TEMPE – Former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer returned to campus earlier this month, just two days before his Sun Devils took on Deion Sanders and Colorado, but he was not in town to see the game.
Instead, Plummer was back in Tempe on invitation from the ASU Shroom Society, a student group that works to encourage knowledge and understanding of fungi and mushrooms, presenting at the group’s first “shroom symposium.”
In his opening remarks, he reminisced on his legendary 1996 season, when he finished third in Heisman Trophy voting and led ASU to the Rose Bowl.
“I actually went backpacking and took some psilocybin before that ‘96 season,” Plummer, 48, said. “Maybe that had something to do with it, I don’t know.”
Plummer, who was named a 2023 Fiesta Bowl Grand Marshal Wednesday, has been among the nation’s most high-profile advocates of medicinal and functional mushrooms since co-founding Umbo, a mushroom supplement company based in Colorado. Umbo sells capsules, tinctures and nutrition bars packed with legal, naturally occurring and non-psychoactive mushroom varieties like Reishi and Lion’s Mane which, according to the company’s website, “fuel focus, endurance, and sleep.”
The former Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals quarterback said the harm done to his overall health during a 10-year professional football career sent him looking for ways to recover and heal.
“(Football) is very brutal on your body, very damaging,” Plummer said. “Not only to your physical and mental, but also your spiritual. It can be very hard to recover and find who you really are after you’ve been put into this limelight, playing a game and becoming this person of such grandeur.”
Not long after his induction into the Sun Devil Football Ring of Honor in 2019, Plummer was introduced through a friend to the world of medicinal and functional mushrooms, which he describes as the earth’s “queendom.”
“My post-career has led me on a lot of fun paths, and one of them was into exploring ways to heal,” Plummer said. “I’m both here to help move that message forward, and help people try to optimize their health and wellness and ultimately live a better life.”
A 2021 review of emerging research into functional mushrooms by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences suggests that functional mushrooms have a wide array of medicinal benefits, including reducing inflammation and supporting neurological health.
Although Umbo’s work is limited to legal, non-psychoactive functional mushrooms, Plummer’s healing journey is not. Psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic “magic” mushrooms, has also played a role.
“I never really understood the healing that could happen through the use of that organism,” Plummer said. “We’re finding out that psilocybin can help in a lot of ways with the mental illnesses we face as a society.”
Hallucinogenic compounds have been used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes by indigenous societies across the world for thousands of years. Psilocybin and other psychedelics were banned in the U.S. and classified as a Schedule I drug, insinuating high potential for abuse and no medicinal or therapeutic benefits, by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Plummer was clear about his thoughts on the legal status of mushrooms.
“Decriminalization is the number one most important thing we can do,” he said at the symposium.
The past decade has seen a renaissance of research into the possible therapeutic benefits of psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin in addressing mental health issues like PTSD, depression and addiction. Conclusive science is still limited due to the illicit status of psychoactive drugs, but early returns have yielded promising results, even indicating the possibility they could be more effective than many drugs commonly used to address mental health issues today.
“I hold in reverence all mushrooms, but especially psilocybin, as a very important part of the healing process,” Plummer said at the event.
Plummer said that exposing other former athletes to the healing properties of mushrooms is central to his mission and that of his company.
“To help former players just feel a little less pain and maybe get up and come out and play some pickleball, or come out and go for a walk,” he said. “That’s really what my purpose is.”