There is a growing interest in mushrooms, from a culinary and especially from a medicinal perspective. Mushrooms have a long history across different cultures, from shamanism, eastern cultures and even European ones. Originally, the Chinese relied on the power of mushrooms in their traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Today they are still the world’s biggest grower of mushrooms.
Since the last years, the interest in mushrooms grew beyond the TCM and “side-dish” interest. Just recently also mainstream consumers are turning towards mushrooms: especially for health, but also for mind-enhancing reasons. Drivers of the mushroom-revival are trends like rising health consciousness, plant-based diet, anti-stress movements, and: microdosing – a popular practice, particularly in San Francisco/Silicon valley to use small doses of drugs like LSD or magic mushrooms, in order to optimize personal preformance and to be more concentrated and creative.
Mushrooms are considered the new cannabis – in terms of their health effects and also in terms of investment opportunities. Scientists and legislators are beginning to change their views on psychedelic drugs like “magic mushrooms”. These substances can, for example, help to combat depression (more than 264 million people worldwide are affected ) or to overcome bad habits (alcohol, cigarettes). In the course of the mushroom revolution, even the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of psilocybin (the hallucinogenic substance that is part of the magic mushroom) in early 2019. Certainly, further research on psilocybin is needed to understand how the substance actually affects the human brain and what possible side effects it has. Due to the legal implications, it is still too early for some investors, especially in the traditional healthcare sector, to believe in mainstream use.
Nevertheless, medicinal legalization is likely to come. For instance, COMPASS Pathways (QC·VENTURES is also invested in Compass via its stake in ATAI Life Sciences) finished the Phase I clinical study with COMP360 (psilocybin) – the largest controlled study of psilocybin to date. Positive mood alteration was reported but no negative effects on cognitive and emotional functioning. At the moment Phase IIb studies are running across Europe and North America, involving 216 depression patients.
Moreover, we see that researchers, startups, investors and non-profit associations (e.g. MAPS: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) are working on the legalization of psychedelics like psilocybin and others (LSD for instance) to get the (microdosed-) use into mainstream. And: research is catching up: between 2013 and 2018 the number of academic papers discussing psilocybin more than doubled. Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind – What the New Science of Psychedlics Teaches Us About Conciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (2018)  sees this push in the context of other tech-fueled efforts — fasting, food-hacking, and attempts to stop aging and even death (Longevity) — that are on trend right now. For him “it is all about finding a technology to improve biology,” and – of course – a way to make money.
The recent launch of the first psychedelic-specialized VC shows the investment interest in that field. Mid of 2019 Field Trip Ventures from Toronto opened their door with the mission:
“to heal the sick, and better the well, through therapeutic psychedelics. We are a first-of-its-kind venture that is blending operational execution with strategic investing across all aspects of the psychedelics value chain — from basic research on botanical psychedelics to operation of world class clinics focused on psychedelics-assisted therapies.”
Field Trip plans to invest in psychedelic startups, e.g. to build cultivation centres for medical-grade magic mushrooms (the source for psilocybin), by borrowing strategies from medical cannabis cultivators.
Next to medical research and investors, also consumer research experts, like the Hartman Group, see a lot of potential of in mushrooms in mental and medicinal food applications – if they are used in a serious and legal way. What is central to the renaissance of mushrooms in the food sector is the idea “food as medicine”, according to the Hartman Group. Mushrooms are said to have different positive health qualities for our body in the context of mental health issues and longevity, especially:
Nevertheless, mycologists, like Paul Stamets, clarify that it is important to understand that medicinal mushrooms support immunity, but not necessarily prevent, cure or treat diseases.
From a culinary trends’ perspective, mushrooms are seen on the one hand mushrooms as a way to reduce meat consumption (see for instance Startup MycoTechnology – mushroom fermented protein, total funding USD 82.6M according to Crunchbase ). On the other hand, mushrooms bring new health aspects in our food. Mushrooms are experiencing a superfood revival in drinks or as food supplements, in the form of powder, as liquid or capsules. One specialty is mushroom coffee, which is said to support brain functions and provide energy. The big advantages of mushrooms: they grow indoors, in the dark, 24/7/365 and they double in size every day. These are unbeatable qualities compared to the breeding of insects – the reason why mushrooms are rated as new protein source.
Two examples of startups using mushrooms as superfood:
Four Sigmatic Foods: Mushroom Coffee as well as mushroom elixirs, and superfood blends. Tero Isokauppila, Finnish mushroom forger in the 13th generation, brought the company as startup in the USA. It shows a total funding of USD 5.4 M according to Crunchbase.
Lifehouse Tonics: a “modern health focused company” which sells (online and in two own stores in Los Angeles) plant-based food and drinks using mushrooms, herbs and other superfoods. Well-known for their “Chaga Chip Cookie”: almond milk, cashew milk, cacao nibs, and the chaga mushroom.
Above the food industry, mushrooms also enable new solutions in other industries like the packaging or building industry. For instance, Ecovative Design, produces innovative and sustainable materials from mushrooms: MycoFlex™, a foam of 100% pure mycelium structure that is used as leather replacement or in footware industry. MycoComposite™, a high-end packaging solution, where the mycelium is used as binder of organic agricultural byproducts. In 2019 the company entered the field of meat-replacement by fungi with their third product Atlast™.
Mushrooms have versatile qualities that can support us in many different areas of life. In the coming years, in-depth research will bring new knowledge about fungi to light, and new start-ups will surprise us with corresponding new applications.