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How Potent Is that Magic Mushroom?

How Potent Is that Magic Mushroom?

Are mushroom caps more potent than stems? Do all strains have the same potency? 

Common questions like these surrounding mushroom potency were a driving force behind The Psilocybin Cup, a new type of psychedelic conference that took place this April uniting science, community, activism and competition. Organized by Oakland Hyphae, an Oakland-based consulting firm that provides education and lab testing for plant medicine cultivators, the three-day event centered around a mushroom potency competition in which cultivators from around the world submitted psilocybin-containing mushrooms for laboratory testing and analysis. 

From April 17 to April 19, The Psilocybin Cup hosted speakers, 95 percent of whom were women or people of color. The topics covered included harm reduction and the importance of testing, the science of entheogens, equity and representation in the psychedelic space, stigma and activism in plant medicine, and decriminalization versus legalization. 

Hyphae Labs analyzed mushroom samples from over 50 growers and announced the test results and winner on April 20, sparking conversations across social media. 

Oakland Hyphae’s founder, Reggie Harris, realized there was a gap in knowledge about psilocybin mushroom potency after having many conversations about frequently debated questions like: Are caps more potent than stems? Is “bluing” an indicator of potency? Can the hallucinogenic and medicinal components of mushrooms be analyzed and shared the same as cannabis? These questions, and the inability to answer them with hard data, led him to dive into the science of mushroom testing. 

Harris partnered with Bay Area scientist Ian Bollinger to fine tune a laboratory-based testing protocol using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and they began to analyze the mushrooms of local cultivators on their own dime. As their test results started to shake up the community and challenge potency anecdotes, they saw requests for their services increase. Being a small, self-funded grassroots organization, The Psilocybin Cup was Harris and Bollinger’s creative answer to community demands. It spawned a movement that brought together scientists, mycologists, and community advocates. 

Bollinger, who founded Hyphae Labs as the laboratory component of Oakland Hyphae, told Inverse, “The whole idea of us doing this is for harm reduction. People are in spaces where these things are decriminalized and people are actively going to pursue these things on their own.” 

The city of Oakland decriminalized psychedelics two years ago. The California Senate is now gearing up to vote on SB 519, a bill that would decriminalize certain psychedelics, including psilocybin, statewide. As psychedelics are accepted more broadly as a therapeutic tool and decriminalization efforts spread, Oakland Hyphae’s mission is to make testing and education available to psychedelic communities where it is needed.

Hyphae Labs mushroom potency tests have demonstrated that the active hallucinogenic compounds in magic mushrooms, psilocin and psilocybin, vary widely across cultivars and species, and that measuring a dose by weight does not guarantee the same effect every time. Variations in growing and drying techniques, environment and age are just a few of the variables that can affect mushroom potency.

Speaking with the San Francisco Psychedelic Society, Bollinger and Harris said their aim is to standardize mushroom testing and make it more widely available, a vast departure from what is happening in the cannabis industry, which suffers from a lack of standardized testing. This is due in part to cannabis being federally illegal, but also intellectual property rights, which keep testing methods from being shared between labs, leading to varied results.

“We want this testing to be accessible to people beyond pharma and ivory towers,” Bollinger told Inverse. “And transferable, something that people can do in their own communities.”

Harris and Bollinger also didn’t want the Cup to mirror the diversity issues apparent at other psychedelic events. Harris, a political scientist and community organizer, sees psychedelics as a force for social good and wants The Psilocybin Cup to reflect these aspirations. 

“We decided to elevate and center the conversation on BIPOC and queer communities and women. A lot of other spaces will do this to make sure they check a box, but we did this to really elevate these voices. We’re just trying to shift paradigms here, have a good time, and give people some good information at the same time,” he told Mushroom Hour.

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Fellow activist James McConchi of the Haight Street Shroom Shop in the Bay Area, told East Bay Express, “It’s clear that the end goal for them is community and not capital gains. There’s nothing wrong with profit, but we’ve moved away from venture capital, we’ve moved closer to ways to give back to the community. If it walks like a capitalist duck, it’s probably a duck. But what we’re building is a movement.”

Oakland Hyphae is building that movement rapidly. Although the business is only about a year old, the team is gearing up to expand. They have started to organize pop-up events across the nation (making sure to pay every speaker, which not all conferences do) and will start offering subscription based testing services through Hyphae Labs. They are also planning the next Cup to take place on September 20 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, another city that recently decriminalized entheogens. 

“We took a leap of faith. But the community embraced it, the community supported it, the community asked for it,” Harris told Mushroom Hour. 

Registration for the fall Cup opens June 1st. 

And in case you were wondering, Oakland Hyphae found stems to be more potent than caps.

Image: Nicki Adams using a modified graphic by Lukke

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