|In: Christian Rätsch (Editor) Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness vol. 1:99-115. 1993.|
|This paper focuses on two aspects of the common gill
fungus, Panaeolina foenisecii Maire: (1) biochemical, concerning its suspected
psychoactive properties; and (2) ethnomycological, regarding several reports
of accidental or deliberate consumption of the species.
After reviewing the existing literature describing the suspected psychoactive
and/or physiological properties of Panaeolina foenisecii Maire, and
its alleged production of psilocybine and/or psilocine, the authors of
this paper decided to investigate three medical case histories (from
Australia, Great Britain and America) involving human ingestion of this
fungi. These incidents of mushroom consumption have apparently caused
some alarm among mycophagists, mycologists, physicians, and parents
of infant children who have purposefully or accidentally eaten Panaeolina foenisecii
(for a more detailed review on the human ingestion of psilocybian fungi
in Australia and New Zealand, see Allen, Merlin & Jansen 1991).
Panaeolina foenisecii is a very common, cosmopolitan species (see Fig. 1). Appearing scattered or gregarious on lawns, grassy areas, and in meadows, the mushrooms are frequently observed in the early morning, sometimes wilted or gone by midday. It often is seen in close proximity with other fungus (such as Marasmius oreades (Bolt.:Fr.) Fr., Coprinus spp., Psathyrella spp., and Conocybe spp.) adapted to similar environments (e.g., lawns and grasslands).
|Over the past 75 years, Panaeolina foenisecii has been placed
in various genera, including Psilocybe (Ricken 1915), Coprinus (Michael
1919) and Psathyrella (Smith 1972). Taxonomic reference to the genus and
synonyms for the species include the following binomials listed according
to their chronological taxonomic description.
Panaeolina R. Maire, Treb. Mus. Nat. Barcel. ser. Bot. 15:109 (1933).
Type species: Agaricus foenisecii Pers.:Fr., Syst. Mycol. 1:295 (1821).
Typonym: Psilocybe Fayod, Ann. Sci. Nat. (Bot.) 7(9):377 (1889).
Panaeolina foenisecii (Pers.:Fr.) R. Maire (Haymakers).
Agaricus foenisecii Pers.:Fr., Syst. Mycol. 1:295 (1821).
Psilocybe foenisecii (Pers.:Fr.) Quélet, Champ. Jura. Vosges 1:47 (1872).
Drosophila foenisecii (Pers.:Fr.) Quélet, Enchiridion:117 (1886).
Psathyra foenisecii (Pers.:Fr.) Bert, Bull. Soc. Mycol. Fr. 17:227 (1901).
Panaeolus foenisecii (Pers.:Fr.) Kühner. Botaniste 17:187 (1926).
Panaeolina foenisecii (Pers.:Fr.) R. Maire, Treb. Mus. Cienc. Nat. Barcel. ser. Bot. 15:109 (1933).
Psathyrella foenisecii (Pers.:Fr.) A. H. Smith, Mem. NY Bot.Gardens vol. 24:32 (1972).
CAP: 10-3.5mm. Broad, narrowly conic to convex, bell-shaped with age, dry without hair, margin incurved when young, faintly striate when moist, dull cinnamon brown to reddish brown, sometimes zonate, becoming pallid and sometimes pitted and wrinkled. Flesh grayish white; taste distinctive.
GILLS: Ascending-adnate, subdistant, unequal, broad, ventricose, mottled with age. Edges even, white.
STIPE: 4-10cm. long. 1.5-3mm. thick, stiff hollow, nearly equal and slightly enlarged at base. Brittle and striate, with minute hairs at apex, smooth or grooved below. Whitish to pinkish brown. Annulus and universal veil absent.
SPORES: 11-18 6-9µm in size, dark vinaceous brown to dark purple
brown, thick-walled, broadly elliptical, ornamental with spotty warts, pore at apex.
|The three case histories of suspected ingestion of
this species and a chronological review of the chemical analysis of Panaeolina
foenisecii Maire (including a recent study carried out in Switzerland)
are addressed critically in the discussion that follows.
