Revised January 26, 2005; August 29, 2007; April 30, 2013; and April 23, 2017.
Copyright 1998-2017 by John W. Allen.

Psychoactive Shrooms in Thailand: Part One


A Batik from Thailand

Psychoactive Mushroom Use in Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Ngan, Thailand

Originally published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology vol. 35 (1992) 205-228 Copyright by Elsevier Scientific Publishers, Ireland Ltd.

Continued from Previous Page

Mushrooms in Publications Catering to Tourist Influence

Evidence regarding the use of psychoactive fungi has also been reported in several, foreign, tourist-oriented, guide books and travel magazines. For example, a publication entitled "Guide to Southern Thailand, Phuket Koh Samui" reported the following: "On Koh Samui, the island food matches the good company. Worth mentioning are the hallucinogenic mushrooms that are listed on the menu as "Magic Mushroom Omelettes". This psychedelic fungi causes headaches, mental distortion, and the feeling of being electric. If mistakenly eaten, the drugged side effects will wear off in 24 hours" (Unsigned 1989). According to a German guide book, tourist police first began the distribution of pamphlets issuing warnings about the dangers of ingesting magic mushroom omelettes as early as 1986; this guidebook also provides a brief history of psilocybin and describes its popularity amongst tourists on Koh Samui (Mobius and Ster 1987). Another guide book (in English) reports that the "Peace" bungalow resort in Hat Bo Phut, Koh Samui, offers the biggest "magic mushrooms" ever seen (Cummings 1987). Saen Sanuk, a popular, Thai Travel magazine provided the following warning and anecdotes regarding the recreational use of hed keequai on Koh Samui: "Magic mushrooms, an extraordinary species of mushroom which grows out of buffalo dung on Koh Samui and a favorite among foreign tourists, are also problem makers. The mushrooms which many restaurants and bungalows offer in their menus cause acute hallucination for consumers and such effects can be physically dangerous as well. [In the published literature on the subject of human ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms, there is no evidence to suggest that these fungi are physically toxic]. One foreign student whirled his motorbike onto a muddy roadside field after eating food cooked with the mushrooms. Another stripped all his clothes in public and went furiously hilarious" (Angsanakul 1987). This same article also warned that several people "...had to have their stomachs pumped at the island hospital". The above mentioned incident referring to bizarre, naked behavior is similar to one which occurred in Oaxaca, Mexico in the 1960's, where an unclothed "beat" ran through the streets causing a most disturbing and distressing experience for the local native peoples (Finkelstein 1969). This single incident in Mexico played a significant role in the eventual expulsion of thousands of foreign young people from that country (Unsigned 1970; Ott 1975; Pollock 1977-78). A similar incident also occurred in Australia when a respectable family man ran naked through the halls of a hospital "trying to molest the nurses who were attempting to treat his illness" (McCarthy 1971; Allen, Merlin and Jansen 1991). (Also see Part two of this paper in the same site ). In the summer of 1988, High Times Magazine published a five page exploitative pictorial entitled as "Koh Samui, Sex and Drugs in Thailand". One paragraph in this article was devoted to "magic mushroom omelettes" accompanied by two photographs of what macroscopically appear to be P. cubensis and/or P. subcubensis and a photograph of a sign advertising a "Magic Mushroom Farm" (Eder 1988). In February 1991, Islands, an international travel magazine mentioned "at night bleary-eyed blonds with silly smiles recline on cushions around a low table, munching "special mushroom" omelettes and looking at one another dreamily" (Iyer 1991).

