What is the Difference Between Psychedelic and Functional Mushrooms?

Published on April 26, 2024

By Emma Cunningham

Emma Cunningham

Emma Cunningham is a nutritionist, environmentalist, and in-house copywriter at Gaia Herbs. Her love for the planet, food, and plant medicine comes from her three years traveling through the world solo while fully immersed in eastern and idigenous cultures, languages, cuisines, and ways of life. Now based in Los Angeles with her fiancé and dog, she hopes her words and work can inform, inspire, and create lasting change in our personal and planet’s well-being.

When it comes to the entangled world of fungi, not all mushrooms are created equal. Turns out, there's a big difference between psychedelic mushrooms and their functional counterparts.  

For our wellness fanatics, you may already know the difference and have explored it for yourself.  

For those who haven’t, let's dive in and uncover the magic of both and shine a spotlight on the launch of Gaia Herbs’ latest functional mushroom products (hint: they’re not tinctures, capsules, or tablets...but are surprisingly tasty!). 

What Are Psychedelic Mushrooms? 

You probably know that psychedelic mushrooms are the type of mushroom that make you high.  

But how do they work exactly? 

Also known as “magic mushrooms,” psychedelic mushrooms contain psychoactive compounds like psilocybin and psilocin, which can make you feel you’re experiencing an altered state of consciousness. Think hallucinations, mood swings, other-worldly realizations, etc.  

As of 2020, approximately 148,000 mushroom species have been identified and described. Of those, about 200 known species may contain psychedelic compounds, making up less than 1% (0.135%) of the known species of mushrooms.REF#3927 REF#3928

They are illegal to purchase in the U.S., though some cities have decriminalized their use.  

People often use psychedelic mushrooms for recreational purposes or to explore their spiritual side.  

There's also a growing interest in their potential therapeutic benefits, especially for conditions like depression and anxiety.REF#3929

Many experts tout the use of psychedelics, like mushrooms, in very small microdoses for these purposes, and emerging studies suggest a benefit.  

However, the practice is still in its infancy and should only be undertaken under the supervision of a licensed professional in accordance with laws.   

Psychedelic mushrooms often have distinctive physical characteristics.  

They typically feature a conical or bell-shaped cap with a range of colors, including white, brown, or yellow, often with unique patterns or spots. The gills beneath the cap are often dark and can change color as the mushroom matures. 

What are Functional Mushrooms? 

Functional mushrooms are non-psychedelic mushrooms that have been used for thousands of years in traditional eastern medicine for their mind-body health enhancing properties. 

Functional mushrooms do not give you a psychedelic rollercoaster ride, but they pack a serious punch when it comes to health benefits.  

Instead of psychoactive compounds, they're loaded with bio actives like beta-glucans, polysaccharides, and antioxidants.REF#3928

Functional mushrooms come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, depending on the species.  

For example:  

  • Reishi mushrooms typically have a reddish-brown, shiny cap with a woody texture. 
  • Lion's Mane mushrooms have cascading white, shaggy spines resembling a lion's mane. 
  • Turkey Tail mushrooms, as the name implies, resembles a miniature turkey’s tail with bands of varying creams, grays, yellows, browns, and oranges. 

Learn more about how to become adept at identify mushrooms in: A Beginner’s Guide to Mushroom Foraging: Tips and Resources. 

What is the Difference Between Psychedelic Versus Functional Mushrooms? 

The primary difference in functional mushrooms vs psychedelic mushrooms lies within the chemistry of these wonderful fungi. 

Let’s start with functional mushrooms. 

When we examine the research on functional fungi, like Reishi, Shitake, or Lions Mane, for example, the primary bioactive compounds range from:  

  • Triterpenoids like ganoderic acids in the fruiting body of Reishi 
  • Hericinones and erinacines in Lions’ Mane 
  • Beta-glucans, which are found in most functional mushrooms.  

As covered in previous articles, research suggests these diverse compounds found in functional mushrooms influence the body in many ways.  

Some examples include:  

  • Supporting normal immune system regulation 
  • Promoting cognitive functions 
  • Supporting neurological function 
  • Promoting respiratory function 
  • Supporting liver function 

To go a little deeper, we'll use triterpenoids like ganoderic acid present in Reishi as an example. 

Triterpenoids and ganoderic acids are a category of bioactive compounds present within Reishi (the Gandoerma species) that is believed to be responsible for many biological activities in the body.REF#3930 

Although the mechanisms of action of these compounds is not fully understood, research shows they potentially modulate/regulate immune response thus enhancing the systems’ ability to adapt to stresses.REF#3931

Now let’s look at how psychedelics influence the body. 

The action of psychedelics on the body focuses mainly on the brain and nervous system.  

Unlike the hericenoes and erinacines in Lion’s Mane that seem to support various aspects of cognitions, for example, psychedelics appear to influence the brain in a different and more dramatic way. 

Scientists have proposed that psychedelics work on resetting the brain’s connectivity patterns by opening a therapeutic window to facilitate the emergence of novel insights, potentially leading to emotional release.REF#3932

Research also suggests Psilocybin alters activity in a brain region associated with emotional processing and internal awareness. This reduces slow brain wave activity, hindering communication between faraway brain regions. Neuronal activity goes up, but in a chaotic manner that disrupts regular function.REF#3933

As you can see, the interplay between mushroom compounds and the body can get complex. The bottom line is: comparing psychedelic mushrooms to functional mushrooms is like comparing apples and oranges. 

They’re both mushrooms but are completely different species with different nutrients and bioactive compounds that impact the body in unique ways.  

Our popular Gaia Herbs functional mushroom standouts include: 

All of our products are 100% mushroom extract (fruiting body) with zero fillers, starch, grains, or mycelium. 

With our stellar lineup of functional mushroom supplements, you can enjoy all the benefits they have to offer. 

You can view these testing results and discover where each ingredient was sourced online using the Meet Your Herbs web page.  

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. 


  • 1. , "New scientific discoveries: Plants and fungi", Plants, People, Planet.
  • 2. , "Psychedelic Mushrooms in the USA: Knowledge, Patterns of Use, and Association With Health Outcomes", Frontiers in Psychiatry.
  • 3. , "Psychedelics", Aspet Phara.
  • 4. , " Review of Ganoderma Triterpenoids and Their Bioactivities", Journal: Biomolecules, 2022.
  • 5. , "Immunomodulatory Effects of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Bioactive Immunoregulatory Products", Journal of Fungi, 2020 .
  • 6. , "Neural mechanisms underlying psilocybin’s therapeutic potential – the need for preclinical in vivo electrophysiology", Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2022.
  • 7. , "What Psilocybin Does to the Brain", https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-circuitry-of-action-and-awareness/202209/what-psilocybin-does-to-the-brain .