Why Formulations are Better than Mushrooms

Formulations made from magic mushrooms offer some advantages over mushroom fruiting bodies or natural preparations.  We previously discussed the analogy between cannabis and magic mushrooms.  Both cannabis and magic mushrooms live and grow in nature. Each produces its own cocktail of chemical compounds. Cannabis contains cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.  Magic mushrooms contain a collection of tryptamine compounds, aka, psilocybin derivatives.  When ingested, the user’s experience is a result of multiple active ingredients, working synergistically.  See Entourage Effect.

In nature, a particular organism’s cocktail of active ingredients varies wildly between species, cultivars, and even parts of the organism.  This chemical variability creates substantial variability in the user’s experience.  (Varying the composition and amount of psychoactive drugs results in varying the clinical effect). Many consumers do not like the unpredictability inherent to natural preparations or extracts. However, consumers also seem to heavily favor full-spectrum compositions compared to single active ingredients, e.g., pure THC vs cannabis or pure psilocybin vs magic mushrooms. 

Responding to the unreliability of natural preparations, the cannabis industry has moved towards formulated products.  Dr. Tristan Watkins of Lucid Mood explains some of the reasons for adopting formulated cannabis products.  See Extraction Magazine, Issue 8, May/June 2019 at 38-39. Below, we highlight Dr. Watkins’s comments about cannabis formulations because the same logic applies to magic mushroom products. 

“Current cannabis products are build on a weak foundation — the cultivar name or plant name.” 

This exact same criticism applies to the state of the art for magic mushrooms.  Magic mushrooms are described by their species or strain name, which does not describe the chemical composition. 

Plant compositions are “notoriously inconsistent…. Cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid profiles differ with each growth cycle.  Inconsistent cultivar profiles mean unpredictable effects.” 

The exact same criticism applies to the state of the art for magic mushrooms.  Psilocybin containing mushrooms are notoriously variable in their chemical compositions.  As a result, a consumer of magic mushrooms must accept considerable variability in the chemical composition and amount of active ingredients consumed.

“Different extraction processes yield dramatically different compositions.” 

The exact same criticism applies to the state of the art for magic mushrooms.  A variety of “mushroom tech” publications describe how to extract mushroom material using a variety of solvents and conditions, which virtually guarantee different chemical compositions for the resulting extracts.

“…companies should work towards formulating their products from the ground up.  Isolate each compound of interest, study the effects of each compound, formulate products based on those findings.” 

This advice is equally valid within the emerging psilocybin space.  Using magic mushrooms (or extracts) as a means for administering psychedelic compounds requires accepting significant chemical variability.  Many consumers are willing to accept such variability.  But in some contexts, such as conducting research or administering medicine, a scientist would consider the identity and dose of the drug to be essential information.

“With formulated cannabis, you can create products with consistent composition profiles…. Not only does formulating your products allow you to add in exactly what you want, it allows you to deliberately leave out any compounds that my interfere with your intended effect.”

This advice is equally valid within the emerging psilocybin space.  According to expert mycologist Paul Stamets, some species of magic mushrooms are known to produce “temporary paralysis.” See Michael Pollen’s conversation with Paul Stamets.  Many consumers would consider temporary paralysis to be an unwanted side effect.  Thus, removing the compounds responsible for temporary paralysis would seem to have benefits for some consumers.

Dr. Watkins explains a general strategy for creating formulated cannabis products:

“… learn more about the myriad of compounds naturally expressed in cannabis, and begin designing your own formulated products.” 

This strategy seems equally valid within the magic mushroom space, where even less is known about which active ingredients are present and how they effect the resulting experience.  In short, the magic mushroom industry will ultimately benefit from some of the lessons learned in the cannabis industry.  One such lesson appears to be that formulated products have some advantages over natural preparations.

Similar to the pharmacology of cannabis, the effect of “magic mushrooms” arises from combining multiple different active ingredients to arrive at an “Entourage Effect.” Psilocin is one important active ingredient found in magic mushrooms. But, it is not the only active.

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