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Opinions | The Church of Psilomethoxin: Fantasy Chemistry Gets Fact Checked

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Last week, a preprint publication appeared to show that the sacrament of the self-styled Church of Psilomethoxin contained not a shred of the elusive compound. Here, psychedelic researcher Mario de la Fuente interprets this purported fact-checking as an example of self-regulation within the psychedelic space.

On Wednesday we woke up to an announcement that many had suspected but could not confirm: the claims made by the so-called “Church of Psilomethoxin” regarding the content of their “sacrament” were false—to say the least.

What distinguishes the psychedelic renaissance we find ourselves immersed in is that the very agents of change that propel the renaissance should also  act as its safeguards. If the community is able to promptly take out the trash—keep it clean and tidy—it might signal that we are doing at least a few things well, after all.

The self-styled Church of Psilomethoxin presents itself as a non-profit with the goal of “furthering our spiritual development”.

The website reeks of quackery from the very first impression, written in a confusing style: mistaking metaphors for axioms (i.e., the glorification of 5-MeO-DMT as the God molecule); providing deliriant propositions as to how Psilocybe biochemistry works; all the way to the bastardization of  the term “church”—a rather unusual term for an enterprise that essentially equates to the exchanging of mushroom powder for a fee via a .com domain.

The psilomethoxin part of their name refers to their claim that the fungal material they distribute as capsules contains such chemical; as the result of an alleged biotransformation of 5-MeO-DMT fed into the Psilocybe mushroom mycelium.

Thanks to an excellent, and technically sound, report from the Usona Institute, appropriately titled “Fungi Fiction”, and a preceding anonymous one, we know the Church’s sacrament (or, product) claims to be false. As a pre-print, it lacks peer review, but its validity goes beyond question as it describes a well-established technique in the study of tryptamine derivatives with appropriate controls and internal standards.

Not only is the biotransformation of psilocybin and 5-MeO-DMT to psilomethoxin enzymatically unlikely, there is no trace of it in the material supplied by the Church – which only showed the expected psilocybin and psilocin. To add insult to injury, there is no trace of 5-MeO-DMT in the analyzed sample, either, which calls into question if it was even introduced in the first place. Let’s double up the bet on potential fraud.

So, there’s  no psilomethoxin in the Church of Psilomethoxin’s wares. But what if there was?

In that case, we could have graduated a potential fraud to a full-blown crime against public health. Psilomethoxin is the perfect candidate for a metabolic path capable of wiping out every serotonergic neuron in the brain. Very much like the chemically-induced parkinsonism by MPTP and hydroxydopamine, and lesions resulting from dihydroxytryptamine exposure. We are not talking about a transient inconvenience: it is irreversible brain damage that is at stake. Fortunately, we are aware of anonymous watch dogs notifying this unconfirmed, but well-founded, concern to the DEA even before either chemical content analyses were published.

Our claims to the existence of Psilomethoxin, at this time, are solely based on faith

Rather than working toward implementing better harm reduction practices with those that expressed concerns, the Church published a response dismissing them as individuals with a vested interest in their downfall. In their attempts at countering Usona’s analytical evidence we witnessed the use of surreal arguments such as, “our claims to the existence of Psilomethoxin, at this time, are solely based on faith”. As an analogy, cyanide would strike as an odd choice for idolatry to most.

The Church of Psilomethoxin is not the first threat, nor the last, to be encountered in the ongoing exploration of psychedelics in the 21st century. But it serves as a good example of how the very people immersed in making the renaissance of psychedelics possible can operate as safeguards: watch dogs that don’t hesitate to lift a pointing finger, with the power of industrious fact-checking to segregate hoaxing and deceit from legitimate efforts.

We may harbor suspicions of gatekeeping, but it is important to highlight that many actors in the psychedelic research community are keeping watch at both ends of the power spectrum. Besides putting upstart bad apples in check, heavy lifters in the psychedelics space have also succeeded at keeping the DEA from overstepping its scheduling authority. Gatekeeping doubts dissipate when the community is coming together to call out those that ignore the most basic practices and procedures to protect others’ safety, actively dismiss requests to thoroughly test their material while fostering “bioassaying”—read: human testing— and hiding behind a flimsy wall that mixes faith with physical chemistry.

Patent wars, ethical issues including those related to vulnerability under the effects of psychedelics, inequality in the access to care if and when psychedelics become approved therapies… all deserve consideration as ongoing challenges to integrate psychedelic drugs in our society harmoniously.

But I would differentiate challenges from threats. The former needs to be worked on while the latter needs to be confronted head-on; as these threats are capable of throwing us back to a time in which the only piece accessible to the layman is the trope that “acid will fry your brain”—a piece that might not be so fictional in the case of actual psilomethoxin, though.

All in all, it is comforting to see that the odd amalgam of people that make the psychedelic renaissance possible is moving forward, and in doing so revealing the existence of safeguards. And so, it seems that there are few things that we might have gotten right. Maybe, psychedelics are here to stay this time.

Editor’s note: The Church of Psilomethoxin’s homepage is, at the time of writing, redirecting to another website for an event they are hosting titled, “Entheogenesis: womb of sacred synthesis”. As such, we have used links to webpages and are making the organisation’s response to the preprint paper available as a PDF here.

Mario de la Fuente, PharmD, PhD, is a passionate psychedelic researcher and drug developer. Driven by a fascination for understanding how ordinary chemical matter can elicit such profound effects on the intangible subjective experience, Mario has immersed himself in the complex interaction between the chemistry and neuropharmacology of classic psychedelics and other enigmatic compounds for over a decade. This curiosity has yielded over 30 publications and inventions to this day. He is an Affiliate at the Virginia Commonwealth University and the founder of GONOGO, a consulting firm that supports drug development for neuroscience.