Telluride Mushroom Festival: Keynote Speaker Laura Guzman-Davalos!

Telluride Mushroom Festival: Keynote Speaker Laura Guzman-Davalos!

The Telluride Mushroom Festival is back for the 42nd year in a row. In only a few weeks from now, the Town of Telluride will be taken over by amanita hat-wearing, mold- and spore-worshipping mycelium fanatics.

For more information on the keynote presentations or to learn more about this year’s lectures, workshops and forays, visit the Telluride Mushroom Festival’s online schedule here.

To buy your four-day festival pass, visit here. Single-day passes will be available for purchase at the Festival registration desk in Elk’s Park from August 18–21.

Sign up for Ah Haa’s Wild Mushroom Puppet Theater here.

For more on the history of the Telluride Mushroom Festival, go here.

For the down low on keynote speaker Laura Guzmán-Dávalos, read on.

Gastón Guzmán Huerta, an eminent Mexican mycologist and ethnomycologist, dedicated his life to discovering and researching mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe. His contribution to mycology with regard to hallucinogenic species is enormous: more than half of known psilocybin-containing mushrooms were first discovered and described by Guzmán and his collaborators. He was also a leading authority on the divinatory and medicinal uses of sacred mushrooms by the indigenous peoples of Mexico.

Like father, like daughter.

Dr. Laura Guzmán-Dávalos is a Mexican mycologist working since 1983 at University of Guadalajara in Jalisco State. According to the Telluride Mushroom Festival’s website:

“…Laura is a well-respected mycologist…and daughter of the world-renowned Gaston Guzman, THE world authority on the genus Psilocybe… At this year’s Festival, we are so thrilled that Laura wants to talk about her father’s work as well as her own research…”

Continue reading Laura’s bio here.

At the Telluride Mushroom Festival 2022, Dr. Laura is speaking about her father’s work on Friday, August 19. The talk is titled “Man of Psilocybe: Gaston Guzmán (1932 – 2011).”

On Saturday, August 20, her talk is “On the origin of the genus Psilocybe and its potential ritual use in ancient Africa and Europe.”

On Sunday Laura is part of a panel discussion about “Fungal Biodiversity NOW! An international effort.”

For further information about Laura Guzmán-Dávalos’ life and work, check out her email interview.

TIO: Given the fact your dad is Gaston Guzmán, the world authority on the genus Psilocybe. I guess it is fair to say you were genetically predisposed to become a mycologist. Please talk about how your father’s passion stoked yours.

My father was passionate about mushrooms and the taxonomic work around them. On the other hand, he was very demanding with his children (three siblings and me) and especially with the people who worked for him. So as a child I grew up loving mushrooms but, at the same time, hating how my dad treated his subordinates. Since I was a rebellious child and liked to contradict him when I was a teenager, I was thinking of studying chemistry, like my mom. Then I realized that chemistry was not my thing, so I decided to study biology, but dedicate myself to pine trees instead of fungi, still contradicting my father. Eventually the genes won out and I realized that I loved mushrooms and that it was foolish not to study them because of my ideas about my father, so I decided to become a mycologist – obviously with father’s full approval.

TIO: Since you first became involved with the field of mycology, what major changes have you seen?

The main change has been the introduction of molecular data to carry out phylogenetic and taxonomic work. When I started in mycology, macro- and micro-morphology were the only disciplines used and based on them we did all the work. Then, when I studied for my PhD, I learned to do phylogenetic analyses with DNA sequences. That opened a very big door. My doctoral thesis was with the Gymnopilus genus, then I decided to work with my father with Psilocybe. At first it was difficult, but fun trying to convince my dad to believe in the phylogenetic results. I remember the first Psilocybe tree I presented to him. He immediately asked me to move several species to more correct places according to his appreciation. It took me a while – and many meetings – to convince him that phylogenetic methods work and that I couldn’t move species the way he wanted, but finally made it.

Another change is that there is now a lot of interest among biology students and the public about mushrooms in general, not just hallucinogens, which has led to many mushroom events, especially fairs. Just one example: this year I am organizing four and participating in two more mushroom fairs, when normally I would organize three and participate in one. Just a few years ago I only organized about one a year.

The interest among biology students has also led to increased competition among new mycologist to find work. This is good, on the one hand, because they are much more prepared than before, but it is bad and sad because there are many trained mycologists who do not get suitable jobs.

TIO: It is a widely published fact that psychedelic medicine is a re-emerging as a therapeutic paradigm. Yet, as the title of your keynote underlines, plant-based medicine, including psilocybin, is illegal. Please preview your talk on Saturday night. How far from legal are these non-addictive, life-enhancing substances whose efficacy has been proven over years of clinical trials at renowned institutions like Johns Hopkins?

I think legalization – or at least permission to do research with Psilocybe – is already happening. At least in the US, there are many cities and one entire state, Oregon, where psilocybin is no longer illegal. In Mexico, in 2021, two political parties presented an initiative to reclassify entheogenic medicine (hallucinogenic mushrooms, peyote, and others) in the General Health Law. They were seeking a “reversal of a historical error that has hurt our very roots.” However, this initiative did not prosper. Nevertheless, there is another proposal from another franchise, the Green Party, which last April organized a conversation on psilocybin and the General Health Law. Participating in this conversation were a Mazatec healer, a physiologist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins, a specialist in investment for the treatment of mental illness, researchers from the Nierika Institute of Intercultural Medicine, the Coordinator of the Ayahuasca Defense Fund, and myself as a biologist. The senator who organized the conversation plans to make the proposal to reform the law to the Senate this coming September..

TIO: What genera have been the focus of your studies over the years and, as far as medical breakthroughs go, are all Psilocybes created equal?

I have studied many genera over the years, all macroscopic fungi, mainly Basidiomycota, though some Ascomycota, such as Cordyceps and allies and Helvella. For example, one of my graduate students is doing his master’s thesis on the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis complex, the so-called zombie-ant fungi. Among Basidiomycota, I have studied more agarics than any other group, but also Gasteromycetes, such as Scleroderma, which I started studying together with my father. My master’s and doctoral work were on Gymnopilus. Later I directed, or am now directing, students who work with Deconica, Entoloma, Ganoderma, Leucoagaricus, Mycena, Pluteus, and Psilocybe, among others. We are recently working with Bryn Dentinger, of the University of Utah on a project related to Psilocybe. We just met in Mexico, where we collect mushrooms, mainly Psilocybe, in the state of Jalisco and part of the team also went to Oaxaca.

Not all species have the same amount or even the same type of alkaloids, thus it is important which species become the subject of studies. Even strains of the same species can have different amounts of psilocybin. Generally, the studies have been carried out with Psilocybe cubensis, which is the most common species, easy to recognize and to cultivate artificially.

TIO: How did you first come to the Telluride Mushroom Festival and what excites you about returning to Telluride?

Britt Bunyard first invited me in 2016 to talk about my father, who passed away in January of that year. At that time, I asked Britt if it would be possible to talk about my work as well as my father’s and he agreed. On that occasion, I had a wonderful experience in Telluride. I really enjoyed talking about my father, especially the year that he had just passed away, meeting wonderful people, and learning a lot from the different talks I attended. The entire Telluride experience was amazing. This year I am super excited to be back, now that I know what Telluride Mushroom Festival is all about, I think I will enjoy it more. And that’s saying a lot. What’s more, Art Goodtimes invited me to lead the parade with him, which is a great incredible honor! I am super happy and thank Britt for inviting me again.

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