In 1962, during research into the Mexican magic mushrooms (cf. Psilocybe mexicana), it was discovered that Indians used two species of this genus that are attributed with psychoactive properties:
Lycoperdon marginatum Vitt. ex Morris et De Not. [syn. Lycoperdon candidum Persoon; cf. Guzmán 1994b, 1452**]
Lycoperdon mixtecorum Heim [syn. Lycoperdon qudenii Bottom., Vascellum qudenii (Bottom.) Ponce de Leon]—Mixtec puffball
These fungi appear to have narcotic or dream-inducing effects. People under their influence are said to hear voices. One Indian reported, “I fell asleep for an hour or an hour and a half and the puffball spoke to me then, saying that I would become ill but would recover from the sickness” (in Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 41 f.*).
The Mixtec apparently use these fungi for divinatory purposes. In the region of the Tara-humara, the fungi are known as kalamota and are associated with witchcraft (Bye 1976*; 1979b, 39*). Additional research into their ritual use is needed. It is possible that they were used as peyote substitutes (see Lophophora williamsii).
Most puffballs are edible when young. The Mexican species Lycoperdon umbrium Pers. is known among the Tepehuan Indians as ju’ba’pbich nakai, “excrement of the stars fungus,” and it is a popular edible fungus when it is young (Gonzalez E. 1991, 170). It may be that only older specimens are psychoactive.
Some allegedly psychoactive Mexican species of puffball (Lycoperdon spp.) are used in Mazatec shamanism.
A number of species (including some from the related genera Astraeus, Scleroderma, and Vascellum) have been studied to determine whether they have any psychoactive effectiveness. No psychoactive effects have been observed, nor has any psychedelic component385 been detected (Díaz 1979, 93*; Ott et al. 1975). However, it is possible that ingesting a puffball may result in subtle effects upon dreaming. Because most Indians have been trained to consciously experience their dreams and to analyze them for divinatory contents, it is entirely possible that non-Indian researchers have not been able to notice these effects.
In North America, puffballs possess a certain ritual and medicinal importance that may indicate a possible psychoactivity. The Blackfeet call them ka-ka-toos,“falling stars” or “dusty stars.” They used the pleasantly scented species to make necklaces and decorated their tepees with representations of these fungi, considering them symbols of the life that arose from the earth. They sniffed the spores to treat nosebleeds (Johnston 1970, 303 f.*). They burned Lycoperdon species as magical incense to drive off spirits (Burk 1983, 55). The Cherokee used the common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum Pers. ex Pers.)386as a remedy for treating chafed areas. The amino acid lycoperdic acid has been isolated from Lycoperdon perlatum (Rhugenda-Banga et al. 1979). The North American stump puffball (Lycoperdon pyriformeSchaeff. ex Pers.) is reputed to have sleep-inducing effects (Morgan 1995, 127**).
The following North American puffballs have also been attributed with psychoactive effects (Burk 1983, 60; Guzmán 1994, 1452**):
Lycoperdon pedicellatum Peck [syn. Lycoperdon candidum Pers. ex Pers.]
Scleroderma verrucosum Bull. ex Pers.—warted devil’s snuffbox
Vascellum pratense (Pers.: Pers.) Kreisel [syn. Lycoperdon hiemale]
The Mapuche Indians of Chile refer to various Lycoperdon species as pëtremquilquil, “tobacco of Chuncho” or “powder of the devil” (Mösbach 1992, 52*). Chuncho or Chonchon is a bird with a human head that is sometimes regarded as an incarnation of a sorcerer, that is, a shaman (Brech 1985, 7). It is entirely possible that the fungus known as the tobacco of Chuncho, which has unfortunately not yet been identified, was smoked to effect the transformation into an animal and the ability to fly.
Reichel-Dolmatoff wrote that the mamas (shaman priests) of the Colombian Kogi used a number of psychoactive fungi, including a “bluish puffball,” in ritual contexts. Unfortunately, the identity of this “bluish puffball” is unknown (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1977, 285*; 1996b, 167, 297*).
Before leaving his body for all time, the Buddha ate a piece of a fungus known as pûtika (Scleroderma sp. or Lycoperdon pusillum). Pûtika is said to have been a substitute for soma (Wasson 1983). The Santala, a Dravidian group of India, refer to Lycoperdon pusillum as “toad” and believe that the fungus possesses a soul (Morgan 1995, 148**). This belief may be a relic of an earlier psychoactive use.
“One view that is widely held geographically but is inaccurate claims that the spore dust of Lycoperdon is harmful to the eyes and can even lead to blindness. This may be connected to the mistrust of the puffballs and of fungi in general and to the general fear of getting dust in one’s eyes.”
V. J. BRØNDEGAARD ETHNOBOTANIK [ETHOBOTANY] (1985, 241*)
Brech, Martha. 1985. Kultrún—Zur Schamanentrommel der Mapuche. Berlin: Peter Oberhofer.
Burk, William R. 1983. Puffball usages among North American Indians. Journal of Ethnobiology 3 (1): 55–62.
Gonzalez Elizondo, Martha. 1991. Ethnobotany of the southern Tepehuan of Durango, Mexico: I. Edible mushrooms. Journal of Ethnobiology 11 (2): 165–73.
Ott, Jonathan, Gastón Guzmán, J. Romano, and J. Luis Díaz. 1975. Nuevos datos sobre los supuestos Licoperdaceos psicotropicos y dos casos de intoxicación provocadas por hongos del genero Scleroderma en México. Boletín de la Sociedad Mexicana de Micología 9:67–76.
Rhugenda-Ganga, Nziraboba, André Welter, Joseph Jadott, and Jean Casimi. 1979. Un nouvel acide amide isole de Lycoperdon perlatum. Phytochemistry 18:482–84.
Wasson, R. Gordon. 1983. The last meal of the Buddha. Botanical Museum Leaflets 29 (3): 219–49.