In Canada, psilocybin spores — also called magic mushroom spores — are legal, but the psychedelic mushrooms that grow from them are not. This grey area now serves as the basis for an expanding business model for psychedelic enthusiasts.
Until a few years ago, a simple search for ‘magic mushroom spores’ or ‘magic mushroom growing kit’ would bring you to some less than reputable websites. But as the mainstream continues to welcome peer-reviewed research on the therapeutic potentials of psychedelics, most often from lead institutions like Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London, the perception of these psychotropic substances is evolving from that of illegal drug to mental health treatment.
Business operators are becoming increasingly professional as they recognize the opportunity in both the decreasing stigma and increasing educational awareness around psychedelics, and are eager to make use of legal loopholes around possession or cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms and the availability of psilocybe cubensis spores.
In fact, several municipal governments in the United States are now effectively allowing residents to grow their own natural psychedelic substances, or entheogens — including psilocybin mushrooms such as psilocybe cubensis — for personal use. This began in earnest in 2019 with the success of a movement to “Decriminalize Denver”, and has continued in U.S. cities such as Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, Seattle, and Detroit to name just a few.
Ann Arbor has gone so far as to begin hosting an EntheoFest event to celebrate the anniversary of its city council decision to make naturally-occurring psychedelics its lowest law enforcement priority. The State of Oregon is currently in the process of implementing a legal framework for psilocybin therapy to treat mental health issues following the success of a ballot initiative in November 2020.
Health Canada on Psilocybin Mushrooms as a Palliative Care and Mental Health Treatment
In Canada, the government has been cautiously granting access to psilocybin treatment through Section 56 exemption for issues such as severe depression related to terminal diagnoses. With a growing number of applications submitted to Health Canada for the exemption to use psilocybin over the last year, two draft proposals were presented to former Health Minister Patty Hajdu with the aim of streamlining access to psilocybin through a regulatory body.
Health Canada’s exemption serves as permission to use psilocybin for treatment purposes, but falls short of guiding individuals to actually get their hands on the substance.
More recently, Health Canada amended the Special Access Program, opening up another similar avenue for doctors to request access to psychedelics through the federal regulatory body.
Theoretically speaking, possessing magic mushroom spores is legal under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for creating seed banks, or for research and experiments, as long as they do not contain psilocybin. However, anyone possessing spores with an intention to grow psilocybin mushrooms a Schedule III controlled substance in Canada without an exemption from the government, is in violation of s 7.1 under the CDSA, which is punishable by up to ten years of jail time. This is still a favourable legal status compared to other psychedelic drugs such as LSD and MDMA.
Access to psychedelics may also be shifting on a local level in Canada, as both the cities Vancouver and Toronto move towards municipal decriminalization of controlled substances. While intended by civic leaders, activists, and law enforcement as a harm reduction measure to address the explosion of drug addiction related to the the opioid crisis, this legislation is likely to impact psychedelics users as well.
Ordering Psilocybin Spores, Other Mushroom Species
The best possible way to obtain psilocybin mushroom spores within the current legal framework for personal use is to grow them yourself through spores the reproductive cells or mycelium of mushroom culture.
“I would say that Spores-Lab is actually a legal business. Our products at the time of sale don’t contain any active compounds,” says Jeff Lebowe, co-founder of Spores-Lab. “It’s possible for someone to order something from us and do something illegal with it. But the same can be said for many other things,” he adds.
“Spores-Lab tries to keep it as legal as possible,” Lebowe emphasizes.
Spores-Lab mostly deals with functional and gourmet strains of fresh mushrooms, rather than psilocybin, he adds. “We have instead gone to cloning. You can also propagate the mushroom culture by cloning mycelium into a new medium. As long as that new medium also has the right conditions for mycelial growth, it’ll just keep expanding. That way you stay legal because you never actually have a mushroom growing,” Lebowe explained.
Given the right conditions, mushrooms will fruit from mycelium. In the absence of those suitable conditions, the mycelium remains inert and can be cloned indefinitely, thereby remaining legal in the case of psilocybe cubensis spores.
Spores-Lab is a relatively new venture. Launching as a business with a three-person team in July 2020 after legal consultations, the lab is now the largest Canadian provider for over 48 strains of mushroom genetics including psilocybin, gourmet, and functional species, as well as equipment supply and consulting services.
The Journey of a Psilocybin Mushroom Spores Business
Lebowe shares that he first started growing psychoactive mushrooms in a low-tech steel airbox in his basement. “I had this striking thought: how do species of fungi evolve these compounds that so profoundly affect human consciousness?” He says this led to his current business model.
The company offers everything ranging from mushroom medium to equipment, and even lessons on how to grow. “We do offer commercial training services. You could call it consultation. But we’ve also really just tried to focus our whole business model on not just selling genetics and selling growing equipment, but actually teaching people how to grow mushrooms,” Lebowe says.
The now seven-member team includes microbiologists, consultants, and individuals taking care of queries and sales. However, the website specifies that consultation services, including those for commercial-scale operations, are “not for psilocybe mushrooms”.
Lebowe shares that Spores-Lab has been at the forefront of the psychedelic movement, working with advocacy groups including MAPS Canada, TheraPsil, and the Canadian Psychedelic Association to advocate for psychedelics as treatment for mental health issues and reform the legal status of psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
“I think it’s very fitting because our business can allow someone the safest possible way to acquire their own mushrooms if you have an exemption from Health Canada,” Lebowe says.
‘It’s still illegal for you to go and buy money shrooms on one of the sites that sell dried mushrooms. Health Canada won’t provide them. So, the safest and most legal way for you to do it would be to order the genetics and grow it yourself,” he claims.
Psilocybin mushrooms are exceptionally low-risk to human health. Advocacy around psychedelics, and particularly the push toward medicalization, has been growing stronger for the last three years, leading to open online and storefront sales of magic mushrooms.
However, sales and personal possession of fully-fruited psilocybe cubensis and other species of mature mushroom with psychedelic properties, rather than the psilocybin mushroom spores offered by Spores-Lab or other similar businesses, remains widely illegal in Canada.