Psychoactive Mushroom Farms 
In July 1989, JWA attempted to visit a "magic mushroom" farm in Bo Phut. The "farm" included several rice paddies which had been used by both Samui natives and German immigrants for the propagation of hed keequai. Native cattle-tenders and foreign immigrants collect and transport manure piles containing hed keequai to the rice paddies where they arrange them in rows. Fresh manure is added to the paddies and harvest takes place after the fungi appear. An anonymous farmer (pers. comm., September 1989) confided to JWA that although there were a lot of water buffalo on Koh Pha-ngan (an island north of Koh Samui, population 6,000) no one had ever found "magic mushrooms" growing there. This informant claimed that he sold "magic mushrooms" to many restaurants on both Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan islands. In December of 1989, the manager of the "Bongo Bar" on the island of Koh Pha-ngan was interviewed; he claimed that he picked hed keequai across the trail from his bar. He substantiated this by showing JWA the open field where he collected his supply of hed keequai. At the time when the mushrooms were not considered illegal, there were numerous "magic mushroom farms" situated throughout the two islands. Some of these commercial establishments were indoor operations. Several anonymous sources in Koh Samui and others on Koh Pha-Ngan reported that a few "farms" remained in existence, but under rigid secrecy near the small village hamlet of Ban Saket and in the mountain regions of Koh Samui.

Other Commercial Activities Related to Psychoactive Mushroom Use 
As in Mexico, where native peoples have greatly profited from the sale of mushroom related items (Ott 1975; Pollock 1977-78), local artists and crafts-people in Thailand also market hand painted "magic mushroom" T-shirts, embroidered dress shirts, and postcards depicting what are purported to be "magic mushrooms". During the week of September 8-14, 1989, JWA observed more than thirty different, hand-painted T-shirts for sale in Thailand (see figure 13) which had hand-painted drawings of what appear to be "magic mushrooms". These garments were offered for sale in various shops throughout Koh Samui. On Koh Pha-ngan, a "magic mushroom" T-shirt displayed both Psilocybe and Copelandia species (see figures 14). Several postcards (at least 12 different) depicting "magic mushrooms" were also observed on Koh Samui, Bangkok, and in Chiang Mai (see figures 15). Similar hand painted shirts copied from some of these postcards were observed in the Banglum Poo district in Bangkok. In January 1990 the senior author observed more than twenty new hand-painted T-shirts depicting "magic mushrooms" from Koh Samui. Framed posters (copied from mushroom postcards) were now available, as were similar factory produced (machine printed) T-shirts. These same T-shirts were also available in Bangkok. In the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai, motifs showing "magic mushrooms" adorn boxes, cigarette lighters, pencil holders and key chains; and printed "magic mushroom" T-shirts were also common at the Chiang Mai "night market" (see Allen 1991).

Fig. 13. T-shirt from Koh Samui [depicting] Psilocybe cubensis

Fig. 14. T-shirt portraying Psilocybe and Copelandia sp. with [slightly] burnt 'magic mushroom' omelette. West Hat Rin Beach Koh Pha-ngan

Fig. 15. Mushroom motif on postcards, posters and T-shirts sold throughout Thailand

  Locations of Psychoactive Fungi Collected on Koh Samui
Three species of psychoactive fungi have been identified from Thailand; two belonging to the genera Psilocybe and one belonging to Panaeolus, sub-genus Copelandia, were observed in situ, photographed, and collected for herbarium deposit. These three species were observed in and/or collected from eight different locations throughout the Island of Koh Samui including: Ban Hua Thanon, Bo Phut, Hat Chewang (directly across the road from "Munchies" resort), Ban Tai (three fields), Ban Lipa Yai, Ban Thong, Ban Thurian, and 6 km north of Ban Hua Thanon near the village of Ban Saket. Most collection sites are situated along both sides of highway 4169 near Hat Chewang and Ban Lamai, and three fields near Ban Saket along highway 4170. Copelandia species were observed and collected from three locations near Ban Hua Thanon, Ban Lipa Yai, and Ban Saket.

Species Collected for Herbarium Deposit  
Fungi specimens (from B. bubalis dung) collected on Koh Samui between July 25-30, 1989, included two unidentified specimens of Copelandia and a collection of either Psilocybe cubensis and/or Psilocybe subcubensis (see figure 16). They have been deposited at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum Herbarium in Honolulu, Hawaii. These specimens were collected at sea level near the village of Ban Hua Thanon.

