Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#SteveReviews: Fantastic Fungi

It’s been a little while since Fantastic Fungi was released on Netflix, now the hype has died down a bit, I think it is time to give it my honest review. I’m happy to see that some attention is being drawn to such an underappreciated organisms such as fungi, which are in their own Kingdom, separate to both plants and animals. Yet, they incorporate a little bit of both into their biology, and are sometimes seen as the middle ground between the two. They truly are spectacular, coming in a large number of shapes and colours. These vary from the mushrooms we’re used to eating with our pasta, to the infectious pathogenic fungi species that I study in amphibians and reptiles. With such a large diversity, I was expecting Fantastic Fungi to cover the special abilities of representative species, which it does well. However the middle half of the documentary is a little less appealing.

Things start off extremely well, highlighting the importance of fungi, going as far as to cover some of the same topics as Peter Wohlleben does in The Hidden Life of Trees, referring to the mutual relationship between trees and mycelium. I was expecting this to feature, as I was with other aspects such as the ability of mycelium to clean up oil spills and contaminated waste of various flavours. I commend the director for including these, as it is important for people to know that fungi are much more than something that is either on your plate, or can be found in the woods that may kill you. Think of all the diversity in those other two Kingdoms I mentioned earlier, the animals and the plants. There is just as much variation within the fungi, and the likelihood is that we’ve only just begun to unlock their secrets. We’re also still discovering new species at an impressive rate, which indicates that anyone can help make a difference, something that is mentioned at the very end of the documentary.

The thing that I feel was out of place in Fantastic Fungi, was the blatant promotion for people to go out and self-medicate with psychedelic fungi. We’ve all heard of magic mushrooms and yes science has shown their can be some benefits, most people are unaware on how to dose such drugs, myself include. It rings very much of the stoned ape hypothesis, proposed by Terence McKenna in 1992. There may be some benefits to the use of psilocybin mushrooms for people suffering from depression, or other related illnesses. However, I do not think this requires the dedication of half of the documentary to explain. Why promote the use of drugs when it is totally unnecessary and unregulated? It is extremely irresponsible of the filmmakers, even if the intentions were good.

I feel that the inclusion of material that seems to glorify the use of psilocybin highly controversial. However, the other parts of Fantastic Fungi are rooted more in science, although it is still a little anthropomorphic.

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