Cannabis and Magic Mushrooms – A Near Perfect Analogy

Cannabis and Psilocybin Mushrooms – Two Very Similar Situations

Are psilocybin mushrooms (aka “magic mushrooms”) the next cannabis?  Lately, this question has become more prevalent for a variety of reasons.

To facilitate discussion about the future of psilocybin, we have summarized seven similarities between magic mushrooms and cannabis below.  Please use the comments section to share your thoughts about how these parallels may help us understand the future of the psilocybin industry.

1. Cannabis and Magic Mushrooms are Products of Nature – Living Organisms

Cannabis and Psilocybin Mushrooms are both products of nature

Both Cannabis and Psilocybin Mushrooms are naturally occurring organisms. They live and grow in nature. Each plant or mushroom produces its own cocktail of chemical compounds — cannabinoids, terpenes, psilocybin derivatives, etc..

Why is this important?

First, there is an overall sentiment that possessing or consuming naturally occurring organisms should not be criminalized.  Cannabis is a plant.  Magic mushrooms are fungi.  Unlike man-made synthetic drugs, these organisms have existed on Earth for thousands of years.  Arguably, people have some sort of natural right to use them.

Second, many people have pointed out that the medical industry is unwilling to develop natural products because those products cannot be protected with patents.

Famous author Michael Pollan succinctly summarized this apparent lack of incentive for developing psilocybin technology: “there’s no IP here. There’s no intellectual property.”

Other experts have explained that the patent landscape is not completely black or white.  For example, Dr. Andrew Chadeayne, explains that “new forms” of magic mushrooms are patentable. (Here, we note that Dr. Chadeayne seems to know what he’s talking about: He developed a large patent portfolio ebbu, a cannabinoid research company; ebbu was recently acquired for $400MM+ as the result of a deal widely recognized as a “pure IP play.”

In any event, reporters like Alex Pietrowski have observed that “the race to patent magic mushrooms” is already heating up.

2. Both Cannabis and Magic Mushrooms Contain Multiple Active Ingredients

Cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms both contain multiple active ingredients.  Cannabis contains hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenes.  Psilocybin mushrooms contain a cocktail of active molecules, including at least eight different psilocybin derivatives like baeocystin, norbaeocystin, serotonin, and aeruginascin.

The cannabis industry has recently learned that many of the lesser known active ingredients (e.g., CBD, CBC, CBG, THCv, etc.) in cannabis can be more valuable than THC, which was once believed to be the only molecule worth studying.

Psilocybin is still universally described as “the” (sole) active ingredient in magic mushrooms. (Notably, psilocybin is not actually the active ingredient.  Rather psilocybin is a prodrug of psilocin, which provides the psychedelic effects.)  Although the scientific literature unquestionably confirms the presence and activity of other psilocybin derivatives, those molecules have never been studied.

3. Research in Both Cannabis and Magic Mushrooms Initially Focused on Only One Ingredient

Until recently, cannabis research and development focused almost entirely on a single molecule found in the plant — tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”). THC was considered the only active ingredient.  Based on this assumption, pharmaceutical companies developed products with pure THC, i.e., Dronabinol (aka Marinol or Syndros).

To date, psilocybin is still widely regarded as the only active and/or important molecule in magic mushrooms.  The word “psilocybin” (a molecule) is used interchangeably with “magic mushrooms.”  Just like early cannabis R&D, early movers in the magic mushroom space are focussing entirely on psilocybin to the exclusion of the other active molecules present in the mushroom.  For example, COMPASS Pathways has developed a new method of making synthetic psilocybin.  COMPASS and partners are studying the benefits of pure synthetic psilocybin for treating depression.

4. Both Cannabis and Magic Mushrooms Work Through an “Entourage Effect.”

Both cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms work via an “Entourage Effect.” In other words, the multiple active ingredients contained in each organism synergistically produce the effect experienced by the user.

The effects of BOTH cannabis and “magic mushrooms” arise from combining multiple different active ingredients to arrive at an “Entourage Effect.”
understanding the first piece.

