Owner and CEO
Monster Mushroom Company
Interview conducted by:
Bud Wayne, Editorial Executive
Published – April 24, 2023
CEOCFO: Mr. Muelken, would you give us a little background on yourself and what made you want to be involved with psychedelics?
Mr. Muelken: I had a very traditional career coming out of college working in banking, which is a very dry and somewhat boring field. I have always been a spiritual seeker. When I was younger, I had a strong meditation practice. I practiced meditation on a daily basis and it was during one of these meditation sessions that I tried a “museum dose.” In the psychedelic industry they refer to micro doses, macro doses and an in-
It was later in life that I rediscovered mushrooms. Someone was telling me about micro dosing and getting off of antidepressants and SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). I started micro dosing as a way to cure myself of depression. To say that psychedelics have changed my life is not an understatement in any way. It is no wonder that people have been using these naturally occurring plant medicines for thousands of years.
CEOCFO: Where did the idea for starting Monster Mushroom Company come from?
Mr. Muelken: It was in 2018 when the FDA declared psilocybin and trials to study psilocybin for the treatment of depression. On October 13, 2019, 60 Minutes did a story on psilocybin and depression and working with PTSD and addiction as well as other things. In May of 2019, Denver passed Initiative 301 which decriminalized plant medicine in the city of Denver. Shortly after that I knew I had to get involved in some way.
I had already known for many years how to grow mushrooms and had tried it several times successfully. I knew there was a business opportunity there. I went down to my local hydroponic grow store, which is Cultivate Colorado, on Buchtel Blvd. in Denver. I walked in there with a prototype for a grow kit and asked if they would be interested in this. To my surprise they said “yes we would, but we would like to see some changes.” They outlined what they wanted to see and how to make it better. A couple months later I went back in and started selling off their shelves.
CEOCFO: Was this a cannabis shop?
Mr. Muelken: It is a hydroponic grow store. It is mostly cannabis but people go there for organic tomatoes, vegetables and peppers and everything else. They saw the opportunity and gave me my first purchase order. By December of that year, we were in five different stores. We have never looked back.
CEOCFO: Proposition 122 allows 21 years and older in Colorado to grow and share psychedelic mushrooms. Before we delve into what you are doing, could you give us a little history on psychedelic mushrooms, their uses and the fight to get them legalized in Colorado?
Mr. Muelken: This is very important. Initiative 301 was a grassroots campaign by volunteers and people who believed very strongly in entheogenic plants and plant medicine. That was a homegrown effort. That was in May of 2019. In November of 2022, Proposition 122 was led by a different group of people. There is a group called the New Approach PAC. These were high positioned business people that financed the New Approach. They are also the people who funded Oregon’s ballet to legalize psilocybin. There is a lot of mistrust and suspicion about this new action PAC because it supposedly has people like Peter Theil, the PayPal guy, and a staunch Republican, as well as other corporate interests who really pushed this through.
There was some opposition in the local community here in Denver to Proposition 122 because it was funded by “big money.” It was seen as an attempt by men in suits from outside the community to push this through and create these legalized, licensed healing centers. There is a feeling that 122 was a capitalist motivated land grab. Given what has happened in the cannabis industry, there was some push-
What Proposition 122 did was decriminalize the growth, possession and consumption of natural plant medicines including psilocybin, psilocin, DMT, mescaline and a few other things. This was a boon to our business because it allowed everyone in the state of Colorado to grow their own mushrooms or at least it was decriminalized to grow your own mushrooms. We still have yet to see what the full effects of Proposition 122 are and they are still wrangling about it at the state level. What it did not do is legalize to sell or buy mushrooms or other plant medicine.
CEOCFO: Why is Colorado a good place for this type of business, over say Oregon?
Mr. Muelken: Colorado has always been the leader in the natural plant medicine movement including decriminalizing cannabis is small amounts. On November 7, 2000, Colorado legalized cannabis for medical use and then in 2012, they ultimately legalized cannabis for recreational use.
We as a state have based a lot of our rules and regulations off of Oregon because they were the first ones in 1998 to modified its state law to allow the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana by prescription by patients with certain medical conditions. We have seen the mistakes from the cannabis industry and we are watching very closely Oregon as an example of what to do and what not to do. Colorado has always been on the forefront of this movement.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about your Premium Mushroom Grow Kits; what is contained in them?
Mr. Muelken: Our premium mushroom grow kits contain a 54 quart monotube, which can be used for incubation and fruiting of mushrooms. It also contains four bags of grain substrate which is the starter substrate for growing mushrooms. It contains enough to grow up to six crops of your favorite mushrooms. These could be Lions mane or oyster mushrooms or any functional mushrooms out there. Check your state and local laws. It also contains everything you need for the study of mushrooms, to the growth of mushrooms, to storing and curing and drying them which is a very important part. It is the most complete kit out there.
We studied what our competition was doing and we tried to make something better. We have a very thorough quality-
CEOCFO: Is there a great deal of competition at this point and what sets your grow kits apart from the others on the market?
Mr. Muelken: There is a lot of merchant competition, as there is not a lot of barriers to entry. However, there are a lot of barriers to entry doing this on a large-
We have several proprietary things that set us apart including our spawn bags. We have a starter substrate that is like baby food essentially. It gives the spores something very easy to consume and to start growing. It is a 3-
Basically, I think that we are head and shoulders above the so-
CEOCFO: What is the market for grow kits in Colorado?
Mr. Muelken: To date, there has been on studies or reports done specifically on the market for grow kits in Colorado. They say that the mushroom industry is a $32 billion industry, but that includes functional mushrooms and gourmet mushrooms. We sell the kits for functional and gourmet mushrooms as well.
