Growing decriminalization and interest in psilocybin have kept the potential future shroom boom on the cannabis industry’s radar.
It’s got cannabis entrepreneurs wondering: is there profit in the emerging psychedelics industry, and can cannabis equipment be used for mushroom extraction?
Cannabis policy changes in the past decade have empowered extractors to develop potent, high-quality commercial products like live resin, rosin, solventless or distilled hash and CBD oil while expanding the research of their effects.
Psilocybin appears to be following a somewhat similar trend. The global psychedelic therapeutic market, which includes more drugs than just psilocybin, is estimated to reach $6.8 billion in value by 2027, according to a recent peer-reviewed study published in the chemistry journal Molecules.
Those numbers might be tempting for cannabis extractors, given a recent glut in the hemp industry and the slow progress towards federal legalization of marijuana that has investors pulling from cannabis stocks despite the industry’s growth.
The answer appears to be: Maybe.
Psilocybin and cannabis are polar opposites – literally. Cannabinoid molecules are nonpolar, while psilocybin is.
That makes it a challenge to use the same equipment to extract the two, says Ryan Moss, lead researcher and developer at Filament Health, a Vancouver-based psychedelic drug development company that trades on the over-the-counter markets as FLHLF.
Filament Health uses a water-based approach to extract psilocybin.
Moss says that because cannabinoids are nonpolar molecules, typically extracted through CO2, hydrocarbon, butane or ethanol, that equipment wouldn’t suffice to extract a polar molecule, like psilocybin.
There are some exceptions, however.
“I have a feeling that any of the companies using ethanol extraction for their hemp products could probably adapt those technologies to psilocybin extraction. But for CO2 or hydrocarbon extraction, that’s just not going to work very well for magic mushrooms,” Moss told Hemp Industry Daily.?
Even ethanol “is not a very good solvent for psilocybin extraction,” he said.
“You would have to end up adding water to that.”
An exact cost of its psilocybin production and extraction is difficult to pinpoint, given the smaller and more limited market for it. But natural extraction methods of psilocybin are significantly less than synthetic alternatives, Moss said.
A different view
Wesley Ray, a hemp grower in Oregon who is conducting research and breeding with mushrooms, thinks the two could co-exist.
A high concentration of CO2 is required to grow mushrooms and is naturally produced in them.
Ray believes that cannabis growers could create a sustainable cycle between the two compounds.
“And that’s fantastic because there’s a whole ecosystem that can be created. You can take one room and dump the CO2 from your mushrooms into your grow. That way, you’re not using propane burners or [additional] CO2, you’re just using growing life to create your CO2.”
But mixing the two could also pose some challenges, particularly with spore cross-contamination.
“If it’s a dry mushroom that you’re bringing into a facility that makes CBD and THC, you’re bringing in potentially mycotoxins or molds or anything else that is associated with those, if they haven’t been dried properly.”
It gets tricky when you mix the two. The best bet is to invest in all new equipment.
One company, Hielscher Ultrasonics in Teltow, Germany, offers technology specific to extracting mushrooms that runs for $7,530.
The machine breaks the cell walls of the mushroom and releases molecules of psilocybin and psilocin – another hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms – into a solvent. A similar mechanism could be used to extract cannabis too, using ice water-based extraction to break down trichomes, Ray said.
“It just depends on yields, and input costs. Are they profitable as a business? Can you make it profitable?” he said.
Moss argues no.
Cannabis extractors looking into the psilocybin side using the same equipment wouldn’t necessarily be the smartest business venture, he said.
“Some cannabis extraction technologies are more versatile than others, but these psychedelic compounds are of completely different chemistry. Ideally, you would choose a technology that is designed for both mushroom biomass and the compounds you are looking to extract.”
Considerations beyond equipment
Even if extractors can’t use the same machines that extract psychoactive molecules from cannabis to do the same with mushrooms, the looming psychedelics industry could be a natural fit for cannabis manufacturers, Ray said.
“The way I see it is a lot of the people who are going to start getting licenses to grow this are going to be the marijuana companies,” he said.
He argues that marijuana manufacturers already have the required security, oversight and blueprint that licensed psilocybin growers are required to have, something that could give them a lead in psilocybin production.
Like cannabis, psilocybin is an illegal Schedule 1 substance in the United States and remains illegal in most countries. Federal research exemptions enable firms to produce the drug for research purposes.
Even in Canada, where there are broader legal opportunities to work with psychedelics, manufacturers say compliance is similar to cannabis research in the United States. Everything needs to be logged; security needs to be amped, and oversight is strict.
“We can’t just play around with the material; we need a good reason for using it (and) we need to keep track of it,” Moss said.
“There’s no way that you could just take out a bunch of magic mushrooms and destroy it all and have no consequences of that. Everything must be accounted for and there must be a reason for why you did something.”
Hilal Bahcetepe can be reached at email@example.com.