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Saturday, January 8, 2011


Truffles, like mushrooms, are fungi, but instead grow below the surface of the soil.  They form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain trees and the white (above) of Italy can attain a weight of around three pounds (although most are much much less than a pound) and the black (right, Perigord, which has already been genome sequenced) of France maybe as high as a quarter pound (although that would be a very large size).  

Truffles were prized as early as the third millennium BC in Mesopotamia.  The Romans brought them to Europe, where many a king's court served them as delicacies.  As best as I can determine, they are important for four reasons: as an uber-expensive epicurean treat, essential element of the tree ecosystem, for your health (antituberculosis effect, with strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties) and a hallucinogenic. 

An excellent recent article is "The Hidden Life off Truffles," from Scientific American:

  1.  The French black truffles contain androstenal (above), a sex hormone found in the saliva only of male pigs. This is why only female pigs are used to hunt for them.  However, the Lagotto Romagnolo, a dog, is now used because pigs eat the truffles, while dogs can be trained to accept a cheap treat.

2.  Truffle oil usually contains an artificial flavorant, 2.4-dithiapentane (above), the chemical that provides that distinctive aroma.  Black Moth Vodka, however, is infused with the Perigord version.

3.  Climate change should improve the growing conditions of truffles.

How much do these edible truffles cost?  The Italian white can command a price of up to $5,000/pound at a retailer, while the French black in the range of $2,000/pound.  Macau casino owner Stanley Ho (right) reportedly paid $330,000 for a 3.3 pound white (which would be a world record weight, and that is $100,000/pound) in 2007, and only a few weeks ago paid the same amount for a dinky two and a half pounder ($132,000/pound).

I experienced two truffle encounters on my recent around the world adventure:

  1.  My Best Lunch Ever:  photo of my white truffle risotto--with a Barolo, Brunello and Pinot Grigio--

  2.  Magic Truffles were a trip.

First there were magic mushrooms, which were banned in the Netherlands in 2008 because of incidents--like a 16 year old American girl  senselessly committing suicide.  Then came magic truffles, on a technicality.

A synthesized hallucinogenic is LSD (above).  Remember Timothy Leary of Harvard and the '60's counterculture?  One of the active ingredients in natural magic truffles is psylocybin (left).  It is reported as being non-addictive, and these substances have actually been used to treat cluster headaches and show potential for dealing with psychiatric disorders. 

So on my Amsterdam stop I bought 9 grams of Psilocybe Galindoi in a Smart Shop for $9 (about $500/pound, a lot thriftier than those white and black ones above).  The instructions were to take this on a relatively empty stomach (but water was okay, which reminded me of preparing for a colostomy) and eat all of it.  If you feel uncomfortable my attendant said, drink a can of Coke or any soft drink and the effect would go away.  There were twenty dark brownish pieces (something like the photo above were crumbled) about a quarter the size of a cashew nut, and, amazingly enough, tasted like cashew nuts, with a slightly bitter sensation at the sides of the tongue.

As the effect would not be immediate, I first washed and hung some of my clothes in my hotel room and then took a shower.  At the 15-minute mark, I began to feel anxious, so lay in bed, with the CD playing some New Age music (they say tripping outdoors with a terrific view was best, but I thought I'd play it safe--it would have been safer if a trusted person or doctor were next to you).  An hour into it, my senses seemed to be sharper and I felt my heart rate increase (but this could have just been my imagination).  Time seemed to be slowing down, breathing was a tad more difficult and my body temperature appeared to have increased.  Could I have driven in this condition?  Probably, if absolutely necessary.

Only a few minutes later things in the room looked further away and skewed, and closing my eye threw me into a modern museum of art, Dali-esque visions, and weird, but creative and very psychedelic colors.  Now I can appreciate why some artists go into drugs. So this is how contemporary art developed!
But at this point I was suffering from high anxiety and, after an hour and a half, I thought this was enough, so weaved my way to the refrigerator to drink some soda.  Alas I only saw bottles of alcohol and really expensive water.  So I struggled back to bed.  At this point, I wondered how much longer this would last.  The possibility of forever worried me.  There was a point when I thought it was all over for me because I did not have full control of my self, never before having this sensation.  But at the two hour mark, the effect began to diminish.  By then, I was sweating, profusely.  It was not unlike slowly awaking from a bad dream.  The thought of never again came to mind.  It was not a particularly enjoyable experience.

All this is legal in Amsterdam, and the truffle spores can actually be purchased online, although, I would imagine that would be illegal if shipped to the USA.  In fact, don't even think about it!  Was this all worth it for me?  At a cost of $10, I guess so.  Smart?  Probably not, but I'm still alive and there were no aftereffects.  I've got some ideas now on how best to approach a second journey, but only under optimal conditions.



LKMChong said...

Hi Pat:

The effects of psylocybin reportedly augment perceptual sensations related to whatever the user is focusing on. In Leary's March Chapel Study, 100% of subjects reported a profoundly spiritual experience, but they were all meditating on the magnificent stain glass mosaic of the Virgin Mary in the chapel apse. You might try repeating your Magic Mushroom experiment, but this time instead of meditating on the contents of your hotel room refrigerator, you could try meditating on the "Blue Ocean Dragon". Profound visions of the future of oceans may result!


Well, my major concern was just surviving. Perhaps I'll get braver if there ever is a next time and actually try to enjoy the experience.

bloggersachin said...

I thought that the effect is depend upon the doses and the variety of truffles you have taken. I also read on, that its effects varied on person to person.

M Truff said...

Truffles effects depends on which variety and the quantity of truffles used. If you want to feel its best than taking truffles with an empty stomach is a good IDEA.


Edword Smith said...

There are varieties that strongly recommended only for experienced trippers. Varieties like Dragon's Dynamite Magic Truffles and Psilocybe Atlantis Magic Truffles does have stronger effects.