Truffles are popularly considered as the black diamond of haute cuisine, a luxury delicacy, accesible only to some. But leaving gastronomy aside, ¿what exactly do you know about “magic” truffles? Here’s everything.
We start at the beginning. Truffles cannot be understood without having a good understanding of fungi’s structure, since they are closely linked.
The life of fungus begins in a single reproductive cell, known as spore (Image 1). When the spore is germinated, it emits a long filament called hypha. If there are nutrients and the conditions are suitable, the first hypha won’t be the only one: it’ll continue to spread, forming a branched system of hyphae, that is, a network of filaments that will multiply in size. This hyphal system is the mycelium (Image 2).
The mycelium can grow almost indefinitely, often reaching macroscopic dimensions. However, we rarely see it, as it is usually found underground or in opaque substrates that hinder the observation. What we know as a fungus is normally the outer manifestation of the mycelium (althought “fungus” technically names the whole organism). Sometimes, the mycelium forms fruitful structures, which come out of the substrate, in order to spread its spores in open air and fulfill its reproductive role. These structures are the fungi (Image 3): the part that looks like a man on a hat.
For the mycelium to emerge in the form of a mushroom, some environmental conditions are necessary. And that’s not always posible. If climate isn’t suitable (for example, if the mycelium suffered drought), the mycelium will form sclerotia. A sclerotium (Image 4) is “a globular body of approximately 1 mm. of diameter, composed by intertwined vegetative mycelium’s hyphae, which are covered with an extremely resistant bark. They are generally pigmented and are considered elements of resistance, capable of conserving the species over time”i. The sclerotium is known as “truffle”, and it looks like a weird brain, with a hard cortex and its convolutions are made up of the mycelium’s hyphae.
Magic doesn’t exist, but chemistry does. Of course, not all truffles are magic, just as not all mushrooms, from which truffles come, are.
"Magic mushrooms" is our affectionate way to call psychoactive mushrooms, of which up to more than two hundred species have been recorded (and it is still possible that these numbers vary). However, the psychoactivity of these mushrooms is not always product of the same chemistry. If we look at their composition, we can classify psychoactive mushrooms into three large groups: those that contain psilocin and psilocybin; those containing muscimol and/ or ibotenic acid; and those with ergoline.
Let's focus in the first group. Those mushrooms whose psychoactivity is due to the alkaloids psilocin and psilocybin are called psilocybin mushrooms. These fungi, in specific circumstances, can produce a sclerotium or truffle that is valued for having the same alkaloids as the fungus from which it comes and, therefore, the same psychoactive potential.
Due to the strict laws established in many countries, that persecute and punish the consumption of magic mushrooms, in recent years we have witnessed an enhancement of magic trufflesi. In many countries’ legislation, its consumption is not contemplated or penalized (in many cases, there is a legal void), so there’s an open door to its use. Thus the magic truffles have been gaining followers around the world.
What are the effects of magic truffles?
First truffles’ effects can be noticed between 30 and 60 minutes after their ingestion, the trip can last between four and six hours and, in general, maximum effects tend to occur between 60 and 90 minutes after ingestion.
Of course, these indicators are quite general and it is important to know that each individual experiences the journey in a particular way. In addition, another aspect to consider is that truffle’s psilocin and psilocybin content not only differ between different varieties of truffles, but also between truffles of the same variety.
On a physical level, the effects of psilocin and psilocybin are pupil dilation and an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Occasionally, the subject may have nausea and more rarely vomits and diarrhea. It is also possible to suffer from tremors, muscle discomfort and dizziness. Physical effects are usually mild if the dose is moderate.
Regarding psychological effects, the alteration of sensory perception, or profound changes in cognition and consciousness, stand out. Visual disturbances range from kaleidoscopic full color visions with closed eyes, intensification of colors, waviness of lines, to distortion of objects (you may feel objects "breathing" or changing its size), but hallucinations (perceiving something that doesn’t exist) usually occur under very high doses. Sounds also step up, especially music. Physical sensations, altogether, become more evident (greater tactile sensitivity, to cold or heat, tingling, etc.) as well as the perception of time. You may feel time slows down or even stops.
Reports of synaesthetic experiences, in which the stimuli that correspond to one sense are processed by another sense, are also common. For example, seeing the colors of music.
At a cognitive and consciousness level, alterations can be both positive and terrifying, but intense anyway. While many consumers have reported gratifying, mystical, transcendental, profound experiences, and have had feelings of unity and connection with nature and our surroundings, it is just as true that others have had a bad trip, they transmit terrifying personal experiences, of paranoia, anxiety, agitation, confusion or disorientation, they have felt that they are going to die or going crazy.
In that sense, many authors express the importance of set & setting, that is, of preparing the environment and oneself for the ingestion, to ensure a good trip.
Be that as it may, the therapeutic potential of psilocybin is being investigated and there are already multiple studies that shed light on its possible benefits to treat anxiety, cluster headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder or addictions (to tobacco and alcohol), among others. Many of these studies have shown promising results.
How are they used?
Magic truffles can be consumed in different ways, although they are usually eaten directly. Consumers prefer to have them on an empty stomach and chew them well, so their cells break down. This will accelerate their assimilation and will provide the best effects.
However, truffles’ taste isn’t always pleasant. Some people even claim to feel nauseous after eating it. For this reason, it is usually recommended to grind the truffles and to swallow them with water.
