Fantastic Fungi (2019) Script

(suspenseful music)

(calm music)

[Narrator] There's a feeling,

the pulse of eternal knowledge.

When you sense the oneness, (calm music) you are with us.

(water gushing)

We brought life to Earth.

You can't see us, but we flourish all around you.

Everywhere, in everything,

and even inside you, (bright orchestral music) 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.

(ascending orchestral music)

We are mushrooms.

Mushrooms are very clandestine and very much the trickster.

So, they're hiding from you all the time.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

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.

(mystical music)

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.

(calm orchestral music)

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.

(serene music)

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.

(mystical music)

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.

(majestic music)

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.

(woman laughing)

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.

[Man] Is that tricholoma?

[Eugenia] Grifola frondosa.

[Man] This is Cortinarius (mumbles).

[Eugenia] 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.

(calm music)

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.

[Paul] 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.

(majestic music)

And they form these massive links, it's like a big web just growing through the forest.

(calm music)

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.

[Michael] 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.

(calm music)

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.

(serene music)

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.

(calm music)

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.

(chainsaw whirring)

(trees thud)

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.

(dramatic instrumental music)

(bright music)

[Narrator] 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.

(majestic music)

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.

(mystical music)

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.

(calm music)

[Michael] 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.

(calm music)

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.

[Newscaster] 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.

[Man] Climate change is one of the biggest threats to our present our world, to the future of our planet.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

[Narrator] 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."

(calm music)

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?

[Paul] 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.

[Dennis] 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.

(calm 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.

[Paul] 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.

(lightning crackles)

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.

(lightning crackles)

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.

(lightning crackles)

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.

(calm music)

♪ The old scrounge rapping hard ♪

(upbeat electronic dance music)

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.

(calm music)

(seagull squawking)

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 (mumbles) 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.

[Narrator] 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.

[Paul] 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.

(calm music)

[Eugenia] 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.

[Andrew] 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.

[Paul] 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.

(calm music)

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.

[Man] 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.

(water gushes)

(calm music)

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.

[Paul] 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.

(calm music)

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.

(upbeat music) (mice squeaks)

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.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

[Narrator] 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.

(calm music)

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.

("Fortunate Son")

Millions of people were using them and you have to realize that this was a radical force unleashed on the West.

("Fortunate Son")

[Man] 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.

(suspenseful music)

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.

[Stephen] 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.

(birds singing)

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.

(mystical music)

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.

(calm music)

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.

(mystical music)

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."

(mystical music)

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.

(calm music)

Keep going into it.

Doing beautiful.


(mystical music)

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.

(calm music)

The John Hopkins psilocybin research team has completed or has underway a total of nine studies, and it got the world's attention.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

[Paul] 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.

(calm music)

Consider it to be like going to your own personal church, and you're going to sit in awe of the universe.

(calm music)

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?

(calm music)

(phone vibrates)

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.

(calm music)

(crowd cheers)

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.

(crowd applauds)

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

It is my great honor to introduce Paul Stamets.

(crowd cheers)

Keep going, bud.

I brought a fungal friend of mine from the old growth forest.

And I present to you

(woman screams) agarikon.

(crowd cheers)

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.

(crowd cheers)

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.

[Lori] There's a great need for more people to study fungi and there's lots of opportunities.

[Michael] 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.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

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.

(calm music)

[Suzanne] 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?

(calm music)

We are not an individual.

We are a vast network of molecules, and energies and wavelengths.

The interconnectiveness of being is who we are.

(calm music)

[Narrator] 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.

(calm music)

♪ 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 ♪

[Computer] 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 ♪