Holden (1965) was the first to publish a report on a Panaeolina foenisecii
poisoning of a young child (in England). Holden reported the following:
"One evening last July (1965) I was phoned by the St. Albans police
and asked if I would go to the city hospital to identify some fungi.
A boy age three had eaten some toadstools that were growing on the lawn
and was very ill with a high temperature, rapid pulse and dilated pupils
though without any gastric symptoms. When I arrived at the hospital
some very battered specimens were produced but these could be identified
with reasonable confidence as Panaeolina foenisecii." Holden also noted
that "There is no certainty that the boys illness was actually caused
by eating toadstools." Furthermore Holden reported that "The child was
too young for any information about hallucinations to be obtained and
the case must therefore remain not proven." In the spring of 1990, the
senior author (JWA) contacted Margaret Holden, a mycologist. Holden
offered the following information: "There is very little I can add about
the 3-year-old boy who ate Panaeolina foenisecii at St Albans in 1965.
I did not see the child and the symptoms given in my note (News Bulletin
of the BMS, no. 25) were described by the doctor in charge of the case.
The mother had seen the boy eating toadstools that were growing on the
lawn. After taking the child to the hospital she returned home to gather
up the remaining specimens, which were given to me to identify. They
were all of P. foenisecii but of course there could have been other
species there on the lawn such as Psilocybe semilanceata (this is common
around here [St Albans] in some seasons). About a week later I received
a letter from the doctor thanking me for my help and telling me that
the boy had completely recovered" (Holden, 1990, Pers. Comm.).
In 1966, Miller (1972), was informed that a four year old American
boy (location in the U.S. unknown) was rendered comatose from ingesting
Panaeolina foenisecii Maire. Miller's report provided no other information
regarding this alleged incident. In January 1991, the authors contacted
Miller of the (Department of Biology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University). Miller provided the following information: "The
four year old child incident occurred in 1966 in June the night before
my family and I left for the Western United States. Dr. Paul Lenz a
mycologist at the National Fungus Collection, now retired, called me
at my home. He was not a specialist in the Agaricales and had been contacted
at the Washington Children's Hospital. He was at his laboratory and had
the fungus in hand. His description led me to the conclusion that it
was Panaeolina foenisecii. I asked him to check the microscopic characteristics
which he did to confirm my identification. He told me that the four
year old boy had grazed on an unknown number of fruiting bodies. At
the time that he arrived at the hospital he was comatose and his mother
was really upset. However, the boy revived soon and the parents were
told to keep him awake and watch him for a while. As I heard later they
had no trouble keeping him awake, in fact he was super charged for the
next 12 hours until the mild hallucinogen wore off!!! Of course, at
the time  no one had extracted the psilocybin from it [Panaeolina
foenisecii] so we could only speculate that it did have the toxin in
it" (Miller 1991, Pers. Comm.).
Although numerous mycologists had previously labeled Panaeolina foenisecii
as edible, but not recommended for human consumption (Kreiger 1936;
Bigalow 1974; Arora 1979; Dickenson & Lukas 1983; McKnight and Knight
1987), the following case history by Southcott (1974) apparently led
many mycologists to label Panaeolina foenisecii as poisonous and/or
hallucinogenic, and therefore a threat to children who might be more
apt to accidentally consume this species (Miller 1972; Stevens &
Gee 1977; Kibby 1979; Glick 1979; Cooper 1980; Smith & Weber 1980;
Pacioni 1981; Courtenany & Burdsall 1982; Bassette & Sundberg
1987; McKinney & Stuntz 1987).
The case that Southcott (1974) reported occurred in Campbell Town, a
suburb in Australia. It concerns a young girl born on December 10, 1969.
She is described as being lively spirited, with an ongoing allergic
condition. Her mental distress symptoms may have resulted from the fact
that she indulged in pica (one who eats dirt, grass, leaves and twigs).
According to Southcott "...for some months [the young girl] had been
known to have repeated episodes of hallucinations, and each attack was
marked by her person being cold and clammy, with frequent bed urination.
Her attacks would usually commence about six to eight hours after being
allowed to play outdoors around her home, on the lawns and in the garden.
