Magic mushrooms

What are Magic Mushrooms? | Methods of use | History | The law | Price | Effects | Prevalence of use | Harm reduction | Possible medical uses

What are Magic Mushrooms?

Agaric, Amani, Fly agaric, Liberties, Liberty Caps, Magics, Mushies, Philosopher’s Stones, Shrooms

Magic mushrooms are hallucinogenic (perception altering) fungi that grow wild in many parts of the world including the UK, and they can also be cultivated. The main type used recreationally is the liberty cap (Psilocybe semilanceata) but the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is also sometimes used.

Liberty caps contain the naturally-occuring hallucinogenic and psychoactive compound psilocybin. Whereas the fly agaric’s psychoactive ingredients are neurotoxins ibotenic acid and muscimol. Fly agarics are classified as poisonous but reported deaths are extremely rare.

Liberty cap

Liberty cap

Methods of use

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.

Fly agaric mushroom

Fly agaric

History

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.

The law

Mushrooms containing psilocin or psilocybin (e.g liberty caps) were brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and are designated as Class A drugs. There was a loophole in the Misuse of Drugs Act allowing the sale of fresh mushrooms online and in shops until the Drugs Act 2005 amended the act to state that magic mushrooms are banned regardless of whether they are dried, packaged or fresh.

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.

Fly agaric has not been brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Price

Mushrooms 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.

Effects

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 coordination. Strong doses (anything more than one fly agaric mushroom) may result in intense disorientation, convulsions and in some cases death.

Prevalence of use

According to Home Office statistics published in 2019, the use of magic mushrooms amongst 16-59 year olds in England and Wales was 0.5%. (1.6% amongst 16-24 year olds).

Harm reduction

  • 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.

Possible medical uses

The class A classification of mushrooms containing psilocybin means that they currently have no accepted medical use. However, there are some researchers with licences to study class A drugs conducting research into the possible medical uses of magic mushrooms.

Campaigners want Psilocybin to be moved from Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act to Schedule 2, i.e. the same category as medical cannabis, legalised in 2018.

A small study in 2021 over a six week period showed that psilocybin performed as well as a conventional antidepressant (an SSRI, escitalopram) based on a common depression scale. On other measures such as work and social functioning, mental well-being and the ability to feel happy, Psilocybin out performed the conventional antidepressant.

Current prime minister Boris Johnson recently stated that he will examine the latest advice on the legalisation of psilocybin. Watch the October 2021 parliamentary debate for the rescheduling of Psilocybin.

Updated November 2021