Mushrooms & Cannabis Collide
By Eva Berlin Sylvestre
Cordyceps is having a moment.
Popularized by hit video game and HBO horror series, The Last Of Us, demand for the peculiar mushroom has bloomed, in spite of its real-life reputation for hijacking insects’ minds and growing cute little mushies from their exploded exoskeletons. Get in my belly, right?
Jokes aside, cordyceps has a long history of use as a functional mushroom, particularly in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine. Its use dates back thousands of years—the earliest known record of Cordyceps as a medicinal mushroom is from the 15th century in Tibet, where it was used for a variety of purposes, including enhancing energy and vitality. In modern times, it continues to be popular as a health supplement, often marketed for its potential benefits in boosting energy, improving athletic performance, and supporting immune function.
So what happens when you take a semi-professional golfer who found a niche market in CBD chewables for dogs, and you introduce him to the strange and beguiling mushroom kingdom? You get Chris Denicola, CEO and President at Wolf Sciences LLC.
But before helping Fido alleviate skin rashes and spasms, the entrepreneur with a chemistry degree had left his work in big-name labs and headed to Colorado with his eyes on the prize—the cannabis industry.
“I thought it was going to be so much fun,” Chris tells us. “Cannabis in 2014, 2015, 2016 was just crap. They would charge people a ton of money and have no consistency, no morals, no ethics.” With the notion eating away at his psyche, he created a few cannabis formulations of his own, started a business, and told himself, “I’m just going to do this for a couple of years, make some money, and get the hell out to go do my brewery.”
That was 2016.
Fast-forward seven years and Chris Denicola’s outlook is much sunnier. With a bustling lab and some playful, creative partners, Wolf Sciences has its cannabinoid concoctions locked in, and cooked up some cordyceps creations like a merry band of mad scientists. Meanwhile, the brewery remains on his bucket list.
Of the former, he’s quick to reveal that their oil is derived from hemp and contains real THC, “purified using chromatography from hemp oil.” He elaborates on the unique process, noting, “It’s genuine THC, which we combine with exquisitely hand-extracted live resin from hemp.” What’s more, “it’s completely legal under hemp regulations,” he says, making it accessible for purchase in all 50 states and online. “Regarding the experience, there’s nothing significant lost compared to traditional methods,” he says, acknowledging a minor difference: “The only thing you might miss is the immediate flavor and rapid onset you get from rolling and smoking. In terms of effect, the experience is fully intact.”
Concerning Wolf Sciences’ work in cordyceps—in particular, gummies—he prides the work they’ve done on being not only conscious of the right flavor balance to keep them palatable, but also the right amount of cannabinoids to balance the effects of the fungus. “As soon as you take them, you feel that extra energy,” he says. When asked how the compounds work synergistically, he has the perfectly scientific response: “I don’t know.” Respect.
A moment later, he adds: “I would have to blindly assume that if we’re getting more oxygen into the blood, your blood vessels are opening up even more, so there’s more fuel there.” Inside the process, the cannabinoids are flowing freely in expanded blood vessels, so: “Not only are you reducing inflammation and adding more fuel to everything, you’re also doubling that response of feeling better in body and mind.” Additionally, he points out the brand’s carefully crafted terpene blends for enhancing focus and clarity and a specific cannabinoid mix aimed at reducing inflammation and pain. “It’s not about one magic ingredient,” he qualifies, “but how they all work together to create a better sense of wellbeing.”
Chris credits an employee who happens to be an Ayurvedic practitioner, for his interest in functional mushrooms. He was given a large, hand-drawn chart created by her teacher, detailing various herbs and their applications. He was further piqued by a friend involved in the magic mushroom space, who proposed a collaboration. Initially skeptical about the efficacy of natural remedies like echinacea, goldenseal, and mushroom powders, Chris’s perspective shifted dramatically upon sourcing higher quality extracts and powders. This experience led to a revelation about the potential of these natural products and the fusions therein.
“We combine [our gummies] with a low dose of THC and our social, giggly terpene blends,” he says, then adds that this is in addition to CBDV, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. “It’s just great for nausea and a good cannabinoid overall,” he says. “It’s a fun little ride.”
As a philosophy, Chris steers away from traditional metrics. “It’s not a sale based on milligrams,” he explains, but rather “a sale based on effect or outcome.” On paper, “We are formulators and small-scale manufacturers,” he says. In the lab, though, they’re equal parts artisan and guinea pig. “We’ve had a couple of instances where it’s like, ‘What the hell did we just take?’” he laughs.
Chris has another philosophy for Wolf Sciences: A quality product should show results from the first use. “If it doesn’t work the first time you take it, it’s not for you,” he says, also admitting: “I’m a terrible salesperson.” He’s honestly confused as to how people find him when Wolf Sciences doesn’t even have a website. “We’ve got a little store, though, and we do little five-packs because people want to try something without spending a lot. Everybody’s been burned by spending $300 on things that don’t work.” He admits that he finds himself giving those packets away as often as he sells them. But with his five-pack freebies, he estimates that “probably 90 percent of people come back or order online.”
Wolf Science has plans for the upcoming launch of his brand’s functional mushroom products, slated for release by Black Friday, and candidly admits that the production process is yet to commence, underscoring the ambitious nature of the timeline. The new line is set to feature a diverse range of products, each tailored to specific needs. For the daytime formula, Chris and his team are focusing on a product that energizes and revitalizes. For evenings, they’re developing a sleep aid, although the final choice of mushrooms—between reishi and lion’s mane—is still being fine-tuned. “We’ve got our sleep cannabinoid formula ready,” he says. “We’re just adding a mushroom to get in there and help.” Additionally, they’re working on a stress and recovery product which may include adding chaga or reishi to a cannabinoid. The goal of that blend is to have a comprehensive solution for recovery, pain relief, and stress alleviation. Reishi is believed to support immune health, exhibit anti-cancer properties, promote heart health, reduce stress and fatigue, and possess anti-inflammatory qualities. Chaga mushroom is traditionally used for boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation. “We’re getting it down to three distinct products,” he says, which aligns with his philosophy of simplicity and efficacy, intending to make wellness accessible and straightforward for consumers.
Chris and his team aren’t rushing it, however, preferring to craft their goods on not only effectiveness but flavor. “The more you need to stuff in a gummy, the more unpalatable that gummy is going to be, and the less likely people are to adopt it — it has to taste good,” he says. “Our cordyceps supplier’s flavor is really coconutty, so we mix it with tropical flavors like pineapple to get a really good combination.”
Well, then. Get in my belly, right?