Orgasm-inducing mushrooms? Not quite

Claims that there is an orgasm-inducing mushroom in Hawaii may not be entirely accurate. Drawing and licensing unknown.
Claims that there is an orgasm-inducing mushroom in Hawaii may not be entirely accurate. Author and licensing of the above drawing unknown.

A few weeks ago, the social media has bombarded us with the eye-catching news that there is a mushroom in Hawaii whose smell induces spontaneous orgasms in women, but not men, who found its smell repugnant.

Except that it appears there is no such mushroom. Turns out the 14 year old paper is written by the president of a Hawaiian company that sells organic medicinal mushrooms. Not only written, but funded, as well. This is enough to damn the credibility of any study (that’s why scientists must declare competing interest when submitting a paper). But it also seems that the study has major fundamental flaws, like not having a single objective measure (of the quantity of spores, for example), is done under non-controlled environmental conditions (the participants seem to have known what was expected from them), there have been no replications, etc. Actually, it should have been suspicious to me from the start that nothing happened in the following 14 years; you would think that such claims would have been replicated, or at least the mushroom identified. But, as they say, hindsight is 20-20. Here is some nice little reporting exposing the business in Huffington Post and ScienceAlert.

I am not blaming the science media outlets on this one, like IFL Science or NBC affiliate, as I thought of covering this study myself, should I have been able to get my hands on the full text of the paper. In all honesty, who wouldn’t want to read that paper, especially since the abstract speculated on the mushroom’s spores having hormone-like chemicals that mimic the human neurotransmitters released during sexual encounters? But I (and others) have searched in vain for the full text and the most parsimonious explanation is that it was buried or withdrawn.

The trite but true message is: even the science media (including this one) is prone to mistakes. Interested in something? Go to the source and read the whole paper yourself, even the small print (like the one with competing interests), and only then make an opinion. That’s why I always post the links to the original article.

Reference: Holliday, J.C. & Soule, N. (2001). Spontaneous Female Orgasms Triggered by Smell of a Newly Found Tropical Dictyphora Species. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 3: 162-167. Abstract | Debunking in The Journal of Wild Mushrooming | Debunking in Discover Magazine

By Neuronicus, 17 October 2015