Report” template, along with a comprehensive catalog of Psilocybe species (more than Psilopedia), however, it contains less information on P. cubensis strains.
Why people have contrasting experiences from different species and strains of mushrooms is multifaceted and hypothesized to be a combined function of two factors. First, varied levels and ratios of the three psychoactive compounds; and second, the set, setting, and intention of the user. Differing levels of active compounds can alter the onset, duration, and intensity of the experience, while also playing a role in whether it is felt more in the mind or body. Conversely, the user’s set, setting, and intention play a larger role in determining whether the experience generates spiritual connection, philosophical enlightenment, or therapeutic benefit.
It is also important to note that across species/strains, the growing conditions, such as the composition of the substrate in which the mushroom mycelium (similar to the roots of a plant) and fruiting bodies are cultivated in, environmental variables, and when in the fruiting period the mushrooms are harvested (either before or after sporation), have significant effects on potency. Generally, the highest potency is achieved with nutrient-rich colonization and fruiting substrates, as well as the ratio of mycelium-to-substrate at the beginning of fruiting, consistent temperature and humidity, and harvesting just before the veil between the stem and cap breaks.
If you have any further questions about the differences between species and strains, or questions regarding mushroom cultivation, please do not hesitate to contact me through my website! And continue reading MERRY JANE for more coverage of psilocybin mushrooms and other entheogens.
Like cannabis, there are numerous species and "strains" of magic mushrooms. Here, we detail what makes the varieties of psilocybin-containing fungus unique, and how they affect your mind and body.