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Why the ‘Penis Envy’ Mushroom Is So Aptly Named

It’s appearance and potency are no accident

I’d argue that every mushroom has a phallic quality, and vice versa. When I first heard of the “Penis Envy” strain of the Psilocybe cubensis psychedelic mushroom, my initial thought was that it lacked creativity. Upon further inspection, though, the name seems entirely appropriate: In its perfect form, Penis Envy mushrooms look exactly like a penis, almost enviously so. Most men would be content, if not proud, to have an appendage identical to this mushroom. But is there more to the shroom than just its name?

As drug journalist Hamilton Morris explains in what was only his second article for VICE’s “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia” series in 2009, the legend of the strain extends well beyond its appearance. It’s said to have been “discovered” growing from the manure of Zebu cattle in the Amazon by Terence McKenna, the ethnobotanist responsible for much of the culture and knowledge surrounding psychedelics today. He then shipped a sample of the spores to mycologist Steven Pollock, another scientist consumed in his belief of the powers of magic mushrooms, who modified the sample into the perfect phallic form. Shortly after successfully forming a penis-shaped mushroom and shipping a glass slide to fellow mycologists, Pollock was found shot dead in his home, dick-shroom in hand. Some decades later, a version of the strain appeared online under the name Penis Envy.

All of this would be for naught, though, if the product couldn’t perform. And to this day, perform it does. It is among both the most potent and most popular strains of shrooms available today, according to spore-selling sites. Online, it’s not all that difficult to purchase a syringe filled with spores to propagate one’s own Penis Envy mushrooms, of which there are several varieties, “uncut” and “albino” among them.

According to the various online trip reports of the strain, the actual high of Penis Envy has little correlation to its name beyond the idea that it has the potential to completely fuck you, mentally or spiritually speaking. “It didn’t matter what position I was in physically because my astral body took no form, in fact I lost complete contact with my physical form and only knew my astral form for some time,” one trip report states. “Then I experienced complete ego death, melting and stripping away my mundane layers until I was reborn again spiritually. Ever since that day, I haven’t been the same.” 

Not to be too psychoanalytic, but phallic imagery is almost never a coincidence. In this case, it’s literally not, since Pollock allegedly designed it with the penis in mind. But even on a metaphorical level, perhaps the Penis Envy mushroom isn’t necessarily meant to evoke the penis itself, but what the symbol of the penis represents — a life force, a power, or in the case of envy, the lack of power. 

Or maybe it’s just a mushroom that Deadheads in hemp necklaces and baja hoodies eat in order to have a panic attack in a neglected thicket of their local park. Either way, the psychedelic prowess of Penis Envy prevails.