We can genetically engineer a kombucha Scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to produce psilocybin while it ferments. We can do this by printing genes from magic mushrooms and embedding them into the Scoby’s DNA. Once we make a single psiloscoby, it can grow and divide and be shared among friends, to brew their own psilobucha. This project will create the world’s first Psiloscoby.
Psilocybin has Therapeutic Awesomeness
Recent studies have revived the discovery psilocybin’s medical potential. Here are a few:
Consider these three forms of psilocybin:
In the past, South American and Scandinavian cultures would accompany consumption of magic mushrooms with ceremony. It was a sacred and ritualistic experience. Collecting and growing psychedelic mushrooms today does still require intense investment and care, thus maintaining some of the ritual. The consequences of misidentification can be severe, and contamination ruins a whole costly batch when growing. Mushroom accessibility is limited.
While medicalization is an effective first step towards legalization, pathologizing the use cases of psilocybin makes for a very different set and setting. Furthermore, history can give us some context for the pill. Drugs tend to go through some common phases:
- Use in a culturally accepting setting
- Introduction to a new culture
- Stigmatization and criminalization
- Validation, often via medicinal use
5a. Destigmatization and widely accepted use (medicinally and/or recreationally)
5b. Destigmaization and limited use, often limited because of racial and economic barriers are not overcome.
Commercial products like: Adderall and Ritalin have stayed in the hands of profit driven pharmaceutical companies. Any other consumption remains illegal, thus maintaining the monopoly that the drug companies own. This means people who have the resources can navigate healthcare systems, and have access to this drugs. Others don’t. And that can happen with psilocybin too, which is just now entering the market.
Compass Pathways owns a patent on the chemical synthesis of psilocybin and seemingly intends to monopolize it as a pharmaceutical. Often times, the only thing that leads to the validation of a drug, and then to decriminalization or legalization is capitalization: powerful, profit-driven forces (that can then provide huge tax revenues to the government) can motivate laws to change.
Perhaps, there is a way to have psilocybin skip the mass commercialization (like Starbucks for coffee, Budweiser for beer) and go straight to the hands of artists (like small farmers/roasters/craft beer brewers) who will love and nurture its use, yet still motivate legalization. Perhaps Psiloscoby is that way. Psiloscoby could prevent monopolization of psilocybin.
The psilobucha creates many satiating possibilities. The ritualistic aspect of psilocybin’s origins is inherited from mushrooms: the Psiloscoby requires time and care, to be nurtured into brewing the psilobucha. It is a ceremony involving forethought, investment and deliberate intent to create the experience that psilocybin provides. Yet, the process is far less finicky and demanding than that of cultivating mushrooms. Furthermore, the Psiloscoby will be easy to share, it can be divided and passed onto friends and family to brew their own batches. It is accessible to anyone with tea, sugar, a jar, and a Psiloscoby friend.
Consider what a Scoby is: a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Yeast, on the anaerobic side of the Scoby, converts sugar from the tea into ethanol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria in the oxygen rich side of the Scoby take the yeast-produced ethanol and convert it into acetic acid or lactic acid.
A byproduct of this ethanol metabolism is cellulose, which creates the thick biofilm we know as the Scoby, that houses the yeast and bacteria. All this is to say that the mutually beneficial relationship between the bacteria and yeast provides for a beautiful display of symbiosis, in which each actor contributes to the collective organism.
Psychonauts have endlessly appreciated the metaphor that mushrooms provide: the trip encapsulates ego death and rebirth of new perspectives, just as mushrooms decompose the dead matter down to basic molecules, thus providing for a new lifecycle.
A different metaphor exists here. Psiloscoby extends the relationship to humans and society: by nurturing the psiloscoby, we become a part of the symbiosis and benefit from the psychedelic perspective it provides: a simple metabolite, psilocybin, that binds to our seratonin receptors, causing us to accept and love. The mushrooms decompose you. The psiloscoby symbioses with you.
How Psiloscoby is Possible
A study published in 2017 elucidated a rudimentary metabolic pathway for psilocybin production. Later, the first complete biosynthesis of psilocybin in yeast was produced. Psiloscoby is technically feasible, and proven to be possible. The metabolic pathway involves only five enzymes, THC, for comparison requires nearly 20 enzymes.
The fact that psilocybin requires so few enzymatic steps is remarkable. Yet, this is not the most remarkable feat of psilocybin production: the starting molecule of the pathway is tryptophan, an amino acid that is ubiquitous to all life.
The two facts — that the pathway is only five enzymatic steps, and that it begins with tryptophan, which is a basic building block of life — means that the psilocybin pathway is particularly ripe for the hungry hands of synthetic biology.
The pickings become even sweeter in light of the fact that this pathway is native to fungi. Yeast is one of the most highly characterized research organisms in synthetic biology, and it is also a fungus. This means the pathway can be reasonably programmed into the genome of yeast. Yeast can produce psilocybin and we can create psychedelic kombucha.