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Meet the Man Dedicating His Life to Uncovering Rare Mushrooms

VICE talked to Alan Rockefeller, a mushroom expert who took Hamilton on a trip to find both psychedelic and dangerous mushrooms on ‘Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia.'

Mexico's forests are home to a crop of mushrooms with intense psychedelic properties, used since prehistoric times for recreational, religious, and, possibly, medicinal reasons. Although they can be found in tropical and subtropical regions across the globe, some of the most diverse are found in Oaxaca. Many people are fascinated by the "magical" effects of these breeds, but there are others whose obsession goes even further, devoting their days to documenting the rarest mushrooms in the world.


On the most recent episode of Hamilton's Pharmacopeia about psychedelic—or Psilocybin—mushrooms, Hamilton explores the forests of Mexico alongside expert Alan Rockefeller, a Mycologist who discovers, classifies, and photographs different varieties of mushrooms.

To learn more about what it's like to be an expert on some of the most unique mushrooms in the world, VICE called Rockefeller to talk about his work and the possibility of legalizing psychedelic mushrooms in the future.

VICE: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about what you do?
Alan Rockefeller: Most people don't really have any idea in the first place what it is. For me, it's a really relaxing thing to do. I suppose a lot of people think it's really all about getting high. For some people it is. But personally, I don't eat the Psilocybin mushrooms very often—maybe once or twice a year. It's not really about that. It's more about exploring and doing science. A lot of these species are new species, so I can describe them and give them scientific names. You study them and get to know them better.

What's one of your favorite experiences you've had working in Mexico?
This past month I've been doing a lot of work on mushrooms that grow in the dark. Those are pretty cool, because they've never been documented from Mexico before. They're in the cloud forest, which is the same habitat you see all the Psilocybin mushrooms. So it's a lot of walking around at night without any lights. We discovered about 15 different species that glow in the dark. That's been really fun, finding all those, getting nice, long exposure photographs.

Now that more and more states are legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, do you see the same fate happening with psychedelic mushrooms anytime soon since they have possible medicinal benefits?
Yes and no. Certainly it does have real medical applications, and for a lot of people the difference is quick and dramatic, as far as OCD or depression or alcoholism or various other mental illnesses. But also the effects of Psilocybin are highly unpredictable. There's usually only a problem in young people. But it seems like people under 21 sometimes take these things and they just freak out and it hits the news. That doesn't happen so much with weed. Also weed has such a big following. There's so many people that use it. Everybody knows somebody that smokes weed. Whereas the people with the Psilocybin mushrooms, it's much more likely to be more underground, much more hidden. [Users are] less likely to talk about it with people who don't use them. With these unpredictable effects, it makes people more suspicious of them. So I don't see it happening as a legalization thing like it did with weed. I think if it does happen, it will be more of a general trend to decriminalize drug use, and treat it more like a medical issue than a criminal one.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?
Well one thing about Mycology is there's really no money in it, so I'd say it'd be important to get a decent paying job unless you want to spend most of your life just working at a job and not being in the woods and not doing mycology.

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Hamilton's Pharmacopeia airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on VICELAND.