What are Magic Mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms are hallucinogenic fungi that grow wild in many parts of the world including the UK. The main type used recreationally is the liberty cap (Psilocybe semilanceata) but fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is also sometimes used.
Magic mushrooms (except fly agaric) are usually eaten raw but may be dried and stored for later use. They can be cooked into food or made into a tea or infusion and drunk. 20 – 30 liberty caps would be regarded as a full dose, but only one or part of a large fly agaric would be required.
A huge number of hallucinogenic plants and fungi were used by ancient tribes and civilisations, usually as a means of entering the spiritual world. Fly agaric mushrooms were used by medicine men or ‘shamans’ of north east Asia and Siberia. Liberty caps were seen as sacred intoxicants by the Aztecs of Mexico at the time of the Spanish invasion in the 1500s. They do not seem to feature much in European history, although pagan witches used hallucinogenic plants from the potato family, especially Deadly Nightshade and Henbane.
Use of magic mushrooms for pleasure in the UK appears to have developed in the late 1970s as, what was then, a legal alternative to LSD. Fly agaric use is still rare but use of liberty caps has become more common, especially amongst teenagers.
Mushrooms containing psilocin or psilocybin have been brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act and are now designated as Class A drugs.
Maximum penalties are 7 years imprisonment and a fine for possession and life imprisonment and a fine for supply. In practice, maximum sentences are rarely used. For more information please see the sentencing page on the Release website.
Mushroom do not currently feature in the black market to any great extent. Indications show that quantities of around 30 mushrooms sell for around £5 per bag. These prices are merely indicative and do not represent a recognised street price.
The effects of liberty caps are similar to those from a mild dose of LSD and can vary depending on the mood, situation and expectation of the user.
Effects come on after about half an hour and last up to 9 hours depending on the numbers taken. Users often laugh a lot and feel more confident. Some people find that they feel sick and suffer from stomach aches. Higher doses result in a mild to moderate trip with visual and sound distortions.
“It’s a natural high. I giggle a lot and feel more relaxed. It changes the way you see and feel about things. You discover new things about yourself”.
A bad trip can be very frightening and may include feelings of anxiety and paranoia. This is more likely with high doses and where the user already feels anxious. People who experience a bad trip can usually be calmed by others reassuring them.
As with LSD, flashbacks can be experienced some time later. This is when people re-experience part of a trip. This can be particularly frightening if users aren’t expecting them. After a time, flashbacks invariably fade of their own accord.
“All of a sudden the walls started to move. I wanted it to end but once you start you can’t stop it. It really took a toll on my head”.
The greatest risk associated with using magic mushrooms is picking the wrong type of mushroom and being poisoned. Eating some varieties, especially Amanita phalloides and Amanita virosa can be fatal.
As with LSD, tolerance develops quickly so the next day it might take twice as many liberty caps to repeat the experience. Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms do not result from regular use though some people may become psychologically dependent and feel a desire to use on a regular basis. At present there is no evidence of serious health damage from long term use.
Fly agaric use is more likely to result in unpleasant effects, including nausea and vomiting, stiffness of joints and a lack of co-ordination. Strong doses (anything more than one fly agaric mushroom) may result in intense disorientation, convulsions and in some cases death. Fly agaric has not been brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Prevalence of use
According to Home Office statistics published in 2016, the use of magic mushrooms amongst 16-59 year olds in England and Wales was 0.4%. (1.3% amongst 16-24 year olds). This is a slight reduction on previous years.
- Bad trips are more likely to happen with higher doses and where the user already feels anxious. For this reason it is best to be with people you trust and in a safe place if you plan to take mushrooms.
- In the UK there are many fungi growing wild, some of which are poisonous leading to stomach upsets, coma and even death. Never consume mushrooms that have not been positively identified.
- As with all drugs it is best to start with a small dose.