Answering questions about the potency of magic mushrooms has been mostly done through self-experimentation, with subjective factors like set and setting blurring the objectivity of those making their measurements. Until recently, accurate testing of psilocybin content in magic mushrooms was something that could only be done in a laboratory by comparing samples to known quantities of a pure reference compound.
Enter miraculix, a company based in Jena, Germany, which has recently developed portable psilocybin “QTest” kits that can be used by anyone to give fast and accurate potency information, allowing people to easily standardize their doses and figure out when their mushrooms might have lost potency.
Dr. Felix Blei, lead scientist at miraculix, has published a number of papers on the biochemistry of psilocybin production in mushrooms, and was the first to discover the presence of β‐carboline monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) in the fungal genus Psilocybe, which are also produced in Banisteriopsis caapi, the vine often used as part of traditional ayahuasca brews. The discovery of these MAOI compounds in Psilocybe raises some interesting questions around their potential entourage effect with psilocybin and other alkaloids during a whole-mushroom psychedelic experience.
We recently got to chat with chief science officer and founder of Miraculix, Roxana Preuß, and the team to learn more about the QTests, the story behind their creation, and the science of psilocybin mushrooms.
Tell us about the team at miraculix, who are the team and how did you come together?
RP: The team is made up of Dr. Felix Blei, Frank Junger and myself. Following his doctoral thesis, our lead scientist Dr. Felix Blei developed an innovative rapid test method for determining the concentration of psilocybin, the main active ingredient in magic mushrooms.
Recognizing the potential of this process and the need for such a simple test, Dr. Blei wrote applications and managed to get a grant to work in the laboratory at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany.
However, understanding that it takes a diverse team to turn an idea into reality, we held interviews at the university to grow our knowledge base. Frank Junger and I recently joined the team, and we’ve been working together for almost a year. I have a background in business management and Frank has years of experience in the events industry.
We’re really focused on joint teamwork, and have recently become registered as a spin-off company from the university we started in.
What made you decide to make the QTests?
As we mentioned, Dr. Blei’s PhD thesis was focused on the investigation, characterization and biosynthesis of various chemical compounds from psychedelic mushrooms in the genus Psilocybe. While undertaking this work, media interest along with inquiries from the internet made it clear that many people were curious about testing the potency of a variety of psychedelic mushrooms outside of the lab.
At the same time, given the sensational therapeutic successes with psilocybin and the beginnings of magic mushroom decriminalization, we realized there was no easy analytical method to check potency to help inform the therapeutic use of psilocybin from natural sources. From our work in the lab, we saw that the proportion of active ingredients in psychedelic substances varies greatly and accurate quantification is both time-consuming and expensive.
Realizing there is a need for measurement of active ingredients, we applied for a federal grant for funding to conduct research, and developed simple quantitative test kits for not only psilocybin, but also MDMA and LSD. We now have a proof-of-concept method that we hope will act as the starting point for quantifying many more active ingredients in the future.
How do the QTests work? What can the results tell people?
With our tests, it is now possible for the first time to determine the concentrations of psychedelic substances easily, without the need for a complex laboratory or technical equipment. The QTests are low-cost and can detect compounds like psilocybin at low thresholds, providing precise results within a few minutes. The QTest uses a chemical color reaction to detect potency, with the color intensity being proportional to the concentration of the active ingredient, and evaluation can be done by eye or with our smartphone app. The process is basically the same whether you’re using our QTests to detect psilocybin, MDMA or LSD.
With decriminalization coming to many US states, how does the perception of psilocybin mushrooms and other drugs differ in Germany, and have you had any problems trying to develop your company?
In Germany, much like in the US, there has been a slow change in political discourse in recent years. Here a health policy focus has gained influence, and although drug testing and harm reduction are anchored in a coalition agreement between many German federal states, such approaches are difficult to carry out in practice due to the legal situation and lack of on-site testing.
We are the first company to change this with our QTests, as venues can now perform testing directly on-site. We’ve worked in cooperation with addiction services in our federal state to start the first german pilot project, which combines on-site drug testing with drug prevention work to provide harm reduction and options for safer use.
More broadly, the medical benefits of these substances are beginning to be recognized and medical studies are now underway. We hope that we can further strengthen scientific perspectives with our work and thus make a meaningful contribution to the discourse, while rejecting some of the cliches around these substances from past misinformation.
The psilocybin “Psilo-QTest” kit is particularly interesting. Are there any other psilocybin test kits currently available from other companies?
The Psilo-QTests are the first quantitative test kits for psilocybin worldwide on the market. Until now there were only qualitative test kits that let you know if psilocybin is present, but not how much is there. We tried these kits on different Psilocybe species and found that they work very badly—sometimes only successfully detecting psilocybin in 50 percent of our samples, which we knew all contained the compound through cross-validating using more reliable testing.
