The Rise of Psychedelic Truffles in Amsterdam

Queen’s Day in Amsterdam, and I have three containers of psilocybin-containing truffles. I’m going to start by taking
8 grams of this 15-gram container, because that’s what
the man at the smart shop advised me to do. And then I suppose I’m going to
go out and walk around on Queen’s Day, which is incredibly
chaotic and disgusting. And probably the worst possible
place to take them. [SIGHING] This is the first time
I’ve ever consumed a psychedelic truffle. You can’t really get
these in the United States as far as I know. It’s actually much less
of a mushroom. It doesn’t seem like
very much at all. OK. Yesterday, I arrived in
Amsterdam, doubtlessly one of the sickest places on Earth to
get blazed on dank nugs. But my interest is not solely
confined to blazing dank nugs. Amsterdam is fertile ground
for all manner of psychoactive substance. I came here to find the
psilocybe tampanensis sclerotium, or philosopher’s
stone truffle. It was not until the infamous
mushroom ban of 2008 that the psychedelic sclerotium gained
widespread popularity, due to the fact that its effects and
chemical composition are almost indistinguishable from
the psilocybin mushroom. Mushrooms were once
completely legal. And since the early ’90s, the
Netherlands led the world in the development of commercial
psychedelic mushroom-growing techniques. But everything changed in
2008, when the Dutch government banned
psilocybin-containing mushrooms, responding to a
number of highly publicized deaths misguidedly blamed
on the innocent fungus. Truffles escaped the ban
unscathed and hold a place inside the hearts of
all true Dutch. I am here to learn about how
these strange protuberances are cultivated and why they
have not been banned. There are no better people to
consult than the Truffle Brothers, two of the world’s
leading experts in the mass production of psychedelic
sclerotia. I visited the brothers’ farm in
Hazerwoude-Dorp, formerly the second-largest mushroom
farm in the Netherlands. Having survived the mushroom
ban, the Truffle Brothers now dominate the psilocybin-containing fungus industry. I sat down with Murat and Ali to
discuss the secrets of the philosopher’s stone. ALI: First of all,
my name is Ali. Next to me is sitting
my brother, Murat. We are, in fact, known as
the Truffle Brothers. You are here at the farm
of We produce sclerotia, also
known as magic truffles. HAMILTON MORRIS: And how did
this company get started? ALI: Interesting story. Long story that started
somewhere around 1993, ’94, I guess. I learned mushroom growing
in Belgium. Mushrooms for eating– normal,
white button mushrooms. That was my occupation before I started with these mushrooms. And so I had quite a great
network in that area, in that field. And one day, a friend of mine
comes up to me and says, look what I found. He shows me a Petri
dish with spores. That’s interesting, what
kind of mushroom is it? He said, well, it’s
a magic mushroom. And I’d never heard of it. So I took a closer look. I went to a friend of mine
who owned a laboratory, a mycological laboratory, and
asked him, can we do something with these spores? He says, well, let’s
give it a try. And after two weeks, there was
one mushroom in the aquarium. But it was a giant mushroom. It was about [INAUDIBLE] this tall. And we were looking at it. I said, OK, let’s harvest it. HAMILTON MORRIS: And you were
operating a pizza restaurant beforehand, you said? MURAT: At that time, yes. HAMILTON MORRIS: The life cycle
of a mushroom begins when two spores of opposite
mating types germinate in a growth substrate and send out
threads called “hyphae.” The hyphae form a clamp connection
where genetic information is exchanged and then expand into
a web of undifferentiated threads called “mycelium.” If
the conditions are right, the mycelium organizes itself into
a mushroom with special reproductive cells called
basidia, which catapult spores into the air and give rise
to new mushrooms. And you bought this property? MURAT: Not in the first place. ALI: First of all,
we were in the– MURAT: We started in my place,
in the bedroom of my daughter. With several aquaria
this time. After the one aquarium, I
started to get our aquariums. ALI: Start searching on the
street at night and people were throwing out their
old aquariums. Yeah, there’s one. Let’s take it. MURAT: My daughter’s room was
filled with, I think, about 12 aquaria ALI: Something like that. MURAT: Or something. And we started to grow
mushrooms in there. Then we rented our first
place, in a town called Leiderdorp, not far from here. We made some sheds out
of plastic foil with shelves in it. And there we started our first
professional growth. ALI: Yeah, yeah. Right after that, we moved to
a bigger plays with ten growing houses. MURAT: But it wasn’t enough. The demand was so high that we couldn’t make enough mushrooms. ALI: And then we saw this,
