Psilocybin Is Headed for the Mainstream — It’s Bringing the Problems of Big Pharma With It

The psychedelic community is torn over the growing interest in developing medical versions of a drug that may even help treatment-resistant depression

Zoe Cormier


Denver, CO —May 19, 2019: Mazatec psilocybin mushrooms are ready for harvest in their growing tub. Photo: Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty

AsAs recreational cannabis has inched toward legalization across the western world, scientists and other proponents expect that psilocybin — the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — will be next. This May, both Denver and Oakland, to many people’s surprise, voted to decriminalize it. And now that legalization appears on the horizon, several well-funded firms are jostling to make money in this new market.

Of all the psychedelics that have been studied for their medical potential, psilocybin arguably shows the most promise. Multiple studies have indicated it could help with a wide range of conditions, including OCD, eating disorders, and treatment-resistant depression.

To develop psilocybin commercially into a pharmaceutical-grade product, the drug must be produced synthetically to a medical standard of safety and purity. The nonprofit Usona Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, has been attempting to do this since 2014, refining its chemical production techniques, as well as developing therapeutic…