Hamilton's Pharmacopeia (2011) s01e04 Episode Script

Magic Mushrooms in Mexico

[ Thunder rumbling ]
Morris: The Zapotec Indians
believed that fungi would emerge
as a response to lightning
striking the Earth.
Now we understand that mushrooms
exist to release spores
into the environment,
but why some produce psilocybin
has yet to be explained.
[ Thunder rumbling ]
I've been fascinated
by psychoactive drugs
my whole life.
I love to study their chemistry
and impact on society.
And my work has allowed me
to investigate
extraordinary substances
around the world.
Yet there are still mysteries
that remain.
They grew in hiding
for hundreds of years.
Now their fruits
are ready to be seen.
This is the story of
psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
I'd been hoping to interview
a clandestine mushroom grower
for months but expected them
to be a secretive
and untrusting bunch.
I knew I'd have to use advanced
investigatory tactics
to infiltrate
their inner circle.
So it was on Instagram that I
found a mushroom syndicate
named Myco Mob
who I knew possessed
the skills and experience
to tell me about
the inner workings of the
underground mushroom trade.
A few P.M.s and emojis later,
I was on my way
to meet them eye to eye.
Driving to this undisclosed
that I will not name on camera
because it houses
one of the largest clandestine
mushroom grow rooms
in North America.
This grow room is capable
of producing tens of pounds
of mushrooms every week.
Oh, wow.
Very nice.
Do you want to tell me
about all these tubs
or what's going on right now?
What am I looking at?
Well, these
are all mono tubs.
Just the one strain,
Golden Teacher,
going on right now.
Why Golden Teacher?
It's a good strain
that people
will enjoy
and stuff like that.
And you rarely
have bad trips on them.
What is the demand?
Very high.
How high?
Well, we can sell them
as fast as we grow them.
Since the beginning
of clandestine mushroom
virtually all growers
have favored the same species --
psilocybe cubensis.
It's not the largest
or the most potent,
but it's highly adaptable
to the needs of humans
who control its
artificial propagation.
After decades
of genetic manipulation,
these strains won't survive in
nature without the human hand,
and humans
couldn't have bred them
without the guiding hand
of nature.
How does one learn
to do this?
Doing lots of research,
lots of trial and error.
It seems
very friendly to me.
But I guess this is also
a somewhat sketchy thing.
It's definitely
still illegal.
That's why
we're wearing masks.
Like a room where
a surgical procedure
is performed, a mushroom
grow chamber must be almost
completely sterile,
as sterile as possible,
because any contamination
that enters these bins
could destroy the entire crop,
and this crop represents
months of work,
years of research,
and thousands
of dollars.
Oh, wow.
Some pretty
decent-sized pins.
It'll be full-sized mushrooms
within a day, maybe two days.
Just the fact that you have
to disguise your identity
says a lot about
this sort of work.
What do you think about the laws
surrounding mushrooms.
Well, I think they're created
by people who had no idea
about anything
about mushrooms.
Most people who do
make those laws --
They've never
tried these things.
They're probably the worst
person to ask,
the least informed.
Can you tell me a little bit
about how this sort of work
differs from other realms
in the drug-dealing world?
Well, I'd say it's a lot safer.
That's for sure.
Being a meth dealer
and a heroin dealer,
you'd definitely be
[chuckles] susceptible to a lot
of the dangers
of the street, right?
Like, mushrooms
are a pretty calm market.
People don't really have, like,
battles or wars or
It's not really
as contested over
as a lot of other
drug markets.
It's more peaceful.
Oh, for sure, yeah.
Have you heard anything
about the way people
use these mushrooms
in Mexico?
What do you know
about them?
I don't know
much at all.
Have you heard
about Maria Sabina?
No. What is that?
She was an important mushroom
shamanist who was considered
responsible for introducing
mushrooms to the world
outside Mexico.
Morris: With the international
abundance of
psilocybin-containing fungi,
it's hard to imagine
that a mere 60 years ago,
their existence was only known
to a small number
of indigenous healers.
But that was changed by the work
of a Mazatec shaman
Maria Sabina.
Ah, sí.
Morris: Oaxaca is one of the
poorest states in Mexico,
and these indigenous regions
are especially poor.
They are high in the mountains,
and it's certainly
not convenient
in terms of accessing
the rest of the world.
So it's an unlikely place
to be as developed as it is.
They have Internet here.
There's hot water
and electricity.
And most of that is thanks
to Maria Sabina.
Maria Sabina was a locally
renowned shaman
who used mushrooms
for spiritual
and diagnostic purposes.
