A Cure for Depression. A Cure for Pollution. A Cure for Everything? Here’s how Mushrooms Can Help both People and Planet Thrive.
Where is the Magic?
You know I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms. The one’s Mam puts in the dinner at least. White mushrooms I think they’re called? It’s the texture you see. Too squidgy. (No not squidy, you heard right the first time, I did say squidgy. With a g before the y. I think this word accurately sums up that spine-tingling huffy puffy mushy feeling you get when you bite into one of those funny-looking fungus bumps.) Portobello’s are the same, too squidgy for Adam. But you know what? Mushrooms are a whole lot more magical than a hearty bowl of stroganoff with fungi soup on the side, and I’m not just talking about that 60’s kind of magic.
The world is in such a state these days that we could do with a little magic. Or a lot of magic. I mean where to even start? Micro-plastics have been found floating around from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the highest mountain peaks (so basically everywhere). A red-faced wig-wearing racist alien masquerading as a president wants to actually purchase Greenland, an island that contains so much ice that its own fate may very well determine the fate of the entire world. Another red-faced chaos declaring racist alien masquerading as a headmaster wants to financially strangle his own country while potentially starting a war in another. The arctic is on fire, Spain is on fire, the world is on fire! More people suffer from heart problems, obesity and diabetes than ever before, while nearly a billion people go hungry every day. Anxiety is rife. Depression rates are at an all-time high. 1% of the human population hold 45% of the financial wealth and 3 flipping men in the United States hold more wealth than the entire bottom half of the population. 3 men.
It seems the world has categorically lost its flipping mind. Our species has lost its way. The indigenous mycelium chefs have lost the magic recipe. So what I’ll explore in this article, is how mushrooms might help us get some of that magic back. The magic of being at peace with ourselves, each other, and the world around us.
Now obviously mushrooms aren’t going to stop a no-deal Brexit from happening, unless somebody spikes the tea bags at number 10 Downing Street, in which case all those overpaid pompously educated goober heads might actually have a genuinely enlightening epiphany for the first time in their pampered lives and finally figure out a way to stop being egotistical apathetic parasites, but since that’s not going to happen, let’s discuss how mushrooms can help us with some of our other issues. We can start with the one closest to home, our personal health.
A Mushroom a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Healing Ourselves
We can’t expect a world full of sick people to heal a sick planet, so improving our personal health could be seen as the first step towards a planetary recovery. Embracing the versatile magic of the mushroom has so much potential to heal each one of us, physically, mentally, and spiritually, and if we can learn to heal ourselves, maybe we can learn to come together and heal the planet as well. Here’s how mushrooms can help.
Healing the Body
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and is responsible for a third of all deaths. A quite remarkable statistic. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes are all conditions that can lead to cardiovascular death, and can all be prevented or treated one way or another using mushrooms.
High blood pressure and cholesterol for example, can be treated with the shiitake and maitake mushroom strains, which contain various vitamins and minerals linked with reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The reishi mushroom can be used to treat diabetes and obesity by lowering blood glucose levels, and by reducing inflammation and insulin resistance. This truly magical (and legal) reishi mushroom has also been found to help treat arthritis, liver damage, and the second leading cause of death worldwide, cancer.
Now it must be stated that some of these mushroom strains can cause significant side-effects, and people should always consult with their doctors before using them, and also that mushrooms are not the holy grail for disease prevention, and that a relatively balanced lifestyle is of course required as well, but the potential of mushrooms for healing the most widespread physical health problems we face as a species is clear to see. Here’s a list of all (or at least most) of the conditions mushrooms can be used to treat:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Liver Damage.
- Renal Failure.
- Stroke Damage.
As well as treating these diseases, mushrooms also provide the following benefits:
- Boosted Immune System.
- Improved gut health.
- Increased Vitamin D.
- Provides antioxidants.
- Boosts metabolism.
- Protects bladder health.
- Increased energy.
- Decreased stress.
- Improved cognitive function.
Even if we leave the medicinal benefits of mushrooms aside for a second, merely incorporating more edible mushrooms into our everyday diets would provide all sorts of valuable proteins, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for achieving and maintaining sound physical health. It’s actually quite fascinating to contemplate how compatible these little fungus filled friends really are with the human body, and how they can work to heal it.
You would swear it was all connected or something.
The potential of mushrooms for healing the most widespread physical health problems we face as a species is clear to see.
Healing the Mind
It is a truly disturbing and saddening reality that mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders are more common throughout the world now than ever before, and are showing no signs of disappearing any time soon. There is no single factor behind these troubling statistics, and I’m sure many of the problems I mentioned in the opening paragraph play their part. I mean how can people not be depressed and anxious when the planet is on the brink of collapse, everyone’s eating a poisonous diet, and the marketeers keep reminding everyone that they’re just not good enough?
