The Internet, it goes without saying, is a very, very strange place. A few days ago, stories about a mushroom with an aroma that could instantly cause women to orgasm went viral. As stewards of all things food and possibly hallucinogenic, we became very interested, natch. Could this shit actually be true?
A closer look into the stories revealed that they all harked back to a study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms and written by John Halliday and Noah Soule. Sounds good, right? Our antennae were raised, however, when we saw that the study dated all the way back to 2001. So, MUNCHIES tried to reach out to Halliday and Soule—but they were mysteriously nowhere to be found.
Still, the study was so compelling, so enticing, so captivating! The stories explained that Halliday and Soule heard about a bright orange mushroom growing in lava flows on an island in Hawaii. Allegedly, the unnamed Dictyophora species was considered by locals to be a very intense aphrodisiac—so intense, in fact, that when merely smelled (no spore inhalation—just a little sniff required) it would throw women into the throes of ecstasy. The scientific duo reportedly conducted a "smell test" on 16 women and 20 men. Six of the women reportedly experienced spontaneous (but not "earth-shattering") orgasms while smelling the fungus, and the other 10, who received smaller doses, experienced an increase in heart rate.
What caused the spontaneous orgasms? Halliday is said to have speculated that the fetid odor of the mushrooms may have had "hormone-like compounds present" that had some "similarity to human neurotransmitters released during sexual encounters."
All of the men in the study, on the other hand, claimed the shroom just smelled absolutely disgusting.
Can all of this be true? Is the real female Viagra a mushroom found growing in lava in Hawaii?
In short, we have no fucking idea… but probably not. No other scientific studies seem to confirm the results. John Halliday is listed as the President of Aloha Medicinals Inc. in Carson City, Nevada, a company whose products include dog food, dog dental drops, and books like Help Your Dog Fight Cancer. Noah Soule is also off the radar—unless he is now running a rafting business in Oregon and is involved in the medical marijuana business. We reached out to the rafting business as well, but to no avail.
But there was no way in hell we could let this dark, tangled mess of an odyssey rest at that.
We reached out to a few mycologists, some of whom wouldn't even touch the subject matter. One well-respected mycologist, who will remain anonymous at his request, refused to comment and called the study "total bullshit," noting that "when you wrestle with a pig, all get dirty," in an email written entirely in Comic Sans.
Enter veteran mycologist and founder of Radical Mycology, Peter McCoy, who has previously offered shroomy insight to MOTHERBOARD. He also claims to have previously seen John Halliday present on, and stand by, the findings regarding this mystery sex mushroom. MUNCHIES was lucky enough to speak with Peter about the enigmatic mushroom and its discoverers.
MUNCHIES: The experiment allegedly included only 16 men and 20 women. Assuming the experiment took place and that the results were accurately reported, is that actually a big enough sample to prove anything? Peter McCoy: Hmm. Statistical significance is based on comparing the results to the likelihood that the same result could have been a matter of coincidence. It seems unlikely that spontaneous orgasms can be coincidental. But any good experiment should be repeatable, and also have an "effect size" and standard deviation measure for results cited.
The authors of the study claimed that "there are significant sexual arousal characteristics present in the fetid odor of this unique mushroom," in reference to the unnamed Dictyophora. To your knowledge, are there any mushrooms out there that would cause any sort of psychosomatic reaction simply from smelling its aroma? This is the first I have heard of. Many mushrooms have rather distinct and prized odors. The revered Matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake) has the distinct odor of "red hots and dirty socks." And then there's the Italian truffles.
This is not due to spores, but to aromatic compounds these species release. Many other mushroom smell like almonds, apricots, and other appealing flavors. Inhaling the spores of toxic molds can make one feel sick and disoriented.
Have you ever heard of a mushroom or fungus creating measurable sexual responses? Yes, Reishi and Cordyceps are well known for their "sexual potentiation" and libido increasing abilities. Especially Cordyceps sinensis.
Are you aware of any aspects of mycology that posits that people of different sexes exposed to the same mushrooms could have different reactions based on their gender? Spores, no. Edibility and medicinal effects can vary by consumer, regardless of their body type.
Can you tell us anything about the rare mushroom in question, the unnamed Dictyophora species? Not anything more than what is in the article. Other stickhorns (e.g. Phallus impudicus) are cultivated in Asia and eaten in their young egg state as a delicacy. They have a multi-layered and very strange texture and flavor.
Thanks for speaking with us, Peter.