When Waynesboro police were tipped Wednesday to hallucinogenic mushrooms growing in a local apartment, they organized a seizure in a matter of hours and arrested a man who could be sent to prison if convicted of dealing the psychedelic drug.
But psychedelic mushrooms rarely make their way onto police radar, despite online communities that openly offer tips on growing mushrooms and first-hand accounts of drug use.
Mushrooms, which include the psilocybin hallucinogen, are most often found along with other drugs, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which rarely targets mushroom growers. Local authorities spoke similarly.
“If we’ve run across these in the past, it’s been possession cases,” Waynesboro police Sgt. Brian Edwards said Thursday.
City police Wednesday seized 107 Mason jars, each containing several psychedelic mushrooms, a record haul, from a New Hope Road apartment. Police arrested Felix Christopher Gutierrez, 31, on charges of possession of a Schedule I controlled substance with intent to distribute and possession of marijuana.
“Very few people actually complain about the police arresting them,” said Alan Rockefeller, 27, of California, who helps moderate online discussions at Shroomery.org, one of a handful of sites dedicated to discussion of illegal psychedelic mushrooms.
“It’s a very vibrant community,” Rockefeller said of online forums, where thousands of mushroom users and growers read and write daily about hallucinogens.
Psychedelic mushrooms can produce intense distortions of reality, emotional disturbances and muscle relaxation, according to the National Institutes of Health and DEA. Effects can last for hours.
Hallucinogens are relatively “non-toxic,” according to a 2008 Johns Hopkins University research paper. That paper reports that studies into the effects of hallucinogens have been recently revived as scientists consider the drugs for treatment of psychiatric disorders and as aids in learning about perception and cognition.
“Hallucinogens ... have not been shown to result in organ damage or neuropsychological deficits,” and are not considered drugs of dependence, the paper states.
The most likely risk is an anxiety-ridden “bad trip,” according to the paper, most commonly found in users who have pre-existing mental illness.
Yet mushroom possession and distribution is a felony, which many users consider out of touch with reality, Rockfeller said.
The Shroomery moderator said some mushrooms can be dangerous, especially those found in the wild and consumed. But online forums can reduce harm to otherwise unknowing users, he said. Rockefeller spends much of his online time helping others identify wild mushrooms.
“It’s definitely easier and simpler to grow them yourself,” he said.
Despite the relatively low risk associated with hallucinogen use, Johns Hopkins researchers recommend “appropriate and conservative safeguards” in any studies using hallucinogens.
Mushrooms are illegal in all states, but the spores used to grow them are legal to own in 47 states.
The Gutierrez case represents perhaps the only “significant” hallucinogen bust in city history, police said after reviewing arrest records.
Gutierrez is being held at Middle River Regional Jail and awaits a July 27 preliminary hearing.
Police found no sales records in the man’s apartment and could not estimate street value of the mushrooms.
Rockefeller said the value “probably wouldn’t pay the rent.”
By Tony Gonzalez
July 3, 2009