First Oregon lab licensed to test the strength of legal psilocybin

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — As of this month, Oregon’s revolutionary therapeutic psilocybin program is complete from cap to stem, with representatives of each link in the supply chain now licensed by the state: a grower, a lab, facilitators and a service center.

The Oregon Health Authority most recently issued the lab and service center licenses under the state’s regulatory framework, approved by voters in 2020 as Measure 109.

For the uninitiated, here’s how it’s all supposed to work. Licensed manufacturers will grow the psilocybin, colloquially known as “magic mushrooms.” They’ll then send samples of the mushrooms to a licensed lab in order to test that they’re the right kind, as well as evaluating their potency.

After getting data back from the lab, growers can then sell the mushrooms to a licensed service center, where a licensed facilitator will help guide clients through the psychedelic effects.

It doesn’t require a prescription or medical referral to take psilocybin at a service center. The only requirement is that clients be at least 21 years old and that they take the dose and ride it out at the service center. Buying psilocybin and taking it home is not an option.

RELATED: Oregon opens the gates for legal psilocybin industry in 2023

Studies have increasingly shown that taking psilocybin can have mental health benefits, often for people with particularly stubborn conditions. According to the Oregon Health Authority, research suggests the compound may help with depression, anxiety, trauma and addiction, as well as contributing to “spiritual well-being.”

Oregon is the first state in the country to have a legal regulatory framework for psilocybin, and having a complete supply chain in place is a process two years in the making.

The Story spoke previously with the first facilitators to be licensed in Oregon, as well as the the first manufacturer. Recently, we also had a chance to tour the first  — and for the time being, the only — lab licensed to test psilocybin.

The testing process

Rose City Laboratories is located along Johnson Creek Boulevard in Southeast, not far from 82nd. The lab got its start testing cannabis just as that legal program got up and running in Oregon. These days they don’t just test weed, they evaluate things like asbestos, radon, lead, heavy metals — and as of this spring, psilocybin.

“Oh, it was a sigh of relief because it was a bumpy road in the beginning,” said Dan Huson, owner and CEO of Rose City Labs. “But it was a sigh of relief and it was nice to understand that a little guy like me can make a difference in the world … It was almost like a wave of tears coming over me, happy crying, it was overwhelming.”

Huson decided to get involved with the psilocybin program based on experiences he had as a kid, paired with his belief in alternative medicine.

“It started with my grandmother, when I was born,” he said. “She started a cancer aid thrift shop up in Grass Valley, California. I spent a lot of time with people dying of cancer … later in life I actually ended up with cancer myself, in 2004, and I just started to try alternative medicines. Then I opened up the laboratory, trying to do more research.”

When it comes to navigating a brand new system like Oregon’s psilocybin program, with no precedent anywhere else in the country, it’s a pretty big leap of faith. The companies embarking on this journey are essentially “flying blind” — but for Huson, that’s no problem.

“My background actually comes from aircraft — I’m a pilot, a mechanic, a journeyman machinist, I spent 23 years at Boeing,” he said. “So I very much understand regulation, I understand rules, I understand where things are going to be headed and, if we want turn it into a legal industry, what that’s going to look like.”

To get an explanation of the process for testing psilocybin, we turned to Rose City Lab’s senior research and development chemist, Bjorn Fritzsch.

Fritzsche explained that when the mushrooms arrive at the lab, they take bits from different areas of the batch in order to get a representative sample. The samples go in mylar bags that are non-permeable and light-proof, in order to keep the mushrooms at the same state in which they arrived.

“The first step after that is to grind it into a fine powder,” he continued.

When The Story arrived at the lab, they didn’t have any psilocybin mushrooms ready for grinding. Instead they used white button mushrooms, which they use as a baseline to ensure their machines are calibrated correctly.

“So we have a homogenized sample — again, to have a representative sample from the powdered version, essentially, of the batch,” said Fritzsche.

From there, the lab extracts DNA from the sample, placing it in something called a speciation machine. This confirms what species the sample comes from. If the machine finds that the sample is in fact psilocybin cubensis, the only species allowed in the state program, then it moves on to the next step: the high-performance liquid chromatography or HPLC machine.

The HPLC machine essentially finds the potency of the sample, how much of the psilocybin chemical it contains. Once that data is gathered, it’s uploaded into a state-run system, and the results are emailed to both the grower and the Oregon Health Authority.

Rose City Labs told us that if the OHA requests it, they can also test samples for pesticides or anything else that could be contained in the sample, in order to ensure that it hasn’t been contaminated.

Huson made it very clear that once a sample arrives at the lab, it never leaves. They hold on to the sample for 30 days after testing is complete, just in case further testing is needed, and then it’s destroyed.

Healing and headwinds

Huson makes no secret of the fact that he’s a believer in psychedelics, but many Oregonians are not.

Oregon voters approved Measure 109 with 55% of the vote in 2020, but the November 2022 election saw 25 of Oregon’s 36 counties vote to ban the psilocybin service centers that Measure 109 made legal, and several cities followed suit.

The Story asked Huson what his message would be to people who want nothing to do with psilocybin.

“Education, education, education,” he said. “Science — that’s what I’m about here at this lab. With science we have to learn, we have to study and we have to understand what we’re doing and … before people get emotional or don’t understand, I would prefer that people just do a little education.

“There’s been studies from the government, there’s been all kids of things proving that psychedelics have been beneficial. My opinion? I think we’re going to see the (federal) government accept psychedelics before they’re ever going to accept cannabis.”

We visited Rose City Labs a few weeks ago, shortly after they got their first licensed psilocybin sample. They said that they expected two more samples the following week, and this week they said that they’re “actively testing licensed product.”

So far, only one service center has been licensed to actually conduct psilocybin therapy: EPIC Healing Eugene. The “boutique-style healing center” will serve up to 30 people each month with individual and small group sessions.

But those services won’t come cheaply. The service center’s prices as of earlier this week showed a “Level I Micro-Dose” costing someone $500 just for the services. The fine print says that the price does not include the cost of the mushrooms, which must be paid in cash. It also says that the cost of that product hasn’t been determined yet.

EPIC Healing already has a waitlist for clients. Sam Chapman, executive director of a group called the Healing Advocacy Fund, said that they expect to begin seeing clients in just a few weeks. And while the Eugene service center may be the first one licensed, Chapman is sure that it won’t be the last.

“By the end of this year, we expect to see as many as a dozen service centers licensed and serving clients, providing a new path for so many to address their depression, anxiety and addiction — all mental health problems that are, unfortunately, far too prevalent in Oregon,” Chapman said.

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