Fantastic Fungi (2019) Movie Script

There's a feeling,
the pulse of eternal knowledge.
When you sense the oneness,
you are with us.
We brought life to Earth.
You can't see us, but we
flourish all around you.
Everywhere, in everything,
and even inside you,
whether you believe in us or not.
From your first breath, to your last.
In darkness, and in the light.
We are the oldest, and youngest.
We are the largest, and smallest.
We are the wisdom of a billion years.
We are creation.
We are resurrection,
condemnation, and regeneration.
We are mushrooms.
Mushrooms are very clandestine
and very much the trickster.
So, they're hiding
from you all the time.
We're in Agarikon territory now,
there's some big living stags up here.
It's always interesting and exhilarating
to be in the old growth forest,
but not always rewarding
in accomplishing our mission
to find a new Agarikon strain.
But nevertheless, it
beats being in the office.
Fungi are the grand molecular
decomposers of nature.
Now, what does that mean?
Well, they break down wood.
And here I'm laying in the forest,
haven't peeked yet, but
here's a piece of wood
laying down on the ground.
If I were laying down on
the ground, and I died,
fungi would leap up to recycle me
and that's the way of nature.
Mushrooms represent rebirth,
rejuvenation, regeneration.
Fungi generate soil that gives life.
The task that we face today
is to understand the language of nature.
My mission is to discover the language
of nature of the fungal networks
that communicate with the ecosystem.
And I believe nature is intelligent.
The fact that we lack
the language skills
to communicate with
nature does not impugn
the concept that nature's intelligent.
It speaks to our inadequacy
for communication.
If we don't get our act together
and come in commonality
and understanding
with the organisms
that sustain us today,
not only will we
destroy those organisms,
but we will destroy ourselves.
Mushroom, it's not like a vegetable
and it's not like a animal,
but it's somewhere in between.
The fungus is it's own
kingdom all together.
There's over 1.5 million species.
That's six times more than plants.
Of all those species of fungi,
about 20,000 produce mushrooms,
and mushrooms come in
an incredible diversity
of shapes and sizes and
colors and lifestyles.
There are even bioluminescent mushrooms.
A lot of people are afraid of mushrooms.
People associate mushrooms and fungi,
you know, mold, with death
and decay, which makes sense.
You know, there's a lot of
fear because of fungi's role
in the cycle of life.
They decompose dead and dying organisms
and move all those nutrients
back into the cycle.
They kind of are at
the very end of stuff,
but they're also at the beginning.
- Once you start working with
mushrooms, you get drawn in.
A really important difference
between plants and fungi
is that plants have
evolved to catch your eye.
When a tomato gets red it is saying,
hey, I'm ready, come get me.
The mushrooms don't give a shit.
They're doing their own thing
and a lot of them are hiding.
Every time you pick up a mushroom,
you are faced with
the omnivore's dilemma.
Do I know enough to eat this?
Should I eat this?
Will this kill me?
And that's one of the reason why people
are freaked out about
mushrooms, because, yeah,
there are ones that can kill you.
There are some that
will take out your liver
or your kidneys, but to be
honest with you there's berries
in the woods that can kill you, too.
So it's, it's really a matter
of knowing your mushrooms.
There's a huge subculture of mycofiles,
of people who are
fascinated with mushrooms.
They hunt mushrooms together
and they eat mushrooms together,
and they are sort of
bloated pleasure seekers
with a scientific bent.
You know, really my kind of crowd.
Is that tricholoma?
Grifola frondosa.
This is Cortinarius.
Agaricus bisporus.
That's a Cladonia lichen.
- So I started attending
these festivals and forays
and learning more and more.
It changed the way I saw everything.
Mushrooms actually
were the window by which
I came to understand
nature in a deeper way.
If we didn't have Fungi,
we would get this
build up of plant matter
that would choke the Earth.
I mean they really are the key.
They break down plant
life and make it usable
for new plant life and for animal life.
- They are the digestive
tracks of the forest.
One of the lifestyles of
fungi is the decomposers
called saprobres, or
rotters, if you want.
The yeasts and molds used in making beer
and wine and cheese are all saprobes.
That's actually a penicillin mold
in Gorgonzola and Roquefort.
Bourbon is fungi fermented corn.
But this ability to break
things down is a talent,
if you will, that can be
harnessed to help us deal
with some of our
problems like pollution.
These rotters, they can break
down anything that's natural.
That's what they have evolved to do,
anything that's hydrocarbon based.
So that includes stuff like oil spills.
Pollutant problems.
That's kind of the truth of it.
I was a part of this experiment.
There were four piles
saturated with diesel
and other petroleum waste.
One was a control pile, one
pile was treated with enzymes,
one pile, treated with
bacteria and our pile
we inoculated with mushroom spores.
The fungi absorbs the oil.
The fungi is producing
enzymes for oxidases
that break carbon hydrogen bonds.
These are the same bonds
that hold hydrogen carbons together,
so the fungi becomes
saturated with the oil.
And then, when we
returned six weeks later,
all the tarps were removed,
all the other piles were
dead dark and stinky.
We come back to our
pile and it's covered
with hundreds of pounds
of oyster mushrooms.
Some of these mushrooms
are very happy mushrooms,
they're very large.
They're showing how much
nutrition that they could obtain,
but something else happened
which is an epiphany in my life.
They sporulated, the
spores attract insects,
birds then came, bringing
in seeds and our pile
became an oasis of life.
- Mushrooms are the
fruiting bodies of fungi,
so the mushroom is like the apple.
The bulk of the organism
is growing underground
and it's composed of these long threads.
These threads grow one cell at a time
and then they branch and re-branch,
growing in every direction they can,
even three dimensionally.
And that mass of threads
is called a mycelium.
A stick falls onto the ground,
you pull it up and there's mycelium.
It is virtually everywhere.
- A mycelium has more
networks than our brain
has neural pathways, and
works in much the same way,
with electrolytes, electrical pulses.
They're the most
common species on Earth,
they're everywhere.