CEOCFO: You sell to hydroponic grow stores. How many of those exist throughout the US and are you a nationwide distributor?
Mr. Muelken: At one time there were over 400 hydroponic grow stores in the country and that was pre-
Those are the hotspots, but there are also emerging areas such as Florida that are really taking this to the next level.
CEOCFO: Where do you source your grains? Do you grown your own grains or have a partner?
Mr. Muelken: We have a partner that is a local farm that is in Longmont, Colorado called Root Shoot Malting. They supply a lot of microbreweries and distilleries with grain. They approached us over two years ago and they are our exclusive supplier. We know they use organic methods or sustainably farmed methods to grow their grains and we buy several thousand lbs. a month from them. We are extremely excited to keep it. We try to source everything from local Colorado suppliers.
CEOCFO: I see you also offer an All-
Mr. Muelken: The three most important factors in growing mushrooms are sterility and being 100% sterile, humidity and temperature. With an all-
CEOCFO: You have a Knowledge Center with an eBook and other resources. Why is education so important in this area and what are some of the things you help people understand that they may not find anywhere else?
Mr. Muelken: The first thing to know is that this is not an easy hobby and there is a steep learning curve. I personally had a mentor who showed me all the ropes but even with that I failed the first two times I tried this. The third time I realized the mistakes I was making and the problems it was causing. Knowledge is so important in this hobby.
We teach online classes, in-
CEOCFO: Do you also help customers understand the laws and regulations?
Mr. Muelken: Only local laws and regulations in Colorado. The most common question I am asked is “where can I buy mushrooms in Colorado?” I say “you can’t legally buy or sell mushrooms in Colorado but you are allowed to grow your own.” One of the first things I ask them is where they are calling from and if they are not in Colorado, I tell them that I do not know their local laws and regulations, but they should be aware that psilocybin is still a Schedule-
CEOCFO: Where do you sell your grow kits; online or through retail stores?
Mr. Muelken: Most of our business is through retail stores. I am happy to say that brick and mortar retail is not dead yet. People still go into local stores for certain things and one of them is in the organic gardening community. It is much easier to go into a local hydroponic store or grow store than it is to order stuff online. We do sell online and that is a growing part of our business but certainly the vast majority is in-
You probably read that cannabis is going through a tough time now and that there is oversaturation and oversupply. The price has dropped and a lot of stores are having problems. We sell mostly through local mom and pop retailers. We have had people tell us that if it wasn’t for the mushroom supplies that they are selling, they might not be in business still. They are actually selling more mushroom cultivation supplies than they are anything else in the store.
I am happy to say it has helped sustain local retailers and that is very important to us. Buy local whenever possible.
CEOCFO: I had one CEO of a cannabis company tell me about the difficulty he had finding a good merchant services provider. Did you find the same thing and what were some of the other challenges you faced as you developed Monster Mushroom Company?
Mr. Muelken: Yes it is challenging to find a good merchant services provider. We have had the same one for four years we have been in business but I know other people have not been so lucky. There is an unwillingness to touch certain areas of commerce even though it is decriminalized in the state of Colorado and other states, it is not on a federal level and therefore banks and payment processors and other entities have been afraid to touch this. Monster Mushrooms applied for an SBA loan backed by the State of Colorado for local entrepreneurs and business people and they flat-
CEOCFO: Where will future growth come from? Are you keeping an eye on regulations to see future areas of expansion?
Mr. Muelken: Yes we are keeping a careful eye on states that may decriminalize or that are proposing legislation to study decriminalization. For example, these are Connecticut, Texas, Utah, and Washington State which is progressive and will probably decriminalize at some point, Maryland and California. These states are looking at this not as a recreational boon, but as a way to treat mental health. Obviously, we have a mental health crisis in the United States and these legislators are looking at this as a way to combat that. Fentanyl and meth and other hard drugs are wreaking havoc on our society. Natural plant medicines are definitely the way to counteract that.
CEOCFO: As you grow, could you potentially be looking for investors or partners as you go forward?
Mr. Muelken: Absolutely! We are actively seeking an angel investor at this time. We have talked to a few groups and nothing concrete yet. Private funding is really the only way to scale this business, as we have talked about the lack of government funding.
We have grown this company for four years using our own money, maxing out credit cards, doing what entrepreneurs do everywhere, which is try to keep the lights on and pay the bills. We have created over eleven good, well-
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about your team?
Mr. Muelken: My business partner is a single mom, raising two kids, and she has been phenomenal. Her name is Sherry. I made her a business partner about a year and a half into doing this, when I realized there was no way I could do this alone. We have some very dedicated production staff, and a very dedicated marketing person.
CEOCFO: In closing, why is Monster Mushroom Company a special company and important to the growing community in Colorado?
Mr. Muelken: We are very community centric. We sponsor and give free supplies to a couple of groups. One is a group of wounded veterans with PTSD who wanted to learn how to grow their own medicine in order to help heal and we have worked with them now for about two-
We work with local stores and most of our stores are mom and pop retailers. We already discussed the fact that some of them would not still be around if they were not selling more mycology supplies than they are other supplies right now.
We also support local groups like the Psychedelic Group of Denver, whose primary function is as a harm reduction group. We believe strongly in harm reduction and basically, we do not want to see this become like the New Amsterdam or the cannabis. I do not think this will ever become recreational because it is far too powerful of a drug, but I believe everyone should have access to it and the ability to grow their own medicine rather than going to a licensed facility.
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