I’m not talking about portabello mushrooms stopping world hunger. Nor am I talking about magic mushrooms making people hallucinate that they are saving the world. This post is about the myriad of fascinating solutions mushrooms, mycelium, and fungi offer to problems presented to mankind. While many of our problems are our own doing, mushrooms may be needed allies to undo the damage.
You may be suffering from what mushroom researcher Paul Stamets refers to as mycophobia, and now you may find yourself wondering, “how can mushrooms save anything? Get a job hippie.” This is regrettably a normal response for many when you begin a discussion with mushrooms can save the world. My love of mushrooms came from Paul’s amazing TED talk, go watch it then continue reading this blog.
You watched it now? Good.
Mushrooms have had more time to evolve than nearly anything else still living, they can do cool things like eat radiation and alter the weather, but that’s not all. Paul has six revolutionary ways mushrooms can save the world: cleaning up oil spills, cleaning up toxic waste, pest control, biofuel manufacturing, and as a new generation of antibiotics. Most recently, it was shown that mushrooms form a natural Internet that all of the plants in the world are hooked into.
You may be thinking that a new generation of antibiotic drugs isn’t worth worrying about yet. If this is you, then you must have been living under a rock to not have heard about all the drug resistant bacteria running rampant and killing people uninhibited. If that doesn’t tickle you maybe a cure for small pox to help prevent biological warfare is more to your liking. Even if you aren’t worried about small pox everyone can do to be a bit healthier with better disease resistances, and it seems like the Reishi mushroom can do just that, maybe even cure cancer.
It is hypothesized that Jesus was a shaman, of sorts, who dolled out psychedelic mushrooms and mold to his followers to aid in his miracles. Clark Heinrich, the author of decade old book on Magic Mushrooms Religion and Alchemy, attests that Jesus used the fly agaric mushroom in conjunction with bread, like rye, who’s mold displayed ergotism. I first learned about rye bread and ergotism when I was 13 and ate a very special sandwich; that tuna sandwich remains my only LSD experience to this day (more truly LSA, a precursor to LSD). I do not recommend anyone trying to hallucinate in this manner as it is very risky and unpredictable if you will die or merely hallucinate. You’d be safer and better off eating psilocybin mushrooms.
Psilocybin has a lot more to offer than religious revelations, research shows that it can make you less depressed. The Multidisiplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (better known as MAPS) is at the forefront of research on psilocybin, MDMA, cannabis, and even more exotic things like ibogaine. Aside from helping relieve feelings of depression and other mental disorders, psilocybin also shows promise as a way to lower our socially imposed inhibitions allowing us to expand our consciousness. Perhaps that was Jesus’ greatest miracle and the real fruit of knowledge was actually a fungus.
Despite all these benefits that can lead directly to more happiness, not everything is perfect with psilocybin; bad trips can happen. I feel like most bad trips are the result of not being properly prepared, with psilocybin this includes preparing for feelings of “ego death.” Having experienced people shrooming with you and a baby sitter can help immensely. There are also people working to provide MAPS to safety from bad trips. Reading that MAPS post reminds me of my own personal harm reduction story with mushrooms, which happened at my first Burning Man. It was about 2am and an Australian man wandered up to me from an art car and said he had just been given mushrooms and it was his first time. He went on to say that he wanted to wander off into the darkness of the open desert alone, with no lights and no water. Over the course of a cigarette I gave him a light, some water, and directed him back towards his camp and away from the dangers of being high in the dark alone (getting hit by a car, for one). We need more people at festivals and concerts making sure everyone is tripping safely and responsibly. As a bartender at festivals I often risk reprimand from my bosses for giving out water or ice; I personally view charging for water at music shows as criminal, or something that should be. Having gone to many raves and seen the effects of people overheating firsthand I understand better than most how water can save lives.
Mushrooms can also save lives, with their amazing antibiotic properties and unique abilities to make formerly uninhabitable lands inhabitable. Mushrooms are the reason life was ever able to come to land due to their processing of rocks into soil allowing for the first plants to grow, creating the oxygen rich atmosphere we have grown to depend on. Prototaxites was a prehistoric plant that most scientists agree was a giant fungus, but recently an alternate view has been proposed that it was a liverwort. Mushrooms may also hold the keys to purifying our soils and air through the projects that Paul Stamets was working on. Paul isn’t the only revolutionary TED Talk about mushrooms, check out this one by Jae Rhim Lee.
Her project, the Infinity Burial Project, is a unique new approach to death and the ceremony of death. Jae has created a suit laced with mycelium that she will be buried in that will consume her remains and process the myriad of toxins that build up in a human body in the course of a life. This is the alternate she proposes to cremation, which pours those toxins into the air, or burial which has many other issues associated with it. Jae’s idea still allows for open casket funerals too. My favorite part is that it forces people to think about their death before it happens, something many Westerners never do. I was raised as a Nichiren Buddhist and have since read much about Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists strive to live a life in harmony with death, rather than in fear of it like many of us in the West. This mushroom burial suit is one amazing tool to help cultivate a death consciousness in the West.