- Just to give you an
idea of how much fungi
are in the forest, as
you're walking through,
there's about 300 miles of fungi,
under every footstep that you take
and that's all over the world.
And they form these massive links,
it's like a big web just
growing through the forest.
- Mycelium that can grow
out even just this big
can have trillions, literally
trillions of end branchings.
Almost everyone knows
about the computer Internet.
The mycelium shares
the same network design.
Trees are communicating
using the mycelium as pathways.
They are connecting one tree to another.
They're using the mycelium,
too, to feed one another,
in other words one
tree can swap nutrients
with another tree using
mycelium as the passage way.
So we often think of kin recognition
as an animal behavior.
Humans, you know, we love our babies,
we know it's our baby
and we're gonna look after that baby.
Well, we never thought
that plants could do that,
but we're finding in
our research that plants
can recognize their own kin.
So these mother trees
recognize their kin
through their mycorrhizal networks.
The mother tree and the baby
seedlings are sending signals,
talking to each other.
When they're connected
together and carbon
is moving between plants,
the trees are supporting
the weaker ones.
If she knows that there's pests around
and that she's under danger,
she will increase her
competitive environment
towards her own babies so that
they regenerate further away.
It's a magical thing,
and this could not happen
without the fungi.
I'm not the super-idealist tree hugger.
I do hug trees occasionally.
I do confess to that,
but I was a logger.
I cut the woods.
Damn, we got a two for one on that one!
Cutting down these trees and
we're going to let them rot!
But we're letting them
rot with a purpose.
We're letting them rot
with shiitake mushrooms,
which are delicious and medicinal.
- September '74, Paul was
working as a logger in Darrington.
I went up to visit him one weekend
and we were out walking in the woods
and I start showing
him all these mushrooms.
You know, he said, "What are those?"
And I said, "Looking at
mushrooms, for the first time."
We came around the corner
and there's this purple mushroom,
I'd never seen one like that before,
and it was just like a huge epiphany.
Like, woo woo woo woo woo, you know?
And that's where it began,
he just never stopped.
These are old red bell hood polypores.
Elegant Polyporus.
It's got a free stem.
This is a delicious
shrimp russula mushroom.
Edible in choice.
It grows here in the old-growth forest.
- It's rare in science you
have such powerful amateurs.
The meaning of the
word amateur is a lover.
And, he loves his mushrooms.
And he's proven that amateurs can do
really credible, important research.
And that used to be the
case, the 19th century,
obviously, you know, was full
of great amateur naturalists,
Darwin being one of them.
- He's handed over to this
universal consciousness.
That's where genius comes from.
Every magnificent thing that
humans have ever achieved
comes from that place.
- I grew up in a small town
called Columbiana, Ohio.
Very conservative, very religious.
And my brother John went to Yale,
and my brother Bill went to Cornell,
so we were an academic family.
But I had a severe stuttering
habit that greatly interfered
with my ability to express myself.
I went through six
years of speech therapy.
I could not speak a single sentence
without stuttering profusely.
And nothing in speech
therapy could help me.
I couldn't look at people in
their eyes, so all my life,
I stared at the ground.
Anybody came up to me,
I'd stare at the ground.
I found fossils and mushrooms.
We are all of the stars.
My kingdom was borne from the heavens
four and a half billion years ago.
We are the pioneers.
We climbed out of the sea
to create the fertile soil
and set the stage for all of life.
In South Africa in the sediments of lava
they have found fungus like organisms,
mycelium fossils in the lava.
2.4 billion years old.
This is the oldest record
of a multicellular organism on Earth.
This year, another fossil was found
in the sediments of Brazil,
it's 113 million years old,
and it's a perfectly shaped mushroom.
We divided from Fungi
about 650 million years ago.
One branch led to Fungi, the
other branch led to animals.
We chose a path of
encirculating our nutrients
in a cellular sack, our stomach.
The mycelium remained underground,
externally digesting its nutrients.
Biodiversity surged
until we had these great
cataclysmic extinction events,
when the asteroids
impacted the Earth, kebam,
enormous amounts of
debris was jettisoned
into the atmosphere.
Sunlight was cut off.
Plants die, animals die.
And Fungi inherited the Earth.
From those great extinction
events there's one lesson,
those organisms that
paired with fungi survived.
We are more closely related to fungi
than we are to any other kingdom.
What this means is that we
are descendants of mycelium.
Mycelium is the mother of us all.
Living creatures like fungi
are intelligent in the
sense that they respond
to their environment,
they seek out food and
they defend themselves,
they solve problems,
and that's intelligence.
- A mycelium can
theoretically live forever
as long as it has food to grow into
which is why the oldest and largest
organism on earth is a fungus.
It lives on top of a mountain on Oregon.
It's like thousands of acres
and it's thousands of years old.
The mushroom is the organ
of sexual reproduction,
for the spore of the fungus.
Fungi don't have
seeds, they have spores.
The spores are extremely tiny, little,
lightweight gene carrying systems.
When they land on
something they can eat,
they break down the
food that they're on,
and then reabsorb the nutrients,
because you need to move on and find
another place where there's food.
The mushroom releases zillions of spores
into the atmosphere.
There's so many spore, I
mean, you take one breath,
you just breathed in 10 fungal spore.
So they are everywhere.
We evolved with them.
When you see what mushrooms do,
it's kind of spooky in
the most wonderful way,
I mean they correct everything on Earth.
They support life.
They convert life.
They carry life.
They're remarkable beings.
If humans become extinct,
what's the next species that
will take over the Earth?
Maybe mycelium already
are the dominant species,
not just because they're the most common
species on Earth, they're everywhere.
I mean, you look at humans.
There's seven billion of us
but we're just one little creature
wandering around incredibly vulnerable
and don't survive easily
if we're assaulted.
- Hurricane Harvey has
started to make landfall
here on the Texas coast.
More than 30,000
people are without power
And things are only
expected to get worst.
Granted we've always had the worst storm
in about a century, and it
is struggling to understand
the new normal of months
ahead without basic services.
