Revised May 1, 2002; September 2, 2007; July 28, 2009; March 27, 2013; May 3, 2013; and April 25, 2017.
Copyright 1998-2017 by John W. Allen.


Panaeolina foenisecii Maire. Photograph by Margret Holden, United Kingdom.


Although there is no recorded medical use of Panaeolina foenisecii in the literature, over the years one of the authors (JWA) has been informed by several people who have experimented with this fungi. According to some of these informants Panaeolina foenisecii does produce some symptoms of relaxation, including a tranquil feeling of well being. This may be caused by some of the various tryptamine alkaloids, including 5-hydroxytryptophan, which are known to occur in various species of mushrooms producing psilocybine and/or psilocine.

Regarding the Australian case history described by Southcott (1974), it is curious that the young girl's mother would allow her daughter to play in the garden alone (at such an early age), and given her pica propensity. Nevertheless, the specimens of Panaeolina foenisecii collected in the garden were later analyzed and found to contain no hallucinogenic properties.

While the reported symptoms and duration of effects are similar to those produced by psilocybine, it must be noted that the onset of the mind-altering effects of psilocybine normally occur within 15-30 minutes after ingestion. According to Southcott and the child's mother, the child's symptoms always seemed to occur between 6 to 8 hours after being allowed to play outdoors, or upon waking up after taking a nap. Southcott also mentioned that this child was having some minor psychological difficulties with her mother and this may have added to her symptoms.

It is also possible in this case that the child may have eaten other psychoactive plants and/or fungi from the garden than Panaeolina foenisecii. However, there is no evidence that the child actually ingested such substances, and no other species of fungi were observed in the garden of the child's home. Both Southcott (1989, Pers. Comm.) and the technical services of the Botanic Garden of Adelaide surveyed this garden for other species, including possible toxic plants, on more than one occasion. Southcott thus claims that no other known hallucinogenic plants were present in the yard. The child still lives with her parents at the same address in Adelaide and, now (aged 19) many years later, she appears to be quite normal for her age, and is presently employed. Although as a child, according to the mother, she did not initially admit to eating the fungi, later on she did acknowledge her ingestion of mushrooms. This admission, however, must be regarded with caution, and may have resulted from both repeated queries by the doctors and the mother (the child was put under pressure by being sent to the Children's Hospital for blood tests, i.e. 'pricks in the thumb'). Southcott (1989, Pers. Comm.) stated that "...when told that fungus eating would result in 'thumb pricks', the child at about age four, saw the light" and both the 'thumb pricks' and hallucinatory attacks terminated.

Whether or not Panaeolina foenisecii is psychoactive is unclear, but because of the above mentioned incidents, it is reported by some mycologists as dangerous to young children. For example, Smith and Weber (1980), who referred to this species as Psathyrella foenisecii, claimed that: "...the danger for toddlers is that parents may not be sure which species the child ate, since many lawn fungi fruit along with Psathyrella." Although Smith and Weber also noted the possible edibility of this fungus, they did not recommend ingestion: "Some populations may contain psilocybine and psilocine. It is one of the lawn species that toddlers find and eat when they are in the grazing stage. The danger to the child lies in the fact that we have 400-plus species [Psathyrella] of this genus in North America, and we know little of their chemistry. At least one case of serious poisoning in a child [cf. Southcott 1974], has been linked to this or a closely related species."

Orr and Orr (1979) also referred to the dangers this species might present to little children: "This very common little mushroom is frequently eaten by children who find it when they play, and this can be of concern because it contains small amounts of the psychotropic substances psilocybine and psilocine." However, if this species contains only a minute amount of psychoactive compounds, it would not cause the symptoms described by Holden (1965), Miller (1972), or Southcott (1974).

In recent years, a number of mycologists have listed this species as being poisonous/hallucinogenic, probably basing their assumption on information provided by the above mentioned research. After re-examining past research and the additional evidence described above, it is our conclusion, as well as that of Gartz (1985), Guzman (1989), Stijve (1989), Watling (1989), Young (1989) and Singer (1991, Pers. Comm.), that Panaeolina foenisecii is not psychoactive.

It is possible that when Panaeolina foenisecii is collected from lawns, taxonomic identification is made, and specimens are passed on for chemical identification, other species known to macroscopically resemble Panaeolina foenisecii are unintentionally included in these collections. The other species could include Panaeolus subbalteatus Berkeley & Broome and/or Panaeolina castaneifolius (Murr) Ola'h=Panaeolina castaneifolius (Murr.) Smith (see figs. 3 & 4). According to Stijve (1989, Pers. Comm.), this would explain why some collections of Panaeolina foenisecii have been reported to be positive for psilocybin.

The authors of this study would recommend controlled studies of cultivated Panaeolina foenisecii in which precursor's are known to affect production of psilocybin and/or psilocin in proven producers of the indoles would be supplied to the organism. Controlled studies have demonstrated that these indoles are secondary metabolites which may not occur in collections lacking specific nutrients and which occur in larger quantities if proper precursors are provided.

Figure 7. Photo by Alan Outen.

Chromatogram of Chemical Analysis
Copelandia cyanescens from Hawaii.


The authors wish to thank Dr. R. V. Southcott for allowing us to reprint an edited version of his case history from Adelaide, Australia. We also are grateful to Margaret Holden of Halperden, England and Dr. 0. K. Miller, Professor of Botany and Curator of Fungi at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for their contributions to this paper. Appreciation is also extended to Mr. Alan R. Outen, England, for his photograph of Panaeolina foenisecii and Mr. Robert Hathaway of Honolulu for his illustrations in Figures la, 3, and 4. We would also like to express our special gratitude to Dr. Richard Evans Schultes for reviewing our paper and to Dr. Roy Watling of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, Scotland and Dr. Tony Young of Blackbutt, Australia for their valuable contributions in the preparation of this paper. In addition, we thank Mr. John Leonard of Hingham, Massachusetts for his collections of Panaeolina foenisecii. Finally, we need to recognize the technical assistance and significant support of Dr. T. Stijve of Nestec LTD, Vevey, Switzerland for his botanical and chemical analysis of Panaeolina foenisecii.

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