In conversation with Neil van Rij, Psyence’s resident mycologist on Psyence’s magic mushrooms

 Neil van Rij is Psyence’s resident mycologist. In this interview he sheds some light on the mushrooms Psyence is growing at its state-of-the-art facility in Lesotho and what these mushrooms will be used for.

  1. What species of mushrooms are you cultivating in Lesotho?

The species of mushrooms we are growing is called psilocybe cubensis. This is the most common and well-known magic mushroom species. While many companies are isolating and manufacturing the synthetic psilocybin compound, the active ingredient found in magic mushrooms, we are growing the full natural mushroom.

My job is to continue to refine Psyence’s genetic library and to streamline production. We are constantly working on improving our gene bank and looking for the best strains in terms of potency and yield.

Strains of psilocybe cubensis  that we are cultivating at the facility include Natal Super Strength, Amazonia and Cambodian. What’s exciting about Natal Super Strength is that it was first found less than 500km from our Lesotho facility in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in 2017.  Discovered by mycologist Jon Mac Gillivray, it was found growing on discarded pine wood shavings, which were mixed with the dung of horses. The combination of the pine needles, equine dung and misty climate created the optimum growing conditions for the species. Natal Super Strength is renowned for its aggressive mycelium growth, great yield and extreme strength. It has a much higher potency than most other cubensis strains and we are working on improving it even further.

Why are you excited about cultivating the whole mushroom as opposed to working with the synthetic psilocybin compound?

Natural psilocybin mushrooms include a range of other compounds including psilocin, norspsilocin, baeocystin and norbaeocystin. The reality is that we are still in the infancy of research globally on  what all these compounds actually do and how they work together to deliver therapeutic benefits. At Psyence, we are committed to investigating the interplay between the many molecules in a magic mushroom and to better understanding the entourage effect.

As an old Chinese professor once told me, in an orchestra you could probably go ahead with just the string section and it will still be beautiful but the other three sections also play an important part in the overall effect. Similarly, if we extract only psilocybin we will still get a result but we may lose important elements we didn’t even know existed.

  1. Who is Psyence growing these magic mushrooms for?

 The market for medical grade psilocybin mushrooms is growing rapidly as the evidence for psilocybin as a potential treatment for a range of conditions and disorders mounts and clinical trials commence.  Companies conducting clinical trials need access to natural, medical grade, standardised psilocybin products. Psyence is federally licensed by the government of Lesotho to cultivate and export psilocybin mushrooms to the legal medical and research markets and is working to meet this demand.

Our state-of-the-art facility based in Lesotho in Southern Africa is built to GMP standards and we are busy with our validation runs towards our ISO22000 audits at the end of the year. We are FDA registered and our first official, validated harvest was completed in September.

Psyence’s dried mushrooms are packaged in nitrogen flushed and vacuum-packed bags to prevent oxidisation in 100-gram batches. Each package is accompanied with a certified full set of paperwork. We expect to begin exporting our mushrooms to drug development partners in Canada, United Kingdom and Jamaica by the end of this year.

Psyence Therapeutics will also be using the psilocybin mushrooms we cultivate in their neurological and mental health clinical trials.