- Climate change is one
of the biggest threats
to our present our world,
to the future of our planet.
C02 is our biggest greenhouse gas.
As plants photosynthesize,
they literally inhale
CO2 while exhaling oxygen.
CO2 is what plants photosynthesize
and they take that carbon
and they put it in different places,
they put it in their
leaves, in their trunks,
but they put 70% of it, we
are finding, below ground.
And the root systems trade
that carbon for nutrients.
That carbon ends up in
the fungal cell walls
where it's stored.
This fuels the microbial community
and all the other parts of the food web,
like the mites and the nametodes,
and they start cycling nutrients
through that eating process.
So the fungi are really important
in stabilizing carbon in soils.
Once the carbon is stable
it can stay there stored
for thousands of years.
We know for example that carbon
can move from plant to plant
and it evens out the distribution
of carbon in that system.
They're working really hard.
If we maintain the plants, the forest,
and the natural fungal community,
we've got a natural engine
that's storing carbon below ground.
So, it's essential.
You know, it's there for us, right?
It's right in front of us.
We do more than make mushrooms.
We have the ability to do so much more
than just break down matter.
Like the fruit of our labor,
most of you have only scratched
the surface of our usefulness.
We are the changers.
I was 14 or 15 years of age, I believe,
when my brother, John, gave me a book
called "Altered States
of Consciousness".
And within that book,
Andy Weil was referenced
on expanding consciousness,
and I got really excited.
I was going to charismatic
christian revival meetings
and seeing people being saved,
but it kind of was
cool from my perspective
that they were achieving
this altered states of consciousness.
So I thought that was part
of all of the same idea here.
I really owe credit to Andrew Weil.
I think he read one of my early books
in which I wrote about mushroom hunting,
and psychodelic mushrooms
and made some reference to
medicinal mushrooms as well.
It was like a turning point, you know,
like, I certainly was awakened.
Other people were thinking
about expanding consciousness.
And so I gave this book to
my friend, Ryan Schneider.
So, Ryan took it home,
and a few days later,
I said, "Ryan, where is my book?"
He told me his dad had burned it.
I said, "He burned my book?"
Rather than giving it back
to me or calling my parents,
he actually took the
initiative to burn this book.
I owe Ryan Schneider's father
a deep debt of gratitude,
because that single act
galvanized my interest.
Saying, "If this is so
powerful to cause a person
"to do such a bizarre act,
"then I should examine what
this subject is all about."
Human existence on this Earth
goes back an extraordinary
long period of time,
most of which we have no
identifiable information.
It's entirely plausible,
given that the indigenous
people all around the world
know intimately all the plant life,
and will know the different
combination of plant life,
that our prehistoric ancestors,
they had come across the plants
that do alter consciousness.
In about two million years,
the human cortex tripled in size,
and the brain exploded
over a ridiculously short
span of evolutionary time.
Two million years is nothing
when it comes to evolution.
What triggered that?
In the late 1970s, Terrence McKenna
and his brother Dennis McKenna
were the first that proposed
the Stoned Ape hypothesis.
It is known now that 22 primates,
23 including us, consume mushrooms.
And the idea is our ancestors,
they came out of the trees
and went across the Savannah,
would be tracking
animals that are pooping.
Well, in the sub tropics,
the most common mushroom
coming out of those cow patties
is psilocybe cubensis dung,
a potent magic mushroom.
One thing that mushrooms
and other psychedelics do reliably
is they induce synesthesia.
Synesthesia is the perception
of one sensory modality in another.
Hearing colors for
example, or seeing music.
You have these profound experiences
and you have to put
yourself in their place
and imagine what the impact
of such an experience must
have been on an early hominid.
These magic mushrooms open up
the flood gates of
information you receive.
Basically, you can think
of it as a contact fluid
between synapses within the brain.
Wow, what a competitive advantage.
Especially if you're
working with the geometry
of weapons or having to
put together something
that will give you a
better chance of survival.
The fact that this happened
not once, not twice,
but millions and millions of
times over millions of years,
is a very plausible explanation
for the tripling of the
brain two million years ago.
It's not so simple to say
that they ate psilocybin mushrooms
and suddenly the brain mutated.
I think it's more complex than that.
But I think it was a factor.
It was like a software to program
this neurologically modern hardware,
to think, to have
cognition, to have language,
because language is
essentially synesthesia.
Language is just association
with inherently meaningless sound,
except that it's associated
with a complex of meaning.
A great deal of the brain's
real estate, you might say,
is devoted to the generation
and/or the comprehension of language.
Those neural structures are
not found in our ancestors.
That's a human trait,
to have so much physiology devoted
to generating and
understanding language.
And that's a reflection
of evolutionary events
that made us what we are.
- I couldn't get these
mushrooms for the longest time.
When I was in Ohio I actually purchased
a bag of magic mushrooms.
But I had no guide, I
had no recommendations
for how much to consume.
So I had a bag about this big,
so I thought well
that's probably one dose,
so I consumed the bag.
Now for those of you who don't know,
this is like 10 times more
than you probably need to consume.
It was a warm summer day,
and there was a beautiful
big, big tree, an oak tree.
And then I noticed black
clouds on the horizon
and I realized there was a storm coming,
and I thought, "This is great,
"I will have this great
visual of the storm coming."
And I thought, "Well,
I am going to climb
"to the top of the tree."
So I'm starting to feel the effects.
I am getting waves where the air
becomes a liquid. and woosh,
you have this distortion field
go through the visual landscape.
I've never seen that before.
I went, "Oh wow, this is
what they were talking about."
And I see the boiling
clouds are coming closer,
but they're looking angry now.
And then the lightning strikes would go.
And then all these geometrical fractals
would emanate out of
the lightning strikes.
And pretty soon I had
these overlying mosaics
of mathematical patterns
and geometric figures
of multiple colors that are swimming
in this field of vision
that these waves were flying through.
I've never in my life seen
anything like that before.
The winds increasing,
then the rains would come
and I became extremely scared.
