Everybody’s on mushrooms
But no one’s tripping out – they’re ‘micro’dosing
Friday 10 June 2022 By Jacquelyn Lumley
Eavesdrop on any conversation in LA for long enough and you’ll likely hear something about microdosing. While it’s not a uniquely psychedelic term, microdosing is swiftly becoming synonymous with mind-altering substances – and magic mushrooms in particular. It refers to taking a deliberate low amount of psilocybin – so low that the hallucinogenic properties of the mushroom are not sensed at all. Research behind the practice is growing and suggests microdosing in this way may synergize positive cerebral effects without the inner intellectual toll of “tripping.” With a mainstream desire to know more and mental health pros taking a closer look, it almost feels like we’re heading back to where we left things in the 1960s with psychedelics. It’s all happening… again.
Companies like MUD\WTR, Moon Juice and Four Sigmatic all hopped on the functional mushroom train when it took off a few years ago. Offering handsomely branded product lines stacked with combinations of adaptogenic mushrooms, such as reishi and chaga, these brands focused on bringing ancient fungi intelligence to the mainstream consumer. Anyone in the mushroom space understands that the benefits don’t stop at functional mushrooms. The topic of psychedelic mushrooms is buzzing, with the legal marketplace forecasted to be nearly a $6.9 billion business by 2027, according to industry insiders. Brands are finding ways to pop up in the recreational space while legitimate funding to study the medical uses for both micro and macro psilocybin doses is also being allocated across institutions, such as John Hopkins University.
“When I'm microdosing, I feel a lot more empathetic,” says Don Cooper, founder of Fungal Friend. “You do feel something. Often elevated mood, creativity, and enhanced flow state. But you do not get high.” Cooper launched his company, in November 2021 with marketing and branding help from his wife and founder of Good Monday Creative, Mercede Cooper. “I knew our demographic wasn't going to be guys like myself who had grown up eating mushrooms in the woods around a campfire,” he explains. An ethos that runs through the whole brand. “We didn't want the packaging to look psychedelic or trippy,’ says Mercede. “I think that's why we stand out.”
The Vancouver-based company’s straightforward approach offers three levels of cleanly designed pre-packaged mushroom capsules to Canadians, where usage is decriminalized. Like most new brands, they hopped on social media to promote their product line, and things escalated quickly on TikTok. “We've done five times more sales in the past week than we did in the last year,” says Mercede. “Suddenly, everyone from all over the world has got their eyes on Fungal Friend. We're getting these incredible messages from people about how it’s making them feel. It’s helping people. I think this is something that needs to become legal across the board.”
“Psilocybin products are currently illegal to distribute and sell for supplemental or recreational use in the US,” notes Brian Friedman. He and Alli Schaper created Multiverse, an online marketplace to shop for functional mushroom products. The website allows users to browse by mushroom strain and also by mushroom benefit. “The most searched mushrooms on the site are cordyceps, lion’s mane and reishi,” Schaper says. These are non-psychoactive mushrooms with proven adaptogenic (which impact how your body deals with stress, anxiety and fatigue) benefits.
Renowned mycologist Paul Stamets piqued the public’s interest when he revealed the methodology behind his self-designed “Stamets stack” – a system of “stacking” small amounts of magic mushrooms in combination with functional mushrooms to achieve optimal outcomes – in Netflix’s Fantastic Fungi documentary. According to Friedman, “Lion’s mane helps with focus, Cordyceps helps produce energy, and Reishi is commonly used as a sleep or anxiety aid.''
Stamets believes that a bespoke combination of psilocybin and lion's mane with niacin has the ability to not only support the development of new neural pathways in the brain, but also repair existing neurological damage. So much so that he has patented the method. With an ever-increasing body of research that appears to confirm the idea that psilocybin can be effective in the treatment of mood disorders such as and depression, we’re starting to investigate the nuances of how to combine these mushrooms properly and safely to achieve intentional outcomes.
“Psychedelic just means mind expansion,” explains Lauren Taus, a licensed clinical therapist, certified in the practice of psychedelic-assisted therapy. “Traditional therapy tends to be overly cognitive, sometimes keeping people in the same problematic loop that had them seeking support in the first place. When you add an ally, like a psychoactive compound or plant, it can amplify and accelerate the process of contextualizing things. I work with the client to support this translation.”
The research around the subject – including that looking at psilocybin microdosing specifically – appears to support this, adds Taus. “There’s some good reason to believe that engaging with the mushroom in this way increases your mood, improves focus, improves creativity, and supports general mental health.” However, she notes, “In the science realm, it's also good to have some degree of skepticism. There is information that suggests microdosing is just a placebo. I do think that in general, psychedelics are really promising and deserve even more attention than they're getting, and they're getting a lot right now.”
In 2018, permission was granted to Compass Pathways by the FDA to study psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression. “Pharmaceutical antidepressants aren’t helpful for everybody, and they have long-term ratifications,'' argues holistic health practitioner Anahita Parseghian. “When you look at the molecule of psilocin, which is a metabolized version of psilocybin, it looks very similar to serotonin. It binds to serotonin receptors in the brain with a similar effect to an SSRI, appearing to prevent the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain. Therefore, you experience more serotonin, and your mood is enhanced. These ancient medicines and wisdoms have shown to be really effective and helpful in anything from addiction to PTSD to anxiety to depression.”
Parseghian is alluding to the fact that for centuries, Indigenous communities have relied on plant medicine to heal, restore, support and soothe. To these communities, psilocybin is just a component of a certain strain of mushrooms that helps connect the mind to the body through enhancing awareness of both. In the mainstream world, we decided to call this “magic.”
If the mind-body connection is something we collectively see as magic, I think it proves that we need some serious help in understanding ourselves better. And if little bits of fungus growing from the ground might help us heal, maybe we’ve just been trying too hard to find wonderland.