Mushroom Spores & Microscopy Research

Studying mushroom spores with a microscope is one of the most rewarding hobbies for amateur, at-home scientists. It’s also an incredibly important field of research for professional scientists too, because mushroom spores have so much to tell us about many different topics, including medicine, psychiatry, anthropology, and even our own history.

Our mission at Quality Spores is to provide microscopists both amateur and professional with the best mushroom spores available, particularly of the Psilocybe cubensis variety. As we’ll discover below, psilocybin spores are among the most fascinating spores to study.

While cultivated magic mushrooms are illegal to possess in the United States, psilocybin spores are (usually) not.

To learn more about the legality of magic mushroom spores, please visit our article Why Are Magic Mushroom Spores LegalTo discover more about state-specific legal issues, please visit our article Are Magic Mushroom Spores Legal in My State?

In this article, you’ll find out more about mushroom spores, how and why spores are studied, the difference between mushrooms and fungi (yes, there is a difference!), and much more.

Let’s get started by learning more about why scientists both amateur and professional find themselves drawn to the study of mushroom spores:

Why Scientists in Many Different Fields Study Mushroom Spores

Amateur microscopy is a fun and rewarding hobby. Since microscopes can be acquired relatively cheaply and don’t require any prohibitive degree of training or education to learn how to use, the barrier of entry is quite low. Both young and old home scientists will find many countless hours of pleasure in exploring the world of the very small.

Professional scientists who study mushroom spores do so not just for the pleasure of analysis, but often for purposes that seek to expand our knowledge of medicine, psychiatry, and other important areas of research. In fact, one of the most promising areas of research concerns the potential of psilocybin mushrooms to help patients.

For example, did you know that evidence has suggested that psilocybin may act as a neuroregenerative? In other words, psilocybin may promote cell growth and regeneration in the brain of a patient.

That’s just one example of how psilocybin and the study of mushroom spores is shaking up the medical world—in the field of psychiatry, research has indicated that the compound shows promise in treating behavioral and mood disorders like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even addiction to alcohol and cigarettes.

There’s a lot to talk about in regard to the benefits of psilocybin, so if you’d like to learn more make sure to check out our page dedicated to the topic, Psilocybin Benefits.

In addition to medicine and psychiatry, there are two other fields where the study of psilocybin mushroom spores plays an important part: history and anthropology.

Mushroom Spores, Plants, Fungi, Minerals in Ethnopharmacology

Surprised? There’s actually an entire field of research called ethnopharmacology, which involves the study of people and how they use plants, fungi, animals, and minerals to yield pharmacological effects. Ethnopharmacology studies can involve how present day indigenous medicine is practiced, but more commonly it looks long into the past.

Research in ethnopharmacology and ethnobiology—the overarching study of how humanity uses different living things, including plants, animals, and fungi—gives scientists unique insights into not only interesting historical facts, but also many ways in which this knowledge can impact and improve the modern understanding of pharmacology. For instance, many of the most important drugs used today, including ephedrine and morphine, came into use nearly exclusively thanks to the research conducted by ethnopharmacologists.

As you might imagine, the pharmacological implications of a powerful psychedelic like psilocybin is a major focus of ethnobiologists, including famous ones like the late Terence McKenna. If you’d like to learn more about the relationship shared between humans and mushrooms—one which stretches back 11,000 years and perhaps beyond—we encourage you to take a look at our page Mushrooms and Humanity.

For now, let’s take a quick look at what kind of equipment you’d need to pick up if you wanted to start studying mushroom spores for yourself, and then we’ll move on to some other must-know information like what a mushroom spore really is

What Kind of Equipment do I Need to Study Mushroom Spores?

Mushroom microscopy is one of those fun scientific hobbies that will give you back as much as you put in. In this case, what you need to “put in” is much more so concerning time, a willingness to learn, and a zest for discovery than the amount of money you spend—when you’re just starting out, you don’t need to break the bank!

Avoid so-called “toy” microscopes, which come in those little bundles intended for young children.

In fact, you’ll likely want to start out with a used microscope. Since colleges, universities, and private research firms so often need to use the latest and greatest in microscope technology, you can often purchase a very good used microscope for a few hundred dollars, either in person or on an online auction site.

Avoid so-called “toy” microscopes, which come in those little bundles intended for young children. While microscopy can indeed be a wonderful way for young kids to learn, these products are often little more than powerful magnifying glasses, and won’t give you the kind of magnification necessary to truly appreciate the beauty of a spore’s microstructure. Instead, plan to spend roughly $300-600 for a microscope with what’s called an oil immersion lens capable of roughly 1,000x magnification.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of how to get started with amateur microscopy here. If you’d like to read a much more in-depth resource on the kind of equipment you need and how to do things like calibrating a microscope or properly handling and cleaning slides, please read our article about Amateur Microscopy.

What Exactly IS a Mushroom Spore?

When people talk about mushrooms, they’re generally referring to Basidiomycota, which is the scientific classification for—take a deep breath for this one—a subdivision of the subkingdom Dikarya, which is a member of the Fungi kingdom. (And as we’ll learn in the next section, not all fungi are mushrooms).