And then also I realized
I am at the top of a hill,
during a lightning storm,
in the tallest tree,
not the best place to be
when you're gonna choose
a spiritual experience.
And so, I held on to
the tree for dear life.
And that tree was my pillar
back into the core of the Earth.
And I felt secure as long
as I held on to the tree.
Lightning strikes all
around, thunder claps.
You know, one second
between a lightning strike
and a thunder clap,
you knew it was coming
closer and closer.
I was terrified that I wouldn't survive.
And through this terrorific experience,
terrifying and terrific
at the same time,
I am up in this tree and I'm saying,
"What should I focus on?"
And I said, "Well, Stamet's,
you know, you're not stupid,
"but you stutter all the time."
And so I thought, "I
need to stop stuttering."
And so I said to
myself, "Stop stuttering.
"Stop stuttering now."
A little inner voice in
my head, "Can you hear me?
"Stop stuttering now."
And then I started saying
that, "Stop stuttering now."
"Stop stuttering now."
Hundreds, hundreds,
hundreds, thousands of times.
After the storm had passed,
I came down from the tree,
drenched, soaked to the bone,
you know, in love
with life, with nature,
in love with that tree.
That tree was so important to me.
And I went home and I went
to bed, I didn't see anybody.
And the next morning I woke up
and there was a really attractive
lady that I liked a lot,
but I could never
stare at her in the eyes
because I was afraid to
stutter and embarrass myself.
So better to avoid social
contact than have social contact,
even though I was
really attracted to her.
And she liked me, but I was,
didn't know what to do with
it, with that attention.
And so she was walking past me
and she looked at me and she
said, "Good morning, Paul."
And for the first time,
I looked her straight
in the eye and I said,
"Good Morning, how are you?"
And I stopped stuttering in one session.
The old scrounge rapping hard
This is the newest thing my
employees are listening to.
So my employees are the
best source of new music.
We love loud music for the
mushrooms in the laboratories.
It causes everyone to be synchronized.
We have a lot of nonverbal
communication in laboratories.
You know, when we talk,
your mouth spreads bacteria.
So we try to minimize talking.
So a lot of it is done
by gestures and knowing.
So why not have loud music?
My dad was a businessman.
I swore I'd never become one,
but I wanted to be independent
so I created a little
mail order business
in order to supply
myself and other people
who had like interests in mushrooms.
When we started the business,
it was extremely difficult back then,
and we didn't have the resources.
We were putting little advertisements
in Organic Gardening Magazine,
back when there was only
three television stations.
I invented this business
so I could buy equipment
for my laboratory wholesale.
Amazing to me, we have
nearly 100 employees,
and thousands of media outlets.
These mushrooms were so powerful to me
that I realized that
I wanted to study them.
This mushroom is known
reishi or lingzhi,
the mushroom of immortality.
And it's one of the most
amazing and interesting
mushrooms that we've ever grown.
This mushroom helps the immunity
of not only people but bees.
Up this hill here we have a
quarter section of property,
160 acres, and we have a
large micrological experiment.
We planted 33,000 trees,
half with mycorrhizal fungi
tapped to the roots, half without.
And this is year nine.
So we are putting into
an Excel spreadsheet
or have put in 1,000 trees
to compare the treatments.
I came into from licensing
one of my patents.
And so when the political
climates in the United States
changed to be adverse
to environmentalists,
we bought land in Canada.
I think the fact that he didn't come up
on a conventional academic pathway
is part of the reason he's as willing
to really explore ideas that
are not on anyone else's radar.
I'm really honored that I discovered
a few things that no one
else had yet discovered
so I have now five patents
on entomopathogenic fungi.
These are fungi that infect insects
and, in particular, termites.
The biggest problem in
the commercialization
of bio-pesticides from fungi
has been the spore repellency property.
The insects avoid the
spores of these fungi.
In fact, so concerned are termites
that if a worker goes out
and encounters this fungus,
when the worker returns
back to the nest,
guards, they'll capture that worker
that's infected with these spores,
take the worker to a graveyard
and they cut off the worker's head
and then the two guards commit suicide.
They're trying to protect the queen
and the nest and colony from infection.
And I discovered
something that no one else
had ever reported in the
scientific literature.
I found a biological switch
that delayed sporulation,
and then the insects were not repelled,
but they were super-attracted.
Which means one finds the
fungus now and the others follow,
and it ends up being a Trojan Horse.
The same fungi now are
taken past the guards,
given to the queen,
the queen feeds it to the brood,
the whole colony becomes like mummified
with this mycelium and whoosh,
the whole colony is infected and dies.
And then the spore repellency properties
protects your house from
subsequent invasions.
This is a huge discovery.
And then I tried it with carpenter ants,
with fire ants, fungus
gnats and then mosquitoes.
Now we're working with bed bugs
and we've had successes
across the board.
The entire ecosystem
is infused with fungi.
So I see these deep reservoirs
of the ecology all around us.
In a world of invention,
the answer to our greatest problems
may be hiding right under our feet.
There are mushrooms that have been used
in Western medicine.
Penicillin for example is a
really effective antibiotic.
Before it was synthesized,
during the Civil War,
when a solider would get wounded,
they would slap a piece of moldy bread
on his wound to benefit from
those antibiotic properties.
You know, so he wouldn't
get an infection.
- Alexander Fleming
discovered Penicillin in 1927.
The problem was that
they couldn't find strains
that could be commercialized,
that could produce enough of it
in a commercially economic fashion.
We fast forward and in
1942 a group of researchers
in Chicago went shopping.
And a lab assistant found a cantaloupe
that was rotting with
a beautiful golden mold,
and from that strain
we got the first hyper
producing strain of penicillium.
Penicillin literally
saved tens of thousands
of soldiers lives.
The Brits had this but the Germans
and the Japanese did not.
It has been suggested that the discovery
of this hyper-producing
strain of penicillin
was a significant influence
in winning World War II.
Alexander Fleming then
received the Nobel Prize in 1945
in recognition of the huge impact
that penicillin had on human health.
Here's how medicinal mushrooms
are thought to work.
