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Magical Trip? Students Forage for Psychedelic Mushrooms

Ever dream up a psychedelic trip to the Highlands? One student says they know where to find the magic.

The student — referred to as John Doe — spoke about where to go to pick psychedelic mushrooms and the differences between the kind you find from foraging and buying from a dealer.

Magic mushrooms grow naturally all over the United Kingdom. They can be found as far south as Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons in Wales, and throughout the north of England.

Weather conditions are an important part of the mushroom’s growth process, they said. The weather during the summer is too warm and dry for magic mushrooms to sprout. Winter frost marks the end of the season. During the autumn months, the conditions are just right. That puts the optimal time to pick mushrooms between about mid-September and November, a window that Doe called “mushroom season”.

Climate change has slightly altered the season, at least in certain parts of the country. A particularly mild summer and winter in 2018 led to a mushroom-picking season that didn’t begin until October and extended well into December — and even January — in parts of southern England.

Thanks to its sparse and wild climate, the northern Highlands are particularly good for foraging.

Magic mushrooms can be found growing naturally throughout Scotland. Generally speaking, they are most commonly found in rural grassland areas and thrive in wetter, temperate climates. This makes the Scottish Highlands an almost ideal climate for them. It is generally considered the best place in the country to go foraging.

Doe highlighted a website,, as a resource to find where mushrooms may grow. It also tracks weather conditions to find the best time and place to find them.

There are a range of different naturally occurring mushrooms with psychedelic properties. The mushrooms that grow in the United Kingdom are ‘Psilocybe Semilanceata’, more commonly known as Liberty Caps. They are the most widely distributed magic mushrooms in the world, Doe said, but there are several types that naturally grow elsewhere.

“There are technically differences from mushroom species to mushroom species, and this comes in the ratios of the various psychedelic compounds they contain”, said Doe. “My personal opinion is that the anecdotal differences in effect between different species of mushroom is usually small to none.”

Liberty Caps growing in the United Kingdom actually are notably better than various kinds one might get from a dealer, Doe said. That is because they are high in psilocybin, which is a naturally occurring compound that is generally regarded as the principal chemical behind the psychedelic highs magic mushrooms induce.

“Psilocybe Semilanceata [Liberty Caps]... actually have the highest average psilocybin content of any naturally occurring psilocybe mushroom on the planet, around 1%”, Doe said, noting that in other countries such as Norway and the Americas, similar mushrooms can have an even higher potency. “The presence of such a high quantity of psilocybin makes them very potent compared to the mushrooms you'd buy from a dealer.”

Baeocystin is another compound commonly found within magic mushrooms. Its effects are contested. Recent testing on mice suggests that, in isolation, the compound doesn’t produce any kind of high. Another study found that the compound does produce a psychedelic effect. As is the case with many illegal substances, general research and data is scarce.

Doe added that Liberty Caps are also high in baeocystin, which they said could make them more relaxing.

“The higher presence of baeocystin [another chemical] reportedly makes them more calming than the average mushroom”, they said.

Doe also noted that there can be variability in the potency from mushroom to mushroom, even if they are the same species. That can be a potential risk for those taking the drugs recreationally. The strength of the high could vary greatly from trip to trip.

Psilocybe Cubensis is the easiest psychedelic mushroom to grow in a home or lab. It is the most commonly sold species of mushroom on the black market.

“When you buy mushrooms from a dealer, you're probably going to end up with one of the species that is easiest to cultivate, like a Psilocybe Cubensis”, said Doe. “Liberty Caps can be far more potent than the average dealers' mushroom.”

There’s still one problem with the shrooms: they’re illegal. According to Doe, the risk of going to search for them in the wilderness is still limited.

“The police are certainly aware of mushroom picking”, said Doe. “As I understand it, there are really no significant actions being taken to prevent picking. Most people do it in incredibly remote areas. [It] would be extremely difficult to police in any meaningful fashion.”

When they first gained popularity in the 1970s as a legal alternative to LSD, psychedelic mushrooms were completely legal in the United Kingdom. That remained true for decades. But in 2005, both fresh and dried mushrooms that contain psilocybin were made illegal. Mushrooms are now classified as a class A drug, the highest tier of narcotics according to the UK government. That means that selling and possessing them can be an issue.

That hasn’t kept people from using them. According to a study, as many as 200,000 British citizens consumed psychedelic mushrooms between 2017 and 2018.

Most who shop for magic mushrooms in the UK will simply go to a dealer. There are some hotbeds for the foraging community, though. Sheffield, for example, is rumored to be an easy spot to venture off into the Pennines and find some naturally growing Liberty Caps.

Doe, however, has not had much luck in the wilderness.

“I have picked mushrooms, however I am unfortunately absolutely terrible at foraging”, said Doe. “Mostly because I've only ever tried here on the East Coast where it is far too dry and low to really get great results, although I'm sure if you were really good at finding them you'd still manage.”

Doe said they want to go further into the Highlands to source more and better mushrooms. That could take quite a bit of planning and preparation. The trip would also probably need to be a few days long.

Other St Andrews students looking to squeeze a quick psychedelic trip in before finals might still be in luck. There may still be a couple more weeks of potential picking time available before the winter rolls in for good.

Illustration: Calum Mayor

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