SOME REMARKS CONCERNING A REPORT FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN ALLEGED FATALITY DUE
TO INGESTION OF PSILOCYBE SEMILANCEATA (FR.)QUEL. [OR: (FR.)KUMM.].
By Jochen Gartz, Ph.D.
University of Leipzig, Germany
France is a country with a grand mycological tradition. During the 19th
century French mycologists (Quelet and others) already described many
mushroom species and made significant progress toward developing a
taxonomic system to classify the higher mushrooms.
Famed mycologist Roger Heim worked closely with R.G. Wasson, the
ethnomycologist credited with the re-discovery of Mexico's mushroom cults
during the early 1950's. He laid the groundwork for the taxonomic and
chemical analysis of these species, which, in turn, led Albert Hofmann to
isolate psilocybin and psilocin (the relevant ingredients) from mushroom
material cultivated by Heim. Hofmann then went on to synthesize these
In 1963, Heim and Hofmann, along with their co-authors, were the first to
publish proof that psilocybin was also found in a mushroom species common
throughout Europe: Psilocybe semilanceata. The authors had studied
mushrooms from France and Switzerland. It is important to note that,
during the 1950's, French pharmacologists and psychiatrists had already
characterized psilocybin as a remarkably non-toxic substance.
By the mid-1960's, global, trans-cultural usage of these mushrooms was
growing ever more popular, along with frantic research efforts aimed at
analyzing these mushroom species around the world. The past three decades
have seen publication of a large number of articles on the investigation
of these mushrooms; however, no other mushroom species has been as
thoroughly analyzed as Psilocybe semilanceata. In my recent book "Magic
Mushrooms Around the World" (1996, LIS Publications, Los Angeles, ISBN
0-9653399-0-4), I have covered all aspects relevant to research into
Psilocybe semilanceata, as well as other pertinent issues. Samples of this
species have been collected around the world, from England to Russia, from
Norway to the Czech Republic, as well as the United States. These samples
have been studied by teams of scientists using state-of-the-art analytic
Against the background of these global research efforts, one country
stands out as no longer engaging in ANY kind of research in this area:
Since R. Heim's death in the early 1970's, not a single French author has
published an article on a psilocybian mushroom species. On the contrary -
political pressure brought about an absurd prohibition against the
exhibition of of Psilocybe and Straphoria species (not all of them
psychoactive!), even at scientific-mycological conferences! Considering
this political climate, a recent article from France should not come as
much of surprise. The authors describe an alleged fatality due to
ingestion of a small number of Psilocybe semilanceata specimens (A.
Gerault & D. Pickart, Bull. Soc. Mycol., T. 112, 1-14, 1996). As far as
scientific publications go, this article stands out as extremely
superficial, highly politicized and riddled with scientific
contradictions. Considering the distinguished mycological tradition of
France, this article is a disgrace to contemporary French mycology.
An upcoming article by Jochen Gartz, Giorgio Samorini and Francesco Festi
(Eleusis, 1997, in print) will address the relevant facts and issues in
detail. In the meantime, a synopsis of the major arguments is presented
1) No Psilocybe semilanceata samples deemed "unusually poisonous" have
ever been collected. On the contrary - the analyses of many hundreds of
mushrooms from around the world confirmed that Psilocybe semilanceata has
the distinction of being a species with the most consistent levels of
alkaloids found across samples. In fact, the alkaloid content of
Psilocybe semilanceata is even less variable than that of Psilocybe
cubensis (Earle)Sing., a species that is cultivated world-wide.
2) My own analytical work since 1985 has clearly shown that the mushroom
contains at least six indole derivatives other than psilocybin and
baeocystin. The measured levels of these derivatives also do not vary
across samples collected in many locations from the United States to
Europe. It is also important to note that the species contains trace
amounts of psilocin at most.
3) The companion alkaloid baeocystin is neither especially poisonous, nor
does it induce vomiting. Moreover, baeocystin can be found in many other
species as well, in amounts up to those found in Psilocybe semilanceata.
The other secondary alkaloids are also known to occur in different
Psilocybe species, such as Psilocybe azurescens Stamets&Gartz, as well as
in other genera, such as Inocybe aeruginascens Babos. Psilocybe
semilanceata does not have any unique metabolic processes responsible for
the formation of poisonous substances.
4) Even though Psilocybe semilanceata contains twice as many secondary
alkaloids compared to Psilocybe cubensis (which also contains very little
baeocystin!), mycophiles in the United States and Europe consider
Psilocybe semilanceata to be the species with fewer physical side effects.
5) Several decades of basic and psychiatric research around the world -
involving thousands of human subjects as well as animal experimentation -
have led to the recognition that psilocybin is a substance of remarkably
low toxicity, with a safety margin of several hundred times between a
psychoactive dosage and the LD 50 dosage. [LD 50 = "lethal dosage 50" or
the dosage that is fatal to 50% of the test subjects]
6) Even though hundreds of thousands of laypersons around the world - from
Australia to Europe and the United States - have experimented with using
some of the most *diverse* mushroom species of *highly variable* alkaloid
content, there has never been a SINGLE fatality as a result of these
7) During the 1980's, reputable medical researchers from Britain described
several hundred cases of youthful patients who all had ingested many more
Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms than described in Gerault & Picart's
article - and none of these youths showed any life-threatening physical
The article critiqued above was followed by an afterword which also was
not based on a foundation of serious research and therefore aggravated the
confusion created by the article. The authors did, however, add that the
patients they described, including the fatality, had all been polytoxic
and had consumed alcohol as well as other substances.
Thus the conclusion seems obvious: A. Gerault and D. Picart were unable to
isolate the one pharmacological agent in the body that proved to be
The authors' swift conclusion that mushroom prohibition is justified only
serves to illustrate that scientific objectivity was abandoned (had to be
abandoned?) in the face of legislative requirements, especially
considering that psychoactive mushrooms enjoy increasing popularity
elsewhere and have been legalized in The Netherlands.
In this context, it should be noted that several years ago a mushroom
brochure/compilation was published in France that included similar
conclusions, as well as scientific contradictions. Concurrently, French
radio stations were forbidden to play songs with mushroom-related content.
Jochen Gartz has for many years been a mushroom researcher at the
University of Leipzig, Germany. He is the author of "Magic Mushrooms
Around the World - A Scientific Journey Across Cultures and Time", which
was recently published by LIS Publications in Los Angeles.
For more information about the book and on how to order, please e-mail the
publisher at LIS1 at CRIS.COM
6160 Packard St.
Los Angeles, CA 90035-2581 / USA
Phone: 213.655.5440 Fax: 213.655.0691.
To reach Jochen Gartz, e-mail to LIS1 at CRIS.COM
or write to:
Biotechnology - Fungal Biotransformation
University of Leipzig
D-04318 Leipzig / Germany
To reach Giorgio Samorini, e-mail to GIORGIO.SAMORINI at BO.NETTUNO.IT
SISSC c/o Museo Civico di Rovereto
Largo S. Caterina 43
I-38068 Rovereto (TN) / Italy
Francesco Festi can also be reached by writing to the above address for