A fungus will produce
all kinds of enzymes,
it's like a chemical warfare,
in order to fight off
competition for food,
like, other microbes, other
fungi, bacteria, virus.
That's what makes antibiotics work.
Chemicals that are produced by fungus,
like the one that
penicillin is made from,
the fungus produces it
to kill bacteria that are competition.
And, when we take penicillin,
it kills our bacteria.
- There's a long tradition
of using mushrooms
as medicines in East
Asia, especially in Korea,
China and Japan.
They appear to be able
to enhance and protect
the body's innate defensive mechanisms.
The uses for them
filled niches for which
we really don't have anything
in Western pharmacology.
In Western medicine, all of our effort
is on identifying agents of
disease and eliminating them.
That has its place but
we do almost nothing
about supporting the good.
Shamans would treat patients
and the diseases were thought to be
elements of the spirit world.
Well, physicians today treat infections
and their spirits are bacteria
that are pathogenic, or are viruses.
So whether the shamans
called them spirits
or whether the scientists
called them microbes,
with the invention of microscopes,
we get to see the microscopic
universe and landscape
that we thunder upon
with every footstep.
The fact that these fungal networks
are seemingly invisible
but then represent themselves in a big,
flourishing mushroom in
a matter of a few days,
give us a window into
the invisible landscape
underneath our feet.
Fungal networks have defended themselves
against vectors of disease
for millions of years.
Viral pandemics occur periodically.
Between 1347 and 1353, one third
of the European population
died from the Black Plague.
The great flu pandemic of 1918,
2% of the world population died.
Millions upon millions of people.
I think everyone is aware
of the threat potentially
of bio-terrorism.
But few people may know that Europeans
were actively involved,
consciously or unconsciously,
in bio-terrorism against
indigenous peoples
especially in The New
World, in Meso-America.
They brought in diseases.
And when you are extremely sick,
you can't fight off an invader.
It's an irony of history
that now the U.S. government
is interested in protecting
people from viral pandemics.
- Paul Stamets cultured
numerous strains in his lab
in prepared natural extracts.
He then submitted samples
to the Defense Department's
Bioshield Program for testing.
- And Ironically, I owe a debt
of gratitude to Dick Cheney,
and George W. Bush.
It is vital that our nation discuss
and address the threat
of pandemic flu now.
Their funding of that research led
to some very novel discoveries
which we're still elaborating today.
What we know about
these mycelial networks
is they're learning membranes.
They are self-learning
and network-based organisms
that can share and store knowledge.
The mycelium is vaccinating itself
against pathogens in the ecosystem.
We can capitalize on this,
because many of the
same bacterial pathogens
that infect fungi also
can infect animals.
We found novel molecules, highly
active against pox viruses,
novel molecules highly
active against HPV,
the human papilloma virus.
Many scientists are trying to come up
with the next antibiotic,
the next penicillin.
But we have barely tapped
into the fungal genome,
especially of the
mushroom growing fungi.
Think of it, our old growth forest
that contain these ancient
fungi are deep reservoirs
of potential compounds that
can fight pandemic viruses.
We should save the old growth forests
as a matter of national defense.
- I recommend mushrooms
and mushroom products
frequently to patients
and I teach other doctors
about their uses.
Mushrooms have molecules not
found elsewhere in nature.
There's some that have
totally unusual properties
like Lion's Mane mushroom.
- The Lion's Mane
mushroom is a globular
cascading icicle formed mushroom,
tastes like lobster or
shrimp when you cook it.
But a researcher in Japan
by the name of Kawagishi
discovered it around 1993.
And I don't have the foggiest
idea how he discovered this,
but he discovered that this mushroom
stimulates nerves to re-grow.
And he postulated it could be
an effective treatment
against Alzheimer's.
- Since we don't have
anything for Alzheimer's
and since this is
non-toxic, we should test it.
Mushrooms are completely
unusual organisms
and they're ignored by so many people
and yet they're a vital interface
between all forms of life.
At the University of Southern Florida,
a very interesting study came out.
Mice were trained to have
a conditioned fear response,
and so when there's a sound
that is associated with pain,
later on when they heard the
sound they cowered in fear.
But they treated the
mice with psilocybin,
the compound in magic mushrooms,
the mice disassociated that link.
The mice overcame that
fear condition response.
We started with very low doses
to as high a dose as one
milligram per kilogram.
Now what was interesting,
if you look at double labeled cells,
in other words the birth of new neurons,
we saw an increase in neurogenesis.
- Neurogenesis literally
means neuro for nerves,
and genesis, rebirth or beginning of.
The re-growing of neurons.
They were not using the
same neurological pathways
they have in the past.
This is really exciting
because it means that
the brain has a plasticity about it,
it's able to heal, it's able to grow,
it just needs the right compounds
to help it develop new
neurological pathways.
We're all getting older,
we'll all suffer some
degree of dementia.
What compounds can we take
that enhances and
preserves neurogenesis?
I know many many people
who would not dare
take a psilocybin mushroom trip.
But the concept of them
taking 1/50th of a dose,
something like that,
and it causes neurogenesis
and it might make them smarter,
or in a better mood or happier?
That's a whole different subject.
- We are on a never
ending search for partners.
Life affirming relationships.
Or, at the very least,
nourishment for the
next leg of our journey.
We have flourished side
by side with your species,
symbiotically, for centuries.
- Many shamanic cultures
relied on mushrooms
for their transcendental experiences.
This is pre-religion,
all over the world.
It was all about the
individual's connection
to the spiritual world
or the mystery that is
our context for living.
- These are ancient artifacts
from the Mayan culture.
These are called mushroom stones.
This may be the largest collection
of mushroom stones in the world.
The Mayan culture was very mycophilic,
and they revered mushroom
stones for divination,
for spirituality, also
to be able to predict
incoming armies and how
to strategize against them.
A great ethnomycologist by
the name of R. Gordon Wasson
came up with the phrase mycophilia,
the love of mushrooms
that the Mayans shared.
Mycophobia was, classically,
the English who had a fear of mushrooms,
because they were enigmatic.
