Why Mushrooms? Myths and Truths about the Mushroom Boom and Our Fascination with Fungi
- Written by Robert Johnson
Prince Harry says they helped him manage his PTSD. Joe Rogan consumes them in his coffee.
Gwyneth Paltrow sells them in the GOOP store. They’ve been cast as the murderous villain of HBO’s hottest show—but they’re also the foundation of the new Cali sober.
Welcome to the mushroom renaissance, everybody!
The shroom boom is everywhere, with implications for health, research, legislation, the economy and the environment. Experts predict the global functional mushroom market will reach nearly 20 billion by 2030.
So many myths about mushrooms in the culture—let’s try to get to the truth, and #factsaboutfungi are almost always more fascinating than fiction.
Myth #1: Mushrooms are just a hot new trend. Current Western fascination with them certainly feels new. But despite media outlets declaring mushrooms the new black, the truth is that mushrooms have been essential food and medicine for humans since literally prehistory.
Spores found on the teeth of a woman who died 18,000 years ago indicate fungi was part of our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ diet. Pre-Neolithic 7,000-year-old rock paintings found in the present-day Sahara Desert depict humans using psychedelic mushrooms. Two types of mushrooms were found on the 5,200-year-old corpse of “Otzi the Iceman,” one of the oldest human mummies ever found, strung on cords around his neck and carried in a pouch. Archaeologists surmise he was using them as anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and tinder, and that along with his weapons, mushrooms were a key tool in his survival kit.
Mushrooms were (and still are) a pillar of the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopeia, which dates back nearly 3,000 years. New research has confirmed what ancient herbalists knew: The singular compounds found in mushrooms can support memory, mood, energy, brain health, digestion, immune function, recovery and longevity.
Myth #2: 21st-century science has just discovered that psychedelic mushrooms have therapeutic properties for human brains and psyches. While it's true there’s been a much-welcomed wave of fantastic research exploring psychedelics’ ability to address intractable mental health disorders like addiction, PTSD, OCD, depression and eating disorders, this “newfound knowledge” isn’t new—even in the West.
Scientists were drawing similar conclusions about psychedelics in the 1950s and 1960s. Prior to 1968, when the U.S. federal government banned psychedelic mushrooms, psilocybin (the naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in mushrooms) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and classified them as dangerous Schedule I drugs, medical research on the impact these substances had on mental health flourished—and a lot of it received government funding.
Between 1950 and the mid-1960s, psychologists and psychiatrists used psychedelics in both research and clinical practice, treating tens of thousands of patients with “psychedelic psychotherapy.” Harvard psychiatry professor Lester Grinspoon estimated there were at least six international conferences held and more than 1,000 peer-reviewed clinical papers published on psychedelics and mental illness during this time period as well. Many doctors and scientists of this era regarded psychedelics as nothing short of wonder drugs—but as Michael Pollan points out, by the late 1960s they’d been recast as a “destroyer of young minds.” The Controlled Substances Act passed by Congress in 1970 criminalized psilocybin, LSD, DMT, mescaline, and cannabis, classifying them as Schedule 1 drugs, dangerous substances that have “no accepted medical use and have a high abuse potential.” The combination of Prohibition and moral panic effectively ended that phase of psychedelic research, and still impedes it today.
Myth #3: Only mind-altering mushrooms can impact your mental health. The truth is that even ordinary mushrooms have extraordinary properties.
Psilocybin impacts brain cells in ways that could revolutionize the treatment of depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But even the ordinary mushrooms in your produce section can have a profound impact on your brain, your mood and your overall well-being.
Penn State College of Medicine researchers examined data on diet and mental health collected from more than 24,000 American adults between 2005 and 2016. They found that people who ate mushrooms—ANY mushrooms—had lower odds of having depression.
A six-year-long study of more than 660 seniors published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that participants who regularly ate two or more portions of mushrooms had a 50 percent lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a common precursor of Alzheimer’s disease. "This correlation is surprising and encouraging,” the lead study’s author stated. “It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline." Lion’s mane, cordyceps, turkey tail, chaga—all these mushrooms contain compounds that are neuroprotective, immunotherapeutic, antioxidant and energy-boosting.
As they evolved over millions of years, the organic compounds that mushrooms developed to shield them against predators are likely what makes them so great for human health. Indeed, our physiological response to mushrooms is “far greater than the responses we have to plants,” according to mushroom icon and activist Paul Stamets and Heather Zwickey. “The animal kingdom is more closely related to mushrooms than it is to plants, and we can speculate that this relationship is responsible for the enhanced medicinal benefits we observe.”
If you take away any insights on the kingdom of fungi today, let it be this one: All mushrooms are magic.
Robert Johnson is the founder & CEO of premium mushroom product company Mycroboost and supplements manufacturer Custom Capsule Consultants. He's a cannabis and hemp industry veteran, health product expert, psychedelic advocate and seasoned entrepreneur with a 20-year track record of launching successful startup businesses in new and emerging markets. His pioneering product innovations and keen insights into the future of the health marketplace have made him a sought-after consultant, conference speaker, and op-ed contributor. His bylines have appeared in Rolling Stone, Cannabis Industry Daily, MG Magazine, Natural Products Insider, Nutraceuticals World, Nutritional Outlook, and Green Entrepreneur.
Prior to founding Custom Capsule Consultants in 2019, Robert was Co-Founder and Head of Sales at TetraLabs. During his seven-year tenure at TetraLabs, he helped pioneer the development of the industry’s first premium pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoid products, as well as the use of fractional distillation to clarify and isolate THC oil, and the first softgels on the market. He also served as co-owner and CEO at CannaCatering, which he grew from a bootstrapped start-up to a California industry leader in two years.
Links to all of Bob’s bylines can be found here.
Who we are:
Mycroboost is a premium functional mushroom company, creating best-quality therapeutic mushroom products that make natural health and better living accessible to all.
We make vegan mushroom softgels, gummies and coffee, using only certified organic fruiting body mushroom extracts—no grains, no filler, just mushroom magic.
Founded by a dedicated group of myconerds and supplement skeptics, Mycroboost makes science-based mushroom formulations that support your well-being at every level. Welcome to the mushroom renaissance!