In the cannabis industry, the Entourage Effect was one highly debated.  But, clinical and cellular studies have now shown that different combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes work together to create different cellular responses in the brain and body.  This cellular pharmacology governs a user’s subjective experience.  In other words, two cannabinoid products with different combinations of ingredients could be considered two different drugs.

In the case of mushrooms, toxicologists have shown that administering combinations of multiple psilocybin derivatives produces substantially different effects compared to administering the pure drug.

The pharmacology and user experience for both cannabis and magic mushrooms can be optimized by studying the Entourage Effect and formulating products designed to produce particular effects.

5. Both Cannabis and Psilocybin Mushrooms were Relegated to Schedule I in 1970

In 1970, both cannabis and magic mushrooms were categorized as Schedule I drugs by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Schedule I is reserved for drugs that have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse..

Over the past 50 years, many people have criticized the appropriateness of this scheduling and questioned whether it was politically based.

6. The Past 50 Years of Research Shows that Cannabis and Psilocybin Mushrooms are Relatively Safe and Beneficial

Research has shown that both cannabis and (especially) psilocybin mushrooms are relatively safe and medically beneficial.

In the case of cannabis, this evidence has supported some recent changes to regulations and allowed for growth in that industry.

Despite a legacy of fear surrounding magic mushrooms, scientists have explicitly asserted that “Magic mushrooms are one of the safest drugs in the world.” Similar conclusions have led scientists at Johns Hopkins University to publish a thorough analysis, recommending that psilocybin should be rescheduled to one of the least restrictive categories of drugs.

7. Changes in Laws Regulating Cannabis and Psilocybin Attract Corporate Influence

Changes to the legal status of cannabis have brought about a thriving multi-billion dollar industry in a relatively short timeframe.  Given the demonstrated financial upside for investing in cannabis technology, should investors seek opportunities for investing in early-stage psilocybin technology?

Some investors, like Peter Thiel, Christian Angermayer, Mike Novogratz, Thor Bjorgolfsson, and others appear to believe that investing in psilocybin technology is the right move.  Only time will tell whether they are correct.

Cannabis has experienced a tremendous surge in corporate interest. Will psilocybin follow a similar path?

Arguably, decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms would create a market for mushroom products in much the same way that decriminalizing cannabis led to the emergence and growth of many different business areas in the cannabis space. Regulatory changes in the cannabis space gave rise to multiple cannabis-based business opportunities, including but not limited to farming/agriculture, manufacturing, processing, consumer product formulation, etc..

Although legislative reform for psilocybin mushrooms lags behind changes to the law governing cannabis, all signs suggest that similar reconsideration would be appropriate. Ongoing efforts include decriminalization and/or legalization at the state level.  The restrictions and penalties surrounding magic mushrooms arise from the DEA’s position that psilocybin has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” As discussed above, the scientific community has explicitly advocated rescheduling psilocybin.  Recently, the FDA gave psilocybin a breakthrough therapy designation, which casts doubt on whether the DEA’s position that psilocybin  has “no currently accepted medical use” is consistent with other federal agencies or currently accepted scientific consensus.

All of the above evidence suggests that psilocybin mushrooms could evolve through a pathway similar to what we’ve recently seen in the cannabis industry: In essence, criminalizing these organisms in 1970 appears to have been inappropriate; with the benefit of the past 50 years of research, we are slowly correcting that mistake; deregulation of these substances supports the growth of product and services industries.  We just watched the formation and growth of the cannabis industry.  Given the similarities between cannabis and psilocybin, it would make sense for psilocybin to follow a similar trajectory.

Will an influx of investment capital into the psilocybin space lead to unwanted corporate influence over the technology?  Companies like COMPASS Pathways, ATAI Life Science, and others are already attracting criticism from existing psychedelic advocates who fear that corporate influence (e.g., “big pharma”) will ruin natural medicines that have been sacred for thousands of years.  See Hartman, S., “Will psychedelics go corporate like cannabis?” (“As billionaires start to invest in psychedelics, some longtime researchers in the field worry they’ll just become another commodity.”)