But she became world-famous when
she introduced her mushrooms
to a banker named Gordon Wasson,
who wrote a widely-read article
about the mushrooms in 1957.
This led to the Western world's
first exposure
to the concept
of magic mushrooms.
Countercultural celebrities like
John Lennon, Bob Dylan,
Janis Joplin,
and to a lesser extent, Pelé
are reported to have made
pilgrimages to Huautla
to experience one
of Maria Sabina's
famous mushroom ceremonies.
As a result, Huautla de Jiménez
became the most populous
and prosperous town
in the Sierra Mazateca.
At the home of Maria Sabina,
I met with her grandson
Filogonio Garcia,
who studied under her as a child
and became
a mushroom shaman himself.
But now I understand
that no one in Huautla
is collecting
their own mushrooms.
How does that work?
I left Filogonio
with the hopes of observing
a mushroom ceremony,
but at the height
of the dry season, the crucial
ingredient was missing.
Huautla is an unusual city.
It's famous for mushrooms.
People come here to undergo
traditional mushroom ceremonies.
They come here
to buy mushrooms.
But it's not a place people
go to hunt for mushrooms.
The spots where the mushrooms
grow are very secret.
They're places
that the shamans
don't necessarily
even know about themselves.
There's a small number of people
in this community
that go out into the mountains
and they collect mushrooms
and they don't tell anyone
where they find them
because that's their source
of income.
There are three species
of mushroom
by the Mazatec shaman.
San Isidro,
or psilocybe cubensis,
or psilocybe Mexicana,
and the derrumbe,
which can be either
psilocybe caerulescens
or psilocybe zapotecorum.
But finding them in the wild
has proven to be difficult.
I met with a local
mushroom enthusiast
outside my hotel who told me
he didn't know where they grew
but suggested I talk
to an artist who uses mushrooms
to inspire his paintings.
The artist showed me his work
but also didn't know
where they grew and told me
to talk to his friend Jose,
who composes
mushroom-inspired music.
Jose played me a few
of his songs
[ Chanting in Spanish ]
but said he hadn't seen fresh
mushrooms for months
and mentioned a friend
named Charlie who had.
Okay, thanks.
Charlie had been indulging
in cane spirits
but assured me I wouldn't
have trouble
finding mushrooms
for a ceremony.
And offered me the phone
number of a local named Gerardo.
When I texted Gerardo,
he responded with a photo
depicting caerulescens
of unspeakable enormity.
And so the hunt began.
Morris: The next day,
I met with Gerardo
to discuss his tantalizing
caerulescens photo,
and he told me
of a private mountaintop garden
where the mushrooms grow.
Maria Sabina's great-grandson
was as interested as I was,
so he tagged along.
Hola, Señor.
At the top of the mountain,
we arrived at the home
of a man named Imalfo,
who is cultivating mushrooms
in a fenced-off garden
fertilized with sugar-cane pulp.
Oh, wow,
there's actually hundreds
of psilocybe caerulescens.
They're the largest
I've ever seen.
They're just enormous.
Textbook psilocybe caerulescens.
Look at the hygrophanous cap.
You can see that
the margin is two
different colors
from moisture.
And they are absolutely amazing.
They're very potent by weight.
They contain high levels
of psilocin and psilocybin.
[ Chuckles ]
I've never seen so many
of this type of mushroom before.
It's amazing.
This mushroom is very rare
where I come from.
Why are these mushrooms
so large?
The whole thing?
That's nice.
[ Chuckles ]
[ Chuckles ]
Oh, wow.
That's a lot
of dried mushrooms.
So you are -- you are able
to dry these mushrooms.
10 ounces of dried
psilocybe caerulescens up here.
This really is a magical garden
that you have. Unbelievable.
Are these all
from this season?
So, I think this is where
the cane processing goes on,
and I can already see probably
100 drying mushrooms
over here on this altar
with a depiction of Jesus.
And here there are
thousands more.
Your friend who brought me here
was encouraging me
to eat the mushrooms
outside of a medical
or ceremonial context.
What do you think
of that?
Hmm. And that's
an internal thing?
I do that silently
in my head?
So I'm starting to trip
from the mushrooms
that your friend
gave me.
What do you think
I should do?
All right.
It's very beautiful.
Far from the city center
of Huautla,
Imalfo lived
in relative isolation.
He spoke no Spanish
and truly believed mushrooms
are a sacrament that should
never be exchanged for money.
All these mushrooms were
just picked from the garden,
and they're
As a parting gift,
he insisted I take a bag
of fresh psilocybe caerulescens
from his garden
for ceremonial use.
