Israeli lab grows ‘magic’ mushrooms to treat depression

Science and Health

Tucked away in a lab, deep within the massive scientific research complex in Rehovot that houses the external campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s agriculture department, a small group of Israeli scientists is growing some of the most highly concentrated, pure and potent organic psilocybin “magic” mushrooms ever created by man.
While the above sentence may be jarring for anyone familiar with the CIA’s infamous “Project MK Ultra” – a series of experiments in the 50s and 60s wherein the US government gave high quantities of LSD and other drugs to human test subjects without their consent – the modern field of study surrounding psychoactive compounds has long shed the immoral practices of physicians’ past.
Many countries are now shifting their attitudes towards the prohibition of certain psychoactive compounds – notably psilocybin mushrooms – due to their relatively low toxicity levels and seemingly high potential for treatment in a wide variety of medical fields.(Photo credit: PsyRx)(Photo credit: PsyRx)
Last February, Oregon became the first US state to both  legalize psilocybin mushrooms for mental health treatment in supervised settings and decriminalize it on a state-wide basis – after it had been decriminalized by multiple US cities in recent years.
The reason for this rapid process of legalization and decriminalization has been spurred on by the scientific community, with studies indicating that psilocybin has a positive effect in treating depression, anxiety, addiction, anorexia, obesity, cluster headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and a variety of personality disorders.

One Israeli pharmaceutical R&D company, PsyRx, is looking to take advantage of this new boom in research by being the first to use biological bioreactor technology to produce psilocybin and other biological psychoactive compounds at a consistent quality which meets GMP standards.
The Jerusalem Post toured PsyRx’s labs meeting with the company’s cofounders, Chairman Dr. Asher Holzer, its CEO Itay Hecht and CTO Dr. Kobi Buxdorf to find out more about the company’s vision for the future of pharmaceutical psychoactives.
While psilocybin mushrooms – in both “trip” form and in smaller, controlled doses often referred to as “microdoses” – have shown promise in a variety of medical fields, the company’s current main focus is on the fields of depression and addiction.
In addition to the psilocybin, the company also manufactures high-standard ibogaine, a psychoactive alkaloid which has been shown effective in reducing addiction severity and especially useful for the reduction of opioid withdrawal symptoms.(Photo credit: PsyRx)(Photo credit: PsyRx)
Ibogaine has also been known to affect the brain in ways similar to antidepressant drugs, but through different neural pathways.
This leads the company’s researchers to believe they might be able to shrink antidepressant drug effect times from weeks and even months, to a matter of mere days, while also drastically reducing side effects.
Ibogaine comes from the Tabernanthe Iboga shrub, which is native to Central and West Africa – mainly Gabon, Cameroon and Congo – and has traditionally been used in rites of passage and healing ceremonies.
The shrub normally needs to first be grown for seven years before it is possible to extract the active compounds. The plant is also increasingly rare and this makes PsyRx a potential way to study the effects of the compound sustainably, without interfering with the local biodiversity while reducing the production time from years to a matter of weeks.
The company’s choice of using a biological bioreactor also allows them to grow more sterile and consistent compounds than would be possibly achievable in nature and in a manner which allows for more accurate clinical studies to be performed on the compounds.
Dr. Holzer, as told to the Post, said the process was so efficient that the active compound of the mushrooms could be grown and extracted fully solely from the fungal mycelium – the fine film of fungal threads which the mushrooms sprout from – essentially doing away with the need to grow the mature mushroom caps at all.
The scientists minimize biological mutations from changing the wide variety of additional compounds that could possibly change the drug’s eventual effect by essentially having a “parent-fungus” that they can take samples from, instead of growing new, more biologically diverse crops each time.
The company has so far completed its initial goals of successfully growing psilocybin on solid and liquid surfaces – colorful, mushroom-filled beakers and petri dishes are indeed scattered around their lab – as the Post can attest.
They have also begun their prior-to-submission phase to the FDA for approval to test an Ibogaine-based micro-dosed antidepressant drug in combination with a known FSSR drug. Their plan for its development is set to be finalized in 2022.
With the worldwide medical community’s shifting attitudes on psychedelic compounds as potential treatments for mental health issues and with the spotlight that the COVID-19 pandemic recently placed on the importance of mental health, PsyRx seems like a company worth paying attention to in the coming years.