Cost of Psilocybin

Cost of Psilocybin

How much should psilocybin cost — per gram and per dose?

With the renewed interest in psilocybin, some have questioned whether commercial involvement will impede access to the drug by driving up the cost of psilocybin.  See e.g. Chacruna (Advocating for “Cooperation over Competition”).

In March of 2018, Olivia Goldhill published an article titled “Scientists who want to study psychedelic mushrooms have to pay $7,000 per gram.”  Quartz, March 24, 2018.  Ms. Goldhill explained that academic scientists at Johns Hopkins pay between $7,000 and $10,000 per gram of psilocybin.  Although $7,000-$10,000 appears to be on the low end, Ms. Hill’s overarching point is that “it’s expensive for scientists to buy psychedelics.” Id.

For purposes of comparison, Ms. Goldhill notes that psilocybin costs about $750 per gram based on the street price of magic mushrooms.  Id. (“Though it varies, 5,000 mg of dried mushrooms roughly equals 66 mg of psilocybin.”)

First, comparing the price of pure psilocybin to the price of acquiring psilocybin from magic mushrooms may be inappropriate.  In many cases, providing a purified version of something found in nature requires considerable effort.

Second, $7,000 – $10,000 per gram appears to be at the low end of the current price range for synthetic psilocybin.

Third, most of the cost of psilocybin appears to be unrelated to the resources required to provide the drug.

Pure Psilocybin is Different from Magic Mushrooms.

Pure psilocybin is different from magic mushrooms.  Aside from the fact that mushrooms comprise multiple active molecules, using them as a psilocybin source requires extraction and purification of that target molecule.  Arguably, purifying a single molecule requires some effort.

In many contexts, access to a pure chemical may be worth paying a higher price.  For example, most scientists prefer using known amounts of known reagents in their experiments because it makes it easier to draw valid conclusions from the resulting data.  Many physicians also contend that working with known amounts of known drugs improves their ability to diagnose and treat patients.

Advantages of Synthetic Psilocybin

According to Ekaterina Malievskaia of COMPASS Pathways, extracting psilocybin from naturally occurring mushrooms creates “an unnecessary layer of complexity.” Id. Ms. Malievskaia also contends that longstanding processes for synthesizing psilocybin are inadequate for large-scale production.  Accordingly, COMPASS pathways developed a new (patented) method for making synthetic psilocybin. See Psilocybin Patents at Compass Pathways.

Using their improved method of making psilocybin, COMPASS Pathways made 250 grams of synthetic psilocybin.  Those 250 grams were used to make capsules containing either 1 mg or 5 mg of the psilocybin.  Compass said their capsules cost £20 [about $25] each, but conceded that “this only reflects a portion of the total cost paid by academics.” See Quartz, above.

$25 for a 1 mg capsule = $25,000 per gram
$25 for a 5 mg capsule = $5,000 per gram

Although these numbers seem high, Robin Carhart-Harris, head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London reports the above prices represent a savings over his other psilocybin sources.

Psilocybin Analogs for Cost Comparison

Although the mainstream media uses the word “psilocybin” to represent “the active molecule” in magic mushrooms, psilocybin is actually one of several prodrugs of psilocin.  Psilocybin is metabolized into psilocin, which is a potent serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) agonist, providing the clinical effects attributed to the psilocybin and/or magic mushrooms.  See Psilocin is the Active Ingredient in Magic Mushrooms.

In addition to psilocybin, there are many other prodrugs of psilocin.  For example, O-Acetylpsilocin (aka 4-acetoxy-DMT, psilacetin, and 4-AcO-DMT) is a commercially available prodrug of psilocybin. Accordingly, it provides a convenient means for estimating how a consumer could go about making a product that is equivalent to synthetic psilocybin.  (Note: equivalent to synthetic psilocybin NOT equivalent to magic mushrooms, which contain multiple active molecules that work together to create the so-called “Entourage Effect.“)

O-Acetylpsilocin (also known as psilacetin, 4-acetoxy-DMT, or 4-AcO-DMT) is an alternative to psilocybin for providing the active drug, psilocin.

When purchased in relatively small quantities (25 grams), O-Acetylpsilocin costs about $60 per gram from chemical supply shops.  Using the above 1 mg and 5 mg doses as a reference point, substituting O-Acetylpsilocin for the currently available synthetic psilocybin would appear to result in lower costs:

$0.06 for a 1 mg capsule of O-Acetylpsilocin = $60 per gram
$0.30 for a 5 mg capsule of O-Acetylpsilocin = $60 per gram

Obviously, the above numbers fail to account for the economies of scale.  Making large (kilogram scale) batches of psilocybin (or O-Acetylpsilocin) should drive costs down considerably.  Nevertheless, even before accounting for volume discounts, 250 grams of O-Acetylpsilocin could be purchased today for about $15,000.

