UPDATED: October 5, 2022
As the fight to legalize psychedelic mushrooms gathers steam, these powerful and, let’s face it, mysterious fungi are finally coming out from the undergrowth. For decades, knowledge about strains, potency, modes of preparation existed only in fringe publications and mycological samizdat; leaving would-be psychonauts with little certainty about the substances they were ingesting.
But the times are changing. With greater public attention comes more education and transparency and individuals seeking to explore psilocybin have a better chance of knowing what they’re putting in their bodies. Though all psychedelic mushrooms draw their effects from the same process of converting psilocybin into psilocin in the human digestive tract, different strains affect our neurochemistry in different ways. Knowing which strain you’re consuming should be an essential part of trip preparation, contributing to your set and setting.
One of the most potent strains, and the one with perhaps the most intriguing backstory, is the fabled Penis Envy mushroom.
If the first thing you notice about Penis Envy mushrooms is their name, you’re not alone. But if you look past their polarizing nom de psychédélique, which derives not from any Freudian side-effects but from their distinctive shape, you’ll find a strain of fungi whose effects are legendary for both their potency and distinctiveness, and whose history crosses paths with some of the most famous figures in all of psychedelia.
Let’s start at the beginning. Though unconfirmed, the enduring myth of Penis Envy mushrooms is that they were originally discovered in the depths of the Amazonian Rain Forest by legendary psychonauts Terrence and Dennis McKenna. The brothers were in the midst of a journey through Columbia seeking new psychedelically active plant life when they stumbled across a massive growth of fungi they didn’t recognize, with long and thick stems and undersized caps. After sampling the mushrooms with the help of local guides, they realized these were indeed a kind of p. cubensis, the psilocybin-containing mushrooms that had come to be the centre of their trip. The brothers transported spore samples (which, because they don’t contain any psilocybin, were legal to possess at the time) and began sharing them for cultivation among their network of like-minded scientists.
This story remained apocryphal for decades, with no clear history of Penis Envy’s cultivation or distribution, though rumours were in abundance. For years their isolation has even been attributed to the legendary Steven Pollock, an eccentric mycologist whose mysterious death has become a pillar of psychedelic folklore. In recent years, the chemist and drug researcher Hamilton Morris traced the mushroom’s history to Richard Gutierrez, who published psilocybin research under the name Rich Gee. In a 2021 episode of his podcast, Morris confirmed that the original Penis Envy spores made their way from the McKennas to Gutierrez, who’s responsible for their extensive cultivation and genetic refinement. Gutierrez has also noted that the specimens we see today only barely resemble their Amazonian forebears, who produced so few spores they were likely too delicate to proliferate.
By the time Penis Envy mushrooms make their way to would-be psychonauts, however, they’ve usually been dried, undergoing a George Constanza-like transformation that reduces their phallic dimensions. But just because they’ve shrunk doesn’t mean they’re any less potent. Authoritative clinical data is scarce, anecdotal and amateur research confirms that the Penis Envy strain among the most strongest varieties of psychedelic mushrooms, with some estimates placing them 30-50% stronger than other P. cubensis strains. This is not only because Penis Envy mushrooms contain a higher degree of psychoactive compounds than most p. cubensis, but also because they display a higher concentration of psilocin. Psilocin, along with psilocybin, are the two main compounds responsible for mushrooms’ hallucinatory effects. In fact, when ingested, psilocybin actually breaks down into psilocin, which proceeds to bind with the 5-HT2A receptors in the brain to produce a “high”. The fact that Penis Envy mushrooms contain a higher ratio of psilocin:psilocybin means the effects can occur more quickly, and with more intensity, doubly so if you opt for the lemon tek method.
(Incidentally, both psilocin and psilocybin were both first isolated and synthesized by Albert Hoffman, who also discovered LSD).
Now, back to those effects. Each psychedelic experience is subjective, but experienced psychonauts prefer Penis Envy mushrooms for their vivid hallucinatory properties and euphoric properties. Additionally, because Penis Envy mushrooms are so potent, they can provide the intensity of experience some users desire for an introspective or emotionally enlightening journey. As one user reports:
“Ever since that day, I haven’t been the same. I feel many of my egotistical layers have shed off. I am more carefree. My senses and vibration feel more heightened, my dreams are more lucid and vibrant.”
Unsurprisingly, Penis Envy mushrooms are among the most popular strains of p. cubensis. And unfortunately, they’re also one of the more challenging to cultivate. The mushrooms lack a velum, an essential part of fungal anatomy for disseminating spores. Because of this, a great deal of specimens are required to generate enough spores to fill an inoculation syringe. And because Penis Envy mushrooms have been genetically spliced and artificially manipulated, they take about 25% longer to colonize than other p. cubensis, and are more vulnerable to contamination. And mycological tinkerers are still experimenting with their chemistry, by crossbreeding them with other mushrooms to produce sub-strains like Albino Penis Envy, a colorless variation reputed to be even more potent (it’s also one of the most popular strains for micro-dosing).
Regardless of their color, Penis Envy mushrooms are a strain to be approached with caution and respect. For experienced or ambitious seekers, they can provide the fuel for an illuminating experience. Between their complex chemistry, powerful effects, and links to some of the most dramatic episodes of psychedelic history, it’s not just the name that makes these fungal phalluses stand out in a crowd.