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Scientists Unravel Mysteries of the Magic Mushrooms

SatoriDMar 12, 2018, 4:49:48 AM

The psychedelic experience induced from eating Psilocybe “magic mushrooms” have earned the fungi a cult following. And personally is my favorite psychedelic.

Sandoz chemist Albert Hofmann isolated and determined the structure of psilocybin, the main ingredient in mushrooms that leads to the psychedelic effects, nearly 60 years ago. That discovery and subsequent mind-altering experiments by Harvard University psychologist Timothy F. Leary have left scientists longing to develop a large-scale synthesis of the compound for medical uses, which include treating anxiety and depression in people with terminal cancer and treating nicotine addiction. Yet no one has been able to unravel the enzymatic pathway the mushrooms use to make psilocybin, until now.

A new study has uncovered the enzymatic pathways that allow shrooms to make psilocybin, and making large-scale production a possibility.

Researchers at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany have isolated four enzymes that magic mushrooms use to make psilocybin. The team was also able to create the first enzymatic synthesis of psilocybin—a potentially ground-breaking step towards commercializing the compound, which in recent years has been shown to be helpful in treating anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders. As Stephen K. Ritter reports in his article ‘Magic mushroom’ enzyme mystery solved for Chemical & Engineering News.

Credit: Dirk Hoffmeister (mushrooms)

Researchers deciphered the biosynthetic route in Psilocybe cyanescens “magic mushrooms” (shown) that makes the psychoactive natural product psilocybin and then used the key enzymes in a one-pot enzymatic synthesis starting from 4-hydroxy-L-tryptophan.

Gizmodo’s George Dvorksy explains how the process works:

“It starts with a special kind of tryptophan molecule, with an extra oxygen and hydrogen stuck on, like an anglerfish with a big head and a tail and an extra piece hanging off like the headlight. An enzyme the researchers named PsiD first strips a carbon dioxide molecule off of the tail. Then, an enzyme they called PsiK phosphorylates it, meaning it replaces the headlight’s oxygen with a special setup of phosphorus with some oxygen attached. A final enzyme, called PsiM, works to replace two hydrogen atoms on the tail with methyl groups, or carbon atoms with three hydrogens attached.”

Soon after they figured out how mushrooms make psilocybin, researchers genetically modified E. coli bacteria to synthetically produce the enzymes involved in the compound’s production, Sam Lemonick of Forbes reports.

The new work lays the foundation for developing a fermentation process for production of this powerful psychedelic fungal drug, which has a fascinating history and pharmacology,

Courtney Aldrich, a medicinal chemist at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in the research, tells Ritter.

Although psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds have been disregarded by the scientific community—it is still an illicit drug—there has been a recent psychedelic renaissance. Numerous recent studies have suggested that the psilocybin and other psychedelic compound can be helpful in treating a host of psychological conditions.

Psilocybin has been shown to reduce anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancers, alleviate symptoms of depression, and even help people kick nicotine habits.

It's exciting times we live in, there is a lot of psychedelic research happening all around us, even though Psilocybin is still a controlled substance in many places, I feel it wouldn't be that time before it is accepted by the community as a medical treatment. I have this feeling that psychedelics are where marijuana was a decade ago. This new study is a promising first step in the west to learning of the healing powers of Teonanacatl.

It's that in me there is no sorcery, there is no anger, there are no lies. Because I don't have garbage, I don't have dust. The sickness comes out if the sick vomit. They vomit the sickness. They vomit because the mushrooms want them to. If the sick don't vomit, I vomit. I vomit for them and in that way the malady is expelled. The mushrooms have power because they are the flesh of God. And those that believe are healed. Those that do not believe are not healed." -MARIA SABINA