People that love mushrooms --
mycophiles --
have their own rituals
and traditions
when they hunt
for mushrooms.
One of them is taking
spore prints,
which aids identification
but also allows someone
to save the spores
of the mushroom,
which is the entire
biological purpose
that the mushroom exists.
It allows you to propagate
the mushroom.
It allows you to verify
the identity of the species.
And it's one of the only ways
of preserving something
that otherwise begins
to deteriorate very quickly.
Spore prints have been used
to identify mushrooms
for almost 200 years.
But not everyone is using spores
for taxonomic analysis.
Morris: Fungi reproduce
by releasing spores
into the environment.
Like seeds,
the spores germinate
once they've found
a suitable substrate.
But unlike seeds,
they're haploid
and require the genetic material
from another spore
to produce a dykariotic fungus
capable of sexual reproduction.
A single mushroom can release
tens of thousands of them
into the environment.
What I'm doing here
is putting some spores
onto a couple of sterilized
agar dishes that I've got here.
Agar is a gelatinous growth
substrate obtained from seaweed.
It's widely used
for isolating pure cultures.
Cyanescens spores.
And my little craft
knife/scalpel thing.
In nature, fungi can live
in harmony with other organisms,
but when isolated
from their natural environment
and placed
on high-nutrient media,
the presence of competing
creates a fierce battle
between the desired fungus
and a diverse ecology
of contaminants.
Eyeball #1: Most of the stuff
that I've learned is just
general information
on the Internet
that I've just done experiments
with other things
and different variables
and came up
with a method
that works.
You're gonna want to scrape up
some of this print.
Several prints.
It's a ton of prints.
Whenever anyone collects
mushroom spores in the wild,
they can be used
for this sort of a process --
to inoculate either agar
or even grain,
and then you can select
the strain and transfer it
into a suitable
growth substrate.
These are from nature,
so it's pretty hard to tell
how clean they're gonna be
or any of that.
All right,
the craft knife down.
Screw the tops on.
After an agar wedge
is removed
and has been used to inoculate
a jar of sterilized grain,
the jar is ready to spend
the next month in the dark room,
where it begins
to culminize.
The mycelium is a dense web
of microscopic fibers
that can be seen
by the naked eye
as it engulfs
and consumes its substrate.
Welcome to our abode.
[ Chuckles ]
Oh, wow,
this is huge.
This is where the magic
before the magic happens.
The mycelium is growing
from one grain to another.
It's taken over
the whole jar.
It looks beautiful.
You know, it just
How many jars are here?
Down here they have enough
to make about eight more totes.
So, totes.
After we clone them
or we put
some spores in there,
they'll come into here
so that they can inoculate.
[ Chuckles ]
It takes a lot of work --
cleaning stuff, shaking up
these jars, fanning them.
So why do it?
Growing shit --
Everybody loves growing shit.
People like watching
babies grow and shit.
I like watching
these babies grow. [ Chuckles ]
and the money,
you know?
There's another type
of mycophile
who cares not for cultivation
but for the thrill
of discovering new species
in the wild.
Rockefeller: Here's
a little marasmius.
Oh, wow, look at that.
Auriscalpium vulgare.
This is an amanita
from section vaginatae.
Oh, wow.
That is psilocybe Mexicana.
Amazing. This is the first time
I've ever seen this.
Morris: Alan Rockefeller
has been studying
the distribution
of psilocybe in Mexico
for more than a decade.
Here's a really cool xylaria.
Another amanita
from section Lepidella.
Some of these are deadly
and others are edible.
Morris: Is that amanita
Ha. It is.
A new species of Mexican
bioluminescent Mycena.
Yep. Psathyrella.
This is something
I've never seen before.
Holy moly.
That's insane.
Is that part
of the fungus?
What is this?
I don't know.
Uh, does somebody have a bag
for this giant
dangling cluster
of pseudofistulina.
Morris: Alan travels each year
from his home in Oakland
to Mexico,
where he spends months
photographing and discovering
new species of fungi.
Rockefeller: It's a very unique
habitat in that the clouds
come in about 3:00 p.m.
every day
and the whole place
fills up with fog.
And it makes it a really
interesting and diverse place
for plants
and mushrooms, too.
How did you find
this location?
I spent a long time
looking for it
and driving around the different
cloud forests of Mexico.
And whenever you see
a landslide,
you check the bottom of the
landslides near the river.
The place we're going in
is over here.
When did the interest
or the obsession
with mushrooms begin?
Rockefeller: I was walking
in the forests.
I took a hike,
and there was mushrooms
And I wanted to learn which ones
were poisonous,
which ones were edible,
which ones were rare,
which ones
were psychoactive.
