5 Questions for Reggie Harris
Oakland Hyphae founder speaks about his experience in the marijuana and psilocybin industries.
Reggie Harris was in high school when he first heard Eminem’s song “My Fault.” In the song, Eminem apologizes to a woman for giving her too many psilocybin mushrooms — and it piqued Harris’s interest. Harris started selling ‘shrooms in the Maryland suburbs, and remained connected to dealer networks when he started college at Florida A&M in the early 2000s. He was in touch with some international dealers, and eventually left Florida for the Netherlands, where he worked with mushroom growers.
After his stint in Europe, Harris moved back to the U.S. and began working as a community organizer and canvasser, first living in Ohio, then Brooklyn, and, finally, Oakland, California. In 2019, Oakland became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psychedelics. Using what he learned in Europe, Harris started growing his own mushrooms, and connecting with other people interested in psilocybin. He founded a psilocybin company Oakland Hyphae (hyphae are the branching filaments that make up fungal mycelium; the name is also a play on “hyphy,” a hip hop movement that originated in Oakland.) The Microdose spoke with Harris about his experience in the marijuana and psilocybin industries, and how it intersects with his background in organizing.
You’ve been selling mushrooms and marijuana since you were a teenager. What led you to start growing your own mushrooms?
I took a trip around the world, and I started acquiring mushroom genetics. At the time, there was no question that European genetics were the best; I spent a lot of time in Amsterdam. Once Oakland decriminalized, I knew I wanted to cultivate and sell the products I had. So I started to grow.I got obsessed — I poured all my money into getting better equipment. I went from having a space in one spare bedroom to basically my entire apartment being overrun by my mushroom growing equipment.
Once I got good at it, I ended up getting job offers in Jamaica, where I worked for some Canadian multinationals to set up their grow labs. There isn’t much information about how to grow commercially; you just have to learn by trial and error. In Jamaica I had scientists working with me and we figured out how to solve problems, like how to attack mold contamination.
After you founded Oakland Hyphae, you launched an arm of the company called Hyphae Labs, which tests growers’ mushrooms. What got you interested in potency testing?
The conversations we used to have in the mushroom world around potency were ridiculous. People would say things like, “There’s more potency in the stem, so give me a bag of stems,” or “there’s more potency in the caps, so give me a bag of the caps.” Nobody knew anything.
For me, being a business person, and being in this space, you see the opportunity. I knew I wanted to make Oakland a Mecca for psilocybin. While everyone else was trying to jump into cultivation, I saw the prices for mushrooms going down, and I knew what was going on — so I moved away from cultivation. While all the growers are complaining about prices being too low to make money, that’s not a problem for me; that means there are many growers here, and the ones that want to stand out will probably pay for potency testing.
Hyphae has now hosted three Psilocybin Cups, where growers submit their mushrooms for testing. What role does the Psilocybin Cup play among growers?
When we first put the potency results up, top to bottom, everybody was looking at it like, “We're one of the strongest mushrooms — that’s the goal, and this mushroom is the champ.” And then everybody rushes towards the strongest mushroom.
The scientist I work with for Hyphae’s Psilocybin Cup came from a cannabis background, and they recognized the rush toward potency from their time in the cannabis industry. What they did for this spring’s cup was create five different categories outlining potency ranges that we can ascribe to various utilities, everything from a microdose to a spiritual dose or a recreational dose. We’ll expand those categories even further, down to the ones with the most unique tryptamine profiles.
You’ve been active in the marijuana and psilocybin business for nearly two decades now. Marijuana is now legal in 19 states, and some say psilocybin could follow a similar path. Do you see any parallels between the marijuana and psilocybin industries?
One parallel I see is a corporate-first approach. A lot of the people in the corporate psychedelics space are people who were in corporate weed. When I look at cannabis, the place where the most damage occurred was when it was legalized. That allowed money — more money than God — to come in and play ball. And you can’t stop that. The corporations will always have money to pay people to come up with a plan and figure out how to stay in business. But where does that leave mom and pop operations? Do they have the money to pay consultants?
Places like Arcata, in Northern California, have ordinances that keep out big chain businesses. I say we need to write into law that if your money comes from big banks, big financial institutions, we’ll keep you out of the mushroom business. Ban big money — the same institutions that fund big cannabis are exactly who we need to keep out of the mushroom world. And before that, we keep things decriminalized for as long as possible. By legalizing things, we open the door to let the thieves in.
What role do you see for grassroots businesses and organizations as the psilocybin industry grows?
The reason why some of these larger, well-funded organizations have missed the mark is because they fail to connect with people, to bring people together around a common thing. Being part of a community is one of the only things that can protect an individual from vultures, be it the sexual predators who are dosing people up and taking advantage of them or the big businesses that mess with local entrepreneurs. A community can keep people in check, and communicate with each other.
The value I bring to the table is my experience with organizing. I know how to organize people. At first my community was just all the Black people in psychedelics in Oakland; the most powerful thing I developed were those relationships, because we were all in it together, and people couldn’t violate us. Now, I’m intentionally organizing in places where drugs are legalized or decriminalized, so we can build networks of information and beat the vultures.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.