In Canada, psilocybin spores are legal but the 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 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, the perception of these controlled substances is evolving, and operators are becoming more professional as they recognize the opportunity in both the decreasing stigma and increasing educational awareness around psychedelics. In fact, several municipal governments in the United States are now allowing residents to grow their own natural psychedelic substances, or entheogens, for personal use.
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, there have recently been two draft proposals presented to 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.
The best possible way to obtain psilocybin mushrooms 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.
Theoretically speaking, possessing mushroom spores is legal under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for creating seed banks, or for research 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.
The Journey of a Spore Business
“Spores-Lab tries to keep it as legal as possible,” Lebowe emphasizes.
Spores-Lab mostly deals with functional and gourmet strains of mushroom, 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 psilocybes.
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.
Lebowe shares that he first started growing magic 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.
“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 of psilocybin mushrooms, has been growing stronger for the last three years, leading to open online and storefront sales of magic mushrooms. However, sales of fully-fruited psilocybin mushrooms, rather than the spores offered by Spores-Lab or other similar businesses, remain illegal in Canada.
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