And so I just started
taking pictures of them
and bringing them home,
doing spore prints,
and studying.
We'll have to cross
to get in there
'cause you can't really
pass there.
I've written a lot
of Wikipedia articles
and edited a lot
of Wikipedia articles,
and I like to take really nice
pictures of mushrooms
and put them
into Wikipedia.
Morris: Were you interested
in the psychedelic mushrooms
before any of this?
Rockefeller: I was interested
in the psychedelic ones,
but it's not really
my favorite thing.
And the edibles
are not really my focus.
My focus is really cool,
rare stuff --
species that people
have never discovered before.
These really interesting,
beautiful-looking mushrooms.
You know, I'll be here in Mexico
for about four months,
pretty much camping out
every night
and hunting mushrooms
all day
and doing microscope work
in the evenings
around the campfire.
They're just glorious.
They really are.
It's probably the most beautiful
psilocybe in the world.
And this is the best spot
I've found in all of Mexico.
Flocko stem is really distinct
in zapotecorum
and the veil remnants
around the pilus margin --
spore prints.
They're all over the caps
that are adjacent.
And here's a cool spore print
on the stem.
You can see blue bruising
right there.
You can see zapotecorum
is almost
the only mushroom
that grows here.
And it's not
a coincidence.
Um, they really like
these landslide areas,
but not a very fresh
They like landslides
that are a few years old.
Morris: It's one of the largest,
one of the most beautiful,
one of the most potent
mushroom species, and I've never
seen it in nature before.
It's truly a glorious thing
to behold.
This is one of the original ones
that was used
by the Aztecs, right?
and the Zapotecas.
It's named after
the Zapotecas.
And it's pretty hard
to find.
In Mexico, the use of
psilocybin-containing mushrooms
can be traced back
to ancient civilizations
like the Aztec empire,
where they were consumed
in conjunction with ritualistic
suicide and human sacrifice.
Guzmán: Ah, this is
gymnopilus purpuatus.
This is a special house
At the University
of Guadalajara's Fungarium,
I met with mycologist
Laura Guzmán,
daughter of the legendary
Gastón Guzmán,
the leading expert
on the taxonomy
of the genus psilocybe.
And this also is a
house psilocybin,
And this was described in --
many years ago.
The discovery
that psilocybe Cubensis
in the United States
produced the same effect
as the San Isidro of Mexico
sent a new generation
of mycophiles
onto private cow pastures.
Man: We've got two pastures next
to each other right there.
A friend of mine's
got the other one.
And I was going down
through there
and looked out
in Bill's pasture.
This guy's walking around
out there with a bag.
I let him get about from here
to that fence from me
right there and I said,
"What are you doing?"
I had that rifle.
That poor boy --
It scared him so bad.
Oh, my gosh. And I said,
"How'd you get in here?"
And he said,
"I walked across
from those apartments
over there."
And I said, "Well,
get back across that road,
and don't
come over here again."
Conservative farm owners
were dismayed to find
the dung of their cattle
was the preferred substrate
for a mind-altering drug.
Why don't you want people
on your land picking mushrooms?
it's a liability.
They get on there and get hurt
and turn around and sue you.
And I think
it's a stupid thing to do.
I don't use drugs, and I don't
think anybody else should.
I think it's a drag
on society.
And you get these people
that are addicted,
then all they want to do
is lay around and do damn drugs
and don't go to work
and collect welfare. So
From mushrooms?
I don't know
what it is.
Maybe you start on mushrooms
and then you go to marijuana
and next thing you're on crack
or -- I don't know.
It's a -- Maybe it's
an entry drug, you know.
[ Clears throat ]
Do something.
Don't be on --
getting out here
and making mushroom milkshakes
or whatever
they do with it
instead of
going to work, you know?
I'm -- [Clears throat]
There's too many good things
to do in life
besides that.
Without a history of shamanism
or training in identification,
the mushroom pickers
of Florida have still forged
a relationship
with the fungus.
Riley: Uh, In the state
of Florida,
I mean, it could go
all year round.
It really depends on
our rain season and our winter.
If our winter
doesn't come in harsh,
you pick all the way around
from January to January.
How'd you become interested
in mushrooms?
Um, I guess you could say
I kind of one day --
I don't really know
exactly how to put it,
but I just felt like
it was time
to go pick
some mushrooms,
try -- try to see
what the whole --
I guess you could say
the trip was about.
After that, more --
more of my friends
started talking to me
about mushroom picking
and stuff like that,
so got me hooked on it
after a little while.
After that,
it was more spiritual
than it was
of a medicinal use.
