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
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.
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.
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.”)
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