UK GOVERNMENT PUTTING THE LID ON MAGIC MUSHROOMS
A mushroom used by the ancients to gain "spiritual enlightenment" is still
a source of inspiration today, writes Robert Verkaik.
Timothy Leary, the intellectual cheerleader of chemical transcendence, said
that when he ate magic mushrooms in Mexico in 1960 he learned more in four
hours than in all his years as a psychologist.
Forty-four years later, seekers of knowledge need only take a stroll along
one of London's famous high streets and visit one of the many "shroom
shops" to test his theory. Furthermore, they can do it without breaking the
To prove the point, many of the shop owners display copies of a letter
written by a Home Office official that makes it clear there is nothing
illegal in the trade of freshly picked magic mushrooms.
But their legal sale appears to be about to end since ministers have moved
to tighten the loophole.
Under the current law the psilocybe mushroom, or magic mushroom, is not a
controlled substance, but the hallucinogen, psilocin, that it contains, is
classified as a Class A drug.
Provided gatherers don't commercially "prepare" the mushroom - by freezing
it, drying it or using it to make tea - before selling it, they are not
committing a criminal offence.
But the shift in policy signals a new zero-tolerance, meaning that the sale
of unprepared mushrooms could now be illegal. Home Office Minister Caroline
Flint has told shop owners that if they are selling magic mushrooms they
are probably breaking the law.
Anti-drug groups have long warned that this legal loophole encourages young
people to experiment with a hallucinogenic substance that can lead to
nightmarish trips, stomach pains, sickness and, in some case, psychiatric
problems. The minister advises: "In the Home Office's view, a form of
preparation and production has occurred by the sale of magic mushrooms in
market places and shops or at other premises or at other sale points.
"Accordingly, those selling, or seeking to sell, the mushrooms at such
premises are unlawfully supplying a product containing psilocin and or
There are now estimated to be between 200 and 300 shops selling mushrooms
in Britain and many other businesses trading online. Some of the mushrooms
are home-grown, but the bulk of the produce is imported from Holland.
The use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is probably as old as humanity itself.
Ancient peoples are known to have taken mushrooms to experience altered
states of consciousness and gain "spiritual enlighte
A group of mushroom statues found in Guatemala and thought to date as far
back as 500 BC has been interpreted as evidence that ancient peoples once
worshipped the mushroom.
But it wasn't until the 1960s that Western cultures, led by counter-culture
gurus such as Timothy Leary, began to use mushrooms recreationally as a
natural and milder alternative to acid.