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  • Amy Bartlett

Happy Mushroom Day!

Oh you didn’t know it was Mushroom Day? Well to be honest, this was news to me as well (and to many others I suspect—the commemoration started only in 2015).

September 20 has recently been anointed "an educational day of action" on the benefits of psilocybin, and as a global moment to celebrate the psilocybin mushroom. “9/20 was chosen because it is at the beginning of autumn, when mushrooms are most plentiful; [and] because it is close to the equinox, representing a change in direction.” You can find out more in this Rolling Stone article, and check out the 9/20 coalition to learn more about celebrating September 20.

So how will you be celebrating? For myself, I am choosing to celebrate psilocybin mushrooms today by shining a spotlight on Dr. Valentina Wasson, who was instrumental in bringing psilocybin mushrooms to the attention of North America and the world in the 1950s. While most people talk about her husband Gordon, Valentina and her personal love of mushrooms was the real driver behind their work. She was a passionate mycology enthusiast from her early childhood in Russia, and this love of mushrooms permeated her life and research (as she was also lead author on a two-volume book series on mushrooms).

Importantly for today’s 9/20 celebration, her actions back in the 1950s began a chain reaction that led to our deeper understanding of the healing potential of psilocybin today. Beyond her account of the experience with Maria Sabina in This Week, some of the mushrooms that they brought back from her visit with curandera Maria Sabina in Mexico were given to Albert Hofmann, who subsequently isolated the psilocybin molecule. Without her interventions, who knows how and when psilocybin might have eventually made it's way into our wider, global collective consciousness (literally and figuratively).

Valentina’s beautiful life was central to our being able to celebrate 9/20 today, and yet her passion and influence on the field of psychedelic studies—and psilocybin in particular-- has been largely forgotten. So in a way, I feel like it is very fitting that my first co-authored article in an academic journal was also published this week just in time for 9/20—and it was written to shine a light on the impact of Dr. Valentina Wasson: one of the women who played a central role in bringing psilocybin to the attention of the West, and whose life-long love of mushrooms led to world-changing impact.

The fact that she has been largely forgotten is a big red flag for the psychedelic community, and demands we start asking pointed questions about the stories we tell in psychedelic studies. However, Valentina’s story also reminds us in a more general way that you never know where your passions will lead you. Valentina spent her childhood in Russia loving mushrooms, and she followed where that love led her throughout her life. At its core, it is her simple, earnest childhood passion that created ripples throughout the world. Valentina’s story shows us what can happen when we embrace our life’s passion with humility, curiosity, and an open heart.

And in my opinion, that is a story that is definitely worth remembering and celebrating on Mushroom Day.

As a side note, we were lucky enough to have Richard Newton speak to our theory and methods class this week about privilege, intersectionality and truth in religious studies. It was an excellent discussion. And at the end, we asked for his advice for succeeding in PhD studies and he shared this:

Every tool you bring to your work is yours to use

This really resonated with me (especially as a mature student), and when I layer it in with Valentina’s example, it inspires me to reflect on the tools I am bringing to this psychedelic studies work—including my passion for these substances. I am already noticing that in the academic space, it is easy (and in fact often encouraged) to be led by the head. But one of the tools I am bringing to this work is my heart--- and following Valentina’s lead, I want to be led first and foremost by my passion for the people and potential that so inspires me about the psychedelic space.

So happy Mushroom Day to one and all!

Stay curious, embrace the chaos and follow your passion!

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