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With Magic Mushrooms, Small Businesses Lead

Posted by Hugh on August 4, 2022, at 11:43:47

An underground economy is thriving as laws around the illegal fungi loosen. Here's how businesses are rushing to take advantage of the changing paradigms on psilocybin.

It's hard to miss the bright green banner draped over Vancouver's Coca Leaf Café that declares: MUSHROOM DISPENSARY. Inside, aging hippies, solitary businessmen, and streetwear-clad youth peruse glass cases filled with a dozen strains of "magic" mushrooms with names such as Penis Envy and Jedi Mind Trick. Also on the menu at the little shop in the city's rapidly gentrifying Chinatown are mushroom chocolates and microdosing capsules, as well as more advanced offerings including LSD tinctures and vape cartridges containing DMT (the active ingredient in ayahuasca). To make a purchase, flash an ID, sign a health form, buy a product, and -- if inclined -- leave a Google review.

Magic mushrooms are moving from the margins to the mainstream. In the past two years, at least six 'shroom dispensaries have opened in Vancouver, which has become a key testing ground for broader policy reform and where hard drugs will soon be decriminalized. Similar -- albeit more discreet -- shops are opening in US cities where mushrooms have been decriminalized, such as Oakland, Calif., and Portland, Ore.

Commercial sales are still illegal in the US and Canada, but these black-market businesses operate through loopholes including religious freedom exemptions, gifting programs, and pop-up events. Digital sellers proliferate on social media, where anonymous accounts openly hawk heavily branded wares.

Magic mushrooms are the breakout star of the burgeoning psychedelic revolution around mental health and wellness. Psilocybin -- the main hallucinogenic compound in more than 180 mushroom strains -- has shown impressive results for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol addiction that have long been resistant to established medical treatments.

A study published in Nature in July also found that those ingesting psilocybin mushrooms in small quantities -- a technique known as microdosing -- reported better moods and mental health. Likewise, popular media coverage such as Paul Stamets's Fantastic Fungi documentary and Michael Pollan's book How to Change Your Mind (now a buzzy Netflix series) has helped broaden acceptance of these substances as tools for self-optimization.

The vast grassroots movement to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms is pressing the issue. After Denver led the way in 2019, Oakland, Washington, Detroit, Seattle, and Santa Cruz, Calif., soon followed. Fifteen cities or municipalities have now done it, and similar bills are being considered statewide in California, Hawaii, and New Jersey. Although current laws protect only personal psychedelic use, decriminalization is fostering a climate in which underground operators are engaging in sales, distribution, and direct or auxiliary services with increasing boldness.

Other industry insiders report the rise of community circles where psychedelics are administered by underground healers, as well as pop-up farmers markets and "seshes" -- covert events where attendees pay an entry fee and are able to purchase mushrooms directly from growers.

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