The taxonomy (the science of naming, describing, and classifying organisms) of Pholiotina smithii, as well as other Pholiotina genus mushrooms, is currently undergoing revision with the advent of molecular phylogenetic studies. Due to this, readers may come across this particular species under different, older names. One such name is Conocybe smithii. Historically, all mushrooms currently listed under the genus of Pholiotina were listed under the genera of Conocybe, but modern molecular and microscopic studies have shown that Pholiotina smithii and the remaining clades of Pholiotina mushrooms are more closely related to other genera than to Conocybe. Unfortunately, mycological literature to this day still uses this and other taxonomic classifications, which should not confuse readers.
Identification and Description[ii]
Pholiotina smithii is one of those species that are difficult to distinguish from other deadly and non-deadly mushrooms as its macroscopic features are shared by many other species. Due to this mycologists strongly caution amateurs who wish to experiment with this particular species.
Cap: The cap is 3 to 13 millimeters in diameter. When young, it is obtusely conic to convex but with age it expands at the margins, becoming almost planar with a characteristically pronounced umbo. The cap is smooth, light brownish yellow(ochre) to tawny cinnamon. The margin is usually lighter in color, slightly translucent, and with striations that extend most of the way the disc when moist. Cap glistens when wet and is hygrophanous, turning a light pink or tan color when dry. The flesh of the cap is a watery white.
Gills: The gills are adnate to adnexed soon receding, subdistant to crowded, narrow to moderately broad, ochraceous buff at first with whitish edges, darkening to rusty cinnamon brown with age.
Stem: The stem is 10 to 50/70 millimeter long by 0.75 to 1 (1.5 at the base) millimeter thick. It is slender and fragile. Equally sized along its length but often with a slight swelling at the base. The stem is pure white then turns a watery yellowish-white, with a more grayish base. The surface is covered with fine fibrils but becomes smooth with age. The stem of Pholiotina smithii characteristically lacks an annulus. Another characteristic feature of the stem is the typical blueing reaction of the base that occurs when the P. smithii is handled or damaged, yet it is worth noting that this bluing reaction is often delayed and is sometimes not marked as seen in other psilocybe-containing species.
Spores: Spores are 7-9 by 4-5 micrometers in size. They are slender ellipsoidal, thin-walled with a conspicuous germ-spore.
Spore Print: Spore print is an ochre yellow to rusty orange.
Smell: No particular odor, although some mycological sources suggest a starchy or farinaceous smell.
Flavor and Edibility: No distinctive taste. Although the flesh of Pholiotina smithii is considered edible, the reader should keep in mind that it contains psychoactive alkaloids and can easily be confused for other deadly Pholiotina mushrooms. Therefore, the consumption of wild samples is not advised.
Habitat: Scattered amongst mosses and in sphagnum bogs as well as in and around damp swampy areas. Additionally, specimens can also be found growing along river banks and ditches. In North America, Pholiotina smithii appears during the early summer period, from late May to early June, almost never appearing after the first week of June.
Range: The particular species is not common and specimens have only been reported from the states of Washington, Oregon, and Michigan. However, it is more likely to have a large geographic range of distribution in North America. Pholiotina smithii is not known to be found in Europe.
The closest look-alike to Pholiotina smithii is Pholiotina cyanopus. These two species are so alike that some mycologists doubt that they are indeed distinct from each other. The paper “Type studies in North American species of Bolbitiaceae belonging to the genera Conocybe and Pholiotina” states that the only confirmed differences between specimens of P. smithii and P. cyanopus are wider cheilocystidia and a few macroscopic differences. More specifically, P. smithii has lamellae that are more cinnamon brown, stems that are paler, more delicate and smaller fruiting bodies, narrower spores, a smaller number of peilocystidia, and wider cheilocystidia ( P. smithii 20-40 by 9-15µm vs P. cyanopus 20-25 by 7.5-11µm) with less distinct capitula. The American mycologist, Paul Stamets in his book “Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World” further goes on to state that these two species can be separated by spore size and shape (P. smithii 7-9 by 4-5 µm vs P. cyanopus 6.5-7.5 by 4.5-5µm), however, this does not seem to hold true for all specimens and is thus unreliable/incorrect.[iii]
Pholiotina smithii can also be easily confused for the Pholiotina filaris (= Conocybe filaris). P. filaris is a mushroom known to contain a similar deadly toxin found in the genus of Amanita and Galerina. What makes this lookalike even more concerning is the fact that they cannot be reliably told apart. Due to this amateurs are discouraged from experimenting with wild Pholiotina species.[iv]
Pholiotina smithii can also be confused with certain moss-inhabiting species of Galerina. The only sure way to tell these species apart is by the microscopic nature of the cap cuticle. Galerinas have filamentous cap cuticles that look like weaved fibers under the microscope, were as Pholiotinas/Conocybes have cap cuticles composed of inflated rounded cells resembling cobblestones.
These are the most common lookalikes that amateur mycologists may mix up while hunting for Pholiotina smithii, but one should keep in mind that there is an abundance of other mushroom genera, for example, Panaeoli, that make look similar to P. smithii to the untrained eye.
