Psilocybin mushrooms contain a substance that, when ingested, changes our cognition and perceptions. Research in recent years has found that psilocybin can provide people with experiences imbued with lasting personal meaning. On this basis, it is used to treat conditions involving depression and emotional distress. Mushrooms have been part of the human experience for countless generations.
The ancient Egyptians viewed them (justifiably) as representations of immortality; in southern Mexico, mushrooms were treated for hundreds of years as “sacred children” that could speak via the mystics who ate them; and the figure of Santa Claus is likely based on a healing experience of shamans in the Arctic Circle, who “flew” over the snowy landscape after they and their reindeer ate mushrooms (yes, reindeer in the wild have been documented foraging for and eating red-and-white Amanita muscaria mushrooms).
At the end of the 1950s, Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who was the first to “discover” LSD, also became the first Western scientist to isolate and synthesize the active substances in psychedelic mushrooms, compounds called psilocybin and psilocin. It emerged that the mushrooms themselves convert the amino acid tryptophan into organic psychedelic compounds such as psilocin. These compounds create an interaction with the serotonin receptors in our brain, and one of the results is a sense of emotional well-being, along with changes in auditory and visual perceptions.
Sandoz (now Novartis), the Swiss pharmaceutical giant where Hofmann worked, quickly identified psilocybin’s medicinal value and marketed the drug as Indocybin, which aroused enthusiasm among therapists and researchers. Indocybin was considered a safe drug with a huge potential for treating various psychological pathologies, including depression and addiction.
But you don’t have to be sick to benefit from the influence of mushrooms. Thousands of years of public use, along with clinical research, show that psilocybin can also provide physically and emotionally healthy people with experiences laden with lasting personal meaning. I can testify to this personally and anecdotally, although I tried microdosing more than tripping. Thus, I identify with researchers who are urging the reclassification of psilocybin into the FDA’s least restrictive category, along with CBD (one of the active compounds in cannabis) and cough syrup.
Regrettably, psilocybin and its derivatives are not yet legal in most countries in the world. However, interested people can find treatment centers in several European countries, such as Britain and the Netherlands. These centers offer psilocybin retreats for groups, couples, and individuals, with medical supervision and accompanied by treatment. All you have to do is type the words “psilocybin retreat Europe” in a search engine such as Google. Keep in mind that the pandemic has limited the possibilities and that the high price can be a deterrent.
Yes, mushrooms are an entire universe. The mushroom cap is only the tip of the iceberg – beneath it grow the delicate filaments that make up the mycelium, a mysterious and marvelous weblike netting that spreads mostly underground. This is the mass of many-branched fibers that make up the vegetal part of the mushroom. In West Africa, there are mushrooms whose caps reach a diameter of more than three meters. Still, the world’s largest documented mushroom is the Armillaria ostoyae, which covers almost 10 square kilometers in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest.
Mycelium has some incredible uses. For example, new young companies are using it to produce green and relatively low-priced building materials. In 2014, the Hy-Fi tower was built entirely from bricks made of corn silk and mycelium. Exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the 13-meter-tall circular tower garnered numerous prizes. Architects assert that abandoned buildings can be recycled by mixing the remnants of used construction materials with mycelium and creating a brand-new material. This process can be adapted for building temporary structures in disaster zones using simple, mobile means.
Clothing manufacturers are turning increasingly to mycelium to produce green alternatives to leather and other textiles. A step like this can reduce the carbon footprint of the fashion industry, one of the world’s heaviest polluters. Mycelium packaging is entirely biodegradable and can help reduce our reliance on plastic and polyurethane. Another use for mycelium is the production of vegetable-based meat alternatives. Some companies believe it will be possible to manufacture medical products and even organs for transplant based on mycelium.
So, what will be? The startups are dazzling, the psychiatric research is promising, regulation is adapting itself, and investors are over the moon. The world market for edible mushrooms is expected to reach $69 billion by 2024, and even jewelry designers and artists are turning to mushrooms for inspiration. So it doesn’t matter whether you see mushrooms as sacraments, healthful food, medicine, or luxury merchandise – the fungi festivities are taking off, and it’s worth joining the journey!