The Life Cycle of a Mushroom

Mushrooms, or Basidiomycetes, have three important phases to their life cycle: the spore, the mycelium, and the mushroom. As you might have already surmised, the spore is the beginning of the lifespan of a mushroom. Once germinated, spores grow tiny little “branches” called hyphae, which then fuse together, and that forms mycelium.

If you’ve ever seen white, fractal, almost spiderweb-like clumps on, say, a rotting log in the woods, that was probably mycelium. The mycelium acts as a network, usually underground, which feeds on plant and animal material. The broken down plant materials are actually recycled into compounds which are beneficial for the soil, making mycelium (and mushrooms as a whole) an important part of the ecosystem—but we’ll “dig” into that more in just a moment.

After spores have germinated and become a spreading mycelium, and if environmental conditions are right, a mushroom can grow from the mycelium. Those mushrooms can then produce more spores and the cycle continues. It’s important to note however that spores, mycelium, and mushrooms are all considered to be distinct terms (so a spore isn’t a mushroom and a mushroom isn’t mycelium, and so on). 

Having said that, mycelial networks are usually considered to be a single organism. So, when you see a single mushroom growing outside after a nice, heavy rain, it may actually only be one component of a much larger network. In fact, the largest organism on earth is a mycelial mat in Oregon which spans nearly ten square kilometers! Scientists believe that it might even be up to 8,650 years old. You can read more about this massive fungi in this Scientific American article.

Spiderweb-like clumps of mycelium on wood
Spiderweb-like clumps of mycelium on wood.

So far, we’ve learned a lot of terms. Fungi, spores, mushrooms, mycelium—but let’s take that one step further and learn why it is that all mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are considered mushrooms.

All Mushrooms Are Fungi, But Not All Fungi Are Mushrooms

Most people use the terms fungi and mushroom quite interchangeably, but they don’t actually have the same meaning. It is true that all mushrooms are considered to be fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms—in fact, roughly 90% of all fungi don’t produce mushrooms! As we learned in the previous section, mushrooms are fruiting bodies which grow from mycelium (which grows from spores).

A fungi is considered to be any kind of eukaryotic microorganism. That includes yeast, molds, all forms of mildew, and, of course, mushrooms. If you’ve ever wondered what separates the plant and the fungi kingdoms, there are a lot of differences, but perhaps the most noteworthy is the lack of chlorophyll in fungi (the compound that allows plants to photosynthesize sunlight). Fungi instead must break down their nutrients. As it turns out, that’s really important for our ecosystem.

More Important Than You Think: The Role of Fungi in the Ecosystem

Mushrooms and other fungi have a very important role in the ecosystem. Since they “eat” by breaking down dead organisms, including plants and animals, they aid in decomposition and the recycling of nutrients. This helps the soil, which in turn helps the plants, which can then help animals, insects, and people.

Fungi also have special relationships with fungivores—that is to say, any organism that feeds on fungi. This includes people, of course, but also many other mammals, birds, insects, plants, slugs, and even bacteria, among others. Strictly speaking, a true fungivore subsists entirely on fungi, whereas omnivores (like people) can survive on fungi, plants, and animals.

Finally, it’s worth noting that in some ecosystems, fungi have a unique relationship with plants, wherein the plants and the fungi actually exchange nutrients. Referred to as a mycorrhizal association, this kind of relationship involves the plant releasing sugars and other nutrients into the soil near its roots. Fungi in the soil consume these nutrients and recycle it into different types of nutrients that the plant can sustain itself with.

Mushrooms Can Be Deadly, But Not as Often As You Think

If you’re considering studying mushroom spores, mycelium, or mushrooms themselves, you’re probably at least a little worried about encountering a poisonous mushroom—unfortunately, mushrooms have been somewhat unfairly maligned. While it is true that some mushrooms can be quite poisonous and even deadly, most are not. You can get sick eating a poisonous mushroom, but you probably won’t die—although having said that, please never eat anything you haven’t properly identified as being safe to consume.

It’s estimated that over 90% of all fatal mushroom consumption fatalities involve mushrooms within the Amanitaceae family, of which the Death Cap and Destroying Angel mushrooms are members. If you learn how to identify mushrooms in the Amanitaceae family and avoid them as though your life depended on it (because it does), then you’ll be ahead of the game insofar as poisonous or deadly mushrooms are concerned.

Please never eat anything you haven’t properly identified as being safe to consume!

The point of sharing this information isn’t to encourage anyone to be lackadaisical with their mushroom-identifying skills, just to lay to rest the false belief that most mushrooms are deadly. They aren’t, but that’s no excuse to not do your due diligence!

If you’re interested in learning how to identify psilocybin mushrooms and psilocybin mushroom spores, please view our page on the topic: Psilocybin Mushroom Identification.

What Are Some of the Most Common Mushroom Spores to Study?

If this article has you excited to start your own amateur microscopy career, we can recommend a few of our most popular psilocybin mushroom spores for beginners.

One of our most popular strains is Golden Teacher, and we’ve been told that this is an absolutely fascinating mushroom spore to study. It’s popular among beginner microscopists who want to start with something easy to identify. We also recommend picking up one of our B+ spore syringes, thanks to its enduring popularity in the microscopy community. 

Once you know your way around spores a bit better, you can start to study something at the intermediate level, like our White Teacher strain, which is a hybrid between Golden Teacher and Albino Penis Envy.

Good luck on your microscopy journey!

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