The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications









Gyms are typically small to medium in size and have convex to plane caps and yellow- or orange-colored lamellae. They thrive on trees from summer to fall. Most species have a bitter taste and are usually regarded as poisonous or inedible. Several species are said to have hallucinogenic effects.


The following species have been demonstrated to contain psilocybin (Allen et al. 1992, 93**; Hatfield et al. 1978):


Gymnopilus aeruginosus (Peck) Singer [syn.

Pholiota aeruginosa Peck]

Gymnopilus braendlei (Peck) Hesler

Gymnopilus intermedius (Sing.) Singer

Gymnopilus leteoviridis Thiers

Gymnopilus liquiritae (Fr.) Karst.

Gymnopilus luteus (Peck) Hesler

Gymnopilus purpuratus (Cooke et Mass.) Sing. [syn. Flammula purpurata Cooke et Massee]—purple gym

The purple gym apparently originated in South America but also occurs in Germany. It contains psilocybin as well as psilocin (Gartz 1993, 55**). This mushroom may once have been used for inebriating purposes (cf. “Polyporus mysticus”).

Gymnopilus validipes (Peck) Hesler (cf. Hatfield et al. 1977)

Gymnopilus viridans Murrill


The following species may contain psychoactive substances:


Gymnopilus luteofolius (Peck) Singer [syn. Pholiota luteofolia (Peck) Saccardo]

Gymnopilus ventricosus


Only one species of the genus Gymnopilus has attained any cultural significance:


Gymnopilus spectabilis (Fries) Singer [syn.

Gymnopilus junonius (Fr.: Fr.) P.D. Orton, Pholiota spectabilis (Fries) Gillet]—big gym, giant laughing mushroom


Gymnopilus spectabilis grows on deciduous wood and, less frequently, coniferous wood. Its cap can attain a diameter of 5 to 15 cm. It has a very bad taste and is low in active components. It is commonly regarded as poisonous.

The yellow variety Gymnopilus spectabilis var. junonius (Fr.) J.E. Lange is one of the largest mushrooms known. It can develop stems as tall as 60 cm (Gartz 193, 55 f.**).

The big gym also occurs in North America and Japan; psychoactive effects have been reported from both regions (Walters 1965). An experiential report is now available from Canada:


I tried three grams of G. spectabilis. Slight optical changes, but (together with my meditation techniques) enough to drive me into an intense convulsive trembling. When I gave in to this, I found that this was a memory of the room in which I had found myself after my birth. I was very cold there, I was afraid and needed my mother. The culmination came 3 to 31/2 hours after ingestion. . . . Psilocybe always takes away my clarity; this mushroom increases it. . . . The effects are markedly different. (In Entheogene no. 2 [1994/1995]: 23 f.)


In Japan, this mushroom is known as owaraitake, “giant laughing mushroom,” a name with a long history. A story recorded in the Konjaku monogatarishu [Stories from Ancient Times] (eleventh century) indicates that psycho-active fungi must have been known in Japan at a very early date. In this story, woodcutters meet a group of nuns who are singing and dancing. The woodcutters regard the nuns as manifestations of demons or goblins. The nuns explain that they had eaten certain mushrooms, and that these had caused them to sing and dance. The woodcutters eat some of the same mushrooms, and they too then dance and sing. After this event became known, the mushroom was given the name maitake,“dancing mushroom.” One old dictionary identified this mushroom as Grifola frondosa (Dicks. ex Fr.) S.F. Gray [syn. Boletus frondosus Vahl., Cladomeris frondosa Quél., Polyporus frondosus] (cf.“Polyporus mysticus”); it was noted, however, that the maitake of the Konjaku story was actually known as waraitake, “laughing mushroom.”370 In the Daijiten, on the other hand, waraitake is identified as Panaeolus papilionaceus (cf. Panaeolus spp.) or Gymnopilus spectabilis (Sanford 1972, 174**). The Daijitenhas the following to say about this mushroom:


Illustration of a Gymnopilus species (Pholiota adiposa) on a Korean stamp.



A species of the genus Gymnopilus that grows on trees. (Photographed near Astoria, Oregon)



The cap of a Gymnopilus species as seen from below.


People who eat this mushroom become inebriated. They can become extremely excited, dance and sing, and see different visions. Other names for it are odoritake [“jumping mushroom”] and maitake. (In Sanford 1972, 175**)


A Taoist source from the eleventh or twelfth century states that an elixir of life (known as “earth drink”) was obtained from the “laughing mushroom” (Sanford 1972, 178**).

It is possible that Gymnopilus spectabilis contains indole derivatives; the analysis of Hatfield et al. (1978, 142) found that it contains psilocybin (cf. Benjamin 1995, 326**). Styrylpyrone, bisnoryangonine, and bitter principles (gymnopilins) have also been detected (Aoyagi et al. 1983; Tanaka et al. 1993). The psychoactivity, on the other hand, is unquestioned (Buck 1967; Romagnesi 1964; Sanford 1972**).

“You should try to give King Emma several of the ‘laughing mushrooms.’ ”






See also the entry for psilocybin.


Aoyagi, F., et al. 1983. Gymnopilins, bitter principles of the big-laughter mushroom Gymnopilus spectabilisTetrahedron Letters (1983): 1991–93.


Buck, R. W. 1967. Psychedelic effect of Pholiota spectabilisNew England Journal of Medicine 267:391–92.


Gartz, Jochen. 1989. Occurrence of psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin in Gymnopilus purpuratusPersoonia 14:19–22.


———. 1992. Further investigations on psychoactive mushrooms of the genera PsilocybeGymnopilus and ConocybeAnnali dei Musei Civici di Rovereto 7 (1991): 265–74.


Guzmán-Davalos, L., and Gastón Guzmán. 1991. Additions to the genus Gymnopilus (Agaricales) from Mexico. Mycotaxon 40 (1): 43–56.


Hatfield, G. M., L. J. Valdes, and A. H. Smith. 1977. Proceedings—isolation of psilocybin from the hallucinogenic mushroom Gymnopilus validipesLloydia 40:619.


———. 1978. The occurrence of psilocybin in Gymnopilus species. Lloydia 41 (2): 140–44.


Romagnesi, M. H. 1964. Champignons toxiques au Japon. Bulletin de la Société Mycologique de France 80 (1): iv–v.


Tanaka, Masayasu, Kimiko Hashimoto, Toshikatsu Okuno, and Haruhisa Shirahama. 1993. Neurotoxic oligoisoprenoids of the hallucinogenic mushroom Gymnopilus spectabilisPhytochemistry 34 (3): 661–64.


Walters, Maurice B. 1965. Pholiota spectabilis, a hallucinogenic fungus. Mycologia 57:837–38.