You know, these mushrooms
can get you high,
they can heal you, they can
can feed you, they can kill you.
And so, that which is so
powerful is naturally feared.
Wasson was an amateur mycologist,
a person who studies mushrooms,
and was invited to
participate in a ceremony
by a curandera; Maria Sabina in 1955.
He took these mushrooms and
had a psychedelic experience.
And when R. Gordon Wasson came out
with his research that was published
in Life Magazine in 1957,
that was basically a field
guide to psilocybin mushrooms
delivered to tens of
millions of Americans
on their doorstep during
the peak of the Cold War.
This, then, was quickly
noticed by academics at Harvard
and other Ivy League schools
and then the cognoscente,
including Timothy Leary,
Ram Dass and Dr. Andrew Weil.
Why do mushrooms produce molecules
that fit receptors in
the human brain and body?
What does that say?
What does that mean?
I mean, does that mean
that we're supposed
to be using these things?
Psychedelics during the '50s and '60s
were the cutting edge
of psychiatric research.
There were remarkable studies
with very, very promising findings.
Psychedelics became part of research
and psychiatry for 30 years,
and there were several
very interesting indications
that they were researched.
The best data was
actually for alcoholism.
- We found that having
a mystical experience
during the course of one session
was the strongest predictor
of positive outcome
meaning maintaining sobriety
over the long follow-up period.
It was very impressive.
Some of these drugs, you know,
they had escaped the
lab as the phrase goes.
Millions of people were using them
and you have to realize
that this was a radical
force unleashed on the West.
The kids who take psychedelics
aren't gonna fight your wars.
They're not going to
join your corporations.
They won't buy it.
A lot was going on back in the '60s.
It was a time of rapid cultural change.
There was irrational fears
about too much cultural change too fast.
President Nixon called Timothy Leary
the most dangerous man in America.
We must wage what I have called
total war against
public enemy number one
in the United States, the
problem of dangerous drugs.
It ain't me, it ain't me
When everyone says shrooms to me,
it invokes this whole idea
to use psilocybin mushrooms
as a party drug.
They are so much more important
than just getting high.
It ain't me, it ain't me
The movement to marginalize
the major psychedelics
is incredibly complex.
and it plugged into a
counterculture movement,
an anti-war movement, an
anti-establishment movement.
But there were many, many
forces that were at play.
- Somehow the fuse blew,
and one of the victims was
the medical research with psychedelics.
There's a very irrational
and anti-scientific climate
that was fueled even
in government pamphlets,
really had distorted information
that was not scientifically accurate.
Get away, just get away.
It's a bad trip, instant insanity.
The research came to a halt in 1970,
the war was declared on drugs,
the Controlled
Substances Act was passed,
and the research essentially was erased
from being taught in psychiatry.
- I think I may have
the dubious distinction
of being the last to give
psilocybin to a cancer patient
at the Maryland
Psychiatric Research Center.
And then the research
became completely dormant.
In our evolution as a species
we're at a point of coming to terms
with a major paradigm change.
A change in how we view
what we call reality.
And that always evokes
tension and fears.
The culture wants to cling to
the old view of the universe.
- You realize that you've
been limited all this time
with your perspective of reality.
Had reality been known
to you at this level,
early on, how much more
evolved would we be as beings?
A lot of people would be afraid of that.
This is very dangerous territory.
People wanna give up
their responsibility
of being able to understand,
and because they can't
understand, then they have faith.
And they put their faith in other people
who say they can understand.
And I think that's a situation
that's ripe for a
predatory relationship.
- Anyone who's had one
of those experiences,
in a country where it's
not legal to have them,
is stuck in this position
where something really
precious and really giving,
a great gift to you,
is not understood by
the culture at large
and furthermore puts
you or other people,
or and other people,
at risk of prosecution.
And one response to that is to get angry
and to want to fight that.
And another response to it is to say
we just got to explain to
people what's going on here.
And when people understand it
then there will be
accommodation and respect.
There are a number of
elders living in the Bay Area
who've devoted some part of their career
in psychology or religious studies
who ended up being invited
to a small invitational
conference at Esalen
called the Pacific Symposium
on Psychedelic Drugs.
As we went around the
room making introductions,
most of the people who were clinicians
were excitedly talking about
what kind of clinical
trial they would run
if they could use one
of these substances
to treat PTSD or to treat depression.
We wrote the best design we could,
we submitted it to the
FDA, and they approved it.
This is 1999.
And it reactivated psychedelic research
after basically a 22-year
dormancy in the United States.
It's like a Rip Van Winkle effect.
You know, it's waking up 20 years later.
The methodologies, the
questions that we can ask,
on so many different levels.
- I have been diagnosed
with prostate cancer.
My diagnosis was so bad that,
they weren't giving me
any chance whatsoever.
My diagnosis was kidney cancer.
Finding out that you may wanna get
your affairs in order.
I first found out about this study
when my oncologist gave me a pamphlet.
He said here's something
that might be able to help you
with the anxiety.
And I was accepted into the study.
The most important thing is to remember
that you're always safe.
And our recommendation is that whatever
is coming up that you allow it,
that you don't have to like
it, but you say, "Okay,"
rather than trying to run away from it.
Once a volunteer is
enrolled in the study,
they're with us for the preparation,
the psilocybin sessions
and the integration follow-ups after.
I have been a guide for
around 350 psilocybin sessions
and then about 1,000 of the preparatory
and integration meetings.
- All right.
- Okay.
Now get your head up.
It's really just about experiencing
what comes up as the
psilocybin takes effect.
In the intense part of this journey,
this world and things
that matter to most people:
family and all that, that wasn't even
what it was about.
They say anything mystical
can't be explained.
It's something like that.
It's a feeling of such immense power
that you can't even imagine.
I've never felt anything like it before.
It was about being in a
place of infinite space
and just being there.
There's a experience of positive mood,
sometimes openheartedness, love.
Transcendence of time and space,
and then finally it's
thought to be ineffable.