Psilocybin and O-Acetylpsilocin are both prodrugs of psilocin. Each is a means for administering psilocin.

Conclusion – Plenty of Room for Reducing Psilocybin Costs

As discussed above, the present market price for pure synthetic psilocybin appears to be considerably higher than the cost of making the drug.  The price of magic mushrooms demonstrates one less expensive alternative for acquiring impure psilocybin.  But that comparison fails to account for the costs associated with purifying an isolating a single molecule.

The price of pure O-Acetylpsilocin provides a good reference point for what pure psilocybin should cost.  Both O-Acetylpsilocin and psilocybin are prodrugs of psilocin, meaning that they are two different means to the same end result.

Absent some advantage of one over the other, one would expect the prices of O-Acetylpsilocin and psilocybin to be similar.

If psilocybin were found to have some advantage over O-Acetylpsilocin, a chemist would recognize that O-Acetylpsilocin could be easily converted into psilocybin by removal of the acetate group from O-Acetylpsilocin and subsequent conversion to the phosphate ester, i.e., psilocybin.  Accordingly, even if psilocybin were both (a) expensive and (b) particularly desirable, O-Acetylpsilocin could be used as an inexpensive precursor for making pure psilocybin.

In any case, the current prices of pure psilocybin appear to be orders of magnitude higher than what is justified based on the cost to produce those (or equivalent) molecules. This disparity is traditionally resolved by competition in the marketplace.  Accordingly, access to psilocybin would benefit from exactly the competition that groups like Chacruna seek to avoid.

8 thoughts on “Cost of Psilocybin

  1. Jimmortal Soul Reply

    There are several techniques for deriving high purity psilocin from fungi. Cultivation of more desirable species than Ps. cubensis greatly increases yield. But purity in the mid 99.x% is easily achieved and secondary compounds removed using a proper extraction and crystallization algorithm. This could drive costs down far below synthesis.

    • Staff Scientist Post authorReply

      Thank you for your comment. Do you have any references that you can share? What sort of yield could be accomplished?

  2. JoJo Wats Reply

    I’ve taken a lot of magic mushrooms for many years. I mean they aren’t “synthetic” but according to this article they sure are much cheaper. An quarter costs me around $50-$75 and there’s no chemical synthetic crap going in; just a plain mushroom growing on green earth. I am enjoying the medical benefits from MM and I hope to legally enjoy my mushrooms next music festival I attend. In my personal opinion only, marijuana and mushrooms are so beneficial and misunderstood; and drugs do affect everyone differently.
    I hope you find a way to get the costs down, they are the only treatment for cluster headaches.
    We already wasted 50 years of studying the marijuana plant which slowed us down majorly with the CBD oil that are treating seizures. I use CBD oil for pain but I’m about to get my oil legally. Currently my CBD oil it’ just the hemp oil and it helps a lot that I’m excited to try oils more designed for my condition and involving by physician.
    All I can say is that it’s been a money game from the beginning of getting marijuana criminalized; imagine where we would be today! Mushrooms are a fungi and I don’t like my government telling me I can’t eat what I want to although they are fine with aspartame poisonings and using high fructose corn syrup- the most addictive chemical in food. That’s “safe” while two plants are not. We have become a very stupid nation and it’s all about money in the end.
    I’m a musician and I write and compose best when I have my marijuana and a small dose of mushroom tea.
    Why did the outlaw exstaty? I was blessed with the end of the line of production but I tell you what; ecstasy is by far a love potion. It has many medical reasons. Ecstasy had medicinal value; it can fix broken marriages, treat cluster headaches and open your eyes to a world you’ve never seen; it’s like hanging with the Tao all day long.
    Big pharma, stockholders, and CEO’s sure have messed up two things because they know the outcome will be better than opiates, oh excuse me roxiecodone, LEGAL prescribed, is pure herion in a perfect pill and it’s made billions, (I’m from Browad county the hub of the OxyContin express and doctors are getting people addicted and no one cares.)
    The data base helped Florida a bit but certainly didn’t fix the pill mill epedemic in Florida.
    I just want it decriminalized and not necessary legalized. It’s a fungus growing in the ground; that’s the biggest oxymoron!!! When it come to the legal heroin big pharmacy is pushing along their insane drug; and many politicians really have no idea how addictive rocky/oxy really are.
    I have never had one withdrawal affect from my prescribed meds. I beat the gov grade herion 8 years ago.
    Can you outsource your scientific studies to a county more in tune in than the US? Here, it’s a chess game and we are their pawns.

