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When the voters of Oregon passed Proposal 109 In 2020, they paved the way for greater access to the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms and products containing their active compounds. The ballot measure, which passed by more than 55% of the vote, authorized the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to create a program to allow licensed providers to produce and administer psilocybin-producing mushroom products to adults 21 years of age or older. .

A model of incremental drug policy reform, Proposition 109 also laid the foundation for a new industry in Oregon. OHA’s Psilocybin Services Division is charged with drafting the rules to license and regulate the manufacture, transportation, delivery, sale and purchase of psilocybin products as well as the provision of psilocybin services, with a mandate to get the program up and running in 2023. The agency is already accepting applications for psilocybin business licenses and savvy entrepreneurs are launching new projects to serve the industry emerging.

A new business is born

Georg Sellhorn, Founder and Principal Scientist at Fluorescence Labs In Portland, a business owner preparing to launch legal psilocybin in Oregon. He has had a personal relationship with cannabinoids, including psilocybin mushrooms, since he was a teenager and admits that the drug has had a “huge impact” on his life. He is also a cannabis enthusiast and, with advice and encouragement from High Times, has been growing his own plants since 1993. His interest and passion for cannabis inspired his academic pursuits, for which Sellhorn earned his Ph.D. in Plant Biochemistry from the University of Washington in 2006.

At the time, the legal cannabis industry in the United States was in its infancy, and positions in professional fields were few and far between. Sellhorn turned to biotechnology to launch his career, working for stints on cancer treatments and the HIV vaccine. But before long, friends with companies in the nascent industry encouraged him to open a cannabis testing lab. Determined to see where his chosen path would take him, he decided not to go into business for himself, although he did dabble in the industry a bit and helped two friends set up laboratories. It seemed right for Sellhorn at the time, but it didn’t take long for him to wish he had decided differently.

“A few years later, I was kicking myself, saying, ‘Maybe I should have started a lab, and maybe I’d be happier than I am,'” he told me in a phone interview.

After the .109 prop passed, things were complete. Once again, friends in the soon-to-be legal industry encouraged him to open a lab. The ballot procedure includes provisions that direct OHA regulations to test psilocybin products for contamination. Additionally, therapists may want to know the dose of active compounds they were administering, which leads to a need for efficacy data throughout the supply chain.

“I’ve been down this road before,” Sellhorn recalls thinking, and deciding he wouldn’t leave himself open to regrets later this time. He began ordering the lab equipment and supplies he would need to start the process in September 2021, and by the beginning of 2022, Flourish Labs was ready to start sampling and running tests.

The mushroom test is very similar to the laboratory analysis of cannabis, Sellhorn says, but with one major difference. Like many cannabis labs, Sellhorn uses high-performance liquid chromatography combined with ultraviolet (HPLC-UV) spectroscopy to separate the molecules of a given sample and determine their composition. However, unlike cannabinoids, which are lipid-soluble (hydrophobic), mushroom alkaloids are water-soluble (hydrophilic), necessitating a change in approach to make them work. So, same methods as cannabis, but just opposite chemistry,” Sellhorn sums up.

Lab Tests for Psilocybin and More

Much of the time Sellhorn spends testing involves determining the amount of psychoactive, or potency, alkaloids a given sample contains. More than 50 species of mushrooms produce psilocybin, which is expressed at different levels determined by factors including genetics and farming practices.

“The strongest mushroom I’ve seen from different people is the albino Penis Envy, or APE,” says Sellhorn. “Eve tested anywhere from 0.1% alkaloids, and up to 2.3% was the highest I’ve tested so far. So there’s a pretty wide range. The average, I’d say, is about 0.5% to 0.7% alkaloids.” [by dry weight]. “

Initially, Sellhorn’s work plan mainly involved analyzing mushrooms containing psilocybin and related alkaloids, including psilocin, psilocybin, norcylosin, pyocysteine, and norbyocysteine. Since opening Flourish Labs, he has also developed testing protocols for other products made from psilocybin mushrooms that are likely to be part of the upcoming Oregon regulated market.

“I can also stir in bodies, gummies, chocolates, and extracts, whether it’s a liquid extract or a dry extract,” he explains. “So, I have a protocol for all possible products that can be made, that I know of, as of now.”

High Times MagazineFebruary 2023

Dosage is key

Sellhorn notes that the renewed interest in psilocybin’s health and wellness benefits has fostered a new culture of microdosing, which Sellhorn has practiced for more than four years. For the small dose, only a fraction of a narcotic dose of psilocybin is taken, perhaps 0.1 to 0.2 milligrams, Sellhorn suggests. With a medium potency mushroom (rounded to 1% total alkaloids), this translates to about a tenth to a tenth of a gram of the mushroom’s biomass. “This is like a really nice little dose, and you can adjust it based on body weight,” he says. “The small dose should be enough to lift your mood but not feel any of the narcotic effects as if you are about to stumble.”

At the other end of the spectrum is megadosing, which involves taking enough psilocybin to produce a powerful narcotic effect, which can either be a fun ride or a space for life-altering spiritual or psychological breakthroughs, depending on the intent with which the drug is taken. For the big one, Sellhorn says a dose of 30 milligrams to 50 milligrams of psilocybin (about 5 grams of mushroom biomass) should be adequate for an intense trek. And within the extremes of exact and quantitative dosing, “there’s a dosing in between for whatever you’re looking for.”

In addition to potency, Sellhorn notes that the form of psilocybin can also influence the drug’s effects. While eating dried mushrooms is the classic method of consumption, psilocybin extract and products made from it can modify the drug’s effects.

“It’s pretty clear to me now that mushroom biomass works like a time-release capsule. So if you take a mushroom that contains, say, five milligrams of psilocybin, and you eat that, you’re going to get a certain effect,” he explains. “And it will take a certain amount of time to hit you. But if you have five milligrams in gum or chocolate, it hits you faster, it’s more intense, and it’s over more quickly.”

Sellhorn’s work in the lab has given him an opportunity to increase his knowledge about other psilocybin best practices, too. He notes that proper storage is very effective in maintaining the potency of psilocybin mushrooms. When a customer was looking for data on potency degradation, an internal study determined that mushrooms stored in an airtight bag and kept in dark conditions at 60 degrees Fahrenheit retained 98% of their potency after four months.

An expanding scientific field

Although he sees a strong market for the analysis of psilocybin-containing mushrooms coming to Oregon, Sellhorn realized that demand for lab testing might be limited until the industry became more established and generated revenue. Although state regulations will likely eventually include requirements for testing for bacterial contamination or the presence of heavy metals in addition to potency, such testing is not yet in great demand. So, to complement its business plan, Flourish Labs has also begun lab testing of so-called functional mushrooms including Cordyceps, Reishi, and Amanita muscaria (famous in folklore and pop culture) for compounds that can have health and wellness benefits. Additional species that will be tested by the lab in the coming months include lion’s mane, chaga, maitake, tremella, and turkey tail.

When the regulated production and administration of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes begins in Oregon later this year, it will launch a new industry in the state and become a milestone in the continued evolution of drug policy reform. A new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, including Sellhorn and Fluorescence Labs.

This article was originally published in February 2023 issue to High Times Magazine.

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