It’s a bit of a catch 22 really; the sorry state the world is in is making people depressed and anxious, but we can’t really do anything to improve the state the world is in because everyone is depressed and anxious. So what to do? Mushrooms can certainly be a part of the solution.
Up until now all the mushrooms strains I’ve mentioned could generally be classified as ‘legal’, whereas the mushrooms that can help us overcome depression and anxiety disorders are generally considered ‘illegal’. Just remember though that slavery was once legal, women voting was once illegal, and condoms were illegal in Ireland up until 1985 for christ’s sake (literally), so sometimes ‘the law’ might not be designed with everyone’s health and wellbeing in mind. With that in mind, let’s talk about how ‘illegal’ psilocybin mushrooms can help to heal the mind. If you wouldn’t mind.
Psilocybin mushrooms are the mushrooms more commonly referred to as ‘magic mushrooms’, and increasingly are showing capabilities for treating depression without the ‘dulling’ side-effects of conventional antidepressants. The psilocybin compound in these mushrooms works to activate a specific subtype of serotonin receptor, the 5-HT2A receptor, which is known to play a key role in regulating mood, anxiety, schizophrenia and consciousness.
Recent studies have found that when administered in a supportive environment, psilocybin mushroom therapy can be effective at facilitating emotional breakthrough and renewed perspective, and treating psychiatric conditions including:
- End-of-life anxiety and depression.
- Alcohol and tobacco addiction.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Treatment-resistant major depression.
Multiple trials, volunteer studies, and clinical studies have shown that these treatments can have a rapid and lasting positive impact on mental health, often after just one or two doses. A truly incredible reality.
It seems quite obvious to me that these ‘illegal’ mushrooms can help. We keep trying to treat mental health conditions with chemical-ridden pharmaceutical drugs that often just make the conditions worse, when there’s a completely natural solution right in front of us. These mushrooms grow in the ground, not a lab, and are clearly designed by nature to connect with us, work with us, and heal us, physically and mentally.
We’ve barely even scratched the surface when it comes to the potential of psychedelic mushrooms for healing our minds. Maybe if we legalised them, studied them more deeply, and started sharing their healing properties with the world, they might gift us the mental clarity and wisdom to grow as individuals, and then, as a collective as well.
We keep trying to treat mental health conditions with chemical-ridden pharmaceutical drugs that often just make the conditions worse, when there’s a completely natural solution right in front of us. These mushrooms grow in the ground, not a lab, and are clearly designed by nature to connect with us, work with us, and heal us, physically and mentally.
(Thankfully the legalisation of these magical little friends is already well under way in the States, and once the Americans do something, the dominoes tend to start falling all over the western world.)
Healing the Soul
I’m not going to dive too far into this one, as obviously there can be no objective evidence that mushrooms help to ‘heal the soul’ or to ‘deepen ones spirituality’, regardless of how many people claim that they’ve ‘tripped out on shrooms and talked to god.’ I mean we don’t even know for sure if the soul is actually a thing.
So all I will say is this: Regardless of spiritual or religious beliefs, it’s easier to be happy when you’re healthy, and mushrooms can help us achieve that. Connection to a ‘higher power’, or ‘deeper purpose’ may very well come as a result. Maybe that deeper purpose might come in the form of a collective effort to save the planet?
A Mushroom a Day Keeps the Apocalypse at Bay: Healing the Planet
Mushrooms are the ‘great facilitators’, the ‘glue that holds everything together’, the ‘bridge from sun to plants to human prosperity’.
So mushrooms can make us healthy, but what good is that when the planet’s already drawing up our eviction papers? The planet is becoming inhospitable and we need to do everything we can to reverse the damage we’ve done. We still have time to save ourselves, and yes, you guessed it, mushrooms can help us do it.
Fungal mycelia holds the soil together, helps it retain water, and makes its nutrients available to vegetation. Certain species use their mycelia to envelop or penetrate plant roots, contributing nitrogen compounds and mineral salts in exchange for sugars from the host organism. Mushroom-producing fungi also feed animals, and animals return the favour by spreading fungal spores. Basically, mushrooms make everything work. They are the ‘great facilitators’, the ‘glue that holds everything together’, the ‘bridge from sun to plants to human prosperity’.
Mushrooms were the first organism on this planet to live on land, and they are responsible for creating a liveable environment for plants and animals to prosper. Unfortunately, we have done our very best to push that environment to the verge of destruction. Here’s how mushrooms can help make it liveable again.
As I’ve mentioned already, mushrooms make everything work. They allow plants and trees to grow bigger and stronger by helping their roots absorb nutrients and water from the soil. This, in turn, allows plants to absorb energy from the sun through photosynthesis, which makes it possible for animals to thrive as well. Mushrooms can even be used in micro-forestry to kill sickness in other plants, as they can live off the bacteria that make other plants sick.
As well as the natural maintenance of forests and other ecosystems, different types of fungi are already being used in human-led reforestation efforts in Scotland and China. It seems clear from these examples that if we’re going to grow enough trees in time to rebalance the CO2 levels in the atmosphere, mushrooms are going to be essential to our success.
