Inside One of the World's Biggest Magic Mushroom Farms

In the Canadian mountains, ex-underground mushroom growers are showing Big Pharma how it's done.
A scientist poses in a lab holding up two bags of mushrooms

​​I’m in Princeton, a sleepy mountain town in western Canada, known for its slogan, ‘Where rivers and friends meet.’ It also happens to be home to what might be the largest legal pharma-grade shroom farm in the world.

In a nondescript blue warehouse, behind a tall security fence, sits Optimi Health—a psychedelics manufacturer aiming to help the world heal by getting everyone heroically high.


On the other side of a walk-in vault, around 200kg of vacuum-packed psilocybin mushrooms are stored in boxes that tower all around me. It’s a staggering amount of psychedelic fungi to see in one place, a haul that includes strains like Chode Wave, Golden Teacher Infinity, and Albino Penis Envy. There is enough magic mushroom here to power over 5,000 trips.

There are also 1,000 doses of pure MDMA chilling in a fridge in the corner.

Just being in the vault feels trippy, like some hallucinogenic residue in the air is starting to weave its spell. However, for the farm’s head of mycology Scott Marshall, it’s just a normal day at work. He is one of a select number of ex-underground mushroom growers to have become a licensed psilocybe cultivator in North America, after laws controlling the use of psychedelic fungi were eased after decades of murderous, futile drug war.

three scientists pose in a laboratory with bags of mushrooms

Chase, Stevens, and Marshall (Photo by Mattha Busby)

Scott moved to Princeton for the job, and has become so obsessed with his lab work that he hasn’t left town in over a year. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr Mushroom,’ but when I got hired they were like, ‘We need to fill this vault,’ so I did it,” he tells VICE. “It's a dream come true. It’s going to have a super therapeutic effect on the world.”


The journey a mushroom must take in order to get into this vault—which is licensed to hold up to $36 million worth of product—starts in a Petri dish. Marshall introduces mushroom spores of compatible mating types to each other and they fuse together, starting their own network of fungi. “It's microscopically hot,” he said in a previous interview of the initial spore rendezvous. He then performs a few tweaks so that the mycelium develops as quickly as possible, before mixing it all into a liquid inoculate.

Marshall injects the concoction into a giant bag of rye grain, which consumes the mushroom water before being transferred into a sealed grow “bin,” where it eventually blooms into shrooms.

Then he does it again. And again. And again. It's not easy work, and it’s paramount to avoid any contamination. The mishandling of mushrooms could open the door to unwanted microorganisms that could rip through the entire facility, wreaking millions of dollars worth of havoc.

The company’s operation could have been much more straightforward: Many mushroom companies just produce pure psilocybin through chemical processes in the lab. Others simply grow mycelial grain and sell it packaged as mushrooms. But Marshall believes that the botanical route, to organically grow real mushrooms, is more beneficial.

hundreds of mushrooms growing from a substrate in a lab

A fresh batch of penis envy mushrooms (Photo by Mattha Busby)

To do so, the company had to invest around $22 million to create this state-of-the-art farm. It includes rooms in which levels of humidity, moisture, and heat can be altered to replicate the climates of places where particular mushrooms thrive, like parts of Oregon and Costa Rica; enabling them to grow such a diverse range, from phallic wands to fluffy mycelial growths. Marshall has also built up a genetics bank of around 100 different strains, as he seeks to cultivate the most powerful mushrooms possible so that patients can consume less. It sits next to a second lab, where the company makes MDMA.

Of course, Optimi Health doesn’t just want to help the world trip safely; it also intends to make a lot of money in the process, with projections suggesting the legal psychedelics industry could generate more than $10 billion a year globally by 2027. “We're in a league of our own in terms of scale, compliance, and opportunity,” says co-founder and chief marketing officer Dane Stevens. “It's taken almost five years and $30m in investment. We’ve always had the mindset that we could get it done.”

It's no mean feat. Very few companies have managed to legally supply psychedelic drugs at an international scale. In late May, the Optimi Health lab was granted regulatory approval to provide psychedelics to psychiatrists around the world, in jurisdictions where they are legal. The company also just sealed a deal to provide MDMA and psilocybin to patients in Australia, which began legal psychedelic therapies this year.

A scientist wearing protective gear holds two test tubes of MDMA

Dr Chase and his MDMA (Photo by Mattha Busby)

“It wasn’t easy to get people to believe in the vision when we were starting this,” adds Stevens, whose hoodie reads ‘Mushroom Lover.’ He personally invested start-up costs of more than $2m along with his fellow co-founders, which include JJ Wilson, the son of Lululemon’s billionaire founder Chip Wilson and heir to the yoga brand’s throne. Despite Optimi Health’s business model being untested, Chip posted on X last year that he believed the company could “commercially globalize psychedelics,” and he’s acquired shares worth over $2m (effectively amounting to ownership of 10 percent of the company). But those days are still some way off: Company filings show that, as it stands, the lab is losing more than $700,000 a month.

For now, the industrial scale shroom factory has become part of the chitter-chatter in the copper-mining town of Princeton. Chief science officer, Dr Preston Chase—who makes the MDMA—remembers visiting a pet store to buy food for his dogs. When he told the employees where he worked, they all knew about the farm on the hill.

“I’ve definitely had some ‘Walter White’ moments holding up the flask and filtering off white powder containing hundreds of MDMA doses,” says Chase, ‘but this is medicine.”

Considering he works for the psychedelic tycoons of tomorrow, it comes as a surprise when Chase says he’s never tripped before. Stevens, on the other hand, had his own transformative experience during the pandemic after experiencing some mental health issues. “I had a full panic attack,” he recalls, blaming high levels of stress. In an attempt to calm his nervous system, he took a “heroic dose” of mushrooms with a therapist several days later.

“It was like bricks off my chest. I let it all out and felt a sense of relief,” he says. It encouraged him to make some changes in his life, and try being less of a workaholic. “The world's probably going to be a better place if people are less depressed.”