Medicinal mushrooms have a wide range of benefits, from fighting inflammation, to boosting cognitive function, to supporting the immune system, and increasing energy. But how do these magic mushrooms do it? While all mushrooms are beneficial for immune system support, each functional mushroom has its own strengths when it comes to specific health benefits. Some mushrooms are better for energy, some are better for focus, and some are better for relaxation. Is there an entourage effect happening in mushrooms like there is in other plant. Medicines?
What is the Entourage Effect?
The Entourage Effect, first posed by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Shimon Ben-Shabat in 1998 and expanded on by Dr. Ethan Russo, suggests that compounds in the cannabis plant such as cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids work synergistically to deliver more medicinal benefits together than the sum of each of the isolated compounds.[1,2] It is believed many botanical medicines, including magic mushrooms and kratom, also have an entourage effect, whereby their numerous components work better together than an isolated extract of any active ingredient. This means taking a full-spectrum extract of mushroom may be more effective for some wellness needs than taking extracts of its single active ingredients, for example.
We know that different strains of functional and psychedelic mushrooms contain different amounts of active chemicals, just like different strains of cannabis or other botanical medicines including kratom and ayahuasca. Medicinal mushrooms are made of four major classes of active compounds: polysaccharides, polypeptides, alkaloids, and triterpenes. Let’s explore what they do.
What are Polysaccharides in Functional Mushrooms?
While polysaccharides exist in bacteria, yeast, plants, and fungi, the specific type that are in mushrooms are called alpha-glucans and beta-glucans. Alpha-glucans are starches that can help regulate blood sugar and are helpful in the prevention of diabetes. However, when it comes to medicinal benefits, beta-glucans are much more powerful than alpha-glucans. It’s important to make sure your mushrooms supplement is high in beta-glucans as opposed to alpha-glucans, as different methods of growing mushrooms can alter their content.
Certain mushrooms naturally contain high amounts of beta-glucans compared to other functional mushrooms. These include reishi mushroom, turkey tail mushroom, and maitake mushroom. While there are hundreds of beta-glucans, some of the most well researched ones include lentinan, schizophyllan, ganoderan, grifolan, and polysaccharide-krestin (PSK). Ganoderan, for example, is found in reishi mushrooms and works as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, promoting heart health. PSK is found in turkey tail mushrooms and is powerful at killing cancer cells.
Polypeptides are the building blocks of proteins, and found in many of the foods we eat, including mushrooms. Each of these polypeptides can have health benefits. Lentinus squarrosulus, for example, is an wild edible mushroom that contains polypeptides that have anticancer properties. There are likely many more medicinal polypeptides in mushrooms that we will identify after more research into these amazing fungi.
What are Terpenoids in Medicinal Mushrooms?
Terpenoids are the largest class of chemicals extracted from plants, as over 20,000 terpenoids have been identified. The term terpenoid is often used interchangeably with the word terpene, but in fact, these are two different compounds. Many people are familiar with terpenes, the chemicals that give cannabis and essential oils their smell, flavor, and health benefits. They are also found in other plants, such as mushrooms. When the chemicals are in the live plant, they are terpenes. When they have been exposed to oxygen, which happens in the process of drying plants for consumption, these terpenes are oxidized into terpenoids.
Medicinal mushrooms contain over 275 terpenoids and are further divided into classes with a least five monoterpenes, 70 sesquiterpenes, 44 diterpenes and 166 triterpenes discovered.  The difference between the triterpenes, diterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and monoterpenes is the number of carbon units in their chemical structures. Each of the terpenoids in mushrooms has significant medicinal benefits, and each mushroom variety has their own combination of terpenoids. Some anticancer and neuroprotective triterpenoids found in reishi mushroom include gandoderic acid and its derivatives.
What are Alkaloids in Functional Mushrooms?
Alkaloids are one of the most the active ingredients in mushrooms, responsible for hallucinogenic effects and neuroprotection in some species. Scientifically, the term alkaloid refers to organic compounds containing at least one nitrogen atom and are usually basic as opposed to acidic. Plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi can all produce alkaloids, and most have pharmacological activities in the human body. Plant-based alkaloids include caffeine, cocaine, morphine, and nicotine, while the two major fungi alkaloids, found in species of psychedelic “magic mushrooms” are psilocybin and psilocin.
Not all mushroom alkaloids cause hallucinations or get you high. For example, cordycepin is an alkaloid found in cordyceps mushroom that has many potential benefits, including killing leukemia cells, acting as an antidepressant, and enhancing cellular energy.
Taking Multiple Mushrooms Together may be More Effective Than Taking Just One
Functional mushrooms contain many health-promoting chemical compounds, but no single mushroom contains them all. By combining mushrooms, you’ll have exposure to even more active ingredients and be able to increase the entourage effect of medicinal mushrooms. Many of our formulas have more than one mushroom, and our favorite formula, Mike’s Mushroom Mix, contains a mix of ten functional mushrooms. So, if you’re looking to experience the entourage effect in mushrooms, Mike’s Mushroom Mix is your best bet, with agarikon, antrodia, chaga, cordyceps, king trumpets, lion’s mane, maitake, reishi, shiitake, and turkey tail mushrooms.
What About Combining Medicinal Mushrooms With Other Plants?
Medicinal mushrooms pair really well with adaptogens, which are herbs that lower stress hormones. You’ll find Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha in our Chill Out formula paired with reishi mushroom, and panax ginseng paired with cordyceps mushrooms in our Energy Performance formula. Certain chemicals in reishi mushrooms like genistein and kaempferol boost the endocannabinoid system, so taking reishi, found in many of our formulas, pairs well with using CBD and other hemp products.
 Ben-Shabat S, Fride E, Sheskin T, Tamiri T, Rhee MH, Vogel Z, Bisogno T, De Petrocellis L, Di Marzo V, Mechoulam R. An entourage effect: inactive endogenous fatty acid glycerol esters enhance 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid activity. Eur J Pharmacol. 1998 Jul 17;353(1):23-31.
 Phan CW., Tan E.YY., Sabaratnam V. (2018) Bioactive Molecules in Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms for Human Wellness. In: Mérillon JM., Ramawat K. (eds) Bioactive Molecules in Food. Reference Series in Phytochemistry. Springer, Cham
Feng ZL, Fang TJ, Qian YX, Rong WH (2014) The clinical research for Ganoderan’s effect on preventing and treating cerebral arteriosclerosis through inhibiting NADPH oxidizing enzyme expression. Pak J Pharm Sci 27:1107–1111
 PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Medicinal Mushrooms (PDQ®): Patient Version. 2020 Apr 21. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US); 2002-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424937/
 Prateep A, Sumkhemthong S, Suksomtip M, Chanvorachote P, Chaotham C. Peptides extracted from edible mushroom: Lentinus squarrosulus induces apoptosis in human lung cancer cells. Pharm Biol. 2017 Dec;55(1):1792-1799