12 thoughts on “Cannabis and Magic Mushrooms – A Near Perfect Analogy

  1. Kevin Lanzo Reply

    I think that it is possible that Big Pharma will eventually make a play to get into the psilocybin business, but that likelihood will be entirely determined how companies like MAPS and COMPASS design their clinical trials and set up their respective monitoring programs for the “therapy” aspect of the psychedelic psychotherapy.
    I don’t think pharma companies will be jumping to get into the business of relying on training therapists and establishing outpatient treatment centers unless there is a very significant profit to be had in doing so.

  2. Scott fisher Reply

    I want to know does weed affect my thyroid if I have hypothyroidism and high blood pressure

    • Staff Scientist Post authorReply

      Hi Scott – Great question. That’s a bit out of our area of expertise. Maybe ask your doctor?

  3. Liza Reply

    If the magic mushroom could cure for depression, that would be nice. Then it will help lots of people but if they can turn the magic mushroom into a pill. That way, we are taking the appropriate amount in a safe way manner. Because I heard that the magic mushroom makes you hallucinate, laugh without to laugh about. It is crazy and scary.

    • Staff Scientist Post authorReply

      Good point Liza – Administering a known amount of known drugs seems important to realizing the potential in this area.

  4. Raelynne Waters Reply

    I took 1.5 grams of shrooms for my first time, and haven’t since. It was over a month ago, and now everytime I smoke weed I feel really uncomfortable. I smoked daily before, 20 bong rips a day or so, never got high off one single toke which I didn’t mind. But now whenever I smoke I feel uncomfortable, I get anxiety and feel sick. I weigh 106 pounds, so have the shrooms just effected me entirely for long-term?? What could be the problem of this happening???

    • Staff Scientist Post authorReply

      Very interesting. Short answer: There’s probably no concrete scientific explanation right now. However, the “long term” effects that you are experiencing appear to be consistent with the duration of psilocybin’s anti-depressant effects. (Reported to last around 6 months). It would stand to reason that psilocybin’s long-term effects could be experienced in a variety of ways — including, in your case, a change in the way you feel when you “smoke weed.” Again, this is just a guess — and a starting point for further research. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  5. Anthony Garner Reply

    Thank god, whatever “big business” does, we retain the ability to grow and harvest these crops for ourselves. As I was explaining to a friend this morning, magic mushrooms have NOT cured my depression. The seem however to have wrought some permanent change. I believe they may be giving me a perspective of acceptance. I can see that such a perspective may be useful for those who wish to combine “mushroom therapy” with talking therapy.

    From my personal experience of three months of microdosing, this is no miracle cure. However I intend to try higher doses to see what, if any, benefits that may bring.

  6. Noah Potter Reply

    What is the basis for saying that granting breakthrough designation effectively recognizes as a medical use? I’ve never those designations equated anywhere else. The DEA has its own interpretation of the term “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and to my knowledge breakthrough designation is unrelated.

    • Staff Scientist Post authorReply

      Hi Noah – Thanks. Good point. We changed the above based on your clarification that establishing a currently accepted medical use with the FDA (or the whole scientific community) doesn’t change the DEA’s position that a substance has “no currently accepted medical use.”
      If you have further suggestions please let us know.
      Thanks for your comments!

  7. Tanja Reply

    I have been saying for a while now: mark my words: in countries like Slovenia they will never allow mushrooms in medicine…. psylocibin yes, mushrooms NEVER…. before entourage effect will not be recognized in medicine for decades…. medicine and farmacy do not think that way!

  8. jim Reply

    Several anecdotal reports have claimed that the experience elicited by consuming Penis Envy mushrooms is much more intense, visual, and euphoric than other magic mushrooms, and some have even analogized the experience to that which is elicited by other considerably “stronger” psychedelics like DMT or LSD. It’s theorized that this is due to both a higher concentration of psychotropic alkaloids, and a higher ratio of Psilocin/Psilocybin. PE mushrooms also have a fascinating origin story that has become somewhat of a legend in the psychedelic space, involving smuggling, artificial selection, prescription drug dealing, and murder!

    penis envy mushroom

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