which was far more ideal. HAMILTON MORRIS: And what
were you growing– What sorts of mushrooms were
you growing before the mushroom ban? MURAT: We had several species
of the psilocybe cubensis. And the panaeolus cyanescens. HAMILTON MORRIS: And
that was what you sold more than anything? More than the truffles
you sold? MURAT: Yes. Truffles were just for
the connoisseur. It was a side project
in that time. HAMILTON MORRIS: To better
understand the prohibition of the sacred mushroom, I go to
meet criminal lawyer Karem Canatan, who explained the
nuances of Dutch drug law. KAREM CANATAN: OK. Well, first of all, like many
countries, we have class A drugs and class B drugs. So that that’s not different
from any other countries. So we have lists of drugs
that are illegal– to buy it, to use it, to bring
it over the border to trade. It’s completely illegal. Then we have a small
portion of drugs– in Holland, we call it the “soft
drugs”– where you have weed and hashish
and the joints. Or we call it joints, because
we smoke joints. I don’t know if that’s the
correct term, but we have which is called like a tolerance
policy by the Dutch government. And they have on paper saying
that if the amount isn’t bigger than so-and-so much, then
it’s allowed to have it, it’s allowed to smoke it, and
you are allowed to sell it. So up until around 2007,
it was OK to use the magic mushrooms. HAMILTON MORRIS: These were the
salad days for mushrooms. But a series of unfortunate
incidents where mentally ill tourists hurt themselves turned
politicians against the sacred mushroom. And they began to
legislate a ban. [SPEAKING DUTCH] HAMILTON MORRIS: And there had
been scattered mushroom incidents in Amsterdam for
decades, it was not until the death of a 17-year-old French
student named Gaelle Caroff that lawmakers began taking
serious steps towards banning the sale and consumption of
the incident with Gaelle, others followed. A Frenchman, supposedly under
the influence of mushrooms, ritualistically sacrificed his
dog with a pair of kitchen shears in order to free
the dog’s mind from its corporeal shackles. [SPEAKING DUTCH] ALI: He said, well, I
was on mushrooms. He had psychosis. And it had nothing to
do with mushrooms. He wasn’t even close
to mushrooms. Since these products are legal
in this country, it’s very easy to hide yourself
prohibition looming on the horizon, protesters swarmed the
parliament building, armed with Super Soakers filled with
psychedelic mushroom spores, which they used to spray the
surrounding parks and lawns. They demanded their right
to consume mushrooms. But parliament ruled in
favor of the ban. So in 2008 they banned
all of these different genus and species. KAREM CANATAN: Yeah. Well, part of them were
already on it. But especially this
list from here. The magic mushroom list. And it says here that magic
mushrooms are mushrooms who have by nature these and these
active ingredients. And then all these species
are on the list. ALI: The law changed in 2008– 1st of December, 2008. Sad day. Saddest day of my life. HAMILTON MORRIS: How much time
did they give you after the ban to get rid of your
stock of mushrooms? MURAT: 10 days. ALI: 10 days to clear 16
growing houses, all the equipment, and so on. HAMILTON MORRIS: And you were
saying all these other different bans have been given
enormous amounts of time, years before they have to– ALI: Mink farms, for instance. They got 10 years to
change the plans. HAMILTON MORRIS: 10 years? ALI: 10 years. HAMILTON MORRIS: And
you got ten days. ALI: 10 days. Look at that. HAMILTON MORRIS: How did you
get rid of the mushrooms? ALI: That was the easiest part,
because people were lined up here. the last mushrooms, the
last mushrooms. HAMILTON MORRIS: Despite the
chemical and biological similarity to the mushroom,
parliament decided not to ban the magic truffle. ALI: When the law changed in
2008, we just continued with the truffles that we were
already growing in that time. HAMILTON MORRIS: So
what is a truffle? And how is it different
from a mushroom? MURAT: [INAUDIBLE] for nutrients and moisture. HAMILTON MORRIS: Like
all organisms, a fungus seeks to reproduce. But environmental conditions are
not always ideal to do so. If the substrate is too dry,
cold, hot, or poor in nutrients, the mycelium will
grow inwards, forming a tangled clump of globular fungus
called a sclerotium. These hard structures are
able to survive in harsh environmental conditions until
the time is right to send forth mushrooms. Murat offered to give me
a guided tour of their innovative sclerotium
cultivation facilities. MURAT: We’ll start where
it all begins. That’s the dirty side where
all raw materials come in. HAMILTON MORRIS: First, the rye
grass seed substrate is sterilized in an
industrial-sized autoclave to kill opportunistic bacteria and
fungi, which are equally eager to consume the bags of