People say, "I can't
describe that experience."
In my mind I said, "Okay, hold it,
"if I give myself over to you,
"can you promise me that
I will be in at least
"as strong a shape as
when I entered this room?"
And I felt a voice
that I needed to heed.
"Do you think I would
disrespect my own handiwork?"
This is the voice from on high saying,
"Do you think I would
disrespect my child?"
And I felt so beautiful.
I felt like I have never felt before.
My sense of being
loved, of being worthy,
of love, of being cared for,
of being important to someone.
It's huge.
Keep going into it.
Doing beautiful.
One third of individuals in this study
said it's the single most
spiritually significant
experience of their lives.
About 70% say it's among the five
most personally meaningful
experiences of their lives.
And you say, well, what
does that mean, you know?
And initially, I thought,
I wonder if they don't
have pretty dull lives.
But no, people would say, you know,
"When my first born
came into this world,
"I'll never forget that.
"And life has never
been the same since."
Or, "My father passed away,
that was deeply moving to me,
"I'm different now in the world."
They say, you know,
"It's kind of like that."
The most glorious part was that
it made me feel more comfortable
with living, you know?
Because you're not afraid of dying.
- Frankly, I'm just a
laboratory scientist,
and I wasn't prepared for that.
- From the memory of
the transcendental state
of consciousness, many
people report less anxiety,
less depression, less
preoccupation with pain,
closer interpersonal relationships.
And perhaps most impressive they claim
to be a loss of the fear of death.
It recalibrates how they see death.
It's been amazing hearing them
talk about this idea of love.
Many of them spoke
about how nature itself
is something like this
substance called love.
And having touched that,
they've recalibrated and
shaped how they die differently.
- The John Hopkins
psilocybin research team
has completed or has underway
a total of nine studies,
and it got the world's attention.
When we finally released the results
of our first experiment
in a peer reviewed scientific journal,
it was very gratifying to see
how the daily press responded to it.
A little bit of health news for you.
A single dose of
psychedelic magic mushrooms
can make people with severe
anxiety and depression
feel better for months.
It changes the way they view themselves,
other people in the world,
from a single experience,
not Prozac that you have to
keep taking day after day.
These are not chronic drugs.
And that's where most of the research
and development in big pharma goes.
The treatments that are
being explored for psilocybin
involve one, two, maybe
three pills, that's it.
That's not a very good business model,
you can't make a lot of money that way.
The core of this mystical experience is,
is a mystery, frankly.
It's the existential mystery
of what are we really doing here?
What's the meaning of all this?
And that is a very uplifting
kind of experience to have.
As a whole, there's a sense
of being part of a larger network.
And somehow that's more real
after a mystical experience.
You feel that you really are connected
in some meaningful way with
every atom of the universe.
- From my perspective,
this core experience informs
all of the religious,
ethical, and moral traditions.
I mean, that is the core of
love thy neighbor as thyself.
If we don't get some of
these priorities straight
with respect to how
we treat other people,
how we treat our environment,
we're gonna cease to exist.
I could see this as being critical
to the evolution of the species frankly.
- You wouldn't go hiking
up the Himalayan mountains
without any preparation.
Well, this is a journey.
These are sacraments and medicines
that should be treated
with respect and caution.
Consider it to be like going
to your own personal church,
and you're going to sit
in awe of the universe.
- We have a new study,
which is quite remarkable.
It's working with religious leaders.
These are ordained
clergy of many traditions:
Christianity, Buddhism,
Judaism, Hinduism.
Since these experiences are at the core
of the major religions,
why not bring in religious
leaders who spent their careers
studying this landscape
to have the experience?
You guys hear that?
You didn't?
- Vibrating.
Vibrating, phone call was coming in.
There she goes.
Message from mom.
Inbound message from mother.
I think I had the best of all mothers.
My mother was extremely kind.
So another mushroom
empowers the immune system
and this is Turkey Tails.
And Turkey Tail mushrooms have been used
for more than 1,000 years.
This hit home to me very
personally in June of 2009
when my 84-year-old mother
called me up and says,
"Paul, I have something very
serious to talk to you about."
She says, "My right breast is five times
"the size of my left.
"I have six swollen lymph
glands the size of walnuts,"
and her voice started shaking,
and I'm not ashamed to
admit that I started crying.
She had stage 4 breast cancer.
But then the doctor
said, "You're too old
"to have radiation therapy,
"you can't have your breasts removed,
"but there's an interesting
study on Turkey Tail mushrooms
"at Bisteria Medical School.
"You might want to try taking those."
And my mother goes, "Well,
my son is supplying those."
So she was put on Taxol and
Herceptin, wonderful drugs,
and she started taking eight
Turkey Tail capsules a day,
four in the morning,
and four in the evening.
And that was in June of 2009.
And today my mother has
no detectable tumors.
And I'd like to bring my mother up.
- You have to live
through it to believe it.
- By the way, thank you
for giving birth to me,
I really appreciate that.
You haven't thanked me lately?
It has been reported in literature
that medicinal mushrooms
like turkey tail
help chemotherapeutic
agents work better.
And I think she's a
living example of that.
One can argue with me on the statistics,
but my mother is alive
and all the doctors that saw her
did not believe that she would survive.
- It is my great honor
to introduce Paul Stamets.
Keep going, bud.
I brought a fungal friend of mine
from the old growth forest.
And I present to you
Agarikon was described in 65 AD
as Elixirium at longem vitum,
the Elixer of long life.
So I want to take you on a
magical mushroom mystery tour,
And I'm gonna push the
envelope here, folks.
Mycodiversity is biodiversity.
You will decompose, I'm gonna decompose.
We're all gonna die!
That's okay, because we will
enter into the mycoverse.
We will forever exist together
within the myco molecular matrix.
When he talks the way he does,
he is channeling the mycelium.
And this is a marvelous thing.
- Brain neurons, mycelium,
the computer internet,
the organization of the universe,
all shares the same archetype.