You know, I wasn't using it
just to get high from mushrooms,
but instead, using it
to seek more knowledge --
energy fields,
I guess you'd call them.
is definitely something
a lot of people seek --
inner connection.
I wouldn't be proud of it,
but I started selling them
a lot, too.
Most of my things with mushrooms
that I've come to knowledge
is all off --
based off theory and experience
and small amounts
of research.
I'm not too --
too good in a school
and do good --
do good in school.
Glad I didn't
drop out.
Exciting. Exciting.
[ Sighs ]
Morris: [ Sighs ]
I'm sweating up a storm.
Sweatily walking
through this cow pasture,
inspecting cow dung for the
presence of psilocybe cubensis.
Riley: And there's
those white ones.
And here's a nice golden-topped
one right there -- beautiful.
This is a really
gorgeous one.
That's a nice, elegant,
fully opened cap.
May have been another mushroom
growing above it.
There's almost a ring of purple
around the margin.
This is a classic textbook
psilocybe cubensis.
I always look at
This is a field of nothing
but psilocybe cubensis.
Florida --
psilocybe cubensis land.
I never understood how people
have bad trips on mushrooms
'cause of the overwhelming joy
that I feel
every time I do
It's weird 'cause
it's not like ecstasy,
where it just, like,
pumps you full of happiness
and then you come down
and you're sad.
It's like --
It's like a lasting peace.
There's a vehicle
coming down this trail.
[ Engine rumbling ]
That thing sounds
like an excavator.
[ Horn honks ]
Morris: I recovered
my non-psychoactive
panaeolus antillarum
and returned to the hunt.
Do any of you use mushrooms
with your family?
Would you
like to do that?
Yes, definitely.
That would be awesome.
It would be an awesome
experience just to take it
all in, see how they'd
react on them,
see how they maybe
inform me while --
while under the influence
of psilocybin.
Or maybe some words
of wisdom that they could
possibly give me.
It would be pretty cool
to see what they would --
You know what I mean? They might
be more philosophical.
While most Americans
wouldn't consider
the psychedelic experience
something to be shared
with family,
amongst the shamans of Huautla,
it would be unnatural
to do it any other way.
[ Speaks Spanish ]
Thank you, Maria Sabina,
for allowing
Gordon Wasson
into your home.
I think that hundreds
of thousands,
or millions of people
have benefited
because of your generosity
and the way that you shared
information with outsiders,
which is a good thing.
31 years
after Maria Sabina's death,
the use of psilocybin
is being recognized
by the medical establishment
for treatment of depression,
cluster headache, OCD,
and addiction.
And as I head to a ceremony
with Filogonio,
I remember that medicinal use
in his family
is where it all began.
[ Insects buzzing ]
[ Rain falling ]
Morris: At the top of the hill
overlooking Huautla de Jiménez,
Filogonio is preparing
a ceremony for his son,
who's struggling with
alcoholism, his wife,
who's losing her eyesight,
and me.
I have mild psoriasis.
[ Speaking Spanish ]
This ceremony begins
with Filogonio
cleansing the mushrooms
I gathered
from the sugarcane garden
with smoke from copal incense
that's been used as an offering
to the gods
since the Aztec
and Mayan empire.
[ Speaking Spanish ]
[ Speaking Spanish continues ]
[ Speaking Spanish ]
[ Rain falling ]
[ Thunder rumbling ]
[ Speaking Spanish ]
[ Thunder rumbling ]
[ Chanting in Spanish ]
Man: [ Whistling ]
[ Thunder crashes ]
[ Speaking Spanish ]
[ Thunder rumbles ]
[ Speaking Spanish ]
[ Spits ]
[ Retching ]
[ Speaking Spanish ]
[ Speaks Spanish ]
[ Laughs ]
I thought it was nice
that sort of psychedelic use
could bring
many families together.
I'm sure there's families
all over the planet
that would benefit
from this sort of ritual
sitting in a nice shack
in the rain, burning incense
and candlelight
and sitting together
and talking about health
problems and eating mushrooms
and feeling better.
By tracing the history of
psilocybin-containing mushrooms,
I've seen the way Maria Sabina's
greatest contribution
has changed our culture,
and in turn,
the way our culture
has changed the mushroom.
It's very clear that Myco Mob
and their tubs and jars,
Riley and his cow pastures,
Filogonio and his family,
Alan Rockefeller
and his taxonomical quest
Oh, wow. Look at that.
Auriscalpium vulgare.
have all furthered
the human-mushroom partnership
in their own way.
And when we become a society
that can embrace the mushroom,
then and only then
can we embrace each other.
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