Are the Psilo-QTests easy to use? Do people need any other special equipment to test their mushroom material?
The Psilo-QTests are very easy to use, and each one includes almost everything you need. We’ve created a how to video, with English subtitles that can guide you through the process. Besides the QTest, you only need a scale (that can weigh 0.15g) to weigh the mushrooms, hot water for the test incubation, which you can get from a kettle, or even a camping stove if you’re out and about. The whole process takes 30 minutes, with just two to three minutes of work; the rest is just waiting time.
If you’re checking potency by eye, we recommend you do this in natural daylight as artificial lights have different wavelengths and can sometimes make colors look different. However we also developed a smartphone app that uses your phone’s camera and takes some of the personal judgement out of the process.
Will the Psilo-QTest work on all mushroom species? Will they also work for sclerotia/truffles?
We have access to a broad range of mushroom species that contain psilocybin, which we either grew in our lab or collected outdoors. We’ve already tried the QTests with different fruiting bodies or mycelium for not only a range of Psilocybe cubensis strains, but also for Psilocybe cyanescens (Wavy Caps) and Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Caps). We’ve also tested the mushrooms and sclerotia of Psilocybe mexicana and Psilocybe tampanensis. We also tried with psilocybin-containing fungi of other genera like Pluteus salicinus, and can confirm it works on every one we’ve tested!
How dry do the mushroom samples need to be for analysis? How do you best prepare mushroom samples for analysis using the Psilo-QTests?
We calibrated our Psilo-QTests for normal air-dried mushrooms, though we find they grind best if they’re cracker-dry (i.e. they snap rather than bend). The best way to prepare the mushrooms would be to grind up several whole specimens using a mortar and pestle, but you can also use scissors and a glass beaker (like we show in the how-to video). Once you have your prepared mushroom material, only 0.15g are needed for the analysis.
Your QTests can be analyzed with a smartphone app; how does this work? Are there any considerations people need to give to lighting or background color in order to get the most accurate results?
We’re constantly improving our smartphone app. The first version is very simple to use: The sample vial is placed in front of the reference color sheet, using the manual to provide a standard white background. Simply take a picture of both the vial and the color sheet, and the app will calibrate between these images to calculate the amount of psilocybin that is present. We find the app works best if the photographs are taken in good amount of natural daylight, but our next update should allow the app to work completely independent of external light conditions.
How accurate are the QTests compared to the equipment you might use in a laboratory?
The accuracy of the QTests ultimately depends on how you chose to analyse the results. As the supplied color sheets have around 10 reference measurements each spaced 0.3 percent apart, making it very easy to figure out the concentration of psilocybin based on the color of the sample. Using this method, the maximum difference between our QTests and measurements we’ve performed in our lab is no more than 10 percent, which is very impressive for such an easy and fast test.
As mentioned earlier we’re working on an updated version of our smartphone app, which will make analysis even more accurate, reducing this difference down to around one to five percent. We’re hoping an added advantage of the updated app is that the QTests could be used to test batch-to-batch quality in commercial production, or to standardise doses in therapeutic applications as natural products.
Do you ship the QTests internationally?
Shipping ultimately depends on the legal framework in each country. Shipping is currently limited to the USA and Europe, but we are constantly working on making these available for everyone.
What sorts of psilocybin concentrations have you found in your lab work? Does it vary a lot between mushrooms?
Interesting question! Felix has analyzed a lot of mushrooms during his studies and when developing these test kits, including both cultivated or wild-grown species. Psilocybin concentration varies a lot, not only between different species, but also if the same species are just grown under different conditions. The best example is some local Psilocybe cyanescens which we collected near the university in Jena, Germany, which had content of around one percent psilocybin. We compared these to the same species collected in the neighboring town of Leipzig, and found these samples contained over two percent psilocybin.
Felix also analyzed different Psilocybe cubensis strains which vary both within and between strains. For example, the Huautla strain we analysed always contained less psilocybin content than the Albino A+ strain when grown in the same exact setup. In addition we found that Albino A+ potency ranges between 1.1 and 1.8 percent psilocybin.
What’s the oldest sample you’ve still been able to detect psilocybin in?
The oldest samples we have are a few years old, and we keep them in our laboratory freezer; they still contain high amounts of psilocybin.
What do you suggest is the best way for people to prepare and store their mushrooms to retain potency?
For best potency the crucial point is the fast removal of the water from the mushrooms. In the lab we find the best way is to freeze dry them, but as psilocybin is very heat stable a good alternative at home is to dry your mushrooms using a dehydrator or an oven set to a low heat. Once the mushrooms are fully cracker dry, store them frozen in an airtight container in the dark.