In our opinion, the way to get the most out of them is to prepare a tea, add the juice of half a lemon, let it rest and cool for 10 minutes, add the truffles and let it rest for another 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, you drink the tea while you chew slowly the truffles and use the tea to swallow them. Before this do a minimum of 6-8 hours of fasting.
Storage and conservation of truffles
Storing truffles is easy. After being harvested, truffles have to be dried. This step is mandatory in order to upkeep them correctly, even if you are going to freeze them.
To do this, they are first pre-dried, placing them on a plate and with a fan on top of them, which keeps the air moving, but without whipping them completely. When they are wrinkled and well dry to the touch, they are removed. At this point, truffles can only be consumed for a couple of weeks.
To store truffles for longer, the second step is to dry them with a desiccant. Heat as a method of drying truffles is avoided at all costs, as it destroys them. Desiccants, for their part, are substances that absorb water from the atmosphere. Silica gel is the most common desiccant. You can find it in the box of your shoes, when you buy them, or in industrial packaging and even in food. To dry out both mushrooms and truffles, the chosen silica gel must be orange. Blue silica gel (for clothing and shoes) is toxic because it contains cobalt chloride.
The silica gel must be placed at the bottom of a container with a hermetic closure (glass better than plastic). Then, silica gel is covered with paper napkins and a strainer is placed on top with the truffles inside. The strainer must fit inside the container. Its mesh will avoid, even more, direct contact between truffle and desiccant. With all the layers in place, the container is closed and the desiccant is allowed to act. It would only be necessary to open the container every two days to check the state of the truffles, until they have dried completely.
If these two steps are followed for storing truffles, they can be enjoyed for a month. Its conservation must be at a constant temperature between 2º and 4º C.
Truffles can also be frozen for conservation but the drying process must be respected too: all excess moisture must be removed, so the state of the truffles is not compromised.
The appearance of truffles changes and it is normal that, due to the oxidation process of psilocin and psilocybin, they acquire a greenish or bluish tone. If the truffle, however, is covered by a white fluff, there’s no need to be alarmed either, it is natural and safe for the truffle to develop this layer. The layer’s the new mycelium (the lack of gas exchange inside the container, causes a rise in the carbon dioxide level and this phenomenon occurs).
Regarding their chemical composition, magic truffles of psilocybin mushrooms have as active principles: psilocybin (4-PO-DMT), psilocin (4-HO-DMT) and baeocystin (4-HO-NMT). Psilocybin is the main and most stable alkaloid.
It was Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who synthesized LSD, the first to also isolate psilocybin in 1957. Subsequently, pharmacological studies have been carried out indicating that psilocybin is converted to psilocin once absorbed, and that the effects are similar. For this reason, psilocybin is considered a prodrug of psilocin, although psilocin is the alkaloid responsible for psychoactivity. Of baeocystin, on the other hand, there are no specific studies.
It is impossible to establish a standard dose of mushrooms and truffles, since the composition varies depending on the species, its state of conservation, etc. However, when it comes to pure (synthetic) psilocybin, the dosing considerations are as follows: less than 4 mg. is considered a microdose; a low dose is between 4 and 8 mg .; the average dose, between 6 and 20 mg; high doses, between 20 and 35 mg; and very high doses, those that exceed 35 mg.
Safety and risk control
In case of collecting psilocybin mushrooms and their truffles directly from the natural environment, it is essential to know how to correctly identify mushrooms. There are many mushrooms that look alike and are toxic or poisonous. Some of them can even be deadly (varieties of the genera Galerina and Pholiota, for example).
It is also vital to take care of the storage and conservation of magic mushrooms and truffles, respecting environmental conditions and expert recommendations. People with a history of cardiovascular diseases should refrain from consuming truffles, especially those who control their pathologies with medication, or who, on medical advice, have to reduce their physical activity. Psilocybin produces intense experiences that can generate anxiety. In addition, it is important not to consume alcohol, medication or other drugs in combination with truffles, as well as to avoid consumption in case of pregnancy or lactation.
Although psilocybin mushrooms and their truffles present few risks to physical health, there are risks to psychological health to consider (which may occur during the experience, or after it, in the medium term), as explained by ICEERS: " The main risk of psilocybin mushrooms is that they can trigger a difficult experience, in which there are unpleasant symptoms such as fear, anxiety, paranoid ideas, fear of death or going crazy, symptoms of a psychotic nature, or the feeling that the trip will never end. This type of experience can occur with any dose, although its manifestations in such cases are different”i.
Usually, at low and medium doses, unpleasant contents may appear and the subject may try to resist, which usually causes increased anxiety. At high doses, however, resistance is less important due to the intensity of the experience.
Sometimes, after difficult experiences, psychological difficulties of various kinds can be experienced and they may require specialized attention.
In order to avoid a bad trip, experts warn of the importance of taking care of the set & setting, that means to: choose a good vital moment (of emotional stability), to be prepared with good disposition, to propperly measure the dosage, to find a good place, to select nice music, and to be accompanied by trusted people who do not consume (a guardian, at least).
Additionally, it is important to note that certain activities, such as driving, operating machinery, or tasks that require concentration, cannot be carried out under the influence of truffles. Likewise, it is convenient to consult the legislation of your country in relation to truffles. Safety first.
i More information: https://bit.ly/2JQRmVg