Mushrooms are a classic case of misunderstood magic.
Fungi species have been used for thousands of years as medicine, and I have no doubt that ancient healers are likely eye rolling at western society’s recent revelations at the potential for mushrooms to heal our bodies. While this ‘aha’ moment isn’t news to those who are familiar with traditional Chinese medicine, I’m elated to report that these powerful and mysterious creatures are emerging from the shadows.
We fear what we do not know, and the intention of the following is to demystify and excite you about the untapped potential of fungi. The fear-mongering narrative that was bestowed upon mushrooms in the 1960s is finally being rewritten. Mushrooms have a beautiful story to tell us, and they now have the space to rightfully claim our attention and their place on the throne of the wellness kingdom.
In pockets of progressive wellness cities, you wouldn’t blink an eye to find your average citizen sipping on a functional fungi-infused tonic or experimenting with micro-dosing psilocybin mushrooms (fungi’s psychoactive compound). A majority of the rest of the country, though, finds the idea of mushroom-flavored anything somewhat nauseating, and are deeply confused on which mushrooms “get you high”.
Why is everyone talking about mushrooms?
Fungi live in a kingdom of their own, and most people are fascinated to discover that the genetic composition of mushrooms is actually more similar to humans than plants.
Our mainstream culture is just now waking up to their potential. I believe this is happening for two very distinct, but complimentary, reasons:
1: The sexiness of functional mushrooms as a superfood in an onslaught of new consumer packaged goods brands.
2: The increased attention on psilocybin mushrooms being used in psychedelic therapy.
These two conversations are quite the power couple. They are shedding light on the profound wisdom that fungi has to offer, but let the skyrocketing searches speak for themselves.
Alongside the trendiness of consumption of mushrooms, there is formidable content peaking our interest even further. Fantastic Fungi is a film released in 2019 about all things in mushroom land. It has been ten years in the making and is hands down one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Watch it here — you will not be disappointed with how you spend this hour and twenty-nine minutes of your time.
1. Functional Mushrooms — What are they?
Of the 2,000 mushroom species believed to be edible or medicinal…
“15 are recognized to have what are called functional benefits. This means that beyond their nutritional benefits, they have each been found to help support overall health and well-being in one way or another. Functional mushrooms work to balance your energy levels, strengthen your immune function, smooth digestion, and enhance your skin’s natural glow.” — Eatthis.com
I fell in love with functional mushrooms after launching Zigii and working with epic brand partners, many of which include adaptogens and mushrooms in their products.
To no surprise, many of the conversations I’ve had with people over the years about all the weird-sounding mushroom products I consume are met with confusion that parallels the CBD conversation.
“Will these get me high?”
On life — absolutely, and I caution that you might feel confusingly incredible after you start to incorporate them into your routine. But no, you need not fear floating through the cosmos from the overpriced Chaga-infused cocktails that may be lighting up your ‘gram feed. However, fungi’s psychedelic and controversial counterpart certainly will.
2. Psilocybin AKA Magic Mushrooms — These guys need some major PR damage control.
And they’re getting it. Prominent scientists, researchers, and wellness enthusiasts are all joining forces to create a much more attractive storyline. Enlighten yourself with some of my latest favorite reads linked at the bottom of this article, and scroll on for an overview of the major 1960s hiccup that funneled magic mushrooms into a corner where they don’t belong.
Changing my mind:
My fascination with the psychedelic assisted-therapy landscape began a few years ago after seeing major players like Michael Pollan and Tim Ferriss, whom I highly respect in both the business and wellness worlds, start to publicly support this movement.
Like most people new to this arena, I originally had a knee-jerk negative reaction to the idea of any psychedelic substances. This old way of thinking aligns with most judgments I’ve collected from people in my network, such as:
“My biggest misconception, after now having multiple impactful and life-changing psilocybin experiences, was that this was a drug. Drugs = bad, so says our typical societal upbringing.”
The extent of most millennial education on mushrooms seems to come from brief 1960s ‘War on Drugs’ history lessons. I happen to know for certain that my high-school D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program skipped over the promising scientific study of psychedelics that was simultaneously occurring during this era.
Growing up, psychedelics were painted in my perspective as villains that would effectively make me lose my mind. But, as I recently heard a psychedelic researcher so candidly say on a recent webinar:
“That’s the whole bloody point”. — Dennis McKenna
The goal of a psilocybin psychedelic experience is arguably to experience brief insanity, becoming momentarily dissociated from the ego (also described as short-term departure from your DMN, or default mode network).
Countless studies have shown that you emerge on the other side of your trip not only sane, but often with a new perspective on afflictions that presently trouble you, plus a plethora of other benefits.
“I felt like I went through 15 years of psychological therapy in one night.” — Patient featured in Trip of Compassion
Psychedelic mushrooms have been proven to rewire and create new pathways in the neuronal structure, which is wild because the brain structure controls everything about how we function.
In the most basic sense: psilocybin can transform and improve the way we think, as they may stimulate the very brain growth necessary for learning and change.
How to change yours:
Michael Pollan has truly created a masterpiece in his 2018 release of How to Change Your Mind — “What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.”
