India Carves Out Its Own Lane in the Shroom Boom

October 2, 2023 · High Times

The first mushroom festival in India took place September 15-18 in the verdant and fungally diverse tropical forests of Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala.

The inaugural Shroom Sabha attracted mycophiles from all corners of the subcontinent, and struck an acute balance between professionalism and playfulness that brought out the best of each quality. 

While the “Shroom Boom” happening in the West has garnered headlines and primetime coverage for the last several years, the mushroom revolution in India has somehow managed to evolve in relative isolation from the rest of the world. 

The laws and social mores around psilocybin mushrooms, and mushrooms in general, still skew heavily conservative in the country of 1.5 billion people. But the legacy and lore of mushrooms in India extends back to ancient times, and what’s happening now is in some ways a reclamation effort more so than a cutting edge development. The renowned ‘Soma’ ritual drink mentioned in millenia old Vedic texts has been conjectured to be an entheogenic fungi by a number of notable researchers and historians, and indigenous tribes throughout the subcontinent have long used numerous different species of fungi for food, medicine, materials, and a variety of other purposes. 

In addition to dozens of types of fungi with documented indigenous use cases as food and medicine, India is home to myriad different strains of psilocybin mushrooms. Animals such as cattle, elephants and rhinoceroses provide a turnkey substrate with their manure, and the humid tropical environments found across large swathes of the country provide for the natural incubation and fruiting of psychoactive fungi. Some of these, such as the Orissa strain, have already likely found their way into your local supply. Other species such as the elusive Psilocybe wayanadensis from the Wayanad area where Shroom Sabha took place are harder to pin down and present an exciting opportunity for spore collectors and mycophiles to research. 

Additional psychoactive fungi species from India include Copelandia cyanescensPaneaoleus tropicalisPsilocybe cubensis, and Psilocybe semilanceata among a number of others. 

A constellation of Indian mycopreneurs congregated in person for the first time at Shroom Sabha to share research and best practices from their respective fields within the rapidly developing and globalizing field of mycology. Prithvi Kini of Indian mushroom startup Nuvedo presented a rigorously documented and cited study of entheomycology (the study of cultural use of psychoactive fungi) across the world as found in the traditions of the Mazatec and Siberian cultures among others. The presentation closed with a call to action that was also recently issued in the peer-reviewed Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge: 

Does India Have Entheomycology Traditions?

The oral nature of ancient tribal fungi knowledge in India has made it difficult to trace the legacy of psychoactive fungi knowledge across the distributed indigenous cultures here, but the ubiquity of psychoactive fungi species and the intimate relationship that these tribes have with their environments and other types of fungi suggest that there is a strong likelihood of an entheogenic fungi use legacy among them. 

Beyond the subject of entheogenic fungi, a wealth of fungal knowledge with immediate practical applications and commercial potential was shared by conference participants.

Indian mycopreneurs such as “M” of Terra Myco and Harikrishnan MT (@Indiantoadstool on Instagram) led wild mushroom identification forays into the dense tropical forests surrounding the reserve, while a ‘mushroom chef masterclass’ by Goa-based OG Mushroom incorporated some of the wild fungi found by the group – including the massive Pleurotus giganteous specimen. Nuvedo Co-Founder Jashid Hameed shared his aspiration for the startup he founded last year to be the #1 supplier of mushroom supplements in India by 2025, a goal which they are making considerable progress towards. 

From cooking with mushrooms, to biofabrication of mushroom leather and materials, to cutting edge research into the medical potential of psilocybin mushrooms, to fungal diversity reports mapping out the Funga of India and forays into the extraordinarily biodiverse Periya Forest reserve in search of rare and potentially undocumented fungi, Shroom Sabha showcased an impressive wealth of Indian mushroom research and practical applications that so far have been happening in a silo largely disconnected from the rest of the world. 

Each evening of the four day festival featured a musical performance and dance party, as well as a mesmerizing 90-minute drum circle on one of the nights and a closing Mardi Gras party. Highlights included Bonny Abraham giving an astounding performance on the oud, a traditional stringed instrument from Syria, multiple appearances from rare instrument collector and performer Xen Kat, and mycophile turned electronic music composer Siddharth. We were even treated to a properly mind blowing magic show that was as hilariously interactive as it was baffling. Sanjay (@illusionistsanjay on IG) showed us that magic and mushrooms are compatible in more ways than one might think. 

As the United States grapples with the legacy burden of bad policymaking and cultural baggage attached to psychedelics from the burst bubble of scientific research and cultural adoption in the 1960’s, modern India has a ‘tabula rasa’ from which to approach any potential benefits that may be offered by psilocybin and the inherent potential of mushrooms as tools to catalyze regenerative industry across multiple sectors. 

For example, a number of young mushroom entrepreneurs showcased their mycomaterial prototypes such as Reishi leather, mycelium bowls, and a rather impressive pure oyster-mushroom mycelium disc with the consistency of wood. The potential for sustainable biomaterials as such to scale is currently being demonstrated by the American company MycoWorks, which recently closed a $125 million Series C round and has just opened a full-scale mycelium leather production plant in South Carolina.

Dr. Gokul Raj presented an in-depth analysis of medical research into the therapeutic benefit of psilocybin, lending an academically and professionally credible lens to the potential for the adoption of psychedelic science as a legitimate area of focus for the scientific community at some point in India’s future. Dr. Raj also spoke about the intersection of psychedelic medicine with traditional Indian yogic and Ayurvedic principles, which prioritize the wellness of mind and body through plant medicine and a healthy diet conducive to mental and physical health. This perspective also empowers a uniquely Indian framework for the potential integration of psychedelics into the broader culture, rather than relying on an explicitly western framework. 

The stigma around fungi is slowly beginning to shift in India thanks to the research and contributions of the Shroom Sabha community and a rapidly growing class of mushroom enthusiasts across the country. As globalization accelerates and development in remote corners of the country continues to encroach upon tribal cultures, the largely undocumented and predominantly oral corpus of indigenous fungi knowledge here is up against potential extinction. Shroom Sabha partner organization and global NGO Fungi Foundation is mounting a heroic effort to document and archive this priceless ethnomycological legacy spread across our planet while the window of opportunity is still open, as are a rising number of other activists and conservationists around the world. 

The inaugural Shroom Sabha demonstrates that the mushroom revolution in India is officially underway, and the future for the 1.5 billion citizens of India may indeed be designed and built with a little help from our fungi friends. (Full Story)

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