Trip Fantastic

Mother Nature acknowledges no federal prohibitions on hallucinogenic substances, and, in spite of the law, soils across the city are coming alive with mushrooms of the intoxicating genus Psilocybe.

"They're everywhere," says Dr. Dennis Desjardin, a professor of mycology at San Francisco State University. "It's mostly Psilocybe cyanescens.They come up all over the State campus here — in the parks, in yards, San Jose, in Marin. They grow almost anywhere that people have spread wood chips."

According to Desjardin, Psilocybe cyanescens will grow independently on most available soils, especially those that have been disturbed by gardening activity. As the mushrooms sprout, they draw up wholesome minerals and nutrients, then reconstruct them into the unlawful psychedelic alkaloids that have been sending free spirits on lofty trips for decades.

But the mushrooms haven't always grown wild here.

"The reason they're really starting to show up around the Bay Area is that people have them in cultivation," says Phil Carpenter, co-manager of the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz. "They grow them and they escape. That's the best guess, because they're not native to here."

Rudy Johnson, a 54-year-old amateur naturalist and mushroom hunter from the Marina District, has enjoyed this influx every season for years, getting high every few days throughout the winter. Johnson has his secret patches throughout the city, and he discourages pesky journalists from blundering into the woods to report on subjects with which they have no business.

"I know the sort that reads the Weekly!" he scoffs. "You're going to get hundreds of yahoos out there. I've seen fools come to the Presidio with shovels and sacks, ruining everything and not even knowing what they're looking for, anyway."

Many Psilocybehunters, he adds, are unfamiliar with the Death Cap, Amanita phalloides, an abundant mushroom that can add some nice character and flavor to pasta sauces and cream soups but will begin to dissolve your liver within 24 hours. Johnson encourages interested parties to pick mind-altering fungi with care and respect — and in moderation — and to cultivate the spores at home. He says the mushrooms often take well to backyards fertilized with mulched woodchips of fir and alder.

Dr. Desjardin, meanwhile, suggests caution.

"It's illegal to pick mushrooms in the first place in a lot of the parks, and it's important to know that if they catch you out there with these Psilocybe mushrooms, they could throw you in jail."

Possession, production, distribution, or purchase of these little cappers is a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule 1 misdemeanor, just like pot. If you should discover a patch of wild Psilocybe mushrooms, we advise that you carefully record the location and report immediately to We know the sort.

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