(Fr.) P. Kumm.
Psilocybe semilanceata, the liberty cap, is a psychedelic mushroom that contains the psychoactive compound psilocybin. It grows on grassy meadows and similar; particularly in wet, south-facing fields and other habitats well fertilised by sheep and other cattle feces, although unlike Psilocybe cubensis it does not grow directly on the dung itself. It is found throughout the cool temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and it is most common in "Europe, Russia, India, Peru and the Pacific Northwest United States and Northeastern North America."
The mushroom takes its name from an actual cap, the Phrygian cap, also known as the liberty cap, which it resembles. The Latin word for Phrygian cap is pileus, nowadays the technical name for what is commonly known as the "cap" of a fungal fruiting body. In the 18th century CE Phrygian caps were stuck on Liberty poles, which resemble the stem of the mushroom. The binominal name can be broken down into the Greek "psilo" (bald) and "cybe" (head), and the Latin "semi" (half) and "lanceata" (lanced or pierced).
Liberty caps have a distinctive conical head with a small point or nipple on the tip. They are yellow to brown in colour and the caps are slimy when moist. Their stems tend to be long, slightly wavy and the same colour or slightly lighter than the cap. The gills are darker than the outer cap. There are several species of lookalikes; domed heads and translucent stalks are some of the main giveaways when identifying impostors. As with all fungus, if in doubt do not consume before ascertaining the exact species. Anecdotal evidence suggests that accidental consumption of lookalike mushrooms in reasonable doses is unlikely to lead to anything worse than an upset stomach, but it is still an unnecessary risk.
Contemporary use in the UK
In Britain, a 'loophole' in UK law allowed the selling and possession of fresh, unprepared psychoactive mushrooms. Consequently, the early 21st century has seen a movement away from the 'club drugs' (such as ecstasy, ketamine and amphetamines) of the 1990s and a return to the 'psychedelica' of the drug culture's forefathers in the 1960s.
After much indecision (or unwillingness to legislate) governmental forces closed the loop hole. As from July 18, 2005 all retail transactions involving psychoactive mushrooms became illegal (with the exception of fly agaric), and possession of practically all psychoactive mushrooms was made illegal under the Drugs Act of 2005. Any transgression is treatable as a criminal offence involving a Class A substance.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the comprehensive curtailing of 'shroom culture' so suddenly has resulted in a tremendous increase in the use of the liberty cap by people who can no longer obtain their substance of choice by retail. Consequently many ancient sites of liberty cap 'nexuses' across the UK have been destroyed due to inexpert harvesting. Removal of the root of a sufficient number of individual organisms results in the death of the mycelium and the loss of mushroom growth over a widespread area. This is averted by the severance of the mushroom at the base of the stem as opposed to simple 'plucking'.
It is now illegal in the UK to pick or prepare any strain of psilocybe mushrooms in any form. The disturbance of psilocybe semilanceata from their natural state, the drying or preparation thereof or the possession of any psilocybin containing mushroom in any state is prohibited under that country's law and can lead to prosecution, a fine and/or imprisonment. A certain amount of ambiguity remains around the cultivation of psilocybe mushrooms for scientific/mycological purposes, but it is not recommended without the previous consultation of appropriate authorities.