warm, moist nutrients. Then the bags are inoculated
with a liquid culture of mycelium. MURAT: This is a class
100 cleanroom. That means that only 100
particles of 0.00096 micron may be present in one
cubic feet of air. Normally in an operating room
it’s class 10,000, so 10,000 particles may appear in
a cubic foot of air. HAMILTON MORRIS: Impressive. ALI: If you do everything, like
your laboratory work and your growing, under one roof,
you get a cross-contamination somewhere, somehow. And that risk was so big that
we looked for a proper building with at least two
separate departments. HAMILTON MORRIS: Then the bags
are transported to an incubation chamber, where a
temperature of 28 degrees Celsius is maintained to
accelerate the colonization of the substrate. How do you prevent the
growth of mushrooms? MURAT: By controlling the
temperature and the microclimate in the bag. The microclimate in the bag
is not suitable for formation of mushrooms. HAMILTON MORRIS: The final stage
is the nursery, where the bags are kept in darkness
for as many as five months before the sclerotia
are mature. And what is the capacity of
this plant at the moment? MURAT: Full capacity, if we
worked 24 hours a day in three shifts, 18,000 tons per year. ALI: Something like
that, yeah. HAMILTON MORRIS: 18,000 tons? ALI: Yes. MURAT: Yeah. MURAT: I think that sclerotia,
to go for the mushroom market one-on-one, by now– ALI: By now it’s one-on-one,
yeah. HAMILTON MORRIS: Upon maturity,
the bags are opened the sclerotia are plucked from
their substrate, cleaned with a soft-bristled brush, and
packaged for distribution. It seems your brand is the only
brand, except for one another that I saw, that
you can get at smart shops in Amsterdam. MURAT: Yeah. That might be correct. There are some home growers,
but as far as commercially grown sclerotia, I think
we’re the largest. HAMILTON MORRIS: Do you
have any competitors? MURAT: Everyone who grows a
truffle is a competitor. HAMILTON MORRIS: Ah. Each package contains a single
serving of fresh, psilocybin-containing
sclerotia. MURAT: We deliver them to
the shop in boxes of 24. We give the shops 24 booklets so
that people get the proper information. HAMILTON MORRIS: Good. Murat invited me to join him
on his delivery route and visit the magic truffle
storefront in Amsterdam. The Dutch countryside touched
us both deeply, but we could not linger on these
natural delights. We had important sclerotium
deliveries to make. One of the stops was a wholesale
psychedelics distributor specializing
in peyote cacti. We finally made it to the shop,
and not a minute too soon as the hoards of
truffle-hungry Dutch waited eagerly for their Queen’s
Thrills was not the truffle theme park I was expecting, but
I knew the real ride would come later. SPEAKER 1: you? HAMILTON MORRIS: I’m good. I would like to buy some
P. Tampanensis. SPEAKER 1: HAMILTON MORRIS: Thank you. SPEAKER 1: you. Enjoy. HAMILTON MORRIS: The truffles
require no preparation. And thought the truffle
brothers recommended a truffle-based milkshake, I chose
to take them raw so that I could savor their essences. That’s not bad at all. It’s actually kind of good. Well. It has almost a sour aftertaste,
but sour is the last taste I would associate
with a truffle. Do you want some
truffle crumbs? Scarf them down. Mmm. Tastes pretty darn– uh, like a wet nut. This is a drug? This is a drug? This is technically a drug? All right. KAREM CANATAN: Well,
I don’t have any experience with the truffles. But if it’s not a health risk
and it doesn’t have any other negative side effects,
I would say allow it. And then make sure you
can control it. HAMILTON MORRIS: What
sort of person buys psychedelic truffles? MURAT: I don’t think there’s
a specific type of person. Age has nothing to do with it. We’ve had people in their 80s
coming for mushrooms. ALI: Yeah, or people who are
curious for the experience who think there’s more
in life than the regular things we see. And there’s also the real
cosmonauts, who use it for the real spiritual thing, like
the shamanic experiences. HAMILTON MORRIS: What category
would you put yourselves into? ALI: None. HAMILTON MORRIS: None? You don’t use your
own product? ALI: No. MURAT: Bummer. HAMILTON MORRIS: While the
Mazatec Indians prescribed special conditions under which
the sacred mushroom should be consumed, there exist
little-known rituals surrounding the psychedelic
sclerotium. Their history remains
unwritten. Though I feel sweaty and
overwhelmed by the chaos of Queen’s Day, I feel no
compulsion to ritualistically stab a dog and play with its
internal organs in a van. Nor do I wish to jump off a
bridge to a watery death. I’m glad that the resilient
structure of the sclerotium has survived the inhospitable
environment of prohibition. And I hope that it sends forth
mycelial threads of liberty for many years to come.


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