In October of 1973, the mother stated that during the previous twelve
months her daughter had at least a dozen such attacks, which were very
frightening and distressing to the child. Symptoms reported included:
seeing colored lights on the ceiling, hallucinating cats that were not
there, and feeling that she was bigger than she really was (macrosomatic
delusion). An Attack usually lasted no more than four hours. Clinical
records from the Adelaide Children's Hospital report the first attack
as occurring when the child was about two years eight months old.
On the morning of Monday, August 14, 1972, the child awoke and was
absolutely terrified and somewhat delirious. She thought that unknown
things were biting her, and she reported seeing insects, spiders, and
small animals such as cats, dogs, and horses in her bed. Her body was
cold and clammy. She had no fever.
Her parents brought her into their bedroom and administered some Panadol
and she became very twitchy and jumpy. She was kept in the house for
the next two days and appeared to have recovered. On Tuesday, she remained
excitable and jumpy, but ate very well, and voided frequently.
Three days after onset she was allowed outside to play with her mother
watching her, but a further attack occurred that night. The following
morning the child seemed well until around lunch time when, once again
after playing in the garden, she became quite hysterical, screaming
that things were biting her feet. After a little while, the child seemed
to settle down and took a nap, but two more episodes followed before
tea time. After playing fore about three-quarters of an hour she asked
to go to bed. She checked under her pillow to see if any insects were
in her bed.
By this time the mother had begun to take notice that these episodes
always seem to occur after the child had played in the garden. Doctors
asked the mother if the child had access to drugs in the home. The mother
answered no. She was also asked to look for any possible toxic agents
which may have been used in the garden, where a wide variety of plants
grew, including Cotteneaster (with red berries), Duranta (with yellow
berries), and a lilly with red seeds. On one occasion the child was
observed chewing soursob (Oxalis pescaprae).
A month after onset the mother stated that her child was having attacks
every three to four nights since, but that they were not nearly as severe
as the first attack.
On September 19, the child experienced another attack. Medical examinations
proved futile in determining the cause of her distress, and nothing
neurological was found wrong with her. There were minor psychological
problems between her and her mother.
By December, the mother had come to the conclusion that the child's
distress and discomfort was possibly caused by a species of small common
mushrooms which were known to occur in the kikuyu lawn around their
home. At the time this species could not be identified in Adelaide.
By March of 1973, clinical records reported that the child was still
having hallucinatory attacks at least twice a week, except when she
was away from home on holidays.
During all this time the child continued to have pica, which eventually
decreased but was still occurring in April of 1974. At that time the
mother noticed that the absence of hallucinatory attacks in the previous
three months may have been due to the absence of mushrooms in the garden.
Searches around the kikuyu lawn showed the presence of several different
species of grass-inhabiting mushrooms. The mother had not observed the
daughter eating a fungus during the period when the child was having
her symptoms. After the mother asked the child about the mushrooms,
the child described them as being `yummie' and `tasty'" (Southcott 1974).
Specimens of the fungus allegedly involved in ingestions referred to above were photographed in situ, collected, and then preserved by Southcott who also again photographed them both before and after drying. In 1974, Roy Watling of the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh, Scotland visited Adelaide and identified Southcott's fungus specimens as Panaeolina foenisecii. Although Southcott believed that the evidence in this case history of fungal intoxication was circumstantial, he stated that "...it appears to be a plausable explanation for the girl's symptoms" (Specimens of P. foenisecii collected by Southcott are on deposit in the herbarium of the botanical garden of North Terrace, Adelaide 5000, South Australia).
|In the past, as noted above, numerous mycologists
had listed this species as edible, but not desirable; while most recent
mycological publications refer to this mushroom as poisonous and/or hallucinogenic.
The question of the suspected psychoactive properties of P. foenisecii,
which allegedly caused hallucinations in three young children (described
above), three teen-agers (Cooles 1980), and two elderly ladies (Allen
1988b), is confused by conflicting observations of mycologists and other
investigators who have studied this species. There is some mycological
disagreement regarding the natural production and presence of psilocybin
and psilocin in Panaeolina foenisecii. Some have even referred to the
suspected appearance of these alkaloids in this species as sporadic
Panaeolina foenisecii was first investigated for the presence of indole
compounds by Tyler and Smith (1963). They detected no psilocybin or
psilocin in the specimens they analyzed, but did report the occurrence
of 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin), along with 5-hydroxytryptophan,
and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid. Two years later, Holden (1965) reported
a suspected poisoning in a young English boy who became ill with tachycardia
and mydriasis after allegedly consuming Panaeolina foenisecii). Specimens
of the fungus collected in England and examined by Holden in 1969, contained
no detectable psilocybin or psilocin (Mantle & Waight 1969).