Fungi specimens (from Bubalus bubalis dung) collected on Koh Samui between September 8-14, 1989 included one bluing specimen of a Copelandia species (see figure 17) and a collection of Psilocybe subcubensis (see figures 18-20). The Copelandia specimen was collected in the fields at Ban Lipa Yai, 2 Km south of the port village of Ban Nathon and forwarded for study to Dr. Don Hemmis, biologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Dr. Hemmis (pers. comm., 1989) has since examined the specimen and indicated that the spores are relatively small, measuring in size from 10-14 X 5-6 microns, ovate with germ pore. This specimen (collected in September 1989) and the two other Copelandia specimens (collected in July 1989), all exhibited intense bluing in the stem after handling.

The Psilocybe specimens were collected in the rice paddy fields from partially decomposed buffalo manure near Ban Hua Thanon and Ban Tai and were forwarded to Dr. Gaston Guzmán at the Instituto de Ecologia in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. Dr. Guzmán identified them as Psilocye subcubensis. This is the first report of Psilocybe subcubensis from Thailand. Guzmán also identified Panaeolus campanulatus from Koh Samui.

Fig. 16. Freshly harvested specimens of Psilocybe sp., Ban Hua Thanon, Koh Samui

Fig. 17. Unidentified specimens of Copelandia. Ban Lipa Yai, Koh Samui

Fig. 18. Fresh Psilocybe subcubensis. Ban Hua Thanon, Koh Samui

Fig. 19. Dried Psilocybe subcubensis Ban Hua Thanon, Koh Samui

Fig. 20. Dried Psilocybe subcubensis. Ban Hua Thanon, Koh Samui

Fungi specimens collected between January 4 and February 1, 1990 include the species referred to below (see Table 1)

A. On January 28, 1990, 1 small Psilocybe identified by Villinga as P. subcubensis, and 2 small specimens of a Copelandia species, identified by Gerhardt as a var. or fm. of Copelandia cyanescens (see figure 21) were collected. Stijve (pers. Comm., 1990) noted the discovery of a new indole compound in this Thailand collection of Psilocybe fungi.

B. On January 29, 1990, 3 unidentified species of Agaricus (possibly Agaricus arvensis), 3 small specimens of Psilocybe identified as Psilocybe cubensis, and a small collection of Copelandia species identified by Gerhardt as a var. or form of Copelandia cyanescens (see figure 22) were also collected.

C. A small collection of Psilocybe cubensis was harvested from buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) dung on January 31, 1990 along a mountain trail at 350 meters elevation above Nathon. In addition a small collection of Panaeolus antillarum (see Table 1.) was also collected from the fields of Ban Hua Thanon. <>pD. A small collection of Psilocybe cubensis was also obtained from buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) dung harvested alongside rice paddies near Ban Hua Thanon on January 26, 1990.

E. A small collection of Psilocybe subcubensis was harvested on January 4, 1990 from buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) dung along a mountain trail at 650 meters elevation near Chiang Dao in Northern Thailand. Collection E was identified in Leiden, Netherlands by Villinga as P. subcubensis (Stijve, pers. Comm., February 23, 1990).

Collections A and B were obtained from cattle (Bos indicus) in a fenced pasture among palm trees (C. nucifera) 6 km north of Ban Hua Thanon, alongside of highway 4169 near the village of Ban Saket.

The Copelandia specimens in collections A and B were recognized by Gerhardt in Berlin as a variety or form of Panaeolus (Copelandia) cyanescens Berkeley and Broome. The spores measured 13 X 9.5 microns and the pleurocystidia and cheilocystidia were both present. According to Gerhardt (Stijve, pers. Comm., May 7, 1990) there are small macroscopical differences in the color of the metalloids which are more or less green at the tips. Gerhardt (pers. Comm. to Stijve, April 4, 1990) examined similar specimens of Copelandia species from Madras, India, and concluded that the collections from Koh Samui, Thailand were a var. or fm. of Copelandia cyanescens.

