Bob Marley performing in 1980, long before his name was attached to magic mushrooms. Photos by Getty Images
The latest push in the burgeoning psychedelic industry is to lose the whole pesky “psychedelic” element, and it has a surprise backer in the late Bob Marley. The shroom industry is calling them “functional mushrooms”—a tip of the spear marketing move attempting to legitimize the image of fungi as medicine, without promising far-out, potentially transformative trips that most people associate with psychedelics.
Just what are “functional mushrooms”? They’re basically legal fungi supplements boasting various health benefits, none of which are hallucinatory, mind-expanding, or especially psychedelic in nature. But Silo Wellness, a Canadian-based company that currently offers a range of guided magic mushroom retreats in the coastal resort mecca of Montego Bay, Jamaica (where many psychedelic drugs are legal), is hoping these shroomy supplements can help capture the emerging psychedelic market, valued at roughly US$4.5 billion as of 2020. And they’re doing this with celebrity brand recognition.Silo has partnered with the family of the late reggae pioneer Bob Marley to launch Marley One, a functional mushroom line—tinctures incorporating mushrooms such as lion’s mane, chaga, and reishi—while eyeing an eventual, legal, psychedelic product. As Silo CEO Douglas K. Gordon describes it, in terms consistent with Marley’s own Rastafarian beliefs, “It goes more to plant medicine; it goes more to mindfulness. It goes more to embracing the fact that the Earth has its own capacity for healing.”Rita Marley (who prefers to be addressed as Mrs. Marley), widow of the late Bob, echoes these sentiments in a statement. “Bob and I followed a strict natural diet that included mushrooms of all kinds,” Ms. Marley said. “We were always mindful of what we consumed and held a deep respect for nature’s bounty—knowing that what we take from the Earth and put into our bodies affects our minds and spirits, too.”
Mindful eating and respect for nature: that’s all well and good. But where do the psychedelics fit in? Excepting, of course, the worshipful use of cannabis (or ganja) as a sacrament, Rastafarianism generally abhors the consumption of other drugs. The only reference I could track down to Bob Marley himself speaking about psychedelics was in a September 1976 issue of High Times magazine. Asked if he has ever taken LSD, Marley responded: “Me hear ‘bout people who do it. No, me meet people who do it, an’ dem tell me.”But attitudes around psychedelics are changing rapidly. And so, it follows, some Rastafarian attitudes may well be changing with them.“Modern science is slow,” Mrs. Marley wrote. “Only now is it catching up with what Indigenous communities and practitioners have known to be true for millennia… From a Rastafarian perspective, I don’t discriminate. We honor and respect all of nature’s bounty that Jah has blessed us with and whether through ganja or fungi, we seek, above all, a greater oneness with the world around us.”The Silo-Marley partnership speaks to ways in which the ongoing “shroom boom” seems to be following from the cannabis playbook. In many ways, comparisons between psilocybin and cannabis are, at a chemical level, largely useless. They’re different drugs, with wildly different effects and applications. Still, in the (still largely hypothetical) marketplace of legal shrooms, it helps to think of functional mushrooms as the CBD to psilocybin’s THC: a kissing cousin, with (alleged) medical and therapeutic benefits, useful largely as a way of destigmatizing the use of a more potent compound.
Gordon, himself a veteran of medicinal CBD, draws the comparison. “We looked at the lessons from the cannabis and CBD landscape,” he said. “We have that final mile to the consumer; we have a brand that they can understand, they can believe in, and they’re curious to find out more.”On the one hand, functional mushrooms can seem like training wheels, acclimating users to the very idea of consuming fungi, and fostering curiosity about the effects profile of psychedelic mushrooms. On another, they can feel a bit like they’re stealing psychedelic valour: benefitting from the ever-building buzz around the benefits of psychedelics, while offering none of those same benefits. Really, these fungi supplements aren’t much different from medicinal mushrooms one might find at Asian supermarkets or herbal supplements stores. Just, you know, trippier. Or at least trippier-seeming. And it remains unclear just how much demand there is for such products from consumers. The Marleys—who currently lend their name and iconic branding to a cannabis line, a coffee company, and a range of BlueTooth speakers and earbud headphones, and who, in 2017, appointed Rohan Marley as family’s own “brand ambassador”—aren’t the only ones moving into the “functional mushroom” space. Rapper and weed entrepreneur Berner, the guy behind the U.S.-based cannabis brand Cookies, recently launched Caps By Cookies, a CBD/functional mushroom with distinctly psychedelic branding, despite its lack of psychedelic outcomes.Denver-based Mydecine, another player attempting to capitalize on the increased legitimacy afforded psychedelics, is developing function mushroom products as another potentially lucrative skew. Last week, Vancouver-based NeonMind unveiled a line of branded functional mushroom-infused coffee products. It’s an interesting play, suggesting the widespread beshrooming of a whole sector of the health and wellness industries. But anyone hoping for a proper, psychedelic, totally legal, Marley-approved trip will have to wait for actual psilocybin mushrooms to enter the legal market, still some time away even in drug progressive places like Canada (and some U.S. states). For the super eager, there’s always those swanky Montego Bay retreats, replete with guided psychedelic sessions. Bob Marley claimed that “herb is the healing of the nation.” For his family, fungus now seems to work that same magic.Follow John Semley on Twitter.