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Turkey Tail and Cannabis

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

Mushrooms are everywhere these days. There are medicinal mushrooms, psychedelic mushrooms, mushrooms classes, mushroom foraging trips, mushroom cooking classes and a plethora of new and re-produced mushroom ID guides. Mushrooms are having a heyday, which is really, really exciting. Mushrooms have great potential from environmental remediation to our health and wellness. In a way, they remind me a lot of another favorite plant of mine.

Turkey Tail is one of my favorite mushrooms. It has beautiful variations of patterns and hues that seem dependent on their age, location, and growing medium. It is an easily identified and an abundant mushroom that grows on dead, deciduous wood, the wounds of living hardwood trees, and on conifers throughout North America and many woods worldwide. It has a hand-in-hand relationship with life preservation and decomposition activities. When you find turkey tail in the woods you can chew it like gum for a small immune boost and a bit of woody mushroom mouth.

Turkey tail preparations are great for the human immune system. The mushroom has a couple of proteins which hold significant, clinically proven immune benefits: polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharopeptide (PSP) which both are complex carbohydrates. Think fibrous starches, which are the main component of the mushroom body. Scientists have shown that the compounds seem to inhibit the growth of cancer cells[i]. Beta Glucans inclusive of PSK and PSP help cells know when to die[ii].

In Japan, for roughly 30+ years commercially available PSK and PSP preparations have been used to supplement cancer treatment with great success. In study after study, in multiple cancer types it has been found that taking PSK with traditional chemo or radiation, allowed patients to live longer and have less recurrence of cancer. So, I hesitate to ask, but will just for fun. Why is it that a highly concentrated and clinically approved form of PSK and PSP is not available to cancer patients or other immune compromised patients in the United States?

The mushroom story (not even getting into the decrim aspects of psychedelic mushrooms) sounds a lot like the cannabis story. There are only a handful of companies in Japan and China[iii] that produce Krestin the commercial name for concentrated therapeutic PSK. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specifically stated is “has not approved the use of turkey tail or its active compound PSK as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.”[iv] Okay, fair enough, but why? Though I can’t say for certain, I found a recent Brookings Institute musing on our country's need to develop essential drugs domestically (in light of the need for COVID medications) to be illuminating. In the article, two main reasons were given for companies not producing drugs in the U.S. The number one reason was the “lack of incentives to produce less profitable drugs” and second, the “U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocols (that) require lengthy times and considerable resources to navigate”[v]. I know this is nothing new for many of you. However, to be clear, U.S. pharmaceutical companies have been very clear, they only want to develop drugs that are wildly profitable and thus patentable. Since PSK via Turkey Tail is a plant-based drug with thousands of years of documented use for many of the ailments it treats, it cannot be patented and thus its commercial value is limited. Adding insult to injury, the process of even getting a therapeutic form of PSK approved for use in clinics and covered by insurance companies would be cost prohibitive for most companies to even contemplate.

Which brings me back to the story of cannabis. De facto prohibition through regulation.

But wait you say, cannabis and PSK via turkey tail supplements are not prohibited because you can buy both from reputable companies that test and ensure their products. This is true, but the price tag on them both, when used on a daily basis, is generally cost prohibitive for most individuals and families. Of course, I hear what you’re saying, the solution lies in growing your own.

But some part of the solution also has to be in calling out this travesty of corporate interests supported by our government over the lives of our people, our loved ones, our friends, our brothers, our sisters, our sons, our daughters, our mothers, our fathers.

So here’s to growing your own! Whether it be cannabis or turkey tails!

Happy Winter Solstice and New Year!

[i] 1. Kidd PM. The use of mushroom glucans and proteoglycans in cancer treatment. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5:4-27.10696116 [ii] β-Glucan: A dual regulator of apoptosis and cell proliferation. Wani SM, Gani A, Mir SA, Masoodi FA, Khanday FA.Int J Biol Macromol. 2021 Jul 1;182:1229-1237. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2021.05.065. Epub 2021 May 12. [iii] Krestin Market 2021 Revenue Estimates and Growth Analysis, Drivers According to Manufacturers, Current and Future Plans with Industry Development Strategies Forecast Until 2026 Oct. 10, 2021. [iv] PDQ Cancer Information Summaries. [v] Time to make essential medicines within the United States. Darrell M. WestMonday, June 14, 2021.

Images: Turkey tail, aka Trametes Versicolor

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