This article was originally published on Leafly and appears here with permission.
Magic mushrooms are making waves. You can stream Michael Pollan’s docuseries How to Change Your Mind on Netflix, listen to quarterback Aaron Rodgers sing the praises of psychedelic mushrooms on a podcast, and peruse pages of cutting-edge research about the potential therapeutic applications of shrooms online.
However, while psychedelic mushrooms are in the collective consciousness, commercially, they’re still off limits. You won’t find gummies infused with Golden Teachers in your neighborhood dispensary, nor are the most progressive doctors writing prescriptions for psilocybin. Psychedelic decriminalization in a number of cities means laws have relaxed for personal use, but that doesn’t make it legal to buy, sell, distribute, or advertise mushrooms. A chasm separates the shroom hype and what you can actually get your hands on.
Beneath the surface, however, underground innovators are busy filling that void, crafting products and developing experiences for those who want to bend their minds with shrooms. Just as shrooms extend mycelial networks beneath the surface, this grassroots movement too operates underground, making mushrooms available to the people and offering a captivating glimpse of how shroom culture is shaping up.
How do you like your shrooms? Shroom shots, chocolate, kombucha, and more
When it comes to shroom-infused edibles, creativity is the order of the day. Innovative producers are crafting magic kombucha, vegan drip shroom chocolate, fruity shroom shots, organic sencha tea infused with magic mushrooms, gummies, capsules, and more.
Will Padilla-Brown, citizen mycologist and founder of Mycosymbiotics and MycoFest, has seen shroom products proliferate over the past year. “I’ve seen capsules, blister packs of pills, freeze-dried shrooms, chocolate bars, gel capsules, infused honey, psychedelic truffles, teas, and psilocybin mixed with other functional mushrooms in capsules,” commented Padilla-Brown.
This influx of shroom products has also led to innovations in extraction. A process called ultrasonic-aided methanol extraction seems to be yielding the most stable psilocybin crystals, said Padilla-Brown. This extraction process works by perforating the cellular wall of mushrooms using high-frequency sound waves, so that the active chemical compounds in the mushroom are quickly released into a surrounding liquid solvent (methanol).
Other operators opt for more old school, simpler methods. “I have seen some very interesting simple cold-water extractions—but they aren’t shelf-stable,” said Padilla-Brown. “You can leave fresh mushrooms in a jar in the fridge overnight and the water will be blue and infused the next day.”
But many shroom edibles aren’t standardized and none are regulated, so it’s hard to know what you’re getting. In some cases, safety is questionable. “I’ve been seeing lots of crude extract into gummies that aren’t very reliable, and many mushroom chocolates that aren’t homogenized,” said Padilla-Brown.
Reddit threads musing the merits of these underground products debate similar issues, with many pondering if shroom chocolate bars even contain psilocybin or are instead infused with a synthetic substitute, 4-AcO-DMT (psilacetin).
How to buy shroom edibles
In general, buyers often find illicit market shroom businesses on social media and Reddit forums. Anonymous accounts and delivery services distribute shroom-infused goodies with fun brand names and official-looking labels, trying to lend an air of legality to products that are anything but.
Some bold operators have set up in physical shopfronts, like The Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary, which shares space with the Coca Leaf Cafe in Vancouver, Canada. Despite warnings from city officials, the dispensary remains staunchly open—and it’s not the only spot where you can buy shrooms in the city.
Up until recently, Mushroom Cuts, a barber shop, boasted a shroom showroom of local mushroom products in its English Bay location. The showroom is now closed, but online sales have kicked off and the socially-owned business appears to be booming with orders flowing out seven days a week.
Psilocybin retreats have to operate on the down-low
Beyond buying your own magic booch, gummies, and blister packs of pills, psilocybin retreats and gatherings are also quietly gaining momentum. Those who organize such encounters often operate under the radar too.
“You have to be careful: You can’t charge for experiences; you can’t promote,” reflected Craig Gross, founder of Creating Fun and Rainbow Ridge. “There are ways around it if you’re not doing it for profit. I am not in any product-related offering. I’ve given experiences away to people and provided a space for that.”
During the pandemic, Gross ran a psilocybin retreat center called Rainbow Ridge in Santa Cruz, California, providing psilocybin immersion experiences free of charge for handfuls of people at a time. About 300 people participated in Gross’s retreats at Rainbow Ridge while it was operating.
According to Gross, Rainbow Ridge was one of many informal retreats run throughout the US. Organizers rent Airbnbs out in cities where drug use has been decriminalized, then connect with participants via more secure, private networks like Signal or Telegram. There’s no need to advertise, because word-of-mouth does the heavy lifting.
Psilocybin as a religious sacrament
Another common way that people can experience psilocybin is in spiritual gatherings where mushrooms are treated as a religious sacrament. The Sacred Tribe in Denver, Colorado, and Zide Door in East Oakland, California, both integrate magic mushrooms into their spiritual teachings and practices.
Members of these entheogenic organizations can trip together, and in the case of The Sacred Tribe, explore the overlapping tenets of psychedelia and Judaism. In the Sacred Tribe, members can access psilocybin sacraments in exchange for a donation.
However, despite the fact that both spiritual organizations operate in decriminalization cities, both have also encountered serious resistance from local law enforcement authorities. Zide Door has been raided, and Rabbi Ben Gorelick, leader of The Sacred Tribe, is currently facing felony drug charges.
Facilitating experiences and gatherings involving psilocybin can be fraught, even in locations where psilocybin has been decriminalized, and even if no money exchanges hands.
Churches are not the only outlet for psilocybin-friendly gatherings. Padilla-Brown established the MycoSymbiotics mushroom and arts festival in 2015, affectionately known as MycoFest, which has since become an annual fixture for all things shrooms-related—magic and otherwise.
“I saw MycoFest as a perfect opportunity to gather and discuss topics in person that many of us only talked about online, and to also give my friends the opportunity to have an audience and sell their goods,” said Padilla-Brown.
However, it isn’t just about talking and selling shrooms. The event maintains a strong focus on ecological literacy, educating people about how to interact with and protect the environments in which mushrooms grow. “We take groups on hikes into the forest to find what different mushrooms are growing,” explained Padilla-Brown.
Mycofest is also filled with presentations and workshops throughout the day with a health and wellness focus. “Over the years we’ve had classes on the identification of psychedelic safety in family settings, psychedelic mushrooms, the ecology of psychedelic mushrooms, and decriminalization education,” said Padilla-Brown.
Psychedelic decriminalization keeps gaining steam
In some ways, the underground shroom market is reminiscent of the early days of cannabis before the green rush—characterized by those who are passionate about psychedelic fungi and eager to help it over the line toward legalization. Many shroom businesses are run by legacy operators who want in on the action before big business takes over.
In one such show of support, Gross has recently co-founded an initiative called Drug Camp, where supporters can purchase a mushroom-themed T-shirt for cities that have decriminalized psilocybin and other psychedelic substances. Some proceeds go toward Decriminalize Nature, an organization that aims to legalize entheogens, or psychedelics plants. Those who buy a T-shirt also get access to a private chat group with information on psychedelic events.
“In the USA, most businesses starting on a grassroots level are happening around Denver, Oakland, Arcata, DC, and the state of Oregon, as they have the best decrim set-ups that have police looking the other way,” explained Padilla-Brown.
With cities all over the US decriminalized or in the process of doing so, Gross decided the time was ripe to get a movement underway. “There are over 130 cities that are in the process of decriminalizing, so the thought was just to follow that movement, the movement of saying, ‘We’re changing history here.’ A T-shirt and some information about this could let people know what was coming.”