  3. flowerpower Reply

    i agree with jojo wats but at the same extracting the active component from the mushrooms can also have many benefits such as researching and understanding the molecule better-using it to treat other conditions, plus getting it across to those that don’t have easy access- a lot of people live in very urban settings and unfortunately in those where money is the driving component, using some of that money to buy such a synthetic drug sounds better than spending lets say on tech or material. I met a girl from Mexico recently who cried infront of me about the situation with cocaine production there and how for her, europeans drive the production by asking for it and this to her eyes was terrible in that these mexicans are forced in a way to produce so that others can have-meanwhile a documentary i watched about the production of cocaine showed families living in highly deprived areas not having other work in their hands literally being able to feed the whole family from that very work they were doing and the man of the family showing on camera saying if it wasn’t for those that drive and ask for cocaine i wouldn’t be able to feed my kids. So in a sence production of any sort helps poorer nations but the problem would be overproduction which leads to exploitation

  4. Southern Farmer Reply

    Growing in the “green earth,” huh….

    I’ve never seen one growing in anything but old fashioned brown cow patties. Just sayin’.

  5. Greg Reply

    Speaking as someone who’s successfully self-medicating for C-PTSD with microdose psilocybin via dried mushrooms (50 – 100 mg. of mushrooms per dose, equivalent to approx. 1 mg. psilocybin, one dose per week):

    I would much rather pick up a prescription once a month for four 1-mg. capsules of pharmaceutical psilocybin or a subsequent compound, and I would gladly pay $25 per capsule for that.

    If some new company gets that down to less than a dollar a capsule, it will be an absolute revolution in the treatment of conditions that were formerly considered very difficult to treat at best. The value of that to humanity would be similar to, or beyond, the value of SSRIs in treating depression and in changing the entire social paradigm about depression. And the value to the investors and shareholders of any such company will make the “tech” companies look like small stuff by comparison.

    If current researchers are paying $10k/gram for psilocybin, that should be understood as the result of the present legal climate, where FDA-approved labs, with Schedule I permissions, have to produce it on essentially an artisan basis. Once we get the laws changed, such as by putting psilocybin on Schedule IV, the overhead costs and total costs will drop commensurately.

  6. dorothy Reply

    Few comments on 4-AcO-DMT as prodrug of psilocin. This idea has been going around that 4-AcO-DMT is simply a prodrug of psilocin. Actually it not accurate to assume that 4-AcO-DMT gets metabolized into psilocin similarly to psilocybin. Sure, one would expect it to get deacylated via first pass metabolism by the liver to yield psilocin and thus its effect would basically be the same as that of (the more expensive) psilocybin. But there is simply no hard data on that. It may or may not get (completely) converted into psilocin via first-pass metabolism. And that enough molecules might survive the liver and cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain. There it may have its own pharmacology that may or not be different from that of psilocin or DMT or 5MDMT. One would expect its profile to be different since small changes in tryptamines chemical structure often lead to big change in psychoactivity. In the case of 4-AcO-DMT We simply don’t know that. Actually lots of people who tried both AcO-DMT and psilocybin report quite distinct experiences, subtle for sure but different nether less. Until we know that the effect of 4-AcO-DMT is (entirely) due to its (potential) metabolite psilcocin and that 4-AcO-DMT per se is not psychoactive, we are just assuming. 4AcO-DMT may as well have its unique signature..

    • Staff Scientist Post authorReply

      Thank you for these excellent comments, Dorothy!
      Yes, there is no solid proof that ALL of psilacetin’s activity is due to its conversion to psilocin. To our knowledge, no one has studied the activity (or even most of the physical properties) of psilacetin. At best, we can infer that psilacetin’s ester group would be hydrolyzed at particular pH levels, generating psilocin. We can also assume that known human enzymes would generate psilocin following ingestion of psilacetin. But, to your excellent point, how do we know that psilacetin isn’t absorbed into the blood prior to that metabolism/hydrolysis? And, given the comparatively hydrophobic acetate group (versus psilocybin’s phosphate ester), how do we know it doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier.
      Your points about the (often substantially) different user experiences suggest that psilacetin may have different underlying pharmacology. Hopefully the scientific community will seize the opportunity to study these important questions. Until then, thank you for highlighting them.

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