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It is not illegal to possess raw psilocybe mushrooms, as they are not controlled under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
They might be a powerful hallucinogenic, but 'magic mushrooms' are legally on sale at a shop in Nottingham. JOE BARNES reports on how a loophole in the law allows it to happen
ARE THEY LEGAL?
However, the hallucinogen in the mushrooms, psilocin, is deemed a Class A drug.
The law states that possession of magic mushrooms is only criminal if the mushrooms have ceased to be in their natural state or prepared, including stewing and drying.
Possession of prepared magic mushrooms can lead to a seven-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.
Supplying someone else carries the risk of life imprisonment.
Even if they do not produce an adverse reaction, they are likely to result in strong hallucinations.
But these mushrooms - which would be a Class A drug if sold in a dried form - can be legally bought in a Nottingham shop.
Ice Nine, in Goosegate, Hockley, is using a loophole in the law to sell the mushrooms as well as growing kits without fear of prosecution. The mushrooms are sold only in their fresh state.
But if they were dried they would carry a maximum sentence of seven years for possession, and life imprisonment for those caught supplying.
Chief Inspector Ian Bates, from the Notts Police Drugs (Partnerships) team, said: "While they are not technically committing an offence, it's treading a very thin line and everybody knows why they are on sale.
"We are concerned that a shop is using the letter of the law to provide members of the public with what is clearly a very powerful Class A hallucinogen.
"Magic mushrooms are of concern to us as they pose a serious health risk to the public. The problem is you never know what effect they're going to have, it can have an impact on the individual, friends and family if something goes wrong."
Notts drug groups share Inspector Bates' concern.
"These mushrooms can cause stomach aches and sickness as well as physiological effects on the body," said Jim Spray at DARE UK. "We would ask people to leave them alone because they can be harmful."
The mushrooms, which are advertised in the shop, are labelled as being for educational and research purposes only.
If eaten, as well as feelings of euphoria, they can give users a 'bad trip' with side-effects including vomiting and stomach cramps which can last for up to eight hours. Hallucinations from the drug have also been linked to a number of deaths or incidents in which people have harmed themselves.
Trading standards are investigating the sale of the mushrooms to see if it contravenes any law.
"If we sample a product that isn't labelled in accordance with the food and trading standards rules, then we'll take action," said Caroline Ryan, service manager.
"Whether it's food or a cleaning material, it's covered by labelling rules - and if there is any query we always investigate."
It appears the producers of the mushrooms have pre-empted any investigation by stating the product is not to be ingested, thereby escaping food safety regulations.
But the police still have concerns the prime use of the product is for consumption.
Chief Insp Bates warned the public of the criminal consequences of using the drug.
"The message we would like to give out is that as soon as the mushrooms are prepared they are a Class A drug. In the eyes of the law it is up there with heroin and crack cocaine.
"If you're caught in possession of magic mushrooms, you risk going to prison and they obviously wouldn't be made Class A if there wasn't serious dangers associated with them."
Most users, though, are undeterred by the strong warnings. Ben, 27, from Arnold, takes magic mushrooms as a recreational drug: "I think it's much better that people can buy them from a Nottingham shop. If you go out and collect them in the wild there is always the chance that you are going to pick the wrong variety that are deadly. If people want to take mushrooms they'll do it anyway, so this way is considerably safer."
Some drugs groups are calling for a more honest approach on the sale of magic mushrooms.
Danny Kushlick, director of Transform, a national charity campaigning for drugs reform in the UK, said: "I wouldn't want to demonise these sort of shops. By selling mushrooms on the high street you can reduce a lot of the risks and it's not handing it over to the criminal market. In this manner we can regulate and manage their sale.
"Relaxation of the law would actually increase control with safety advice accompanying the product and no one would have to pretend what the mushrooms are for.
"Prohibition is making what is a naturally occurring weed much more dangerous."
An Ice Nine spokesperson said they had "absolutely no comment to make on the subject".
An Evening Post reporter returned to the shop yesterday to find that the mushrooms were still on sale. A couple were buying five packets for themselves and their friends.