Ola'h (1968a; 1968b; 1969; 1970) studied this species and described
it as being 'latent psilocybian' (i.e., only producing these compounds
sporadically). Robbers et al. (1969), reported detection of psilocybin
in two collections of P. foenisecii, -- one from Lafayette, Indiana,
and another from Quebec, Canada. A third collection of the fungus, from
Seattle, Washington, did not contain psilocybin.
In 1972 Fiusello and Ceruti-Scurti reported analysis of an Italian
collection of P. foenisecii and found psilocybin present in one of two
samples. Specimens collected during the spring of 1972 in Seattle, Washington
tested negative (Enos 1972; Brolyn 1990). Later that same year, Miller
(1972) commented on a case of poisoning that occurred earlier in 1966,
in which this fungus was eaten by a four year old boy who "...was rendered
comatose for a short time." Two years later, Southcott (1974) reported
the above cited Australian case.
Although much earlier, Cleland (1934) first recorded the presence of
the "haymaker's mushroom" in Australia, he identified the fungus as
Psilocybe foenisecii (Pers.) Fr. (the Latin name Foenisecia, means "Hay?
harvest). Cleland made no mention regarding the species toxicity or
Specimens of P. foenisecii collected near Canberra, Australia were
analyzed by R.W. Rickards (cf. Southcott 1974) and were reported as
being psilocybin negative. Ott (1976), citing Robbers et al. (1969)
as his source, noted that P. foenisecii specimens from Ontario and Indiana
were tested as psilocybin positive. The specimens referred to above
were actually collected in Quebec and Indiana. Ott (1974-1975) later
mentioned that he himself ingested a large number of the "haymaker's
mushroom collected near Olympia, Washington; he reported no noticeable
Pollock (1976) based the following statement on a study by Ola'h (1970)
involving five samples of P. foenisecii (four from Quebec and one from
Paris); "two from Quebec contained both psilocybin and psilocin, whereas
the one from Paris and one of the two other samples from Quebec contained
Ott and Guzman (1976) carried out further investigations regarding
the production of psilocybin and psilocin in P. foenisecii. They analyzed
specimens from the Federal District of Mexico and found them to be void
of psilocybin. Ott and Pollock (Guzman et al. 1976) also collected specimens
of P. foenisecii from Oregon in 1975. No psilocybin was detected.
Haard and Haard (1975) suggested that psilocybin and psilocin are only
found in this fungus in the United States on the East Coast; while Menser
(1977) noted that "Western analyses have often shown the presence of
psilocybin (but not psilocin) in small amounts only" (the authors of
the present study found no reference verifying either Menser's or Haard
and Haard's claims). Singer (1978) also ingested "raw" specimens of
this species. He reported no "psychotropic" effects whatsoever. Subsequent
chemical analysis of P. foenisecii by Singer (1991, Pers. Comm.) was
negative. Arora (1979), believing this species to be harmless, stated
that the " 'chemical analysis have revealed traces of psilocybin in
certain strains, but [the] material I tested was inactive."
Watling (1979) collected specimens of Panaeolina foenisecii in 1974
from Western Australia. He described the suspected poisoning of a two
year old girl in Australia (the case originally reported by Southcott
in 1974; see case history no. 3 above). Watling briefly mentioned Holden's
(1965) report of an alleged poisoning of a three year old child in Great
Britain, and argued that "because of its wide spread distribution, and
its frequency on lawns and in parks P. foenisecii is likely to cause
poisonings, especially in young children."
