Calgary research to underpin massive magic mushroom grow operation

Optimi Health Corp. says the U of C trials will help it secure regulatory approval from Health Canada

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A huge magic mushroom farm will rely on University of Calgary research probing the medical merits of natural psilocybin, say those behind the plan.

Vancouver-based Optimi Health Corp. has inked an agreement with the IMPACT clinical trial accelerator at the U of C that will underpin its proposal to produce psilocybin in 20,000 square feet of cultivation space in the southern B.C. Interior.

“When we explored which university we should partner with, we knew there was a culture dedicated to productivity and innovation at the U of C,” said company chair JJ Wilson.

“It’s all set up and ready to go.”

While champions of the psychedelic’s therapeutic use say there’s already plenty of research and anecdotal evidence supporting its virtues in treating mental illnesses, the company says the U of C trials will help it secure regulatory approval from Health Canada.

Optimi has received a research exemption from the federal agency and is awaiting its dealer’s licence so it can begin producing fungi health supplements in a $5-million to $7-million facility spanning two separate buildings.

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That will ultimately lead to the cultivation of natural psilocybin to feed what’s expected to be a burgeoning therapeutics market, said Wilson.

“There had to be enough security in the future of psilocybin and other psychedelics for the opportunity to fill that part of the supply chain,” he said.

And while much of the evolving medical field employs synthetic variants of psilocybin, Optimi will fulfil the desire for a natural alternative, delivered in oral capsules.

The industry faces some of the same hurdles the fledgling legal cannabis industry confronted, though it also brings opportunity, added Wilson.

“There’s so much black market, there are consistency concerns and that’s what (Health Canada) is looking at,” he said.

Currently, those conducting therapy sessions using magic mushrooms must procure the psychedelics from illicit suppliers.

As for growing them, there’s little difference between magic mushrooms and their dinner cousins.

Both are grown in the dark on beds of rice or wood chips, said Wilson.

And yes — cultivating psilocybin also produces a potent odour.

“They smell like dirt — at the end of the day, it’s a bacteria,” said Wilson.

Even so, he said civic leaders and others in Princeton, B.C., have enthusiastically welcomed the business.

“They’re eager to build the economy of Princeton . . . you want to be somewhere where they want you,” said Wilson.

Should the operation be granted approval, it would add to the competition in a realm that could also include a 23,000-square-foot cultivation facility being built in Leduc, just south of Edmonton.

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“I believe ours would be the largest in Canada,” PsiloTec CEO and University of Alberta psychiatry professor Peter Silverstone said of the Leduc facility.

In contrast, Silverstone said his company will solely produce psilocybin rather than twinning production with supplements.

But he agreed with Wilson that there appear to be therapeutic merits in organic psilocybin not present in synthetic form.

“In them you will find multiple compounds that have what’s called an entourage effect, and if you only have one, you could lose the collaborative effect,” said Silverstone.

Producing mushrooms for medical use, he said, isn’t an easy technical proposition but their medicinal promise is considerable.

“I believe psilocybin mushrooms have a significant medical health possibility but this only works when given with the proper psychotherapy,” said Silverstone.

“You can’t think you can just take the psychedelic and everything will be fine.”

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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