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Making Mushrooms: How Psilocybin Is Extracted and Used in Mental Health Research

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Psilocybin’s emergence as a valuable tool for mental health research has been a huge breakthrough for the field. But how do researchers get their hands on this heavily regulated substance? Technology Networks talked to Tim Moore, CEO of Havn Life Sciences, a company that produces psychoactive compounds from plants and fungi, to find out more. Havn Life recently made a donation towards a pioneering study in Germany that will utilize psilocybin in a clinical context.

Ruairi Mackenzie (RM): How is psilocybin produced on a mass scale?

Tim Moore (TM):
At present, there is no formal supply chain for the mass production of psilocybin. The fungi grow in nature and have been cultivated historically in the black and gray market. More recently we have seen firms developing synthetic psilocybin, but our business plan is to provide a naturally-derived alternative. Synthetic psilocybin can be expensive and is inconsistent with people’s desire for a plant-based alternative to the pharmaceutical industry. It also often requires the assignment of IP, which can be prohibitive to academics. We are extracting psilocybin from fungi and developing the methods to do so on a mass scale while developing safety profiles and a compound library to support the research going on in this space and move the industry forward.

RM:  Where is the demand for research-grade psilocybin coming from? Is it 
mainly an academic market?

The demand for research-grade psilocybin is growing, and research is the first step that must be taken in order to bring the industry mainstream. It is taking place globally, in both academic institutions and in clinics; there are at least 142 studies taking place globally.  Our goal is to develop the supply chain for this industry, which starts with developing methods for extraction and standardization, to manage quality and scale for current and future needs. Researchers need access to standardized, quality-controlled compounds to conduct successful research and provide reliable data, patients need access to standardized, quality-controlled formulated products to achieve safe and consistent health outcomes and policymakers need researchers to be able to reference reliable data and to set health and safety standards for products.

RM:  You are supporting a study in Germany with MIND Foundation. Could 
you tell us more about the study and how psilocybin will be used in it?

We are supporting the Psilocybin Depression Study, which is led by principal investigator Prof. Dr. Gerhard Gründer at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim who is working together with a group at the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the MIND Foundation. It will focus on investigating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin administered under supportive conditions in a controlled, randomized and double-blind design. This is the kind of study that can pave the way for regulatory approval of this drug for depression treatment. The team expects to achieve significant treatment responses with a therapeutic (25 mg) oral dose of psilocybin in comparison to an active control dose of psilocybin (5 mg) and niacin, which will be used as a placebo. The study will investigate the effect of administering a second therapeutic dose six weeks after the first therapeutic dose. This will be the first clinical study of its kind in Germany since the 1970s. There are 144 patients planned to participate.

RM:  What do you see as the most promising applications for psilocybin and 

There are so many potential applications that have already shown tremendous promise, including treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, cluster headaches and so many more mental health challenges, including addiction. 

Tim Moore was speaking to Ruairi J Mackenzie, Science Writer for Technology Networks