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From mental health to the environment, different species of mushrooms and fungi can be the solution to different challenges in our society and are the target of numerous researches around the world. Today, we will discuss more about how mushrooms can save the world. 

If cannabis and hashish are our number one passions, mushrooms are a very close second. Fungi, in their most varied forms, have incredible properties and can be used in many different ways: in our food, in medicine and even to change the state of consciousness. In some cultures, magic mushrooms are called the “flesh of God”, a clear reference to how it can uplift the spirit and bring us closer to deities in some rituals.

But their impact on the planet is not just related to their effects on our organism: they are fundamental to our ecosystem as a whole, actively working on cleaning and regenerating  the soil till fertilizing entire forests and ecosystems.

One of the great researchers on this subject is mycologist Paul Stamets, writer of the book “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World”. In today’s post, in addition to paying tribute to the incredible work he does, we want to bring his main ideas, along with other research and information about the amazing world of fungi. After all, we also believe that they can save the world.

Come with us to find out how!

To recap: what are mushrooms?

Mushrooms are macrofungi, and are part of the fungi. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million species of fungi, also including yeasts and molds. All of these organisms share certain basic characteristics with animals: they inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, like us, and are susceptible to many of the same germs. They also obtain their energy by consuming other forms of life, and not by photosynthesis.

There are edible mushrooms, mushrooms that are poisonous should never ever be eaten or even touched  and what we call magic mushrooms. Most psychedelic mushrooms are distinguished from others by the presence of psilocybin, a substance in the family of tryptamines that can be found in more than 100 species of the fungus. Once consumed, it is metabolized and becomes psilocin.

But it’s not only its magic that enchants us, mushrooms offer a broad spectrum of therapeutic properties for our body and also for the world. We never stop getting surprised with mushrooms and make us love these little fellas even more! In several places, companies like the wonderful Shimejito, from Portugal, are betting on mushrooms because they are rich in nutrients, easy to plant, perfect for urban farms and also for soil recovery. In addition to offering fresh products for consumption, they also teach how to plant and become a supplier. Incredible, right?

But now let’s get straight to the initial question: how are mushrooms going to save the world? Here, we will answer, topic by topic.

How mushrooms will save our forests

It is not only because of the presence of  trees that a forest is healthy, the key of sustainability and fertile land is in the soil. Although when people think about fungi, first thought might be some nasty images of black mold, but these special creatures appear in most different forms and are essential for the general health of the ecosystems where they live.

It is inevitable that trees will age, slow down growth and end up dying – the cycle of life is the same for all beings. Regardless of how or when they die, the decomposition process begins. Tree cell walls contain lignin, a compound that strengthens cells by helping trees to grow. Lignin is resistant and it is believed that fungi are the only important organism that can break down the organism. This is important for the remaining trees, as well as for seedlings that depend on dead tree nutrients to allow them to grow and remain healthy.

In other words: without the action of fungi, the wood would not break down to provide nutrients for the remaining plants in a period of time that would support their development.

Fungi, together with bacteria, are great recyclers of nature and turn much of the dead material to the soil, such as trees and plants, leaves and dead animals found in forests into available nutrients. Without them, we would be buried in undecomposed organic matter!

Fungi also help most plants grow, developing mycorrhizal associations with plant roots to help increase access to water and minerals – and they benefit from the carbohydrates produced by the plant. It is a two-way street, and its correlation is essential for forests to remain alive.

mushrooms

How mushrooms will save the environment

In fact, it is not just forests that benefit from fungi, but the whole environment.

With an E. coli contamination problem in oyster farms, Stamets found that the mushroom’s mycelium can act as a natural filter, in addition to having antibacterial compounds. Then he did some field work: near the farms, he dumped several trucks of wood chips, which he covered with mycelium-infused growing medium. A year after planting, water quality inspectors checked the place and found that the septic system was no longer a source of pollution; fecal bacteria levels measured a hundred times less.

In addition to filtering water and soil, removing harmful bacteria, mushrooms are able to break down petrochemicals and absorb radiation from contaminated soil and water.

This means that we have a strong ally against:

  • Contamination by untreated sewage, nitrates or medications;

  • Oil spills;

  • Contamination by heavy metals;

  • Radioactive material leakage.

Mushrooms can also be used to make biodiesel, requiring far less soil and other resources than crops from other fuel sources – in addition, of course, to be much more sustainable than fossil fuels. Is there anything that fungi are not able to do? So shocked!

How mushrooms will save our physical health and nutrition

It is proven that some fungi can treat conditions related to physical health. But why?

Mushrooms are known to contain a number of chemicals proven to fight diseases, including polysaccharides, glycoproteins, ergosterols and triterpenoids, as well as antimicrobial and antiviral compounds, all of which vary by species and strain.

Currently, there are already many commercially available drugs that are derived from mushrooms, such as the antibiotics ganomycin and campestrine, and the chemotherapy drugs calvacin and Illudin S.

Another huge benefit of them for our health is that these beings can help a lot in organic cultivation. Here on the blog, we talk a lot about planting cannabis through practices that respect the environment, and we even tell you how some fungi protect plants from pests that can end up with flowers and fruits. Well, in food cultivation, they can also be perfect to replace pesticides and polluting insecticides that have negative effects not only on our health, but on the health of the entire planet.

In addition to all these properties, mushrooms are extremely nutritious. Widely used in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, the edible varieties have an amount of protein almost equivalent to meat. They are also rich in vitamins and carbohydrates, and are low in fat. If you are in Portugal and want to make some recipes full of health, you can take a look at the Shimejito catalog!

Easy to grow and loaded with nutrients, they are also singled out by experts – like Stamets himself – as one of the possible solutions to the famine crises.

Amanita

How mushrooms will save our mental health 

When used in a therapeutic way, mushrooms have already shown many positive effects on our brain. Some of the main ones are:

  • it helps in the process of reducing compulsive behaviors or habits, such as the use of cigarettes and alcohol. In a 2017 study looking at tobacco use, 67% of participants quit smoking and, in 2015 studies, it was also effective in treating a group of individuals with problems related to alcohol consumption.

  • assist in the treatment of depression and anxiety. A follow-up study reported that, six months after a session with mushrooms, 31% of participants with treatment-resistant symptoms reported long-lasting antidepressant effects.

  • alleviate existential anxiety in terminally ill cancer patients. In three separate studies at UCLA, Johns Hopkins and NYU, most participants experienced sustained antidepressant and anxiolytic effects.

  • increase empathy, connection with nature and the divine. This study reported that psilocybin is able to increase empathy and well-being up to seven days after use. Another analysis found that people felt more connected to nature and the collective until a year after trying the substance.

Mushrooms that contain psilocybin do not necessarily need to be used at their maximum potency – for those who do not want such strong psychedelic effects, there is something called microdosing.

As the name suggests, microdosing is a way to consume a psychedelic substance in small amounts. Many adherents to this practice say that, after adding psilocybin microdoses to the routine, they feel more focused, willing and creative, in addition to noticing an improvement in social skills, less anxiety and stress and even a reduction in the symptoms of depression.

Here on the website, we have already told you more about the studies related to psilocybin microdosing and the discoveries that link mushrooms to the expansion of the mind since the dawn of humanity. It’s worth checking out!

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