Cooles (1980) reported that three teenagers in the British Isles sought
emergency treatment after each had allegedly consumed between 20 to
30 mushrooms. The mushrooms in this case were reported to be Panaeolina
foenisecii; however, all three patients displayed symptoms of visual
disturbances which included "euphoria and hallucinations of color and
speed of movements such that lawns developed patches of brilliant colors
and cars moved frighteningly fast." It is possible that these three
young teenagers may have consumed some specimens of Panaeolina foenisecii;
but the symptoms described are similar to those associated with the
ingestion of Psilocybe species (i.e., P. semilanceata (Fr. ex Secr.)
Kumm., which is native to the British Isles, and P. cubensis (Earle)
Singer, a commonly ingested psychoactive species which is not indigenous
to these islands, but can be grown indoors clandestinely). In 1982,
Beug and Bigwood published their analysis of two collections of Psathyrella
foenisecii (syn, P. foenisecii) collected in 1978 from the Pacific Northwest.
They reported the fungus specimens to be void of any psilocybin or psilocin.
Christiansen, Rasmussen, and Holland (1984) analyzed Norwegian specimens
of Panaeolina collected from a lawn in September of 1982 and detected
no indole compounds. Stijve, Hischenhuber, and Ashley (1984) "...are
of the opinion that P. foenisecii cannot contain psilocybin or psilocin
at all." These scientists came to this conclusion after analyzing 16
different collections of P. foenisecii from 8 countries, including Australia,
the United States and six in Europe. Specimens analyzed for possible
indole compounds were collected over an eleven year period (1973?1982).
Stijve, Hischenhuber, and Ashley also conducted controlled laboratory
experiments with human volunteers to test the possible effects of P.
foenisecii; however, "...even the equivalent of 40 gm of fresh mushrooms
failed to produce any psychotropic effect." Gartz (1985) reported that
his study and analysis of 100 specimens of P. foenisecii were psilocybine
negative. More recently Ohenoja et al. (1987) detected psilocybine (0.03)%
in two separate dried specimens collected in Finland.
In 1977, Allen (1988a) collected a species of Panaeolina in Oxnard,
California which macroscopically resembled P. foenisecii; later, Allen
bioassayed this species and found that the mushrooms (40 fresh specimens
weighing 52 gm) were definitely psychoactive. No voucher specimens were
saved for examination. It is possible that the specimens collected in
this case were misidentified by Allen and were actually Panaeolus castaneifolius
(Murr.) Ola'h=Panaeolina castaneifolius (Murr.) Smith, or a similar
related variety of Panaeolus. Allen (1988b) also reported that two elderly
ladies were intoxicated by Panaeolina foenisecii in Portland, Oregon.
According to a recent study by Young (1988) "...chromatographic analysis
of Australian Material (Panaeolina foenisecii) has not yet demonstrated
the presence of any psilocybin in this species."
Based on his personal ingestion of the fungus, John Leonard (1989, Pers. Comm.), a resident of Hingham, Massachusetts, claimed that Panaeolina foenisecii collected on his own front lawn was psychoactive in large quantity. Voucher specimens of Leonard's 1985 collection have been deposited at the Bishop Herbarium in Honolulu, Hawaii for scientific examination (1989. 363. Sheet # 580325. May-June 1985. Plymouth, Mass.). Two other collections of Leonard's specimens were forwarded to Dr. T. Stijve in Switzerland for study. Botanical identity was confirmed and chemical properties were established. Both collections of the fungi were analyzed by High Performance Liquid Chromatography and by High Performance Thin Layered Chromatography with identical results (see Fig. 2). Comparative analyses using specimens of Copelandia cyanescens from the Hawaiian Islands shows that both of Leonard's collections of Panaeolina foenisecii from Massachusetts contain characteristic compounds of Panaeolus species. These include urea, serotonin2 and its precursor 5?hydroxytryptophan. Although tryptophan might also present, there is definitely no psilocybine or psilocine, (i.e., 0.01% dry weight). Also the absence of bufotonine (5-hydroxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine) suggests that the fungi is not able to methylate serotonine (Stijve et al., 1984). The results in figure 2 show the difference.
|Recently a popular American publication devoted to the drug subculture featured a pictorial which described Panaeolina foenisecii as a common psychoactive fungi (Brolyn 1990).|