Neil deGrasse Tyson joined a comedian and ecologist as co-hosts on science podcast StarTalk Radio last week to discuss the “wonderful world of fungi”—with a selective emphasis on psilocybin mushrooms. The astrophysicist was clearly engaged in learning more, with a small group of co-hosts asking important questions about psilocybin, the Fungi Kingdom and mycology in general.
“Can mushrooms take over your mind? StarTalk Radio asked in a tweet. “On this episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Matt Kirshen explore the weird world of fungi with fun-guy fungus expert and ecologist, Merlin Sheldrake. Could inactive spores survive space? Who discovered mushrooms can affect us psychologically? You’ll learn about the origins of the classification of the kingdom fungi and the use of psychedelic mushrooms. Can psilocybin be synthesized?”
“This is going to be a Cosmic Queries session on the subject of mushrooms,” Tyson said. “We’re going to find out where they come from, what they’re doing, and why, and especially what is their relationship to humans.” Tyson published his podcast discussions as Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going with co-author James Trefil last March.
Tyson was joined by Sheldrake, who quoted ethnobotanist and High Times former regular Terence McKenna (1946-2000) about the prehistoric use of psychedelic mushrooms—maybe even leading to pivotal discoveries and inventions for mankind.
Tyson—being inquisitive as usual—began asking strange questions, such as whether or not wild animals devour ‘shrooms in the wild, given that they are relatively easy to find in certain states and other parts of the world. “Do you think mushrooms would have been a part of early animal diets?” Tyson wondered. “Yeah, for sure,” Sheldrake said. “I mean, I don’t see why animals would neglect these nutritious, delicious organisms growing up within easy reach.”
“Would an animal knowingly, an animal not human, knowingly eat a mushroom that has psychedelic properties?” Tyson asked.
Sheldrake explained that cicadas—something Tyson admitted to eating last April—can actually produce psilocybin and other drugs when they are infected with fungus. So there’s always a slight possibility he could have consumed psilocybin unknowingly. For a bit of background, Massospora fungi make either psilocybin or an amphetamine-like compound found in khat leaves, plant pathologist Matthew Kasson of West Virginia University reported June 22 at an ASM Microbe 2019 meeting.
Then, Sheldrake mentioned psychedelic experiences may have led to an innovative state of mind, leading to the discovery of fire and countless other discoveries through the history of time.
“So you’d recommend everyone do it then?” Tyson asked, seemingly suggesting how important psychedelics could actually be.
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” Sheldrake said.
“Why—if it made you smarter or more insightful and your own work—why not have an over the counter at the pharmacy?” Tyson pressed.
Does Neil deGrasse Tyson Believe in Cannabis and Psychedelics?
Tyson does not consume cannabis, (or at least not any time recently), nor does he consume psychedelics, most likely. Tyson was, however, heavily influenced by the late Carl Sagan, who secretly defended the medical and beneficial effects of cannabis.
On the topic of cannabis legalization, however, Tyson is clearly in favor of cannabis freedom. In an interview with Washington Post in 2017, Tyson said there is “no reason” that cannabis should be illegal.
Probably as a joke, Tyson said people should not smoke weed in space unless they want to die in an explosion of fire. Lighting a flame on a spacecraft would be very stupid to do, as they are full of rich oxygen to fuel combustion. Even vaping on a spacecraft might be very unwise.
But in 2018 unhesitantly defended Elon Musk for smoking a blunt on The Joe Rogan Experience. “Leave the man alone. Let him get high if he wants to get high,” Tyson said during a random interview with celebrity news website TMZ.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.