I believe matter begets life,
life becomes single cells,
single cells form chains,
chains forms branches,
matrices form interlocking,
intersecting mosaics of mycelium,
and mycelium-like
organisms ebb and flow
not only on this planet,
on other planets into the future.
Thank you very much.
- Paul was wonderful about
bringing us information
about all these aspects of mushrooms.
And then it inspired
all these young people.
Now we have people like Trad Kotter
carrying on all the great
work that Paul started,
talking about bio-pesticides,
talking about the ways
you can detoxify oil.
All of these amazing things were started
because people like Paul brought that
to the culture at large.
And young people now
have taken up the cause
and are really expanding our insights
into what the world of
mushrooms can do for us.
Hi, my name's Peter and I'm with
the Radical Mycology Project.
I recently trained a mushroom
to digest used cigarette filters.
Paul Stamet's book "Mycelium Running",
got my mind sort of in a whirl.
That was when I first discovered
there was much more to
mushrooms than just food.
- If you would have seen
me when I dropped out
of high school, I was
just making rap music.
I knew very little
about the natural world,
I never even went on
a hike until I was 18.
But finding Paul Stamets' TED talk video
was one of the big
inspirations that pushed me
into the wonderful world of mycology.
- My first mushroom book
was "The Mushroom Cultivator"
by Paul Stamets.
I will be eternally thankful to him
for showing me that it's
okay to be mushroom mad.
We really don't even know most fungi.
We're discovering new
species on a daily basis
and you really don't have to go
to exotic locations to discover them.
- Anybody can add to the
science from identifying
a new species to developing a
new myco-remediation protocol.
There's a great need for more people
to study fungi and there's
lots of opportunities.
- It's amazing what we
don't know about mushrooms.
They really are a frontier of knowledge.
They probably can help us
solve all sorts of problems,
if we would look a little deeper.
- Anyone, anyone can help by
going and walking in the woods
and contributing to mycology.
You may have found a species
that has never been found.
We need these mushrooms.
We work together as a
community to solve problems.
We could be the community
that heals the planet.
- It's been estimated two
- thirds of our food supply
is bee-pollinated dependent.
Unfortunately we're losing bees
across the world in a dramatic die off
that is very dangerous for the
bio security of this planet.
So I started exploring
ways to help save the bees.
And I noticed in the summertime
there's a continuous convoy of bees
going from my beehives to mycelium.
But then it dawned on me,
maybe the bees were benefiting
from the mycelial extracts
because they have
anti-viral properties.
And so I cultured the
most aggressive strains
and then submitted them.
We started testing the
effects of these extracts
in helping bees survive.
- Some of these fungal
extracts are really good
at reducing viral levels in the bee.
So here we have a fungus
that is helping fight viruses
in an insect.
We're musing mushrooms to create
an entirely new class of materials
which are totally compostable
at the end of their lives.
- The researchers found
that when they heated
a portobello mushroom skin
to roughly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit,
it became a lattice
of carbon nano ribbon
that could be used in battery design
because it allows a good amount
of surface area for storing energy.
- You can filter water, you
can create medicinal compounds
almost on demand.
We work in Haiti and they look at you
like I had superpowers.
Well, I tell them, I said,
"You're about to have superpowers too."
Coming from the background of not having
any training and getting
myself into the lab,
was very empowering, I
felt like a superhero.
I felt like I could do anything.
You're officially a mushroom farmer.
- Spore Lady.
- Spore Lady and Sporegasm.
- I see my species as
part of a larger whole.
Rather than being at
the top of the pyramid,
being one of the organisms
with inside the circle.
And the circle is made up of mycelium
holding us all together.
- We've always thought of
plants as these inert objects,
these things that don't actually
interact with each
other and build things.
And what my work is showing
and other people's work as well,
is saying, actually
they need each other.
They need each other
to grow in a community
so that they can start sharing the load.
You do this, I'll do that,
and together we can make a
beautiful resilient community.
They have an incredible capacity
to make things change
very, very quickly.
So if we can work with
them, if we get it, you know,
if humans get it, we can
change this thing really fast.
So I am super hopeful.
We've just got to get busy
and help nature do it's thing.
Evolution never stops.
There's not one point it happens
and then it doesn't happen again.
It's continuously happening.
A core concept of evolution
is that through natural selection,
the strongest and the fittest survive.
But, moreover, communities
survive better than individuals.
Communities rely upon cooperation.
And I think that's
the power of goodness.
Evolution is based on the
concept of mutual benefit
and the extension of generosity.
When we see it, we understand it.
And when we understand
it, we care about it.
And when we care about it,
we'll do something to save it.
- We need to have a paradigm
shift in our consciousness.
What will it take to achieve that?
We are not an individual.
We are a vast network of molecules,
and energies and wavelengths.
The interconnectiveness
of being is who we are.
- This world of ours
is always changing,
not for the better, or for the worse,
but for life.
If the storms come and the water rises,
if fire scorches the
land or darkness descends.
We will be here, working.
As we always have.
Extending the network,
building community,
restoring balance.
one connection at a time.
It may take a million years,
or a hundred million.
But we will still be here.
There's a whole wide
world right under our feet
Watched it grow so
I hate when you leave
Connected on one leaf to a tree
From the ground
this magical thing
Breathe life
And break down
Breathe in
Break out
This water, this breath
Will be how we remember
Lt. Paul Stamets.
- I became an astromycologist
because of awe.
Awe at the miracle of life.
- How did you feel seeing
a fictional character
on Star Trek that is
inspired by your science?
I'm super honored.
I tuned in to Star Trek when
I was about 12 years old.
Spores, by nature,
travel through the cosmos.
When they germinate,
some mushrooms form.
Some magic mushrooms to
help you bend time and space.
Paul, if I were to visit you,
could we have some of
these magic mushrooms?
Nature provides, I don't.
Everywhere and everything
I am the reason you breathe in
Break down
So breathe in
And breathe out
Now this water, this breath
Will be how we remember
So let it all spread around
Let it all spread around
So let me bring you
back to life again
Let me bring you
back to life again
Let me bring you
back to life again
Let me bring you
back to life again