There is a persistent rumor going around that the caps of psychoactive mushrooms contain more psilocybin than the stems or otherwise differ from them. Some users may go so far as to claim the stems should be thrown out. Others insist that the caps cause hallucinations while the stems provide energy, or some other such difference. It probably won’t stop the rumors (nothing does, with rumors), but we’ve decided to wade into the fray and answer the question[i][ii].
Short Answer: No
The short answer is that while some studies have shown that caps typically have slightly more psilocybin than stems, both are highly variable. Not only can the potency of one mushroom be different from that of the same species and strain, but one end of a stem can have more psilocybin than the other end. It’s really not possible to consistently predict how much psilocybin you’ll get from one part of a mushroom as opposed to the other, and the differences between cap and stem tend to be very small, anyway.
So, while you may in fact have had an experience where you ate caps and stems separately and had different experiences, that was probably a fluke occurrence. As a practical matter, there is no difference in potency between caps and stems.
So, Where Did the Rumor Come From?
As we mentioned, there is some indication that caps are typically more potent, it’s just that the difference is not large enough or consistent enough to make any practical difference. There are those who say that Amanita muscaria, a mushroom that contains psychoactive substances very different from psilocybin, has totally inactive stems—if true, that could have given rise to the rumor that psilocybin mushrooms are similar, though we haven’t been able to confirm that assertion. Finally, the stems of psilocybin mushrooms tend to be a little more fibrous, and therefore a little less pleasant to eat fresh than the caps—some users advise eating the caps fresh but drying the stems so they can be powdered.
All in all, the idea that the caps of psilocybin mushrooms are more valuable than the stems didn’t come out of nowhere, but it’s still wrong.
But My Friend Said….
Look, we know that at least some of you have had very different experiences using stems verses caps. Others of you have friends who have. But the thing is, psilocybin experiences can vary for all sorts of reasons—the biochemistry of the mushroom is only one of the variables involved. Also, there are well-known psychological principles whereby something that happens occasionally by chance can seem like it happens all the time if you come to believe it does. This is why we have to rely on science to answer certain kinds of questions. And the science, so far, says that while caps are typically a bit more potent than stems, the stems still have plenty of psilocybin in them and definitely will make you trip if you eat them.
Longer Answer: Consider What Is Important
Even if there was a significant difference in potency between caps and stems, it wouldn’t really matter.
Let’s say that the caps had twice the psilocybin as the stems. If you wanted a really intense trip, you might prefer a few grams of caps verses the same weight in stems, but since the caps come with stems attached, is there really any scenario where you’re not going to eat the stems also?
Look, it would be one thing if psilocybin mushrooms were the size of Giant Puffballs and you had to eat a cup or two in order to trip—in that case, it would make sense to only eat the most potent bits so you didn’t get uncomfortably full before you’d gotten the dose you wanted. But with actual psilocybin mushrooms, realistically, even if you’ve got a relatively weak strain, you can handle eating the stems along with the caps—and you’re leaving psilocybin on the table if you don’t.
And while the idea of munching some super-potent caps is enticing, even if the stems were much less potent, you could still get exactly the same amount pf psilocybin—and therefore exactly the same trip intensity—if you ate caps and stems together. You might just have to eat slightly more, and that’s easy to do. Dip them in chocolate or mix them with tea if you don’t like the taste.
So what about the idea that stems provide energy, or have a different onset time, or something else, suppose it’s not a difference of potency so much as a difference of style?
Well, here again it wouldn’t make a difference unless the discrepancy were huge, which it clearly isn’t. That’s because so many factors (set, setting, your biochemistry, whether you’ve eaten recently, and so on) contribute to how your mushroom experience feels, plus mushrooms themselves vary a lot—so even if there was a slight but real difference between stems and caps, all the other possible sources of variation would probably swamp that stem/cap difference. You’d need to do some sort of statistical analysis to be sure it was even there.
The bottom line is go ahead and use whole shrooms, if shroom use is your thing. The difference between stems and caps is minor, and even if it wasn’t, there would be no reason to pay any attention to it.