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Fungi are perhaps the most underappreciated kingdom of the natural world. As billion year-old organisms they are masters of survival and integral to the development of life on Earth. Fungi are also remarkable chemists producing molecules that humans still can’t make in a lab, and scientists are only scratching the surface since there are an estimated 5,000,000 species of fungi, and we’ve only discovered about one per cent of them.
One species that is attracting great attention is psilocybin mushrooms, which have been part of religious rituals for thousands of years. The Aztecs referred to these mushrooms as “God’s flesh” in homage to their believed sacred power. In 1957, Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist working for the pharmaceutical company Sandoz, isolated psilocybin from a mushroom and unleashed all sorts of interesting discoveries. During the 60s, Sandoz sold psilocybin and LSD for research in medical trials, but the substances were soon outlawed after they became associated with Timothy Leary and the 60’s counterculture.
Psilocybin has been making a steady comeback within the medical community who have conducted clinical trials showing remarkable success in treating patients with severe depression, anxiety and PTSD. Many individuals speak of life-changing experiences during a single session and emerge with new-found awareness.
GIULIANA FURCI, Chile’s first female mycologist, is founder of the Fungi Foundation, the first NGO in the world working solely for the protection and promotion of fungi. Her work triggered the inclusion of fungi in Chilean environmental legislation and made it possible to assess the conservation status of over 80 species of fungi. In addition, Furci has described several new species of fungi and conducted mycological expeditions in close to 20 countries.
Dr. SHARMIN GHAZNAVI is a psychiatrist and associate director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Mass General Hospital.
“If you asked me five years ago if I would be working with psychedelics, I would have said No, but once I looked at the literature and saw the ways in psychedelics might be used therapeutically, in research studies, and to understand how your mind and brain works, I felt there was an onus to explore these in a rigorous way. I felt like we owed that to our patients.”
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