The Copelandia specimens in collections A and B have relatively high percentages of psilocin, but no psilocybin is present (see figure 23). Although collections of Copelandia from Queensland, Australia, also had large amounts of psilocin but were virtually absent in psilocybin, collections of specimens from Hawaii, examined for comparative analysis, possess large amounts of both psilocin and psilocybin (see figure 24). For the TLC and HPLC methods of analysis see Stijve, Hischenhuber and Ashley (1984).

Collections A-E were forwarded for study to Dr. T. Stijve of Nestec Ltd., Vevey, Switzerland. In a preliminary report, Dr. Stijve indicated that collection A displayed a large concentration of various tryptamine alkaloids (Pers. Comm. February 13, 1990).

A fifth collection of psychoactive dung fungi (collected August 12, 1990) was forwarded to Guzmán for botanical identification. No results of analyses have been received yet.

A sixth collection of psychoactive fungi (collected between August 2-12, 1991) included collections of Psilocybe and Copelandia species from rice paddies near the villages of Ban Hua Thanon, Ban Bo Phut and Ban Lipa Yai on Koh Samui island. In addition, A new variety of Psilocybe, Psilocybe samuiensis Guzmán, Bandala and Allen, which macroscopically resembles Psilocybe semilanceata (figure 25) was collected by the senior author (see Guzmán, Bandala and Allen, 1993 and Gartz, Allen and Merlin, 1994). These specimens were forward to Dr. Gaston Guzmán of the Instituto de Ecologia in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico for botanical determination.

A preliminary report from Stijve (pers. comm., 1991) indicates that the undescribed species is very potent with high concentrations of both psilocin and psilocybin.

TABLE 1.,/font>

Collection A. (1) Psilocybe and (2) Copelandia specimens.

Collection b. (3) Psilocybe (insert upper left) and a small collection of dried Copelandia species, [both] from cow manure in area near Ban Saket

Fig. 23. TLC pf Psilocybe and Copelandia collections

Fig. 24. Analysis of Copelandia collections of another system

Fig. 25. Psilocybe samuiensis Guzmán, Bandala and Allen. ban Hua Thanon, Koh Samui

The authors of this study wish to thank the following people for their assistance in the preparation of this paper: Mr. Sawat, Mr. Toowey, Mr. Jak, Mr. Ahka, Mr. Mungalow, and Mr. Rin of Ban Hua Thanon; and Mr. N. L. of Bo Phut, Koh Samui, Thailand for placing their trust in the senior author and allowing him into their homes and for the privilege of taking their photographs; and Dr. Prakitsin Sihanonth, Head Department of Microbiology, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand; Mr. Paul Rici, Norwell, Massachusetts and Mr. Steve Hager, Trans High Corporation, New York, for information pertaining to location sites in Thailand; Dr. Stanley Krippner, Saybrook Institute, San Francisco; Dr. T. Stijve, Vevey, Switzerland, for his invaluable aid on the chemical analysis of the Thailand collections. Dr. E. Salzman for his encouraging words; Dr. Don Hemmis, University of Hawaii, Hilo, for his examination of the Copelandia specimen collected between September 8-14, 1989; Dr. Gastón Guzmán for his identification of P. subcubensis collected between September 8-14, 1989; Dr. Ewald Gerhardt, Berlin, Germany, and Else Villinga, Leiden, Netherlands, for their identification of species collected in Jan-Feb 1990. A special note of appreciation and gratitude to Mr. Nigel Graham of Glasgow, Scotland, and Frank G. Heidrich and Brigitte Immler of Berlin, Germany for assisting the senior author while conducting field research on Koh Samui, and a special thanks to Dr. Richard Evans Schultes of the Harvard Botanical Museum for his time in reviewing this paper.

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