With legal access to psilocybin therapy growing, researchers are committed to understanding and quantifying its potential benefits. As the founder of Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures (CBDV) — a British Columbia-based research laboratory that focuses on extraction optimization, analytical testing, and chemical process development for the cannabis and psilocybin industries — Dr. Markus Roggen holds a unique perspective on the issue.
In this written Q&A, Dr. Roggen discusses the importance of understanding psilocybin’s chemistry, getting licensed to research psilocybin by Health Canada, and the similarities and differences of cannabis vs. psilocybin research. The interview also covers psilocybin’s growing prevalence and popularity, the unknowns that researchers hope to understand, and more!
Ganjaprenuer: What is your background in chemistry and cannabis? How has this career brought you to researching psilocybin?
Dr. Markus Roggen: I received master’s degree in Science from Imperial College and PhD in organic chemistry from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETHZ). After a postdoctoral fellowship in physical organic chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute, I serendipitously end up in the cannabis industry in 2014. I focus on extraction optimization and the development of innovative analytical tools. I founded Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures (CBDV), a licensed cannabis and psilocybin research laboratory in Vancouver, Canada.
Psilocybin mushrooms are another shiny thing. I realize that our expertise fits with the current knowledge gaps for mushroom research. In particular, our cannabis work protocols and facility upgrades set us up to work with another controlled substance.
How can understanding psilocybin chemistry facilitate the development of effective psychedelic therapy?
How could any therapy be repeatable, if no one knows what was part of the initial effective therapy? It will be the job of chemists to build an understanding of what was in the mushroom, which compounds were important, and how to extract/produce those compounds for subsequent therapies.
Are you using a specific species of mushroom to extract and study psilocybin?
No, right now the legal supply of psilocybin mushrooms in Canada is extremely limited. We are still in the process of securing any species.
What is the focus of your work with the psilocybin research license from Health Canada?
We are developing new analytical methods for psilocybin quantification. Right now, HPLC is the standard analytical tool. We want to add IR and electrochemical probes to the repertoire. Such tools would allow producers or medical professionals to test mushrooms on site.
What kind of research capabilities do you have at CBDV besides developing quantification procedures for Health Canada?
We have a few toys in our lab from the cannabis research we also do. But more interesting is our close collaboration with the University of British Columbia, where we can use their NMR, high-res MS and other high-powered analytical instruments. We are very good in hunting down and identifying unknown compounds in extremely low quantities.
Have you noticed similarities and differences between cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms?
Both botanicals are under strict legal control and have a stigma associated with them. Both are unresearched but hold great potential for medical use. The major compound of interest, psilocybin, in mushrooms is water-soluble, while the active in cannabis, THC, is not at all water-soluble.
As a funny analogy between cannabis and mushrooms is how they produce the pharmaceutically active ingredient. Cannabis produces THCA that must be decarboxylated to THC, which is psychoactive. In mushrooms, psilocybin is produced, but needs to be dephosphorylated to become psilocin, the psychedelic substance.
With psychedelic legalization gaining traction, how do you see the two industries (cannabis and psilocybin) merging in the future?
First of all, you should not smoke mushrooms. That is dangerous, as spores could end up in your lungs. And making tea from dried cannabis flower will be less than exciting. But my fear is that the opportunistic business people will move on from cannabis to mushrooms, inflate stock values of immature companies and prevent the mushroom industry from building a solid foundation.
Would you explain some great unknown areas of the chemistry of psilocybin and how your team plans to illuminate new concepts?
How many tryptamine compounds are there in mushrooms? We commonly know of 7. But an 8th tryptamine is kind of a given based on the biosynthesis. This likely is still not the end of all interesting compounds in mushrooms.
And another open question is the production of mushroom extracts. Right now, there is very little published on producing defined and reproducible extracts. This question fits perfectly with our expertise.
What cannabis extraction systems and protocols will work in the development of a reproducible psilocybin extract? How may the processes differ?
The main difference between Psilocybin and Cannabinoids is that that the former is water-soluble and the latter are not. Therefore, many of the processes used in cannabis like, hydrocarbon extraction, will not work at all. Although, what will be important is to look at what else is extracted when one targets the main active ingredient. Also, it is our job to figure out how to finetune the extraction system to produce a highly desirable product.
Psilocybin compound and therapy set patents have recently been filed in the U.S. — how does patenting specific compounds and therapeutic processes help or hinder the research process?
Patents allow the discoverer to make money off the hard work of developing this insight. Therefore, any patents and their projected future value will drive more innovation. Right now, there is still a lot of work needed in this space. Sure, there are weird patents granted that have little scientific merit or are aimed at pushing out competition. Although right now the field is wide open, and one does not have to step on one another.
Thank you, Dr. Roggen, for taking the time to answer our questions and share your expertise! Visit CBDVL.com to learn more about Dr. Roggen and the founder of Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures