There Is a Lot of Fungus Among Us

In a state-of-the-art laboratory in an industrial district on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, employees in protective suits move around two transparent boxes, taking care not to damage the tubes and sensors that keep the temperature and humidity constant. There are mushrooms in the boxes.

But not just any mushrooms. These are psychedelic – “magic” – mushrooms that start-up Numinus Wellness believes could one day be used to treat mental illnesses such as depression, substance abuse and anxiety.

Welcome to the shroom boom. While Numinus uses mushrooms to perform mind-altering therapies, other mushroom growers promise other benefits, like boosting the immune system or reducing inflammation. Mushrooms are appearing in all types of wellness products, pushing them mainstream, and making mushrooms a major force in the thriving multi-billion dollar wellness market.

It’s hard to throw a stone and not hit a mushroom these days.

With the Chaga mushroom, a best-selling coffee from Four Sigmatic is produced on Amazon, which promises immune support and stress relief. Mushroom supplements that claim to support the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve mood can be found in health and wellness stores, but also at large retailers like Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters. Om Hot Chocolate says it will help you focus and reduce stress. For $ 96, beauty brand Mara sells a vitamin C serum that contains reishi mushrooms, which are said to reduce inflammation.

“As a food, mushrooms have a lot going for them in terms of their nutritional value,” said Joshua Lambert, co-director of the Center for Plant and Mushroom Food for Health at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. “But one of the things we’re investigating is the other compounds that fungi and other plants have that can have significant health benefits.”

The newest frontier for mushrooms might be the most interesting – and the most complicated. Last November, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin, the main ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, for the treatment of certain mental illnesses in monitored settings. In March, New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang said New York State should legalize psychedelic mushrooms, a stance he took as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2019.

Regulators in the US and Canada are taking small steps to allow the limited use of psychedelic mushrooms, which cause visual and auditory hallucinations a few hours after ingestion, to treat certain mental illnesses. Popular in the 1960s as part of the counterculture, magic mushrooms were made illegal in the US in the 1970s.

Investors take note. Atai Life Sciences, a German company developing psychedelic and non-psychedelic compounds for various mental illnesses, is backed by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel and others. Plans were filed last week to raise $ 100 million for a public offering. Another psychedelic company, MindMed, has funding from Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank.

Last year, more than 20 psychedelics-focused companies went public, and a dozen other existing public companies moved into the room, according to analysts at Vancouver-based investment bank Canaccord Genuity.

“There are currently 100 to 150 clinical trials in progress of psychedelic agents for the treatment of mental and behavioral disorders,” Canaccord Genuity analysts wrote in a March report, adding, “The industry has come a long way in the last year, but there is one . ” There is still a long way to go. “

Some investors are betting the psychedelic companies could follow in the footsteps of marijuana, which was legalized for recreational use in more than a dozen states, including New York, in March. However, some analysts and many companies themselves warn that the path for psychedelics will most likely be very different.

“Psychedelics are about medical care, medically recognized therapies. It won’t go the recreational route cannabis took, ”said Payton Nyquvest, who co-founded Numinus in 2018 and is its managing director. And while Numinus became the first publicly traded company in Canada to harvest the first legal batch of psilocybe mushrooms last year, its stock lagged below a dollar.

Mr. Nyquvest attributed the share price to the fact that “the sector has only recently grown in importance and investors are still trying to define how companies in this space should be valued”.

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April 23, 2021 at 1:31 p.m. ET

The current mushroom boom is surprising many long-term employees in the industry.

While Europeans and Asians loved the wild mushrooms that Joseph Salvo of Ponderosa Mushrooms harvested across Canada, it failed to arouse interest among consumers in the US or Canada.

Although mushrooms have long been popular in Italian noodle dishes, as a staple in Japanese soups, and as a sturdy substitute for meat, they have been a tough sell for US and Canadian consumers. That started to change about eight years ago when more chefs started using wild mushrooms in cooking shows and the like, said Mr Salvo. Then Costco started selling its fresh chanterelles in the stores in season.

Today, Mr. Salvo grows shiitake, king oysters and other mushrooms in the 28 temperature and air-conditioned rooms of Ponderosa Mushroom. He also grows shiitake mushrooms outdoors in the trunks of alder trees. The mushrooms are shipped to retailers around the world.

While many of Ponderosa’s mushrooms end up on plates, Mr Salvo said his mushrooms are also making their way to new, interesting areas like tea and even beer.

Five hours east of Vancouver in Vernon, BC, start-up Doseology Sciences also focuses on wellness. Doseology grows lion’s mane, shiitake, and cordyceps mushrooms in a series of climate-controlled shipping containers that smell like damp, cool ground. Psychedelic mushrooms are grown in a larger facility if the license is granted. This could happen later this year.

Various mushroom tinctures, serums, and powders are making their way into the wellness regimen, in part because after decades of using drugs to combat various diseases and conditions, consumers are increasingly focusing on diet and more natural ways to improve their health, said Dr. Lambert. from Penn State.

Frustration with traditional drugs that did little to treat his longstanding chronic pain and mental illness led Mr. Nyquvest of Numinus to take an interest in psychedelic compounds as a treatment.

He points to numerous studies on the benefits of psychedelic mushrooms, including a 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine that found psilocybin relieved anxiety and depression in people with a life-threatening diagnosis of cancer. A second, small, 24-part study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers and published in JAMA Psychiatry found that those who received psilocybin-assisted therapy also showed improvement.

“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times greater than what clinical studies have shown for traditional antidepressants in the market,” said Alan Davis, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in an announcement of the results of the study.

The Food and Drug Administration put at least two psychedelic mushroom compounds on the fast lane for approval to treat depression.

Last year Canada began allowing a limited number of people with terminal illnesses to use psychedelic mushrooms. Numinus is currently working on a psilocybin-assisted therapy study for patients with substance abuse disorders.

And while regulators in the US are taking a fresh look at psychedelic mushrooms, psilocybin is still a List 1 drug and should be reclassified by regulators.

Despite these hurdles, Mr. Nyquvest sees the potential for wider wellness uses of psychedelic mushrooms beyond what he calls “treating really severe indicators” of substance abuse and depression.

“Just as you go to the dentist to take care of your teeth, we need to think about taking care of the brain and mental wellbeing.”

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