Potency & Dosage
The potency of Pholiotina smithii comes from the presence of psilocybin, baeocystin, and trace amounts (some would even argue none) of psilocin. The exact potency of Pholiotina smithii is unknown as studies evaluating the concentrations of psychoactive alkaloids in P. smithii samples are lacking. However, if we extrapolate information from its almost identical cousin P. cyanopus we can assume that it may be a moderately to highly potent mushroom. [v]
Calculating the exact dosage of psilocybin from mushrooms is very difficult as a great degree of variability exists in the psychoactive alkaloid content of individual samples. This variability can be attributed to the state of the mushroom(fresh vs dried), the age of the mushroom, and the environment in which it was grown.
Furthermore, estimating the dose which will produce the desired effect is difficult to calculate as user-specific physiologic variability in pharmacokinetics (what the body does to the drug: absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion) and variability in the mental state and environment during which the mushroom is taken (“set and setting”) all affect the dose-effect relationship.
Regardless, it is suggested that 15-50 small dried specimens, 1/3 of a fresh ounce, or 0.5-1 dried gram are necessary for a mild psychotic effect. But it is best to be cautious and start with small doses and see how these affect you. From there, the dosage can be adjusted to achieve the desired effect.
Psilocybin and similar alkaloids act through as yet not understood mechanisms that may involve serotonergic and sympathetic nervous systems to produce subjective alterations in a user’s sensorium and objective changes in various bodily systems that can be described as “pleasurable” when administered in low doses.[vi]
Trip effects most commonly occur within 15-20 minutes of ingestion and last roughly 6-8 hours, but trips persist for up to an entire day.
Most commonly users report pleasurable alterations in their perception of reality and time as well as their thoughts and mood. They may experience a variety of sensory hallucinations, most commonly synesthesias which refers to people “seeing” sounds or “hearing” vivid colors. Individuals may also experience mild to moderate disorientation, inappropriate behavior, unmotivated laughter, and emotional lability. However, as these experiences are subjective they can vary from person to person.
Objective signs that follow psilocybin consumption include increased heart rate and blood pressure, pupillary dilation, facial flushing, headache, confusion, vertigo, agitation, muscle weakness, paraesthesias such as numbness in the face and extremities, nausea, vomiting, sweating, dry mouth, high body temperature, hyperreflexia, loss of urinary control, and even convulsions.
On the other end of the spectrum “bad trips” may also occur. These refer to “trips” that are associated with severe anxiety and panic, psychosis, and emotional destabilization and derealization that may lead to loss of boundaries and dangerous, risk-taking behaviors. “Bad trips” are idiosyncratic reactions following psilocybin use, meaning they occur rarely and unpredictably amongst users.
For more on trips check out these articles:
Toxicity, Safety, and Side Effects
As Pholiotina smithii is a relatively rare species that grows very poorly it is rarely considered a significant source of concern for toxicity and safety for potential users.
As discussed above in predicting dose-effect relationships, determining the safety, toxicity, and side effects of these mushrooms is difficult as they do not produce predictable physical and psychological effects from user to user. However, side effects and toxicity most likely present as more severe forms of the objective signs and symptoms described above.
“Bad trips” and “Flashbacks” (recurrent spontaneous episodes that may occur weeks/months after the initial episode of use during which the user experience acute effects of psilocybin without having consumed anything) are two major sources of concern for the psilocybin-containing mushroom user as they are a source of major stress and anxiety and may also put the user’s life at risk due to unsafe behaviors.
Lastly, substances such as amphetamines, cannabis, and alcohol which have similar effects on the user’s mood, thought, and behavior can dangerously exaggerate a trip’s effects if consumed concurrently with Pholiotina smithii and should be avoided as this can be a concern for the safety of the user.
As mentioned above, Pholiotina smithii is a rare mushroom in nature and is not grown/cultivated. Due to this no information regarding suitable spawn mediums, methods of inoculation, colonization times, incubation, triggering of fruiting, or harvesting are available.
It depends on which state you live in but hroughout the United States, it is illegal to cultivate or possess, for either personal consumption or distribution, psilocybin-producing mushrooms. This is due to the United States Controlled Substances Act which lists psilocybin as a Schedule I substance.
Regardless, Pholiotina smithii does not appear to be a significant source of consumption or cultivation for users due to its rarity.
As always, it is best to check your local rules and regulation regarding purchasing, growing, and/or consuming psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
[i] Stamets, P. (1996). The Minor Psilocybin Genera. In Psilocybin mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide. essay, Ten Speed Press.
[ii] Stamets, P. (1996). The Minor Psilocybin Genera. In Psilocybin mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide. essay, Ten Speed Press.
[iii] Hausknecht, Anton & Krisai-Greilhuber, Irmgard & Voglmayr, Hermann. (2004). Type studies in North American species of Bolbitiaceae belonging to the genera Conocybe and Pholiotina. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Pilzkunde. 13. 153-235.
[iv] Stamets, P. (1996). The Minor Psilocybin Genera. In Psilocybin mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide. essay, Ten Speed Press.
[v] Halama, Marek & Poliwoda, Anna & Jasicka-Misiak, Izabela & Wieczorek, Piotr & Rutkowski, Ryszard. (2014). Pholiotina cyanopus, a rare fungus producing psychoactive tryptamines. Open Life Sciences. 10. 40–51. 10.1515/biol-2015-0005.