Magic mushroom brand Microgenix sees promise in prohibited psilocybin (so it's selling it anyway)

Microgenix believes the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin make the risk of selling it worth taking.

Microgenix launched in January 2021. (Photo: Microgenix)
FOUNDER INTERVIEW

In Canada, magic mushrooms are inching their way towards legality.

In August 2020, the government granted four patients an exemption that allowed them to use psilocybin — a Schedule III controlled substance — as part of their end-of-life treatment.

Since then, more patients and medical practitioners have been able to successfully argue to have access to the substance. This week, Health Canada approved the use of psilocybin to treat severe mental illness.

Still, under most circumstances, psilocybin remains prohibited. But this hasn’t stopped direct-to-consumer brand Microgenix and a number of others from selling it.

“It’s an emerging industry that’s going to help a lot of people,” says one of the brand’s cofounders, who asked to remain anonymous (Thingtesting has been able to confirm their identity). “A lot of people look to antidepressants or focus drugs to help remedy [mental disorders], but the vast majority of our customers have found the side effects were too heavy for them, and they wanted to try something natural.” Psilocybin, the founder says, “is another option.”

The business of magic mushrooms

Microgenix, which launched on January 1, 2021, pitches itself as a “premium mushroom nootropics” business. The capsules, gummies and peanut butter cups it sells all contain dried psilocybin, carefully dosed so consumers don’t find themselves on an accidental mind-bender.

The brand’s website has all the familiar tells of a direct-to-consumer brand: photos of products in gorgeous packaging, a slick layout, pastel hues and a stylish merch collection. The education and FAQ pages contain information on the benefits of consuming psilocybin at different doses, and how first-timers should approach the substance. What’s not mentioned, however, is the fact that what’s being purchased is still an illegal substance.

“We’ve curated this as if it was legal right now, with lots of disclaimers and warnings on the packaging. We’re trying to be really careful with it,” says the cofounder, explaining why the brand has chosen a look and feel that’s more Allbirds than it is acid trip.

Microgenix is one of a growing crop of digital-first magic mushroom dispensaries appearing in Canada. Kind Stranger, which launched in May 2020, sells mushroom microdosing capsules alongside whole, dried magic mushrooms. Dose is an online marketplace that sells magic mushroom products, from capsules to chocolates, from a variety of brands. Meanwhile, activist entrepreneurs are opening up brick-and-mortar mushroom stores across Canada.

The common goal is to remove the stigma surrounding the drug, provide people with a safer way to consume it, and continue the push towards legalization.

Magic mushrooms as medicine

Businesses like Microgenix are popping up just as interest in the healing properties of psychedelic substances has started to hit the mainstream. The trajectory echoes that of cannabis, which became legal in Canada in October 2018.

In 2018, the strait-laced author Michael Pollan released the book “How to Change Your Mind,” which documents his own exploration of magic mushrooms and sparked a global conversation about their potential spiritual and therapeutic powers. Medical trials have also been underway, with one study in the U.K., released this month, supporting the idea that psilocybin could be used to treat mental health conditions like PTSD. Healthtech startups looking for ways to commercialize psychedelic drugs have also been pulling in millions of dollars in investment.

In October 2020, healthcare company Numinus Bioscience became the first Canadian business to complete a legal harvest of magic mushrooms in the country since they were outlawed in the 1970s. The company currently offers education and coaching for people who are looking to integrate psychedelic experiences into their lives.

Early days

Smaller players like Microgenix do certainly seem to be on the money with their belief that decriminalization is a matter of when, not if, but by being in business today, they still risk being cracked down on.

The brand’s founder hopes Microgenix’s messaging around sensible consumption makes it less of a target for legal enforcement. In 2019, city councillors in Vancouver voted against an initiative that would have seen police spend more time pursuing sellers of magic mushrooms.

The prevailing belief among these early-stage psychedelic entrepreneurs is that the good these substances can do outweighs the risks that come with selling them. So, for them, it's business as usual — or as usual as you get in the world of a controlled substance like magic mushroom.

“The reason we started this business is truly for the love of the product, and to help people,” Microgenix’s founder says, adding that, long-term, the vision is to create the kind of lifestyle empire that Lululemon and Red Bull have built around athleisure and energy drinks, but with psychedelics as the starting point. “It doesn’t just help a bad day become good. It helps you be more present and open, so you can recognize the beautiful things in your life a little bit more.”

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