Selling the Pseudo-Psychedelic Sizzle

Say you want a quick microdose of an uplifting substance this morning and decide to turn to one of a handful of companies promising a “magic” experience with their mushroom concoctions—such as Mudwtr. 

A little psilocybin buzz should do the trick, right? Oops… better look closer.

On their website, Mudwtr attempts to clarify what is in their product while adding a tongue-in-cheek bit of confusion: “The mushrooms in Mud are magic … but they’re not that kind of magic. Nothing in Mud will cause a psychedelic trip.” They describe their mud product as a “dynamic product meant for creativity.”

Mudwtr delivers much of what psilocybin promises, according to users’ reviews – energy, focus, calming moments, relaxation. A sort of mellow brain boost without that jittery coffee caffeine effect. 

But what you are really getting in the mud is whole mushroom powders with mycelium and fruiting bodies, mixed with masala chai, chaga, reishi, cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, cacao, turmeric, cinnamon, sea salt, and yes, a microdose of caffeine for good measure (in Mudwtr’s morning ritual starter kit).

And no, you do not get psilocybin or MDMA or LSD or DMT or any other real psychedelic in this product or any legally sold product today. 

In fact, you can’t legally get any psychedelic substance to consume in place of your coffee, or in your coffee, or in anything you eat or drink, anywhere from anyone. It’s all illegal in the U.S. and most of the rest of the world except where it’s used in therapeutic settings such as the recreational model they are planning in Oregon.

What you may have bought into as a consumer of these psychedelic-not-psychedelic products is a classic marketing sleight of hand—a kind of innocent bait and switch if you will, capitalizing on the psychedelics renaissance that is all the rage today. 

There are other mushroom-based products beginning to flood the market that lean into the microdosing psychedelics mindset as well. 

SuperMush, a mushroom-based mouth spray, promises a “festival in a bottle” with a “daily dose of good vibrations,” adding on their website that “psychedelic and functional mushrooms are from the same kingdom, and both deserve a seat at the table in the wellness conversation.”

There there is Lifted Made. Their “Psilly” psychedelic gummies conjures up a psilocybin-infused candy product. But it’s really a combination of kava root, an intoxicating pepper that acts like alcohol on your brain; a leaf from the shrub called damiana, claimed to be used as an aphrodisiac; and green tea caffeine.

Lifted Made also offers “Shroomy” gummies, a combination of the reishi mushroom used to treat diabetes and cold sores; the Lions Mane mushroom, used to treat dementia and stomach problems; cordyceps, a fungus that lives on caterpillars and is used for helping the immune system; and chaga, a fungus that grows on tree trunks used to stimulate the immune system.

There’s also another psychedelic-not-psychedelic product out there now: psychedelic water.

According to a press release, the makers of this TikTok darling claim that psychedelic water’s popularity and rising reputation as the “influencer juice” is “fueling the creatives and risk-takers with a state of happiness, mental clarity, and creative bliss.” 

The company claims that it is the “first legal psychedelic brand of its kind built on the ethos that psychedelics are more than something you consume.” 

But there is no psychedelic substance in psychedelic water. It is created with, once again, kava root, damiana leaf, and green tea leaf extract, creating a “psychoactive, lightly carbonated blend that creates a sense of euphoria for a hangover-free experience.” 

The company doubles-down on the psychedelic-ness of their product as part of a new social movement, writing in the press release that the disrupters behind psychedelic water “welcome retailers to contact them directly to join their psychedelic movement.”

A coffee company, Four Sigmatic, makes mushroom coffee featuring Lion’s Mane and chaga ingredients. One of the Q&A’s on their website asks: Are these magic mushrooms? “We think so. They help your body do many things, but hallucinate is not one of them.”

To be sure, true psychedelics seekers can find real natural sources of plants offering an actual psychedelic experience, the so-called “herbal highs” that are mostly still legal with varying levels of safety and efficacy. They include mad honey, an intoxicating folk medicine from Nepal used as an aphrodisiac; lisergamide (LSA), the morning glory seed that produces effects similar to LSD; and amanita muscaria mushrooms, a dangerous mushroom that can cause hallucinations, but also coma and death.

So there is the real prospect of a legal psychedelic experience with some natural substances for people wanting that sort of thing, as they wait on the more well-known psychedelics now in clinical trials (MDMA, LSD, psilocybn, DMT) to make it into mainstream medicine by, well, 2023 at the earliest.

For now, marketers and “disruptive” startups are capitalizing on the psychedelics renaissance, and reeling in the curious who may think that the special “magic mushroom” drink they are taking daily is helping them somehow hallucinate their way to better health.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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