Every morning on my way to work I listen to Today in Focus by The Guardian. This morning the topic was ‘Ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms: are these drugs the future of therapy?’ There was a section where they discussed new therapy methods by micro dosing with magic mushrooms to help depression. There has been a lot of rhetoric around fungi its presence in the world regarding a lot more than just mental health. In the documentary ‘Fantastic Fungi’ on Netflix, researchers and scientists believe that our ancestors had access to these mushrooms right back when we were homo-erectus, which could be one of the reasons as to why we have developed so abnormally quickly to become human beings. This is believed to have opened our minds to the point where the new pathways these hallucinogenic drugs create have physically expanded our brains which has provided better insight, self-awareness and introspection.
As I’m sure you’re already aware, fungi are not quite vegetables, but they’re not quite animals either – they are somewhere in between. With six times more varieties as there are plants, fungi are present everywhere, from our forests to our cheese, they can also break down hydrocarbon-based products including oil spills, where the fungi absorb the oil by producing enzymes that break down the carbo-hydrogen bonds.
Fungi, however, isn’t just a mushroom – it is a whole network of underground threads that communicate using electrolytes and electric pulses. This network of threads is called ‘mycelium’, and it has more networks than the human brain has neuro pathways. Therefore, it is incredibly powerful system which allows the vegetation within it, or above it, such as trees for example, to communicate between one another and to swap nutrients which consequently supports life, creates life, and carries life.
Not only does it support the creation of life, but it also supports the continuation of life by storing carbon underground which trees exchange for nutrients – which therefore helps with pollution and climate change. Of course, part of the fungi family is the magic mushroom. As I stated earlier, it is believed that the reason our human species has evolved abnormally fast (in terms of evolution), is due to the magic mushrooms that our ancestors, homo erectus, would come across on things like animal dung, which enabled them to become homo sapiens. This was dubbed the ‘Stoned Ape Hypothesis’ by Terence McKenna, which was ignored and dismissed during his lifetime, but recently in 2017, Paul Stamets reintroduced this idea, as there was a sudden unexplained doubling (some argue that it was a tripling) of the human brain around 200,000 years ago. It is believed that the compound found in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, causes synaesthesia – a neurological condition that blends the senses, so which causes you to hear colours or to see music. This aspect is what scientists believe caused our evolution from an animalistic mind to be able to develop thought processes and to communicate using language.
Not only has fungi enabled us to evolve, but it has also enabled us to cure ourselves too. For example, the mould on foods such as fruit and cheese was found to contain penicillin, a powerful antibiotic which historically cured soldiers in WW2 and consequently had a significant influence in winning the war. Mycelium networks are self-learning membranes and network-based organisms that can share and store knowledge. This means that any pathogen that threatens it, the fungi can essentially self-vaccinate – many of these diseases that infect fungi can also infect animals. Therefore, our forests have the answers to diseases, and pandemics. Certain mushrooms have been found to contribute to different biological phenomena. The Lions’ Main mushroom was found to stimulate the regrowth of nerves – which would be a non-toxic cure for Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the Turkey Tail mushroom has been found to empower the immune system, which Stamets discusses in his TED talk, saying that his mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and went into remission after taking 8 Turkey Tail capsules a day alongside her other prescribed drugs. In the podcast that I mentioned at the beginning, patients have been treated for depression by micro-dosing. The psilocybin essentially hijacks the serotonin system which defines how the brain is ‘tuned’. Psilocybin therefore tunes the brain to enable the patient to open up to themselves and the world around them as they become more sensitive to their selves and their surroundings. It essentially makes the patient confront their inner selves.
Fungi not only supports life on earth, but it allows its continuation through medicine by providing us with the cures to life-threatening diseases. Not only this, but it can also expand our conscience by creating additional pathways in our brain that allow us to experience life differently. It is undeniable that fungi are essential to human life, and I would definitely recommend you to watch ‘Fantastic Fungi’ on Netflix.