The world’s first legal research and cultivation facility dedicated exclusively to psilocybin-producing mushrooms (called shrooms or magic mushrooms) and other plant-based psychedelics recently opened in Jamaica.
Dubbed the Field Trip Natural Products Limited Research and Development Laboratory for Psychedelic Fungi, it is operated as part of a strategic partnership between Field Trip Health Ltd. and the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica.
“As no one – as far as we are aware – is performing basic research on psilocybe mushrooms of this nature, the work in Jamaica will advance our understanding of these fungi,” Nathan Bryson, Ph.D., Field Trip’s CSO, told BioSpace.
“All of the clinical research with psilocybin has focused on the synthetic molecule, but psilocybin-producing fungi are less well understood despite being more widely consumed. They may have different properties,” he said. “Psilocybin is one molecule, but psilocybin fungi contain thousands of molecules.”
Such complex chemistries, inherent in botanical products, make them more difficult to study than single molecules, he pointed out.
“However, it’s important now more than ever that we begin to tease apart this complexity to promote safety and optimal therapeutic outcomes.
“Clinical studies on psilocybin and other plant-based psychedelic compounds have shown that they have great potential to produce profoundly positive changes in individuals, particularly those struggling from serious mental health conditions like anorexia, depression, and PTSD,” Bryson said.
The objective for this facility is to determine how psilocybin-producing mushrooms can best be used in medical treatments.
“The work with UWI will be focused on cultivation techniques and pharmacognosy, as we look to develop a better basic understanding psilocybe mushrooms, their constituents, and any unstudied tryptamines or other molecules.” Bryson likens the work to that involving cannabis, “where there have been over 100 minor – potentially therapeutic – cannabinoids identified.
“Research actually started in Q2 last year (in temporary facilities),” Bryson said.
The Field Trip/UWI research facility has grown at least 25 varieties of psilocybe mushrooms so far, from more than 180 recorded species. Research will continue around the cultivation of common species or strains, and the development of new species, as well as ways to simplify and optimize cultivation techniques to improve quality and reproducibility.
Currently, the facility is setting up the analytical capacity to quantify active compounds (primarily psilocybin and psilocin) and any minor alkaloids. It also is “setting up and understanding important quality assurance controls… and standard operating procedures for species that may be useful commercially or of academic interest,” Bryson added.
“This collaboration includes helping the Government of Jamaica’s Ministry of Health in developing criteria for the eventual safe use of mushrooms for therapy,” he said, although Field Trip has no clinical research on psilocybin planned at the moment.
The lab is wholly owned and funded exclusively by Field Trip, Bryson said, so “there are no requirements for (external) research commitments at this time.”
It is staffed by two full-time Field Trip personnel and two recent UWI graduates who are performing experiments.
“Plus, we have the assistance of Dr. Rupika Delgoda, who works directly with the Field Trip team and provides advice and partial oversight of the facility,” he said.
Delgoda is executive director of the Natural Products Institute at UWI, and professor of biochemical pharmacology & pharmacognosy at UWI. She holds a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in pharmacology.
Psilocybin-producing mushrooms are hallucinogenic and addictive. They are regulated as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, according to the Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).Consequently, they are highly regulated and quite difficult to study.
Bryson said he wants the regulatory landscape to evolve, however, to expand global access to psilocybin fungi.
The transition already is underway. In the U.S., the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) granted breakthrough therapy designation for a psilocybin therapy in 2018. In 2020, Oregon became the first state to delist psilocybin from Schedule 1 classification. Hawaii, with SB738, is considering following suit and establishing designated psilocybin treatment centers. Canada allows treatment under certain circumstances, and Jamaica is developing a treatment framework.
Psilocybin research was banned by most countries in the 1970s. In 2000, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine became the first American institution to gain regulatory approval to relaunch research into psychedelic drugs. It currently is investigating psilocybin’s use for opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, anorexia and other conditions.
Before psilocybin can go mainstream, however, scientists need more insights into psilocybin-producing fungi. Field Trip Health and the University of the West Indies aim to provide much of that basic knowledge.