Tackling Toxic Pollution
Through a process known as mycoremediation mushrooms can be used to clean up all sorts of polluted areas and damaged habitats. Different types of fungi are able to secrete digestive enzymes which work to break down various contaminants. Mushrooms are incredibly effective at the following:
- Cleaning polluted water.
- Removing pollution from soil.
- Cleaning up oil spills.
- Remediating radioactive contamination and waste.
It’s incredible really. We have made such a royal mess of this planet, spilling oil and filth and radioactive waste all over the rivers, oceans and lands, and it turns out, mushrooms are actually capable of ‘eating’ all these toxic chemicals and converting them into harmless organic matter. Now if that doesn’t sound like magic, I don’t know what does?
Turning Plastic Waste into Organic Matter and Food
Here’s something else that sounds like magic. What if I told you there was a way to just wave a magic wand, and make all the mountains of plastic we have piling up around the world simply disappear? Okay so it’s not quite as simple as that, but it’s still pretty magical: there is one particular species of mushroom that can survive on a diet of pure plastic. A flipping mushroom that eats plastic! I mean isn’t that surely the answer to all our problems? Our single-use plastic packaging problems at least?
This truly majestical ‘Pestalotiopsis Microspora’ mushroom can also live without oxygen, making it perfectly suitable for landfill clean-up. Scientists are hopeful that mushroom-based community composting centres and home recycling kits will soon replace landfills altogether, which could go a long way to eradicating rubbish entirely. I mean imagine if we could just use mushrooms to eat all the garbage? It really just might be possible.
There’s actually another type of mushroom called the ‘oyster’ mushroom that can transform plastic waste into an edible biomass that’s completely free of any toxicity. I mean my goodness gracious me, a mushroom with the ability to turn plastic waste into food? Just imagine the possibilities. The more plastic we remove from the world, the more mouths we feed? It’s just simply incredible.
Revolutionising Consumer Products (In a Sustainable Way)
There’s an initiative called the FungusChain project that’s transforming mushroom waste into usable eco-friendly products. There’s a company called Ecovative Design that uses mycelium to produce compostable packaging, skincare products, leather alternatives, clothes, bags, shoes, and all sorts of other stuff. It’s really quite astonishing how many things you can make out of mushrooms. Here’s a list:
- Plastic bag alternatives.
- Cling film.
- Cleaning products.
- ‘Rubber’ gloves.
- Food additives.
- Building bricks.
- Material for clothes, bags and other accessories.
- Robust and compostable packaging.
- Skincare products.
The possibilities really do seem endless. It could very soon be the reality that instead of carrying your new pair of plastic-based rubber gloves home in a plastic bag wearing a polystyrene (plastic) outfit to clean your house with artificial chemical-based cleaning products, you could be carrying your brand spanking new mushroom gloves home in a mushroom bag wearing mushroom clothes to clean your mushroom house with your mushroom-based cleaning products. Okay so maybe you won’t be living in a mushroom house, but who knows what the future might hold right?
Point is, we can make a whole lot of products that would normally be made out of plastic and chemicals, with mushrooms instead. And we should.
Making Batteries more Powerful and Better for the Environment
Is there anything mushrooms can’t do? It seems like their magic knows no bounds.
As if the mushrooms haven’t done enough for us already, they can even be used to make batteries more efficient; helping conserve energy while also replacing non-renewable materials such as graphite.
In 2015, researchers created a new type of lithium-ion battery using portobello mushrooms, which are inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and easy to produce, replacing the high-cost and environmentally damaging graphite.
The mushroom batteries are actually more powerful than the graphite ones, and last longer, all while being much cheaper to produce and better for the environment. I mean is there anything mushrooms can’t do? It seems like their magic knows no bounds.
I Take it Back
I started this post by saying I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms. Well, I take it back. Entirely back. I’m a tremendously big fan of mushrooms. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of mushrooms. Mushrooms are God. Mushrooms are everything. Mushrooms are my one and only true love. Mushrooms, simply put, are life.
Mushrooms may not be able to stop a no-deal Brexit, de-clownify a presidency, or immediately solve inequality, but they can make us healthy, help the trees grow back, remove toxic pollution and plastic waste from the world, offer sustainable product solutions across multiple industries, power all our phones and gadgets and electric cars more efficiently, and maybe, even offer us a little drop of ancient cosmic wisdom as well.
They may not be the answer to all our problems, but mushrooms can go a long way to helping us live on this planet for years to come. And it wouldn’t be the first time.
We would certainly be lost without them.
About the Author
Adam Millett is a freelance writer for hire with an affinity for dressing up as Spiderman and writing about saving the planet. He likes to climb trees and stare at the stars in his spare time and likes to help businesses tell their sustainability stories while he’s working. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to tell the world yours.