“Michael Pollan, somehow predictably, does the impossible: He makes losing your mind sound like the sanest thing a person could do.” — review from Tom Bissell (NY Times)
This book beautifully distills the history and current landscape of psychedelics, and if the tagline alone doesn’t make you add it to your Amazon cart I hope this gives you a nudge. Worth all 480 pages.
Pollan himself started studying psychedelics as a skeptic, and emerged on the other side of his journey championing their adoption.
Pollan’s book offers a convincingly grown-up case for the potential of drugs that, having survived decades of vilification, now seem poised to revolutionize several fields, from mental health to neuroscience.” — review from Mark Rozzo (Colombia Magazine).
Alas, the tides are a-changin, and the D.A.R.E. program may need some amendments.
I believe the world’s peaked fascination can be largely attributed to the legitimacy of who has decided to join the ranks of people advocating for wider-spread adoption. While incredible researchers like Paul Stamets and Roland Griffiths have been advocating on the health benefits of psilocybin mushrooms for decades, new names have created new audiences now following psilocybin’s journey to wider-spread adoption.
Individuals that have built cult followings for years in various areas of business, wellness, biohacking, and general life optimization — like Ben Greenfield, Tim Ferriss, Michael Pollan, Aubrey Marcus, Joe Rogan — have all started to chat publicly about psilocybin in the last few years.
In addition, startup land is starting to latch on to the powerful opportunities that lie within psilocybin and other psychedelics to treat mental disorders. The controversy around this space is still apparent, but the enthusiasm and attention by prominent people across all industries is rapidly increasing positive support for the powerful potential that psilocybin has to offer.
Going on a one-time trip vs. a lifetime of prescription drugs.
Much of what I believe, from both personal experience and previous consulting work in the healthcare system supports the ideology that our system is designed to treat symptoms. The frequent and unfortunate failure to identify root causes of diseases unfortunately keeps patients inside the healthcare system, and it doesn’t hurt that the subscription-pharmacy is an attractive business model.
Systemic issues and corporate profit-oriented motives tend to tangle intentions, seemingly leaving us ‘on drugs’ anyhow.
In 2018, Americans filled a record 5.8 billion prescriptions — at a rate of 17.6 prescriptions per person — up 2.7%. In addition, global sales of antidepressants will top $15bn in 2020, with billions more spent on veterans suffering from PTSD and opioid addiction.
The majority of clinical trials using magic mushrooms have focused on treatment of mental disorders, and studies have shown incredible recovery rates from lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression.
The most compelling point I’ve come across in all the data I’ve seen from clinical trials for psilocybin is that a single dose can create remarkable and lasting positive change.
“Unlike many existing treatments, psilocybin therapy occurs in a single session or series of sessions, and may not need continued use. From a single powerful experience, psilocybin can deliver lasting results.” — Third Wave
Not great for Big Pharma EBITDA, but extraordinary for the potential to cure and up-level human existence.
Although the clinical trials and awe-inspiring case studies have focused on treatment of mental disorders, psilocybin magic isn’t limited to the ill or unwell. The potential for psychedelic mushrooms to up-level and enhance healthy individuals has captivated the wellness world, mine included.
Why we should care: Widespread adoption of an idea is only achieved when we have diversity in who is speaking about a space.
One of the most extraordinary things to witness is the translation of ideas between different cultures and demographics that creates a path for a common understanding.
I recently heard someone on a podcast describing the idea that we need all different types of humans within their communities to translate and advocate radical ideas within their respective tribes. This is the best way to achieve widespread mindset change. Pollan has been talking about what we put in our bodies for decades, and I believe his voice with a few other major players has ripped the figurative band aid off for ‘shrooms’ to become approachable and legitimate.
Stepping out of the safety of the collective to honor compelling new research means rewiring old thought patterns, which is super uncomfy for humans given we’re designed to protect ourselves through conformity. Thus, to change the cultural narrative around psilocybin, we need people who are willing to make things all kinds of awkward. The more people we have talking about both functional and psychedelic mushrooms, the better.
We have a lot to learn from the powerful kingdom of fungi, and mushrooms deserve a seat at the table in the wellness conversation. Now, and always.
So, if you haven’t already, be on the lookout for ingredient labels at your local health food store sneaking in some amazing functional mushrooms like Chaga, Reishi, and Turkey Tail. You’ll surely be seeing more on the inspiring work happening with psychedelic-assisted therapy in major research centers around the country as well.
Your phone is listening to you anyways, so you’re bound for some fungi content in your newsfeed shortly if you’ve made it this far. I hope so, because mushrooms aren’t just #trending.
They are untapped magic with the power to transform and heal everything within our inner and outer worlds.
Cheers to the magical kingdom of mushrooms!
P.S. If you want to chat with me about any of the weirdness above, I would love nothing more — send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a big, beautiful world of information on mushrooms right at our fingertips. Additional reading from some recent favorite articles:
- We can no longer ignore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat depression by Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research (June 8 2020)
- The Secret Lives of Fungi. They shape the world — and offer lessons for how to live in it by Hua Hsu (May 11, 2020)
- Psychedelics Inc. Startups want to profit from psilocybin and LSD — They have the potential to heal millions by Marc Gunther on Medium (April 28, 2020)