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DNA Authentication and Chemical Analysis of Psilocybe Mushrooms Reveal Widespread Misdeterminations in Fungaria and Inconsistencies in Metabolites

The mushroom genus Psilocybe is best known as the core group of psychoactive mushrooms, yet basic information on their diversity, taxonomy, chemistry, and general biology is still largely lacking. In this study, we reexamined 94 Psilocybe fungarium specimens, representing 18 species, by DNA barcoding, evaluated the stability of psilocybin, psilocin, and their related tryptamine alkaloids in 25 specimens across the most commonly vouchered species (Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe cyanescens, and Psilocybe semilanceata), and explored the metabolome of cultivated P. cubensis. Our data show that, apart from a few well-known species, the taxonomic accuracy of specimen determinations is largely unreliable, even at the genus level. A substantial quantity of poor-quality and mislabeled sequence data in public repositories, as well as a paucity of sequences derived from types, further exacerbates the problem. Our data also support taxon- and time-dependent decay of psilocybin and psilocin, with some specimens having no detectable quantities of them. We also show that the P. cubensis metabolome possibly contains thousands of uncharacterized compounds, at least some of which may be bioactive. Taken together, our study undermines commonly held assumptions about the accuracy of names and presence of controlled substances in fungarium specimens identified as Psilocybe spp. and reveals that our understanding of the chemical diversity of these mushrooms is largely incomplete. These results have broader implications for regulatory policies pertaining to the storage and sharing of fungarium specimens as well as the use of psychoactive mushrooms for recreation and therapy.

IMPORTANCE The therapeutic use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” is revolutionizing mental health care for a number of conditions, including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and end-of-life care. This has spotlighted the current state of knowledge of psilocybin, including the organisms that endogenously produce it. However, because of international regulation of psilocybin as a controlled substance (often included on the same list as cocaine and heroin), basic research has lagged far behind. Our study highlights how the poor state of knowledge of even the most fundamental scientific information can impact the use of psilocybin-containing mushrooms for recreational or therapeutic applications and undermines critical assumptions that underpin their regulation by legal authorities. Our study shows that currently available chemical studies are mainly inaccurate, irreproducible, and inconsistent, that there exists a high rate of misidentification in museum collections and public databases rendering even names unreliable, and that the concentration of psilocybin and its tryptamine derivatives in three of the most commonly collected Psilocybe species (P. cubensis, P. cyanescens, and P. semilanceata) is highly variable and unstable in museum specimens spanning multiple decades, and our study generates the first-ever insight into the highly complex and largely uncharacterized metabolomic profile for the most commonly cultivated magic mushroom, P. cubensis.

Bradshaw, A. J., Backman, T. A., Ramírez-Cruz, V., Forrister, D. L., Winter, J. M., Guzmán-Dávalos, L., . . . Dentinger, B. T. M. (2022). DNA Authentication and Chemical Analysis of Psilocybe Mushrooms Reveal Widespread Misdeterminations in Fungaria and Inconsistencies in Metabolites. Appl Environ Microbiol, e0149822. doi:10.1128/aem.01498-22